The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), faced with increasing pressure to end its activities in northern Iraq, may be seeking to re-establish its camps in the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, intelligence reports indicate.
After the PKK lost its support from Syria, which was confronted with military and diplomatic pressure from Turkey in the late '90s, the terrorist group found a safe haven in the mountains of northern Iraq, a region now facing a serious threat of military incursion by Turkey. Following Turkey's intense diplomatic efforts to find support for its fight against terrorism, northern Iraqi leaders and the US have recently hinted that they will be backing Turkey's right to protect itself from the PKK, whose members cross the border and stage brutal attacks within Turkey. The leader of the regional Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, who had previously taken little action against the PKK presence in the region, recently vowed to make the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq "impossible" so long as the group did not lay down its arms.
Confronted with an increasingly hostile environment, the PKK has already begun evacuating its camps in northern Iraq, according to recent intelligence reports from the region. PKK administrators are now having talks with Armenia to relocate their camps to the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, intelligence reports suggest. PKK leaders have also been talking to 12 Kurdish villages in Armenia, located near the border with Turkey.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave located in Azerbaijan that has been under Armenian control since 1993. Since Iraq has stopped allowing the PKK to get food and supplies in the region and has also stopped admitting the militants into northern Iraqi hospitals, the PKK has been trapped inside the mountainous region of northern Iraq.
Faced with this situation, the PKK administrators have decided to move 10 of their camps from the Kandil Mountains and are in search of a new country that will welcome them. Currently an estimated 450 PKK leaders are believed to be hiding in northern Iraq. The intelligence reports on the PKK’s relocation considerations came from an ex-PKK member using the code name “Şahin” (hawk), who surrendered to Turkish security forces after he fled the PKK’s “Çarçela” camp in northern Iraq. He said the group had evacuated most of its camps in northern Iraq to avoid a potential military strike by Turkey.
Failed to convince Iran
The PKK initially considered moving its camps to Iran, where the camps of its sister organization, the Party for a Free life in Kurdistan (PJAK) are located. However, recent Iranian operations against PJAK and improving relations between Turkey and Iran -- including intelligence sharing -- forced the PKK to reconsider.
Meanwhile the government of Azerbaijan has requested detailed information about PKK militants in its territory, since the terrorist group has recently increased its activities on in Azeri territory. Concerned about the fact that most PKK terrorists have Turkish passports, which confer special access privileges in Azerbaijan, the Azeri government has offered cooperation with Turkish security forces. It is also preparing to pass a new law that will prevent even sympathizers of the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization, from forming any associations in the country. A senior official from the Azeri Justice Ministry was in Ankara on Nov. 28 to talk about the details of the bill.
Plans for Şuşa, Lacin and Fuzuli
Armenia is making a special effort to settle the PKK in Nagorno-Karabakh, alleged Mehmet Azeritürk, the secretary-general of the Federation of Turkish-Azeri Associations, speaking to Today’s Zaman. “Armenia is making an effort to bring PKK militants into the cities of Şuşa, Lacin and Fuzuli, to be able to keep these cities it has occupied.” If these three cities fell under the PKK’s control, a buffer zone would be formed between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, Azeritürk warned.
Although Armenian officials deny any contacts with the terrorist PKK organization, they say it is possible that local administrators in Nagorno-Karabakh may have had such talks.
Hasan Sultanoğlu Zeynalov, Azerbaijan’s consul-general in Kars, eastern Turkey, was the first to warn of the talks between Nagorno-Karabakh administrators and the PKK. He said, “There is a single country left in the region where the PKK could go, and that is Armenia. Our research has led us to confirm that some PKK administrators went to Armenia to have talks there -- about which we immediately informed the Azeri government and the Turkish government.”
He said although Kurdish villages in Armenia near the border were an option, the PKK would prefer Nagorno-Karabakh, a relatively more remote and safe region.