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PKK- PDKI clash exposes decades of cold war

Hajir Sharifi.
Hajir Sharifi.

By: Hajir Sharifi

The deadly May 24 clash between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) has triggered old wounds among Kurds and raised serious concern for the future.

The recent tension between the parties was not an overnight disagreement.  It rose from a salient political crisis that has clouded the Kurdistan political arena for decades.

The crisis has prevented the Kurdish political parties from reaching an agreement to hold a national conference. The long-awaited national conference was intended to assemble 39 Kurdish political parties to address the Kurdish question in the Middle East. After a few postponements, however, it was cancelled.

The main reason for the failure of the conference was the rivalry of PKK and Kurdish Democratic of Iraq (KDP), each trying to impose their own political hegemony.

The recent incident that reportedly killed one Peshmerga was not a mere deployment of KDPI forces in the mountains that have long been occupied by PKK guerrilla, or a sudden dispute.

Rather it is a by-product of more than a decade of political disagreements that have created an undeclared cold war between some Iranian Kurdish political parties and the PKK.  

The dispute started when the PKK was accused of an alliance with the Iranian regime and of arbitrary intervention in Iranian Kurdistan’s political affairs.

The KDPI and Komala, protested to the PKK’s establishment of offshoot organizations, such as Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in 2004.

They opposed the existence of PJAK and a PKK political campaign to recruit members from Iranian Kurdish areas known to support local political parties. The KDPI and Komala regarded these areas as within their influence and operation.

The PKK, in response, blamed Iranian Kurdish political parties of turning their backs on the Kurdish movement in Iran and becoming passive and apathetic in the last two decades.

The PKK accused the parties of having laid down arms, staying encamped, and being salaried and spoon-fed by the Kurdish Regional Government.

The recent tension coincided with the upcoming election in Turkey which has laid the groundwork for new accusations in both camps against each other.

The deployment of PDKI forces in the border regions was deemed by PKK as being plotted by the axis of Turkey-Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq to undercut Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and PKK’s popularity in the election in Turkey.

The PKK announced, however, that KDPI had deployed their forces in the mountains with bad “intentions,” thereby justifying their attack.

On the other hand, PDKI accused PKK of waging a war against them that has been engineered by the Iranian regime to halt them from penetrating Iranian Kurdistan. A proxy war that was schemed up by the axis of Iran-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and instigated by the PKK against the KDPI.   

There have been a myriad of propaganda, derogatory comments, and accusations launched by both sides and their followers in social media.  Many others groups have not hesitated in adding fuel to the flames.

This is what the merchants of war and the beneficiaries of bloodshed strive for: never-resting weapons.

In the majority of these propaganda and accusations, regardless of which side launches them, there is one element in common.

One accuses the other of being an ally of the Kurdish nation’s enemy and declares itself as infallible entity, innocent of any misconduct. On such a ground, anyone depicted as Jash (a person of Kurdish descent who betrays and collaborates) and the other as Bash (one who stays loyal).

This dichotomy prevalent among Kurdish parties has not only been the hallmarks of political rhetoric, but also the core of every political hatred, intra-party antagonism, and civil wars that have taken place in this war-torn land.  

The existing binary of black and white, Jash and Bash, right and wrong, legitimate and illegitimate guardian of Kurdistan has intoxicated political culture. It has divided people more than ever, has deepened the crisis and has steeped us further in blood.

This binary was the engine to every civil war and factional conflict.

When propaganda and slander dominate political discourse the opposing side of an issue is labeled as the betrayer and the enemy of the nation. When this happens there remains no ground for dialog and tolerance. Hence,  war and bloodshed become inevitable.

That’s exactly what for a long time has pitted the PDKI against Komala, PUK against PDK and now PKK against PDKI.

Kurdish politics needs to leave this binary behind.

Today, unfortunately, Turkey and Iran have undeniable presence in the Kurdish political sphere. The main political parties have segmented around these two axes. Kurdish politicians need to deal with bitter reality with diplomacy, not with weapons.  

There are lots of unknown factors to this story that have yet to be discussed.

What is known for now, however, is that PKK has crossed the red line and killed a PDKI Peshmerga, breaking a cold peace that has been maintained since 1998. This statement doesn’t imply that PDKI bears no responsibility and has just been victimized at the hands of PKK, no. They opened fire, too, but missed the targets.

In the end, however, one Kurd was killed for whom the PKK is responsible.

Despite this, the PKK could have corrected their misdeed with an apology and cooled down the tension. Such an apology would have introduced a new element to Kurdish politic, a missing element: the courage of admitting a mistake and apologizing for it.


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Dilshad | 4/6/2015
Great, sad article Mr. Sharifi. Great because you laid out the issue perfectly. Sad because factionalism has been the bane of Kurdish existence in the last 100 years. Sad also because this "missing element" to which you refer will remain missing in a culture controlled by honor and shame. The solution? Change must come from the inside.
Swede | 4/6/2015
Correct, you must unite against the countries who rule you now, cooperation and fight for the same goal. Kurdish independence! För the future of your children. Don't let political differences come between you.
Gerdi | 4/6/2015
Getting tired of this whole "inner Kurdish conflict" theme, it's so over used and exaggerated at times, why has no one noticed how much things have changed these past 20-30 years?. Yes Kurdish political parties did have low tolerance of using force (violence) against each other in the past, but this is definitely not the case anymore. Set aside this unfortunate incident, it has been 25 years since Kurdish political parties used guns to solve any disagreement. Hundreds of disagreements and issues have been solved peacefully through negotiations, and there has also been close cooperation in many areas like the fight against ISIS, these things were unthinkable a few decades ago but none of this is ever mentioned, the full focus is always on those few exceptions where the parties disagree, not only is the focus there but it's exaggerated by a factor of 100. Also please note while the political parties might not see eye to eye on every issue the Kurdish people do, the Kurdish people are very united, look at the the harsh reaction of the people towards this incident alone, this is a big factor the political parties way carefully, not that I think either party took this incident lightly but they know they will loose support amongst the people.
Raise Ala Rengin! | 4/6/2015
PKK are not even nationalists. Most of them don't speak kurdî and they don't accept Ala Rengin. Sad but true.
Hoshyar Zaxoy | 4/6/2015
I sometimes draw comfort from history such as that of Vietnam(North and south) or Arab conflicts but for us Kurds since we are already divided we need to be stronger than the artificial borders. Unfortunately I see darker side. Many of Kurds in Iraq became Baathist in the late 70s/80s apart from paid Jash and so called advisers. They were left unpunished till now. Professionals like doctors, engineers,let alone army officers were paid by government virtually transforming to Arabs. Many Kurds who migrate to Arab/Turkish/Farsi cities and to the Western world disengage from their Kurdishness even changing names, language, wives and culture and then look down at their fellows in Kurdistan. Whenever I listen to any Kurdish TV I get extremely irritated by so many English words distorted and added to our mother language which we are supposed to protect not distort. In the 80s people of Koye were having animosity towards those of Erbil, just imagine.

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KRG(PDK) has to stop turkey. They have right to apply UN to stop this f.king country.
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