PKK Changes Leadership

During its latest general assembly, the PKK has made changes in the leadership structure, as questions remain about the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish peace process.

al-monitor Murat Karayilan, acting military commander of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Kandil Mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniyah, 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Baghdad, March 24, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

Topics covered

people's defense forces, kurdistan

Jul 14, 2013

During the latest PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] general assembly, important decisions to change the KCK [Union of Kurdish Communities] system and its superstructure were taken.

Everything was changed except the position of [PKK leader] Abdullah Ocalan. The latter is still the unchallenged leader of the KCK. There was, however, a major surprise in the KCK Executive Council. Murat Karayilan — who for years acted as the chairman of the KCK Executive Council and who actually ran the PKK during Ocalan's imprisonment — was removed and replaced by Cemil Bayik, known to be one of five founders of the PKK still alive, and Ms. Bese Hozat.

Another surprise is the application of the co-chair system, which is widely used in the Kurdish movement, to the top of the KCK. Until now, the KCK had a single leader. From now on there are two co-chairs, a man and a woman.

Karayilan is now the head of the HPG [People's Defense Forces], the military wing of the KCK.

Naturally there are many questions floating around. How was this decision taken? What does it mean? How will it affect the solution process?

Let’s start from the beginning. The decisions were taken with the approval of and on the request of Ocalan. It was Ocalan who personally planned the whole affair by consulting with the organization.

There has been an ongoing exchange of correspondence between Ocalan and the PKK leadership. Ocalan has written separately to the women, to the European wing and to KCK leaders. In his last letter, he shared with them his views and proposals for the upper levels of the movement. After studying their responses, he put the final touches on the changes. Bayik and Hozat became co-chairs and Karayilan took over the HPG are Ocalan’s decisions.

The thesis that "Bayik is a hawk, Karayilan is a dove, thus this decision was taken despite Ocalan,” is totally wrong. Therefore, this decision is not a blow against the peace process.

As much as Karayilan was loyal to Ocalan and his solution plan, so are Bayik and Hozat. There is no rift between them as the Turkish public opinion is made to believe.

Bayik’s affinity to Iran is frequently cited but the Kurdish movement knows that Bayik is above all loyal to Ocalan. That is why in the general assembly, which restructured the KCK, it was openly declared that the peace process will continue and Ocalan’s Newroz plan will be implemented.

There are those who say Karayilan’s talking over command of the HPG is a move to better control the armed forces of the movement during the solution process, just as there are those who say it was done “to be better prepared for war should the process collapse."

Both arguments have valid points. Karayilan taking over the HPG can be interpreted as a strategic move to cover both eventualities. Which one will prevail depends on the course of the peace process.

In the KCK declaration, it was announced that the first phase of the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey was accomplished and now it is the time for the second phase that calls for steps to be taken by the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government. This is the key point to ponder.

The government says, “The withdrawal is not concluded. The first phase is not over.” Meanwhile, the PKK says it is done. Which is true?

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