From Turkey To Iraq, The "PKK Problem" Still Central To Kurdish Destiny

“There is no Kurdish problem..”
“There is no Kurdish problem..”
Arzu Yilmaz

ISTANBUL - To understand the current stage of Turkey's so-called "Kurdish problem," rather than political analysis we are better off relying on the fundamentals of chemistry: The law of conservation of mass tells us that "nothing can be created out of nothing, and nothing can ever be completely destroyed.”

Therefore, promoting the concept that “there are no Kurds” to create an imaginary “Turkishness” was ultimately bound to be futile. Now instead, we are beginning to hear calls repeated that “there is no Kurdish problem, there is just a PKK problem.”

So, how much will this growing realization, reflected this week as troops of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) began to withdraw from Turkey, take us toward solving the Kurdish problem?

It seems that to realize this truth is not enough, there also needs some time for it to become accepted as such. But how does this happen?

There are those who now hope the PKK will withdraw silently “out of sight, out of mind...” We are expected to pretend as if the group no longer exists, even if we know that they do.

Turkish Prime MinisterTayyip Recep Erdogan’s words -- “Let them leave Turkey, it is not our business where they will go” -- show that this expectation was being created well beforehand. To put it in another way, new borders are being drawn for the public perception and questioning of Turkey’s concept of its Kurdish problem.

Where will the PKK members go?

The guerillas are withdrawing from Turkey to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as announced at the KCK Executive Council the press conference in Qandil.

But once the details emerged, as it is hard to believe, it was revealed once more that there is no real plan for this hastened process. The people who wonder “what will happen after this” seem to have no choice but to look at what has happened until today.

The slopes of Qandil

The PKK’s existence in Iraqi Kurdistan goes back to the early years of the rebel group. However, it was in the 1990’s when it cemented its position there, and took control of some swaths of territory. Despite the lack of official records, it is assumed that PKK controls about 500 villages along the border of Turkey and Iran.

Some of these villages are in the Bahdinan area which is known as the traditional population stronghold of the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP). The villages in this area under PKK rule are almost completely empty. The villagers mostly live in surrounding settlements or in various towns and cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. Access to the villages comes by PKK’s approval only, and just for the villagers to gather crops from their fields and gardens.

The situation is a little different at Soran area where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is in charge. There are 78 villages at the slopes of the Qandil Mountain; also known as “Binare Qandil.” Access to those villages is also under PKK control, but life goes on normally, with schools and health services available as in other parts of rural Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Mahmur Camp

Another settlement zone sympathetic to the PKK is the Mahmur Refugee Camp. There is a completely different system at the camp, which had no relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan from its foundation in 1998 to 2004. Currently, the Mahmur Camp is part of the “debated” zone, which will have its fate determined with a referendum according to the Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq; therefore, it is not subject to the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government. However, regional authorities are providing security in practice since 2004, as well as local wages and expenses for running the camp.

Does it exist if you don’t see it?

At the end of the day, the PKK has actually existed in Iraqi Kurdistan as a political authority above and beyond guerilla status for a long time; although this has largely been kept quiet until today.

The new process that has begun with the PKK's withdrawal from Turkey points to this authority’s recognition more than just a necessity of the “Kurdiyati,” or self-identity. Thus, 420 families applied to the Kurdistan Parliament just this week, demanding martyr status for their relatives who died in the service of PKK.

In the end, it is not easy to guess how the Kurds will overcome this challenge. However, it is possible to offer an interpretation of the "let them go away, we do not care what they will do" attitude of Turkey, by looking at the past. Turkey, it seems, is looking to buy some time by saying: "there is no PKK if you do not see it’ just like it used to be said that ‘there is no Kurdish problem if you do not think about it.’ And then what? This time, it is more likely that the Kurds will decide what happens next, and Turkey will be left to accept their decision.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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