Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Is it time to whitelist the PKK?

Is it time to whitelist the PKK?

The PKK, The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has been struggling for Kurdish autonomy for the greater part of the past century.  How and why this movement has been blacklisted by western powers has more to do with the relationship between Turkey and Western powers.  In light of Syria and Iraq spiraling out of control and a country on the brink of genocide the PKKs identification as a terrorist organization should be contested today, more than ever.

Turkey’s relationship with the PKK has negatively shifted Western policy in designating it a terrorist group.   Turkey has been subjected to a series of attacks by the PKK, most notably are the 1984 PKK attacks, the 1993 PKK ambushes, and the 2011 Hakkari attacks.  Just over 90% of the casualties of these attacks have been military personnel.  Despite known links to black market activities, such as drug smuggling rings, the PKKs association with terrorism remains elusive when contrasted to ISIS or Al-Qaeda.  According to the UN, the PKK and affiliated groups and individuals are not pursuant under UNSCR 1267 as a terrorist organization. Only three out of five of the UN Security Council members identify the PKK as a terrorist group. These states are all western backed NATO members.

NATO, rather unsurprisingly, has defined the PKK as a terrorist organization.   NATO shares close traditional ties with Turkey against the PKK.  These ties stretch back to the Cold War era and owe their legacy to a time when the US championed Turkey, arming it with a nuclear sharing arsenal to stage off Soviet aggression. This came at a time when the PKK, a Marxist group backed by the Soviets, could have sparked a proxy war.  Israel has traditionally shared warmed diplomatic relations with Turkey as well. In the case of both, these warm relations have come at the expense of a moral duty to seek truth and reconciliation from the Turkish Government for the Armenian Genocide.

Iraq and Syria today is on the brink of repeating the tragedies of the Armenian genocide one hundred years ago.  The group ISIS has employed terror tactics, sweeping across Iraq and Syria leaving the land “Judenfrei” of minorities.  Churches have been razed and local Christians have depopulated some of the oldest surviving Christian communities.  Jizya has begun to be instituted on some minorities, while others may be massacred.  It is PKK forces that helped thousands of Yazidis escape that have been encircled at Mount Sinjar.  They are the best equipped and most trained forces to yet clash with the Blitzkrieg advance of ISIS.

The PKK offers security, stability, and aspirations for a democratic and libertarian socialism.  Both public policy and public opinions may be beginning to sway in favor of the PKK. The Germans have begun to train Peshmerga fighters and arm them with advanced weapons training.  German lawmakers are considering arming the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as the KRG to fight against ISIS.  It may be time for both the US and Israel to step up to the plate and revisit blacklisting the PKK.

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel and as the student rabbi of Beth Boruk Temple.
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