An AP correspondent reports from one of the camps set by the Kurdish insurgents operating against Iran. What follows is that PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU, has created an Iranian division using camps on the territory of the now de-facto independent Iraqi Kurdistan. The AP's report basically confirms one of the articles published by The Economist that I covered in one of my earlier posts (Neocons vs Realists).
In the camp, lugging heavy machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, are men and women of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PEJAK, an offshoot set up by the PKK in 2004 to fight for Kurdish autonomy in Iran.
The PKK and its affiliates are spread through a region of some 35 million Kurds that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. PEJAK, the newest group, claims to number thousands of recruits, and targets only Iran — a mission which has made PEJAK the subject of intense speculation that it is being used to undermine the radical Islamic regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the Nov. 27 issue of The New Yorker, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote* that PEJAK was receiving support from the U.S. as well as from Israel, which fears Iran's nuclear ambitions and Ahmadinejad's call to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
PEJAK says it regularly launches raids into Iran, and Iran has fired back with artillery. In October the English-language Iran Daily, published by Iran's official news agency, said Iran accused PEJAK of killing dozens of its armed forces in insurgent attacks.
Rep.Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a presidential candidate who claims the White House is overplaying the Iranian threat, last year wrote to President Bush expressing concern that the U.S. was using PEJAK to weaken Ahmadinejad.
James Brandon, an analyst for the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation, told The Associated Press that PEJAK has refused to discuss its funding sources. But he said its greatest threat to Iran is not military. It has veins running deep into the Iranian Kurdish population and is offering to join forces with other restless minorities in Iran, he said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said "Israel is not involved in any way in what's going on there."
Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-based Iran expert, noted however that Israel has a long-standing relationship with Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani and "It would not surprise me to discover that Israel is using the Kurdish areas of Iraq to undermine Iran's influence in Iraq and monitor what's going on along the Iranian border, as well as to undermine the Iranian government itself."
* (The New Yorker is a well known leftist conspiracy theories mouthpiece. It is famous for publishing an investigation that claimed that the US and Israel staged in advance the July war. NB)
PEJAK ideology is rigorously leftist and includes equality of the sexes — unusual in this region. The camp has two leaders, a man and a woman.
The male one, Afsheen, is a Turkish Kurd who joined the PKK in 1990, at age 19. He said he enlisted after Turkish soldiers herded him, his family and his neighbors into the town square and burned down their homes.
Four shepherds were coming home and "The soldiers just opened fire on them. I had inside of me a lot of anger. I promised I would get my revenge," said Afsheen.
In training, "Recruits were put in a cave and left there for a month, allowed out only for half an hour each day. We walked for hours in frigid water," he said.
Afsheen said he has made several forays into Iran, including one monthlong trek to the Iranian town of Shahha three months ago, not to attack Iranians but to organize Kurds. "We were discovered. There was a firefight and it went on until dark. We were pinned down, trapped," he said.
"At nightfall we found an opening and we tried to slip out but we were discovered. The firing went on again and they called in their helicopters. One of our friends was wounded and three Iranian security men were killed."
Afsheen's co-leader is Beridon Dersim, who grew up in Austria and found her identity with the PKK.
"What I wanted I couldn't find from Turkey. I couldn't find from Europe. The PKK offered me answers about myself, about my ethnicity."
Dersim, 32, said she wanted to pick up a gun the day she joined the PKK at 17 but it was just before her 20th birthday that she was allowed into the guerrilla ranks.
Unlike Afreen of Syria, she did not have her family's blessing, she says, and her father, a Turkish civil servant, was tortured and left in a wheelchair. She said she has since fought in gunbattles.
The guerrillas vow not to marry or visit their families lest they put them in danger or be distracted from their struggle. Afsheen said he hasn't seen his parents since their village was destroyed 16 years ago. "I was the youngest of nine children, but maybe there are more now. I don't know."
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