At least 20 Kurdish guerilla fighters are dead in an assualt by Turkish army troops backed up by US-made Cobra attack helicopters near the Iraq border, AP reported April 15. Three Turkish soldiers and a village guardsman were also killed in the fighting in Siirt and Sirnak provinces. Turkish authorities said the guerillas infiltrated Turkish territory from Iraq, where they had taken refuge across the border. It was the largest battle between Turkish forces and fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since a five-year truce was called off last year.
The PKK, offially labelled a terrorist organization by the US State Department, has some 4,500 fighters holed up in northern Iraq, according to Turkish intelligence sources. AP notes that the US has been reluctant to move against them, as the north is one of the few relatively stable regions of Iraq. (See WW4 REPORT #95)
On April 4, an AFP report on the Kurdish Media website stated that a congress of the guerilla group’s leaders, meeting in “the mountains of Kurdistan,” had officially agreed to change the name back to PKK after a period of calling themselves KADEK (Congress for Democracy and Freedom in Kurdistan) and KONGRA-GEL (Kurdistan People’s Congress) following the arrest of the PKK’s founder and top leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. The earlier name changes coincided with a retreat from a separatist position. The group had declared an end to a unilateral truce in 2004, and the name change back to PKK appears a tilt back in a hard-line direction. April 4 was chosen for the congress because it is the birthday of Ocalan, who is now serving a life sentence in a top-security Turkish prison.
The ceasefire and retreat from a separatist position were declared in response to Turkish concessions in granting Kurdish language rights, a bid to meet European Union standards for treatment of minorities as Turkey seeks EU membership. But official Turkish response to the PKK resurgence points to lingering cultural intolerance. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in Oslo, said: “The PKK cannot speak on behalf of the Kurds, it cannot represent them. The Kurdish problem is imaginary… Turkish citizenship is our common denominator. This is our upper identity.” (Zaman Online, April 18)