Kurdish political parties

1. Kurdish political parties in TURKEY :

HaDeP (People’s Democracy Party) : Kurdish political group established in 1994 to replace the DeP party (closed down by a court order). HaDeP took part in the 1995 elections and won 4.2 % of the vote. Prevented by the 10% threshold system to enter the parliament, it gave most of its votes to the Welfare Party so as not to waste them. HaDeP is the only legal party allowed to represent Kurdish interests. However, an Ankara prosecutor ordered in mid-February 1998 the arrest of the party’s 57-member directorate. While nine members, including the party chairman Murat Bozlak, were still in custody, the party took part in the April 1999 municipal and general elections. Once again, HaDeP failed to reach at the national level the 10% threshold for seats in the Assembly but won massively in a lot of cities in the South-Western regions of Turkey (i.a. in Agri, Batman, Bingöl, Diyarbakir, Siirt, Van).

PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) : created in 1978 when the Turkish social and political landscape was extremely unstable. A radical organisation of Marxist orientation (at least in its rhetorics), the PKK set out to create an independent Kurdish state in the east of Turkey where the bulk of the population is Kurdish and where the economy is ostensibly under-developed in comparison with the rest of Turkey. The PKK has political representatives in most European capitals.

The PKK proclaimed an armed struggle against the government in the Kurdish area, denouncing as ‘collaborators’, and sometimes killing, local leaders or members of opposing political organisations. The PKK’s armed struggle grew into an open war with the Turkish State: in the early eighties, about half of the Turkish army was stationed in the Kurdish regions where the Turkish authorities began arming locals loyal to the state to create a Kurdish counter-force to the PKK’s increasingly powerful movement.

The PKK controlled militarily but also politically and socially most of the Kurdish regions around 1992-93. It also established military bases in northern Iraq, taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the Gulf war. However, the Turkish army began emptying and destroying Kurdish villages, forcing its inhabitants to flee to the western regions, thus preventing the PKK militants from hiding among the local population. In its determination to root out the PKK, the Turkish army initiated a series of incursions into northern Iraq with the help of one of the Iraqi Kurdish movements, the KDP. This war has already cost approximately 30.000 lives and it seems far from over.

At the request of the Syrian Government put under pressure by Turkey, Abdulah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, left his place of residence in Syria in October 1998. After having tried unsuccessfully to gain political asylum in Russia and Italy, he was finally kidnapped in Kenya and imprisoned in Turkey in February 1999.

2. Kurdish political parties in IRAQ :

KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) : founded in Mahabad (north west of Iran) in 1946 by Mustafa Barzani, a key figure in Iraqi Kurdish politics since the early thirties. Chased out of Iraq, Barzani supplied the local Iranian KDP with 3000 fighting men: in 1946 the autonomous Republic of Mahabad was proclaimed but it was already a historical footnote by 1947.

Barzani was not heard of again until 1958 when he returned from exile to Iraq. In the meantime, the Iraqi KDP had been monopolised by Barzani’s rival, Ibrahim Ahmad. In 1960, the KDP was legalised by the Free Officers, then in power in Baghdad. Successive Iraqi authorities (unlike Turkish and Iranian authorities) have always granted Iraqi Kurds a separate ethnic status. However, none really wanted to allow the creation of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

What followed for many years was a game of rivalries and treacheries between Barzani, who relied mainly on his tribesmen, and Ahmad, both using the KDP as their political plaything and forming periodic alliances with the Iraqi and Iranian authorities against one another. Thus it was not always clear where the KDP stood or who controlled it.

The 1975 Algiers Agreement between the Shah and Saddam Hussein led to the collapse of Barzani’s military force which had, for 14 years, been in control of the north east areas along the Iranian borders (benefiting from Iranian arms supplies). Mustapha Barzani died in exile, replaced by his son Massoud, from then on head of the KDP.

PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) : founded in 1976 by Jalal Talabani (son-in-law of Ibrahim Ahmad, Barzani’s old-time rival in the KDP).

Recent evolution of Kurdish movements in Iraq: During the Iran-Iraq war, Teheran recruited the Barzani clan and the KDP to help fight the Iranian KDP, while Talabani’s PUK formed an alliance with Baghdad which did not last. By 1987, the KDP and PUK formed an alliance against Baghdad and, in March 1988, allowed the Iranian army to enter the Kurdish territories and capture the town of Halabja which Saddam Hussein immediately attacked with chemical weapons (killing estimatedly over 6000 civilians).

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, KDP and PUK united once again against Saddam Hussein but the army rooted out the Kurdish resistance, forcing over two million civilians to flee Iraq. Operation « Provide Comfort » enabled these refugees to return home.

In May 1992, elections were held in northern Iraq leading to the creation of a Kurdish parliament and regional government. KDP and PUK shared equally all seats of the new parliament and declared being in favour of federalism i.e. they respected Iraq’s territorial integrity. The next month, the KDP and PUK together joined the INC (Iraqi National Congress).

Their efforts in building a stable government in northern Iraq were in vain in the face of total diplomatic isolation, lack of funds and Turkish military incursions (hunting down the PKK). Unable to police and administer a ravaged territory, seven times the size of Lebanon, the Kurdish government left KDP and PUK’s militias to enforce law and order.

Militias turned away from civic institutions, following either Barzani or Talabani’s direct orders and plunged the Kurds once more in a spiral of tribal violence with the KDP opposed to the PUK in a genuine civil war.

Barzani is in control of areas along the Turkish borders (« Barzaniland ») and helped Ankara tame the PKK in exchange for logistic support, while Talabani, in control of areas along the Iranian borders (« Talabaniland ») helped Teheran chase Iranian Kurds in exchange for a few bombs to be dropped on KDP territory (August 1996) to which Barzani retaliated with the help of Saddam Hussein.

On Sept. 17, 1998, the KDP and the PUK leaders finally signed a new reconciliation agreement in Washington, under the auspices of the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

See also: Kurds, INC, Iraqi National Congress