Kurdistan: Freedom for Kurdistan, for working class unity and socialism

This statement of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) mainly deals with those parts of Kurdistan which are currently located in Turkey. It does not go into the situation in Turkey or other parts of Kurdistan in depth.

With the statement we want to open a dialogue with activists of the Kurdish movement. We are open for discussion on the issues raised and welcome any comment on them.

In Kurdistan today, a bloody war is waged by the Turkish generals against the Kurdish people. Since 1984, this war has left over 24,000 people dead and more than 2,500 villages have been destroyed by the Turkish military. Three million peasants have been made homeless, millions have had to flee to Western Turkey or to Europe.

Despite the talk of all the world’s rulers that the so-called "new world order" guarantees peace and security to all peoples, Kurds are still denied their own national identity and culture, democratic rights and personal freedoms.

The war has had disastrous consequences for the whole region. The Kurdish areas are not allowed to develop economically and socially. At least half of the population is unemployed. There is practically no investment in productive industry or infrastructure. 36% of schools in the region are currently closed. There is a shortage of 17,000 teachers.

Turkish workers also have to pay an enormous price for this dirty war. £8 billion of the money taken from the working class in Turkey is wasted on the war every year and this spending accounts for half of Turkey’s budget deficit. Every second, more money is spent on the war than a Turkish teacher earns in a month. This obviously aggravates the already huge social problems faced by the Turkish working class.

The objective of the Turkish state in this war is prestige and to keep control over a strategically important region. For the sake of controlling water supplies and routes for oil pipelines, a whole nation is suppressed in the most brutal way.

The early 1997 offensive into South-Kurdistan shows that the generals want to "solve" the problem by military means. Time and time again, they have announced the "final" offensive to wipe out Kurdish resistance. But, in 13 years of war, the second biggest NATO army has been unable to do so. It has become clear that the military campaign, far from defeating the Kurds, has hardened their determination to continue the heroic struggle.

The history of the Kurds is a history of oppression and wars. For decades, they have been subject to brutal imperialist repression. Today the Kurdish nation is divided up between the different regional powers which are all brutal dictatorships. Numbering more than 25 million, the Kurds constitute the largest nation without its own nation state.

The CWI fully supports the struggle of the Kurdish people for national liberation. We demand and fight for:

  • An immediate end to the war against the Kurdish people. The withdrawal of all Turkish military units from Kurdish areas.
  • Full cultural and democratic rights for the Kurds. For democratically elected local councils and a regional parliament.
  • End the discrimination against Kurdish political representation in Turkish institutions. A fully democratic electoral system. Democratic rights in Turkish society as a whole (e.g. freedom of press, freedom to assemble, freedom to organise).
  • The right of self-determination for the Kurdish people including and up to the right to secede from the oppressive states.

Kurdish organisations in Turkey put forward the idea of autonomy for Kurds within the existing borders of Turkey. We would support autonomy if it means an end to the "dirty war" and genuine democratic and cultural rights for all Kurds living in Turkey. However, the underlying social and economic problems of Kurdistan will not be completely solved within the confines of capitalism, even with full autonomy. To solve these problems, the current capitalist system has to be replaced by a socialist form of society.

The future of Kurds in Turkey is linked to the fate of Kurds living in the other parts of Kurdistan. The CWI (Committee for a Workers’ International) fights for socialism in all of Kurdistan as part of the struggle for a socialist federation of the region. All Kurds in each part of Kurdistan must be free to take a democratic decision on their future, including whether they wish to form a unitary state or a federation of Kurdish states.

The Struggle in Kurdistan

Today, all military means possible are employed by the Turkish state to crush Kurdish resistance. Since 1984, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has organised an armed struggle against the Turkish army in the mountains of Kurdistan.

The CWI supports the right of the Kurdish people to defend themselves, their families and villages against state terror. The strength of this resistance is linked to the active involvement of the Kurdish masses in this struggle. All aspects of the movement, including armed self-defence, should be democratically controlled by the Kurdish masses.

However the armed struggle in the mountains of Kurdistan will not be enough on its own to drive the Turkish military forces out of the Kurdish areas. While the Turkish army, with all its modern military equipment, is unable to defeat Kurdish resistance, it will also need more than military means to free Kurdistan from the occupation forces.

The Kurdish urban population has grown massively in recent years because of refugees fleeing the war and its effects. The population of Diyabakir has shot up from 380,000 in 1990 to 1.5 million today. This is a huge potential pool of support for the Kurdish liberation movement.

The resistance of the urban masses, through the trade unions and social movements, is vital for the struggle. The decisive role of urban workers and youth in struggles for national liberation has been shown for example in the undermining and collapse of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and by the Intifada in Palestine. They could play a similar role in Kurdistan today. Furthermore, those Kurds living in western Turkish cities also have a role to play in winning support from Turkish workers and youth for the Kurdish struggle.

Unity of Kurds

The history of Kurdistan is a history of national oppression. But it is also a history of sell-outs and betrayals by the different leaders of the Kurds. Time and time again, Kurdish leaders have struck deals with colonialism and imperialism for the sake of their own personal wealth and power.

This is exactly the role played by the leadership of the KDP and the PUK in South Kurdistan today. These tribal based organisations have wasted the opportunity to establish an independent and democratic society in South Kurdistan after the Iraqi army was forced to give up control over this region.

In 1995 the KDP invited the Iraqi army back into the area to help them in their power struggle with the PUK. Since then it has been actively supporting the Turkish army in fighting activists of the PKK.

If Kurds are going to free themselves from their oppressors, unity among the Kurdish workers and poor peasants living in the different areas is absolutely essential. This is why it is necessary to free the masses from the grip of their tribal leaders. For this to happen, fully democratic and independent organisations of the working class, poor peasants, women and youth have to be built which, in turn, would strive to lead a united struggle of Kurds in all areas against their oppressors.

Turkish and Kurdish workers clearly have the common interest of ending the war in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. The war not only destroys the lives of millions of Kurds, it also aggravates massively the economic and social problems in Turkish society.

In spite of relatively high growth rates in the recent period, living-conditions in Turkey have deterioriated. Inflation of around 80% makes life very hard even for skilled workers.

Turkey’s huge budget deficit of $16bn. is, to a large extent, caused by the enormous sums poured into the war in Kurdistan. Already, three-quarters of the total amount paid in taxes by the working class in Turkey goes directly to the banks in interest charges. The answer of all established political parties including Refah is to further attack the working class through cuts and privatisation.

The war in Kurdistan does not only affect the economy and the social situation. It also has disastrous consequences for political life in Turkey. With the pretext of fighting Kurdish "terrorists", the military elite have found new excuses with which to justify its anti-democratic policies.

The "soft Coup" in July 1997 once again proved that the real centre of political power lies with the generals. Earlier, the infamous car crash in Susurluk revealed close connections between the political establishment and the mafia.

Not only Kurdish but also Turkish workers and workers from all other ethnic backgrounds are denied fundamental democratic rights. The smashing up of strikes and demonstrations by the police, the murders of journalists, the disappearances of political and trade union activists, the banning of independent political parties – all of this is part of a normal day in Turkey. 9,000 political prisoners, including 130 journalists, are kept in Turkish prisons at this very moment.

The mass organisations in Turkey and Kurdistan have the responsiblity to do everything possible to build unity between the Kurdish and the Turkish working class. The Turkish workers movement has to advocate and fight for the right of Kurds to self-determination.

It is a big advantage that Turkish and Kurdish workers are organised in the same trade unions. This can become the main lever of building solidarity and unity. The trade unions have to organise a united struggle for social and democratic demands. This has to be linked to the question of national oppression in Kurdistan.

In Western Turkey, the trade unions have the responsiblity to explain the common interests of workers from all ethnic backgrounds in fighting against the corrupt Turkish state. They should take up and campaign on the issue of Kurdistan much more energetically than has been done in the past.

Up until now, the public service trade union federation – KESK – is the only one taking up the issue of Kurdistan, demanding the right of self-determination for Kurds and actively reaching out for international solidarity. This example has to be followed by other trade unions who genuinely represent the interests of the working class.

The Turkish workers’ and socialist parties also have to take an active part in the Kurdish struggle by explaining the necessity of solidarity and unity to Turkish workers. They need to point out that the repression in Kurdistan cannot be separated from repression in Turkey as a whole. Unfortunately, however, large parts of the Turkish working class are under the massive influence of chauvinist and religious propaganda, which makes them act against their own interests. The political and trade union organisations of the Turkish working class have to fight to break Turkish workers away from chauvinism and religious fundamentalism.

In order to achieve this, which is a precondition for the success of the Kurdish liberation struggle, it is also necessary for Kurdish workers’ organisations to take up the issues concerning the Turkish working class. Millions of Kurds live in the big cities in the West of Turkey. They and their organisations have to get more involved and play a role in the struggle for social reforms and democratisation. In that way, Turkish workers will have direct experience in practice of the fact that the Kurdish working class is on their side and the Turkish state is not.

By making a class appeal to the Turkish workers, by explaining to them that the war in Kurdistan is also a war against themselves, the Kurdish movement can severely weaken the Turkish state. It will also further undermine the morale of Turkish soldiers fighting in Kurdistan.

The CWI welcomes the recent development of a united front between HADEP and the ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party). This alliance, which is an important first step in building unity amongst Turkish and Kurdish workers in practice, should be further developed. We greet the emergence of the ÖDP as a big step forward for the Turkish as well as for the Kurdish working class.

It is in this context that the tactics of bombings and killings in western Turkey should be seen. Such methods have been used in the past and a campaign in the tourist areas of Western Turkey has been threatened once again.

The willingness of young people to risk and sacrifice their lives in these attacks shows the great determination and heroism this struggle is fought with. But individual attacks are not the way forward for the Kurdish struggle. The Turkish military forces will not be defeated or even weakened by individual attacks in western Turkey. These only serve to deepen the divisions between Turkish and Kurdish workers by giving the Turkish state an opportunity to play the nationalist card. Individual attacks are a dead-end and absolutely counter-productive from the point of view of the Turkish workers’ movement as well as from that of the Kurdish struggle for national liberation.

Instead, the Kurdish workers’ organisations should approach the Turkish mass organisations with the aim of building a united struggle around the following demands:

  • End the repression in Kurdistan and Turkey. Full democratic rights for Kurds as well as for Turks, including the right to form independent trade unions and political parties.
  • Against the rule of the generals.Against the reactionary policies of the Refah leadership.
  • For massive improvements in health, education, wages and working conditions in Turkey as well as Kurdistan.
  • An end to the rule of profit. Take the largest companies and banks into public ownership, creating the basis for a socialist society to meet the needs of all.

Building International solidarity

The Turkish ruling class totally relies on the backing of western imperialism. Without the active support of the US, Germany and other imperialist powers in NATO, the war in Kurdistan would be impossible. High-tech military equipment from the US and Germany is used in the war against the Kurds. Turkey receives large amounts of financial aid from abroad for its "defence".

Behind this support for the Turkish state lie important economic, political and strategic interests on the part of the western powers. Turkey is, besides Israel, the most important outpost of US-imperialism in this oil-rich region. As a commentator in the Wall Street Journal argues, "Turkey today plays a role similar to that of West Germany during the Cold War" for US strategical interests. Germany, as Turkey’s main trading partner and fourth biggest foreign investor, has special economic interests in supporting the military elite in Turkey.

For these reasons, the western governments are prepared to turn a blind eye to massacres in Kurdistan and to the lack of human rights in the whole of Turkey. Socialists and trade unionists in Europe and the US should point to the blood on the hands of the western governments and capitalists.

Some European countries have a massive immigrant population of Turkish and Kurdish workers. For example Germany has a population of 500,000 Kurds and 1.5 million Turks. These immigrants traditionally play a key role in trade union struggles. European trade unions can play a vital role by uniting Turkish, Kurdish, and European workers in struggle. This would strengthen the working class in Europe as well as in Turkey and in Kurdistan.

The trade unions in Europe must also take up and campaign on the issue of Kurdistan. Western politicians, in order to cover up their role in relation to the war and to whip up racism, very often support the battle against Kurdish "terrorism". If it were to be employed, individual military action by Kurds in Europe would only be counter-productive for the Kurdish struggle. It would give the imperialist governments an excuse for further repression against the Kurdish movement.

Trade unions and socialist organisations in Europe have a responsiblity to expose the role of the western governments in the war against the Kurds and to defend the democratic rights of Kurds in Europe including the right to demonstrate and to organise politically.

Kurdish organisations in Europe must direct their campaigns in particular towards the trade unions to win the support of the organised working class in Europe. In order to achieve this, it is also necessary that Kurdish organisations take up domestic issues. They should get involved in the trade union and workers’ movement, supporting struggles for social reforms and against fascism and state racism.

A united campaign must be built in Europe, involving Kurdish organisations, together with European working-class and socialist organisations and left immigrant and exile organisations and parties from Turkey.

This united campaign should struggle for:

  • The immediate stopping of arms exports to Turkey!
  • An end to all military, financial and political aid to the Turkish ruling elite!
  • Full democratic rights for the Kurdish, the Turkish and all other immigrant or exile communities in Europe!
  • The release of Keni Yilmaz (the European spokesperson of the PKK) and all political prisoners in Europe!

The CWI unconditionally defends the PKK and other Kurdish organisations against suppression by European states. We demand an end to the ban of the PKK in Germany and the unrestricted freedom for Kurds to be politically active and organised where they choose to be. The suppression of PKK-related activity in Europe today means taking away the right of Kurds to be politically active. We reject the European governments’ claims that they are only stopping PKK "terrorism" as hypocritical, especially given the state terrorism they perpetrate in the Kurdish areas and their support for the Afghan fundamentalists during the 1980s. The repression of the Kurdish movement has to be combatted energetically by socialists and trade unionists in Europe


The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), launched in 1978, has developed into a mass force in the course of the 1980s. This was an expression of the radicalisation of Kurdish workers, peasants, women and youth in that period. Within the PKK, the increased involvement of women in social and political struggles was also reflected.

The PKK now has mass support among Kurds in Turkey and among the Kurdish immigrant communities in Europe. It is the only force with mass support among Kurds.

The PKK says that it is a Marxist workers’ party, fighting for socialism.

In the past, the PKK acknowledged, at least in theory, the decisive role of the working class in the struggle for national liberation. However this has changed. Now PKK leaders talk of the "proletarianisation of the Kurdish nation", which appears to mean that, because all Kurds are subject to national oppression, there are no classes within Kurdish society. The PKK leadership advocates an alliance of all "patriotic" layers and classes in the national liberation struggle.

It is clear that all Kurds are nationally oppressed. But this does not do away with the fact that Kurdish workers and poor peasants on the one side and Kurdish capitalists and big landowners on the other, have fundamentally opposing interests. Even if this contradiction temporarily appears blurred by the national oppression, it nevertheless remains a fact which will surface as soon as even limited liberation has been achieved. The Kurdish elite want to create a state where they can exploit their "own" masses, while Kurdish workers and poor peasants want the opportunity to decide their own future, free from any form of oppression. This is why the Kurdish workers and poor peasants must have no trust in the wealthy Kurdish elite.

Looking at the class-composition of Turkish society, the leadership of the PKK also say that the Turkish workers have become "aristocrats in their behaviour" while "the Kurdish nation has been proletarianised". Clearly this implies that all Turks are oppressors and effectively acts as a barrier towards building united struggles of Kurdish and Turkish workers against their common enemies.

Although the PKK calls itself "socialist" its leaders do not see a socialist revolution as an immediate task, because of Kurdistan’s economic backwardness. Instead, it fights to create first a "bourgeois democratic revolution" – a liberal capitalist democracy.

This becomes absolutely clear in its "Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Kurdistan" (in Kurdistan Report July – August ‘97) which guarantees the right to private property for the rich.

However the backwardness of the Kurdish economy is not an argument against the socialist revolution. On the contrary, the basic social and economic problems of Kurdistan can not be solved on a capitalist basis. The only "third world" countries which have significantly developed their economies have been those which were given temporary special concessions and even privileges by imperialism in the "Cold War" period. Kurdistan will not be given an opportunity to fully develop on a capitalist basis, especially as competition in the world market between the imperialist powers is increasing.

The CWI believes that capitalism on a world scale has become a major obstacle to the development of human society on an economic, social and cultural level. Every area of the world, including Kurdistan, is interwoven with the capitalist world market. The north west of Kurdistan is closely connected to the Turkish market. In today’s world situation, a capitalist Kurdistan would not see a major development of the economy and society. The first step towards developing Kurdistan lies in breaking the power of the capitalists and big landlords. Only on this basis could the country’s rescources begin to be used in the interests of the working masses. In order to achieve this, the Kurdish workers and poor peasants must reject any alliances with the existing Kurdish elite.


Capitalism and landlordism – the private ownership of industiry, the banks and the land – lie at the root of the problems in Kurdistan. Historically, British and French imperialism drew borders in the region on a totally artificial basis, ignoring the culture, language and feelings of the people living there. Dividing up Kurdistan and putting its parts into different nation states where Kurds would live as an oppressed minority allowed imperialism to strengthen its control over this important region.

Generally, the capitalist system relies on the principle of "divide and rule". To survive, the capitalist ruling class, which is everywhere massively outnumbered by the oppressed peoples, needs to divide the masses along the lines of nationality, gender, etc. This is why, everywhere in the world, oppression of minorities is an integral part of capitalist society.

In order to overcome nationalist oppression and all other forms of chauvinism, capitalism has to be overthrown by the working masses. In a socialist society, with public ownership and democratic working class control and management over the economy, there would not be a basis for divisions but for the maximum of unity – of working together for common interests.

Instead of creating big profits for a wealthy few capitalists and landowners, the rich natural resources of the region could be used in the interests of the working people and the poor. A socialist society, with a democratically planned economy, must replace the system of capitalist exploitation. This would create the conditions to solve the economic and social problems underlying the region’s crisis.

The CWI believes, that the working class plays the most important and decisive role in the struggle for a socialist revolution. Even in areas like Kurdistan, where the numerical strength of the working class is quite low, it has to take the lead in an alliance with the small peasantry and the urban poor. After all, the Russian Revolution in 1917 took place under the leadership of the proletariat, which made up only around 5% of the Russian population.

The overcoming of capitalism and landlordism in Kurdistan would immediately lead to real improvements and set an example for working people internationally.

But it is impossible to build a fully developed socialist society just on Kurdish soil. Breaking the power of imperialism ultimately means overthrowing capitalism in the imperialist countries themselves. A workers’ and peasants’ Kurdistan would inspire similar movements in the region and in Turkey, which in turn could have an effect in Europe. On this basis a voluntary Federation of Socialist States in the Middle East could be created. This is one of the reasons why the Kurdish struggle has great international importance.

Future developments

What are the perspectives for Kurdistan? The Turkish state cannot defeat Kurdish resistance by military means. The opposistion to the military elite’s power within Turkey is rising. Even the Turkish employers’ organisation TUSIAD is calling for liberalisation on the issue of Kurdistan, recognising that they can make better profits without the financial drain of the war.

There is also some pressure from imperialism on the Turkish state for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question. The interest of imperialism is to keep the region under its control and to ensure stability. They see that the war against the Kurds causes instability for the whole region. For this reason, imperialism might pressurise the Turkish state into negotiations with the PKK.

In addition, PKK leader Öcalan has made it quite clear, that he is prepared to enter negotiations. He emphasises the possiblity of a solution "within the existing borders" of Turkey if "the people’s identity is recognised and its cultural rights and political freedoms granted".

An agreement about some form of "autonomy" along the lines of the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO appears to be possible. This agreement in Palestine has brought neither freedom nor peace for the masses. Only the policeman has changed. Now it is the PLO administration doing the dirty work for the Israeli state in the "autonomous" territories.

There is a danger that imperialism might try to do the same in Kurdistan trying to create a new Kurdish ruling elite, keeping control for them over the region. We are not against negotiations in principle. The Kurdish people are desperate for peace. But if an agreement on genuine autonomy is to be reached, it must include an end to the occupation of Kurdish territory by the Turkish military, genuine democratic and cultural rights for all Kurds and a real improvement in the living conditions of Kurdish workers, peasants and youth.

That a deal along the lines of Oslo will be struck is not at all certain. For the time being, the hardliners of the Turkish military elite seem to be in charge. They also fear that giving concessions to the Kurds might encourage other ethnic minorities to demand more rights. Nevertheless, with growing instability in Turkey itself, they could be forced to enter negotiations with the PKK.

An agreement like that will by no means be a permanent solution. The underlying causes of the conflict would still be there. The Kurdish region is of decisive strategic importance for the Turkish state and imperialism, even more so when the new oil pipelines from Iran and the Turkic republics of Central Asia are built. Whatever deal is struck, the Turkish ruling class will not just give up control over Kurdistan.

The only permanent solution lies in the overthrow of the Turkish regime by the united struggle of the working people of Turkey and Kurdistan. On this basis the construction of a voluntary, democratic socialist federation in the region would be possible. This would provide the necessary basis for solving the economic and social problems underlying the crisis. This is the objective for which the CWI fights while working for the construction of a socialist society as the only way forward for ordinary people in the region and throughout the world.

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and its national affiliates play a role in exposing the responsibility of western big business governments in the "dirty war" against the Kurds. Our members have been very successful in taking the issue into the labour and trade union movement in Europe. We are helping to build links between European and Kurdish trade unionists. International solidarity by the labour and trade union movement in Europe can play a very important part in the Kurdish struggle for national liberation.

Through Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) we are also involved in defending the Kurdish and Turkish communities in Europe against state racism and fascist attacks.

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March 1999