Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Iraqi Border Farewell for Kurdish Rebels
By Kamaran Najm
Iraqi Kurds watch a group of rebels prepare to cross the border into Turkey and give themselves up to authorities there. The move earlier this month was part of efforts to promote a peace settlement between Ankara and the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, who have been fighting for Kurdish rights in south-eastern Turkey.
An Iraqi Kurdish soldier tries to restrain a crowd of PKK supporters who have gathered for the ceremony, waving flags bearing the face of Abdullah Ocalan, the group’s imprisoned leader. Ocalan is said to have ordered the symbolic surrender of the eight rebels from his organization.
Many Iraqi Kurds sympathise with the PKK. The government of Iraqi’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region is keen to end the conflict, which has brought Turkish air strikes against rebel bases inside its territory.
One of the rebels waves to the crowd. The PKK’s ranks include many women, who enjoy a level of equality uncommon in civilian Kurdish society. The group has been fighting inside Turkey for 25 years in a conflict that has cost more than 40,000 lives.
PKK fighters taking part in the surrender are held aloft by a crowd of supporters. The group of eight rebels are thought to have come from remote bases in the Qandil mountains running along Iraq’s border with Turkey.
The rebels were accompanied across the border by 26 inhabitants of a refugee camp that houses former PKK fighters in Makhmour, northern Iraq.
The group crossed into Turkey after the ceremony. They were questioned by a judge and are expected to face mostly minor charges. Turkish Kurds sympathetic to the PKK noisily celebrated their return, angering the government in Ankara.
PKK supporters from Iraq left in high spirits. Despite unprecedented moves towards peace, many elements on both sides oppose a deal between Turkey and the rebels, and saw the recent surrender as controversial.
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