Kurdish camp is a seedbed of Stalinism

Refugees from Turkish repression are a thorn in the side of fellow Kurds in Iraq

HUGH POPE

Atrush, Iraqi Kurdistan

Peering over the parapet of the stone-built fort he commands, Hassan Shilli surveyed the last tent city of Iraqi Kurdistan spreading over the valley floor below. It looked innocently like the camps that in 1991 welcomed home Iraqi Kurds who had fled to Turkey and Iran after the collapse of their revolt after the Gulf war. But United Nations Camp B at Atrush is different. It is for Kurds from Turkey, dominated by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose hard-line leader's agenda is showing up in brutal relief.

"Take these," said Mr Shilli, a leader of Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas, passing over Iraqi army range-finding binoculars. "Most of them have weapons.

"I've posted pickets, but they come in and out at night, attacking my men. I reckon a third of them are guerrillas. They are not really refugees."

No firearms were visible by day, but the camp looked well organised. Shepherds herded flocks: some tents had cars outside; inhabitants clustered at a UN post, where aid workers say the situation is good enough for there to be complaints about having to eat meat every day.

The Turkish Kurds suddenly arrived in northern Iraq in December 1994 and January 1995. The bloody conflict between the Turkish forces and the PKK had been in progress for 11 years, but they were the first civilians to flee Turkey's military repression of its 12 million Kurds by crossing into Iraq.

With 25 million Kurds suffering harassment in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, the 15,000 new arrivals were welcomed as fellow victims. But in August, the Iraqi Kurds found themselves the target of an offensive by the PKK, which for years has attacked Turkey from bases in the inaccessible mountains along the Iraqi border.

Interviewed on the London-based satellite service MED-TV, which the PKK seems to control, the party's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, admitted responsibility. Speaking by telephone from his Syrian-controlled base, he called Iraqi Kurds stooges of Turkey and demanded a say in the government of northern Iraq.

It became clear that the Turkish Kurd civilians in the first camp, Camp A, high in the mountains, were being used as a base. So the UN started to move them down to Camp B in the valley. But the problem may not end there, since tight control is maintained by a committee dominated by the PKK and its Stalinist national liberation philosophy.

"It is difficult to identify who is political and who is not. Women and children are politicised. Everyone in the region has an AK [rifle], and so do they in the camp," sighed Pierre Vinet, the UN refugee supervisor.

Mr Vinet even considered it a victory when his staff were able to use the camp tannoy system to talk to the refugees outside the control of the committee. Reporters have been restricted since camp residents took 13 aid workers hostage for two days, perhaps a unique action by refugees.

Kurd families who managed to flee told what camp life was like. "The PKK have their own camp militia, their own administration. They would lecture us. They told us, 'We haven't come here to live. We've come to fight. This camp is the foundation of Kurdistan, our socialist state. You are the seeds and we will sow you.' "

The families were hiding in poor houses on the outskirts of the nearby Iraqi Kurdish town of Duhok. Some have since returned to Turkey. Others are waiting for Turkish guarantees that they will not be targeted by Turkish security forces back home.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq, which has borne the brunt of the PKK attacks since August, claims to have broken the back of the PKK's military machine in northern Iraq. But hundreds, if not thousands, of PKK guerrillas have clung on to remote mountain bases. The PKK also maintains a formal presence farther south in areas of Iraq controlled by guerrillas of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Trying to find a peaceful way out, the KDP leader, Masoud Barzani, has challenged Mr Ocalan to leave his bases in Syria and Lebanon to meet him at the border for peace talks "to prove he is a free man." No response has been reported.

Iraqi Kurds believe they are partly the target of a plot by Syria, which is determined to break US domination of northern Iraq. Some captured guerrillas were Syrian Kurds, granted exemption from military service if they joined the PKK.

Apologists for the PKK say that with every big Kurdish movement choosing a regional sponsor, it is unfair to criticise the PKK because it happens to be with Syria. This does little to endear the Turkish Kurds to their Iraqi Kurdish hosts.

"The sympathetic feeling for them in northern Iraq no longer exists. Their field of action should be Turkish Kurdistan," said Abdulaziz Tayyib, the KDP governor of Duhok. "About 50 of our civilians were killed in the fighting. In a way, it is treason."

n Ankara (Reuter) - Turkey yesterday said it had protested to Bonn over a meeting between a German intelligence official and the PKK leader, saying it was counterproductive to efforts to end PKK attacks in Germany.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss