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The War With No Name | The Nation

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The War With No Name

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Further into the valley, at the base of a huge mountain on the other side of which lies Iran, is a PKK headquarters camp. Under the shade of an arbor at a long table sits a troika of older, unarmed men. Two of them are visiting from Denmark; one, named Miro, heads the PKK's Europe-based Radio Roj. Like the military forces, the broadcasting is funded by donations from the large Kurdish diaspora, various front businesses and governments hostile to Turkey, which over the years have included the Greek, Syrian and Iranian intelligence services. Miro and his friend seem ready to talk but the man in charge, Said, is part of the guerrilla political directorate and assumes a standoffish attitude. Before him sits a slim volume on Nietzsche.

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Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of...

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He starts asking me questions. Who do I write for? How did I get here? What are my politics? "What do they say about the PKK in America?" asks Said. "They say you're terrorist. An interview might help get your side of the story out," I suggest. The negotiation wears on and then, abruptly, Said renders his verdict: no interview.

But seeing that I am angry he offers a lunch of flat bread, pickled hot peppers, preserved figs and potato salad. Then, despite his officious rejection of an interview a long political discussion ensues. Miro, the head of Radio Roj, speaks English, so we switch between translated Kurdish and English. "We're more flexible now," says Said. "It is not all as simple as America is the bad imperialist. We hope the US will help broker an agreement with Turkey."

The subtext of the discussion is one of war-weary restlessness. Said says that the PKK is no longer Marxist or revolutionary but socialist, "like Sweden." The party, he reminds me, now calls itself the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress. But everyone including its supporters still calls it the PKK. So what do they want? "A democratic solution. The freedom of Ocalan." Beyond that he and all the PKK communiqués remain vague.

Why did they abandon Marxism? "The Soviet Union collapsed." Said brings out books by Murray Bookchin, the Vermont based anti-urbanist writer, and a copy of Immanuel Wallerstein's After Liberalism. "What do you think of Bookchin?" asks Said, then adds: "An anarchist. Too extreme. Wallerstein is very useful." As for the war with Turkey, he says: "We want to negotiate. A dialogue."

Said won't say exactly what the PKK will settle for from the Turkish state. The cease-fire has just expired and he seems embittered, like the young fighters. He claims that while the Turkish president made a big show of parlaying with rebel Kurds, the security forces took advantage of the cease-fire to hunt down PKK cadre. "No more cease-fires for us."

Interestingly, our conversation keeps turning back to the chaos in central Iraq. It is clear the PKK is very worried about that war's outcome. "This is not Vietnam," says Miro. "What the US has created, this is more like Afghanistan." "The insurgents are fanatics," adds Said.

Does the PKK support the US occupation like the Iraqi Kurds? No. They want the United States out: "The Americans are only making it worse, but they won't leave the region." What would follow a US pullout in Iraq? "It's too complicated to say." When I suggest the possibility of endless war, Miro, Said and the others look at me blankly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Then Miro says, "Now you Americans are here. You are part of this complicated region."

As we bid farewell the mood is warm but sad. Turkey now has the upper hand. The guerrillas want this fight to end; their ideological commitments of times past have crumbled. They admit to their excesses.

Now they are tired, trapped in a wedge of mountains, much of their beloved Kurdistan a charred crater of suffering. And--as is demonstrated by the brutal occupation, chaotic crime wave and guerrilla fanaticism just south of them in Mosul--at a certain point war is no longer a means but merely its own self-fueling end.

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