SYRIAN FIGHTERS IN THE KURDISTAN WORKERS PARTY: THE PKK

By: Issam Khoury

11/18/2008

The Qandil Mountains serve as the second main region for the revolutionary Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish Labor Party owes the Syrian Kurds, who are led by Bahoz Erdal, using an alias and of Syrian nationality.

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This force was formed when Syrian authorities during the Hafez al-Assad presidency, allowed activists of this party to participate in activities within Syrian lands. This created a solid ground to fight, in terms of training, financing and arming.

The Syrian regime exploited and relayed information on Kurdish activity to the press, over the Turkish government. At that time the concern was the issue of the occupied territory of Iskenderun. Syrian Kurds of the Kurdish Labor Party found the policy of the Syrian Government as essential support for them to achieve the goal of the party’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan. His goal was to establish a Kurdish state in Turkey, which over time could converse towards including the Syrian Kurdish lands, in order to achieve the Kurdish national state.

Syrian support, of course, has diminished after Ocalan was arrested. This came after his escape from Syria during the late 1990’s, and severely damaged the relationship between Syrian Kurds and the Syrian regime.

Thus, most of the Kurdish Labor Party’s pioneer fighters have escaped towards the Qandil Mountains, where they became the military wing which currently causes great problems for Turkish forces.

The Mechanism, Volunteering and Membership:

Many activists in the Kurdish Labor Party unanimously agree they are nationals rather than clan. However, the social reality in the Syrian Jazeera region (the desert), makes clan life inevitable, even though the majority of its activists are nationals. Most Syrian Kurdish armed activists in the Qandil Mountains are inhabitants of the region expanding from  the city of Qamishli, towards the city of Al- Malikiyah, especially of the region of Nusaybin, which is most likely the birth place of Bahoz Erdal. It is often said that the name of the Bahoz clan is the ‘Amourat.’ It has been noted that most of the parties fighters belong to this clan in origin.

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Despite this clan life dimension, many nationalist Kurds, especially youth, have been volunteers in the party. Through their relation to one of its activists, it is easier to become involved due to extensive communication with one of the party leaders in the city of Erbil. The leader then sends the volunteer to the mountains in order to join the groups of pioneer fighters. The group of educated youth in the Iraqi Kurdistan Universities are also added to the aforementioned Syrian pioneer groups. Here, the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan region has provided free education for Syrian Kurd students, whom on their part have been connected with their relatives. If one of relatives was a member of the military wing in the Kurdish Labor Party, he might attract the younger and easily influenced to volunteer. The economic situation in the Syrian Desert (Al-Jazeera) is one of increasing poverty and opportunities for employment, except for farming, are quite rare.

Consequently, by joining this party, a young man finds himself as a nationally active member. At the same time, he doesn’t place a financial burden upon his parents for the future.

No Friends but the Mountains - Women if the PKK Guerrillas
Teenage guerrillas at the New Fighters Academy raise moral by singing PKK songs as they hide from American helicopters in the mountains above their camp.

The Number of Syrians and Their Occupations:

It is rather difficult to determine the exact number of Syrians included in the military wing of the party, for the number differs according to party needs, and there is an absence of a consistent and clear financial budget. Many of its fighters have turned back and settled down in Syria. However, after the Turkish sever military attacks against the party, you may notice them leaving and heading towards Iraqi Kurdistan.The estimated number of the Syrian Kurds in the Qandil Mountain region is about 70 % of its total fighters. Quite astonishing is that those fighters don’t even acknowledge Syria as their country. They imagine these regions as a small part of the great country of Kurdistan.

This evident nationalistic sentiment from Syrian Kurds makes them trustworthy to Erdal, where he places them in delicate positions within the front. It is however natural that such positions are unknown by a majority, as most of the fighters have adopted an alias. Many Syrian families, who have been deserted by their children in order to join the military wing of the Labor Party, are secretive regarding the manner, and claim their children have settled down in the Iraqi Kurdistan either to work or study.

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The Effect of the Labor Party in Syria:

The number of supporters to the party in Syria have vastly decreased after being penetrated by Syrian security, and led a great number of its political leaders to distance themselves from their volunteer military activists. However, any declaration made by Erdal or a member of his wing has a strong effect on Syrian Kurds and other Kurdish parties, even those who oppose the party and view it as an opponent which is corrupting the minds of youth.

The commitment of Erdal in his cause and speech allows Syrian Kurds to feel proud of themselves. If they achieve any victory, an observer might easily sense that victory, especially in the eyes of the youth who are rushing out of elementary and secondary public schools.

Moreover, any military operation against any region with the majority of Kurdish inhabitants, whether in Turkey or Iraq will be treated as an indignation for Syrian Kurds in general.

Increased Nationality among the Syrian Kurds:

The Syrian formal educational system has contributed in focusing mainly on Arabic nationality and Arabic language. This resulted in a severe reaction for nationalist Kurds, who find that the Arabic nationality is imposed over theirs. This made them use the Kurdish language exclusively at home. They watched Kurdish TV channels and attempt to find any root linking them with the Syrian villages of Al-Jazeera and Afrin, in order to establish a clear identity and a strong national demand.

  • The success of the experience of the independent Iraqi Kurdistan region and the American support to Iraqi Kurds.
  • The absence of the cultural, social and economic developments and the increased poverty in regions inhabited by them.

Editing by: Adam November

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