Rebel Keeps Kurds’ Guns Close at Hand in Peace Talks With Turkey


Published: April 11, 2013

A banner depicting Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader. Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

A banner depicting Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader.
Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

ZARGALI, Iraq — In a safe house made of cinder blocks and surrounded by grazing goats and sheep, nestled high in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, a Kurdish fighter who has waged a guerrilla war against Turkey for nearly three decades remains defiant in the face of peace.

“Our forces believe they can achieve results through war,” said the fighter,Murat Karayilan, who commands the thousands of fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K.

For all the costs of the long war, Mr. Karayilan, his fighters and millions of Kurds believe it helped them achieve something they never would have without armed struggle: a recognition of Kurdish identity and more democratic rights.

Now, as the P.K.K. negotiates peace with Turkey to end one of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts, it is clinging to its guns despite demands by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, that it lay them down as a condition of talks. This defiance suggests that the peace process, despite the hope it has engendered on both sides, could be longer and more arduous than at first anticipated.

“Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms,” said Mr. Karayilan, in an interview here in the safe house, which had a freezer full of ice cream and satellite television despite its remote location. “It is the last issue, something to discuss as a last issue to this process.”

The shape of a peace deal is being negotiated in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and in the island prison cell of Abdullah Ocalan, the P.K.K. leader and philosopher-king of Turkey’s Kurdish resistance. But it has fallen to Mr. Karayilan to manage the peace process from his mountain redoubt in this lawless nook of Iraq, where the only authority is that wielded by gun-toting Kurdish rebels who operate checkpoints and live in caves at remote outposts.

The skies above these mountains have gone quiet, for now, as the bombing runs by Turkish planes, their pick of targets aided by imagery provided by American drones, have ceased in order to allow the talks to proceed.

Read the rest from the New York Times

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