PEJAK (Free Life Party of Kurdistan) comes to the agenda nowadays in each discussion about PKK, Northern Iraq, cross-border operation and relationship between US-Turkey-Iran. The role that PEJAK plays in these discussions appears as a key concept which may determine existence, direction and destiny of PKK in the region. There isn’t much information about this organization which became increasingly important lately and there are question marks in our minds. There are many obstacles to get through regarding the birth and establishment of PEJAK; its relationship with the PKK, Iran, Northern Iraq and the US. The aim of this article is to respond these questions. This article is composed of four chapters. In the first chapter, the establishment process and aim of the organization will be discussed. In the second chapter, the environment and the factors that transform this organization into a regional power will be analyzed. In the third chapter, PKK’s “search for a New Mission” will be discussed and in the fourth chapter, the status of PEJAK within the national policy equation of Iran will be examined. This study will be finalized with a brief general evaluation chapter.
Establishment and Purposes
The capture of Abdollah Ojalan put the terrorist organization PKK into a shock and uncertainty for a while. The organization put its effort to come through this crisis by changing its name into KADEK in 2002 and KONGRE-GEL in 2003. In this period PKK not only got into an ideological crisis but also an organizational crisis. At that stage Abdollah Ojalan defended the thesis “democratic-ecologic society” and “democratic confederalism” in this regard. This thesis showed that PKK lost its touch with its “grand Kurdistan” dream that it have been supporting for years and a condefedaralism modeled government was proposed to the Kurds who are living in four different countries. This approach was a “search for a solution” to “the Kurdish issue” within the countries they live in. KONGRE-GEL was established in 2003 as an umbrella organization based on this proposition. Under this umbrella the idea of the establishing an organization and a party in their own way and in the four countries where the Kurds live was brought to the agenda. As a result the decision to establish KADEK in Turkey, PEJAK in Iran, Democratic Solution Party in Iraq, Democratic Unity Party in Syria was taken. After a while the idea of KONGRE-GEL and KADEK was put aside and PKK was used again. The party established in Syria was not successful. The reason for this is the organization might be weakened when the Syrian PKK members left the organization and participate in the Democratic Unity Party. The Democratic Solution Party did well in Iraq and so did PEJAK in Iran.
There are different statements regarding the establishment date of PEJAK. According to its founders the idea of establishment was thought in 1993 2 but the establishment of PEJAK was delayed for long due to the relationship between Iran-PKK. Besides, the aforementioned relationship paved the way to the establishment of PEJAK at the same time. Iran tolerated the political activities of the terrorist organization PKK in Iran for a long time. Thanks to this support Iran gained intelligence support from the PKK against its opponent Kurdish groups and sometimes they carried out joint operations against these groups. This also coincides with the time when Iran supported PKK to weaken Turkey. PKK found an easy opportunity to propagate in Iran and even the books of Abdollah Ojalan were published by the approval of the Ministry of Culture. The activities of the PKK was not only limited to this but also it had initiatives to establish a Kurdish Institute in Iran and a Kurdish city by the name of Mokriyan on the Turkish-Iranian border. The relationship with Kurdish students and MP’s were fostered. When Khatemi came into power in 1997, these initiatives became multidimensional. The democratization rhetoric of Khatemi gave new opportunities to the Kurds. The reformists made promises on the amelioration of “the situation of the Kurds”. Iranian Kurdish parties supported this process which gave hope to the Kurds. The PKK continued its activities although the Kurds sank into despair in the second term of Khatemi.
Following the arrest of Ojalan the psychological environment among the Iranian Kurds returned positively to PKK. Abdollah Ojalan and consequently PKK were identified with the concepts of “mistreated” and “heroism”. At that time PKK accelerated its activities. Iranian government did not do much to prevent these activities. The government which killed the party members of IKDP and KOMULE when captured, presented the PKK supporters an area of free activity. When they were captured, they were released shortly.
The failure following the positive environment created by the first term of the Khatemi government led to a great despair. The student formations and political organizations of that time searched new ways. In that environment the PKK supporters rethought about the idea of organization. In 2002 they were organized under the name of “Democratic Unity Movement” but these initiatives failed. The new mission definition of KONGRE-GEL and the US deployment in Iraq paved the way for all these efforts to come to a different point. In this process PEJAK started its activities by holding its first congress in 2004. PEJAK has two wings. The first wing, political wing, is organized as two active groups composed of youth (KCR) and women (YJRK). The second wing, military wing, is named as HRK (Hezen Rizgariya Kurdistan).
PEJAK (Kurdistan Free Life Party) states explicitly in its Rules And Regulations that, its ideological basis comes from PKK and Abdollah Ojalan. PEJAK deems “PKK as the greatest movement in the Kurdish history“ and defines its lines as “Apoism”. It states its aim as establishing “Iranian Federal Democratic Republic” and defines the acts of terrorism within the concept of “legitimate defense”. In the above-mentioned Rules And Regulations the KONGRE-GEL is defined as “the basic umbrella organization” and it is obligatory to preserve the organic relationship and follow the same line with it. The organization uses the PKK tools in all its propaganda and political activities; disseminates the books, articles, speeches of Ojalan to recruit militants within Iran. Furthermore the high level cadre of PEJAK has fulfilled “serious” missions within different units of the PKK before. On the other hand PEJAK’s camp in Ghandil is “protected” by PKK and PKK gives military and ideological training to PEJAK.
How did PEJAK gain influence?
The information regarding the Kurdish population and their settlements in Iran is of major importance in understanding the extent of influence of PEJAK. There are approximately five million Kurds in Iran. While they form a majority in cities such as Kurdistan, Karmanshah and Ilam, they form a minority in Western Azerbaijan, Lorestan and Horasan.9 There are sectarian and dialectical differences among them. They talk Kermanji in Western Azerbaijan and Khorasan; Sorani in Kurdistan; Karmanshahi in Ilam and Karmanshah. 30 percent of the Kurds are Shiites. While Kurds from Ilam and Karmanshah.are Shiite; other Kurds are mostly Sunnis and Shafis. Dialectical, sectarian and geographical distributions of the Kurds influence their political tendencies. The Shiite Kurds have a tendency of being close to the center. For example there is a serious Persianism in Karmanshah. The Sunnite Kurds in the Kurdistan Province attach themselves to the Kurds in Northern Iraq while the Kermanci Kurds in Western Azerbaijan attach themselves to Turkish Kurds. The PEJAK’s base consists of Kurds living in Azerbaijan province. Furthermore, the PEJAK desires to spread among the Sorani Kurds as well. It started to gain influence also among Kurdish Shiites in Iran. It gains power especially in Iranian cities of Karmanshah and Ilam as Shiites, who constitute 30 percent of Kurds, do not approve the other Kurdish groups very much. However, the PEJAK started to gain influence among the Shiite Kurds by breaking this resistance.
The PEJAK’s seeds were planted during the period of good relations between the PKK and Iran. The PKK terror organization attempted to grow in Iran within the framework of Iranian security support and wanted to bring its activities in an organized form. For this reason, there is a perception among many opposition groups in Iran that “the PEJAK is an offspring of the Iran regime.” The interesting point is that during the period following its establishment, the PEJAK continued its activities overtly in certain regions of Iran.
The mass, which the PEJAK and the PKK influenced in Iran, consists of people who received education and higher education. Since the Iranian Kurds did not carry out many theoretical works, they were influenced considerably by the cultural work of the PKK. Moreover, the PKK replaced pishmarga concept with “guerilla” phenomenon. And this attracts young generation seeking their identity. Another matter of influence for Kurds in Iran was women rights. Promises are made for young Kurdish students to educate abroad on scholarships and for unemployed people to be employed in Northern Iraq.
Another reason for the PEJAK’s growth was that Iran’s traditional Kurdish groups got weakened in Kurdish regions. Iranian Kurds have two significant parties named Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (IKDP) and KOMULE. In 1943, a group of young people came together in Savujboulagh (Mahabat) and established the first covert Kurdish organization, the Kurdish Revival Society (Kömala-Jiani-Kürt). This organization later turned into the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1945. Since that day this party has undertaken a significant role in all events and historical developments in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the organization increasingly became passive after 1991. And KOMULE was established by the people who split from the Iranian Communist Party. This constitution gained power especially following 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. However, it was also weakened over time. These parties’ presence in Northern Iraq lost their independence and their activities went under the command of Talabani and Barzani. These groups were neutralized upon the request of Iran, within the framework of Iran-Northern Iraq relations. In this process, parties’ energy was spent on inter-party disputes and settling up and there was insufficiency in policymaking. The bloody conflict in the KOMULE camps in Northern Iraq in the recent period also constituted the last example of this internal settling up.
Another reason for the PEJAK’s strengthening is that it benefits all the means of the PKK. Iran’s other Kurdish groups do not have the media support (ROJ TV) that PEJAK has. As a matter of fact, ROJ TV is watched and PKK-PEJAK propaganda is made in IKDP and KOMULE camps.
PKK’s Search for a “New Mission”
Establishing the PEJAK, the PKK wanted to take part in the US “regional speculation and searches”. The settlement of USA in Iraq caused a deep-rooted change in the PKK’s strategy and regional stand and the PKK started to alienate from its traditional supporters Iran and Syria. This situation indicates that the PKK is in search for a mission within the context of USA. Making good use of regional conflict areas, the PKK wanted to take part in the scope of regional plans of USA. The PKK realized that the regional and global equilibrium has changed and thus it can not trust its traditional supporters in the region any more. It has also come out that Iran and Syria are placed in corner by the West and they do not have the power to support the PKK against Turkey any longer. For this reason, the PKK started to locate itself in the region so that it is of use for USA. The PKK has the potential to carry out this new mission as it is an organization with a cross border structure. Different from the other Kurdish groups, it has militants with Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish nationalities. And this provides the PKK with an opportunity to carry out its activities in an extensive area. In addition, it has a tendency and power to act free from the Northern Iraqi Kurds. Since the other Kurdish groups of Iran are excessively dependent on Barzani and Talabani, they do not have this potential. As a matter of fact, the Iranian Kurdish groups preferred to protect the “Regional Kurdish Administration” in Northern Iraq as their fundamental politics. Because of the close relations between Iran and Northern Iraqi Kurdish groups, other Kurdish groups mentioned above were silenced. On the contrary, the PEJAK came on stage and grew in this period.
All these developments changed the relations between both the PKK and the regional states. While the PKK was Turkey’s problem before, it became a problem for Syria and Iran as well. This complicated the solution to the PKK problem even more as the solution to the PKK problem went beyond the scope of USA and Turkey and as it linked to the fate of the relations between the USA, Syria and Iran. Although Iran and Syria seemed to side with Turkey, their positioning the PKK as against themselves places the US stand regarding the PKK in a harder situation.
There are contradictory statements over the relations between the PEJAK and USA. While USA considers the PKK as a terrorist organization, it makes an unequal treatment by not making the same statement regarding the PKK. The US administration states that they do not have any relations with the PEJAK. However, the PEJAK’s statements and the general view is that USA supports the PEJAK.
With the coinciding of the PKK’s change of strategy and the PEJAK’s establishment with the period of increasing tense relations between USA and Iran, the search of USA for an organization capable of struggling against Iran put the significance of the PEJAK on the agenda. Within this frame of reference, some features of the PEJAK attract USA. Although the Iranian Kurdish groups, except for the PEJAK, have long carried out an armed struggle, they are not in a desire to do so for the time being. Furthermore, the Arabs and the Baluchis in Iran also do not have a powerful armed organization. And the Azerbaijani Turks favor political and democratic struggle and they do not have any military structure. On the other hand, the opposition outside the scope of ethnic nationality does not have a significant influence inside Iran. The most powerful of these is Mujahedeene Khalq. Besides being on the US terror organizations list, the organization is also the “blood enemy” of the Iraqi Shiites and the Kurds as it once was close to Saddam. These points increase the significance of yhe PEJAK in the eyes of USA. Also the unwillingness of USA to meet the requests of Turkey on the PKK issue does have a sense within this frame of reference since it is in need of the PEJAK.
PEJAK in the Iranian Political Equilibrium
PEJAK tends to gain power not only among the Kurds but also throughout Iran. However, PEJAK’s succeeding in this aim is also not so easy. As a matter of fact, although it called the opposing Persian groups in Iran to cooperate, it did not receive a positive answer. These groups felt a deep distrust of the PEJAK from the day of its birth. Iranian opposition perceived PEJAK as an “Iranian project”. For them, the Iranian state targeted with the establishment of the PEJAK to control and direct the Kurdish opposition. Obviously, this comment was made taking into account the close relations between the PKK and Iran. Although the PEJAK reduced this distrust to a certain extent as a result of its skirmishes with Iran, it still faces serious problems. Moreover, Persian opposition perceives the PEJAK as a disrupter. Another problem for the Iranian Persian opposition groups is the relations of the PEJAK with the PKK and this relationship increases the lack of confidence about PEJAK. According to these groups, the close relationship between PKK and the regime of Iran has worsened only in the recent period. Moreover, the regional balances could make PKK close to Iran again. At such kind of a phase, the power of PEJAK to act independently would be under question. The discourse of PEJAK deepens this doubt. Existing like “the aim is to change the regime but not to overturn it”, this discourse leaves an opportunity to bargain with the Iranian regime.
The other Kurdish groups in Iran also do not find PEJAK sympathetic to themselves. Willing to struggle in a political and democratic period, the Iranian Kurdish groups endure to consider PEJAK as a trap of Iran. According to this opinion, the military conflicts of PEJAK channeled Iran to deploy its army into the region in which the Kurds are living. And this fact gives way to the opportunity of suppressing the political activities of the Iranian Kurds and the chance of restraining the Kurds of Northern Iran. According to some Kurdish groups and leaders PEJAK and PKK give way to between Turkey, Syria and Iran to create cooperation between each other, which is not for the benefit of the Kurds in the region. This fact pushes Turkey and Iran into a “violent and aggressive” position against North Iraq and makes the administration in the North of Iraq compensate to Iran and Turkey. These Kurdish groups located in the North of Iraq claim that “while Iran was bombing the North of Iraq, the villages were burned but nothing happened only to PEJAK.” Due to this opinion, the PEJAK-PKK operations bring with itself the danger of destroying the Regional Kurdish Administration which is a young Kurdish formation. On the other hand, it is an influential factor that makes it difficult for the USA to support the north of Iraq.
The most concerned and insecure group in Iran that views the activities of PEJAK is the Azerbaijani Turks. According to the Azerbaijanis, PEJAK claims the historical lands of Azerbaijani Turks as “the lands of Kurds” in accordance with the “Great Kurdistan” dream. In this respect, they made some attempts. As it is pointed out above, PKK has sought to establish a Kurdish province (otsan) called Mokriyan on the Turkish-Iranian border after 1997. But this attempt was suspended because of the sensitiveness of the Azerbaijani Turks. On the other hand, channeling PEJAK-PKK to Iran means that the conflict could spread to the city of Urumiyah in which the Azerbeijani Turks live. And this increases the possibility that a Turk-Kurd conflict could be break out in the West Azerbaijan. Even it is not known in Turkey completely, the emotional and psychological ground for a Turk-Kurd conflict in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran is arising. According to the Azerbaijanis, PEJAK and PKK follow the project of Turk-Kurd conflict in the region. PKK’s constant having of Urumiyah, the most ancient city of Azerbaijan in the map of “Great Kurdistan” creates an anxiety. This fact produces a potential of hot-conflict between the Kurds and the Azerbaijanis at the border region of Iran and Turkey.
Conclusion and General Assessment
Regionalization of PKK is a process for Turkey that shelters both the opportunities and threads. On one hand, the problem becomes a problem of Iran and Syria as well. This case facilitates Turkey’s search for the regional cooperation on the PKK issue and makes taking help and support from the States of the region for PKK impossible. Moreover, it divides the energy of PKK, since Turkey has got out to be the only target. However, besides all these positive factors, the solution of the problem has become harder. Ceasing to be an issue in the respect of the American-Turkish relationships, this problem has commenced to be a part of the deal between Iran, Syria and Turkey. This case makes the job of Turkey more difficult and the motivation of the USA to put an end to PKK affects negatively from this matter. Thus, the USA-Turkey relationships became problematic. Moreover, this process covers the potential of PKK to turn out to be a greater problem in the future. In a case of a military intervention toward Iran, a new formation in the Kurdish district of this country could appear. Pushing PKK-PEJAK into Iran means that the leadership of this possible structure would already leave to this organization. Moreover, this situation could present PKK an opportunity to create a “Kurdish belt” in the Iranian-Kurdish border, which has been a dream of PKK for a long time. By this way, Turkey could come face to face with a Turk-Kurd hot-conflict on the Iranian border. For these reasons, PKK-PEJAK’s channeling to Iran does not solve the problem of Turkey.
The tension between Iran and the USA and the radicalism of Ahmadinejad could be more harmful to Turkey than it has ever thought of. Thus, Turkey should take part in this process more actively. Turkey should put an end to the problem of PKK-PEJAK in this way or an other; even it could not manage to cease the tension between the USA and Iran. It is very important to hinder the future of PKK-PEJAK terrorist organization in Iran right now before the Iranian-American tension comes to the phase of “the final deal”.