PKK to Kansas?

Since the founding of the Republic, Turkey’s archenemies have been those whose who harbor legitimate claims against their territory: Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. Ankara’s deepest fears always involve some conspiracy consisting of several of the aforementioned groups collaborating against them to dismantle modern Turkey.

Usually these claims are nonsense, if not utterly absurd.The plot of a Turkish bestseller, Metal Storm, dicussed previously at Coming Anarchy, cuts to the heart of Turkey’s paranoid nationalism and its current conflicts with both the Kurds and Armenians. The plot? America invades Turkey and divides the country between the Greeks and Armenians. It may sound far fetched but this populist and reactionary book plays on the country’s ultimate fear: the disintegration of Turkey into various ethnic homelands.

With that in mind, a recent article in Today’s Zaman,a English-language Turkish daily, alleges something along the same lines.

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.

[...] 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.

While not necessarily unlikely, it would seem to be awfully convenient for Turkey given the escalating situation in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. However, it would not be the first time Turkey’s enemies collaborated. Greece, Iran, Syria and the USSR have all armed and train the PKK at various points in time and Greece is has continued to even through the 90s and most likely today. It is therefore hardly unthinkable that Armenia would do the same.

cui bono?

With the green light to launch operations in northern Iraq, Turkey has nevertheless dropped off the radar. While the occasional anti-terrorist operations make Turkish news, they almost always are within Turkey itself and few real attacks have been carried out within Iraq as far as we know. However, with the many weeks of warning, the PKK had plenty of time to shut down its bases in the Qandil mountains and scatter or relocate. Equally predictable was that the Turks would expect this which also explains the lack of public fireworks there. Any guerilla group needs the spotlight but as international attention grew and everyone who picked up a paper suddenly knew the locations of PKK bases, the time had come for a change.

Yet, today there are few hospitable places for the PKK to go. While operations naturally continue in Turkey and Iran (by PJAC), both Syria and Iran no longer support the PKK making moving physical bases and training areas very difficult. North Iraq was long a safe haven for all of the Kurds, law-abiding citizens and PKK members alike. As that day comes to an end and Iraqi Kurds are less willing to risk their autonomy and success for their kin across the border, the PKK has two options: melt back into the population until things cool down or move shop.


In most people’s mind, Armenia usually conjures up the faces of local immigrants or perhaps vague ideas about genocide at the hands of the Turks. However, less known is that mountainous Armenia as well as Azerbaijan are both home to a very small number of Kurds. In fact, maps of Kurdistan usually include a sliver of each. Thus, the PKK could indeed have connections to the Caucasus although these groups are not only small and isolated but may not be as sympathetic to the cause. In addition, the PKK has developed links with radical Armenian organizations such as ASALA giving it a potential second network of support or at least contacts in the region.

The Caucasus is full of ethnic strife, long standing grudges and unfinished conflicts and Nagorno-Karabagh is no exception. Largely isolated from the world, poor and mountainous, it is both mountainous and difficult to travel through, both advantages to the PKK. Armenia, of which it is a de facto part (despite a laughable facade of independence), does indeed seek to settle the conflict between it and Azerbaijan but never plans to relinquish control of the area. Thus, they lose little by allowing the use of the territory by the PKK. However, one major obstacle exists: the location. Nagorno-Karabagh may be safely located a fair distance from Turkey and in a difficult to traverse area, but there is a major downside. Launching attacks into Turkey would be considerably difficult. Border countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran have longer, mountainous borders which are easier to sneak through. The distance from Stepanakert to the nearest border area with Turkey is around 115 miles through some of the highest mountains of Armenia proper.


While a PKK relocation to Karabagh is merely unconfirmed intelligence at the moment, Armenian support would be neither unthinkable nor unlikely. However, were Karabagh to be used by the PKK it would likely be for smaller scale training operations rather than a base from which to launch attacks against Turkey. In addition, it seems all too convenient for Turkey that their Kurdish and Armenian “problems” can now be publicly linked together and used to further the government’s aims both domestically and internationally. Whatever the reality, a skeptical positions remains the best for the moment.

NOTE: “Kansas” is a term used by those traveling and living in Armenia and Azerbaijan to refer to Karabagh. Discussing the situation as a foreigner is not always a good idea. Similarly, Israel is often referred to as “Disneyland” among outsiders while in Arab countries.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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10 Responses to PKK to Kansas?

  1. Curzon says:

    Great post — and fun endnote. I also have been amazed at the paranoia and conspiracy theories at root of so much thinking in Turkey when visiting there and when talking to Turks overseas. Ever heard the fun one that, Turkey actually has more oil than Saudi Arabia — but the Americans are keeping Ankara from developing it! The fun never stops in Anatolia.

  2. Aceface says:

    Reminds me of Tom Clancy’s”Debt of Honor(1994)” and Michael Crichton’s”Rising Sun(1993)”.
    Oh wait I’ve almost forgot about George Friedman&Meredith Shephard’s”The Coming War with Japan(1991).

    Ofcourse,I can find ten times more of the equivalent in Japan.

  3. R says:

    This is a counter-intuitive bit of propaganda put out by the Azeris. We traveled through Lachin (the region between Nagorno Karabagh and Armenia proper) last summer. Not a Kurd in sight.

    Armenia and NK would have no interest in encouraging the PKK or Kurds in general. Armenians have no great affection for the Kurds who were the instruments of the Ottomans prior to and during the genocide and they have enough problems with their neighbours without aggravating the situation by bringing in the PKK. Also ASALA and other radical Armenian organizations have been inactive for over 20 years.

    Finally, as you correctly point out, it is difficult to see what strategic geographic benefit it would be for the PKK to be located on the other side of Armenia from Turkey.

    The region did have Kurds prior to the war but these were Muslims who fled. Armenia has a population of approximately 50,000 Yezidis who are split in their identity with some identifying as Kurds and others as a separate ethnicity. One Yezidi told me that though the Yezidis speak the Kurmandji dialect of Kurdish, the Kurds are Muslims and therefore the enemies of the Yezidis. During the Karabagh war Yezidis actually fought against Kurdish Muslims in Lachin and Kelbajar.

    British journalist Onnik Krikorian has written several articles on the Yezidis of Armenia:

  4. Hevallo says:

    This is a story whose sole ‘source’ is from Turkish intelligence sources. Sorry, for me, as soon as I got to that I would not read any further. You should’nt take any story from Turkish intelligence sources seriously.

    The profound struggle of the Kurdish people for their freedom in Turkey has been subject to the most incredible psychological warfare and disinformation. It is this disinformation campaign that is the reason for most of the misunderstandings about the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

    To read the story referred to would have the reader believe that the PKK is in disarray. There is another story in Zaman today that also qoutes from further Turkish intelligence ‘sources’ that the PKK are split down ethnic lines and there is infighting. The reality is that the Turkish establishment are shitting themselves as the Kurdish movement is at its strongest in history and they are desperately trying to position themselves as to any up and coming development. Many believe that a ‘solution’ to the Kurdish Question is not far off while others think not and despair at further deteriation of events.

    We all wait with baited breath as the next few months are crucial.

    This story could be buttering up the Turkish domestic audience to believe that the Turkish military have defeated the PKK and now Turkey should settle The Kurdish Question on its own terms.

    Please feel free to browse my pages on The Kurdish Question.

  5. Curzon says:

    Yeah, I generally feel the same as Hevallo — except that as paranoid as Turkey is about its hostile neighbors, Armenia is even more blatant in its utter hatred of Turkey. I really wouldn’t put it past Armenia helping out the PKK in anyway that it can.

  6. pep says:

    The fact of the matter is that even if Greece, Armenia and the PKK combined they couldnt do a thing to Turkey. So they can dream all they want about “greater Armenia” or “Kurdistan” or “Constantinople”…its not going to happen. As for your “Turkish paranoia”…Ocalan was captured whilst under Greek embassy protection in Africa with a real Greek cypriot passport. The PKK had bases in Syria…and captured terrorists admitted to be trained in Greece, Cyprus and Armenia…but all this is paranoia is it ? Keep kidding yourselves. As for the so-called “genocide” you seem to keep harping on about…it would be a non-issue if it were not for weak-ass french and american politicians after diaspora votes…armenians are trying to buy themselves a genocide. It was a time of war and just as many Turks and Kurds were killed by Russians and Armenians.

  7. Chirol says:

    Pep: I’d firstly ask you to keep your tone civil. We aren’t interested in the long Turkish flame wars that happens so often.

    Secondly, if you’ve read any of mine or Curzon’s previous work, you’d know that both he and I do not support Armenia’s genocide claim. However, Turkey’s nationalist and often ridiculous responses to the issue (just visit the Army Museum in Istanbul) are what give it little credibility and likability on the issue.

    Lastly, if you reread the post, you’ll note I did note foreign support for the PKK from other countries. Your response gives the impression you didn’t actually read what I wrote but instead just wanted to write your general thoughts on the matter.

    Modern Turkey has an appalling history on minority rights whether they be Greek, Armenian or Kurdish. Indeed, the very fact that those three nationalities were/are actually the legitimate and indigenous inhabitants of Anatolia long before the Turks set foot in Asia minor only lends more weight to Turkish territorial fears. Add to that Turkey’s long denial of hte very existence of the Kurdish people, much less their rights.

  8. pep says:

    Chirol, is the Turkish nationalist response any more “ridiculous” than that of the Greeks, Armenians and Kurds ? Do you believe that the Turkish treatment of its minorities is any different to how the Greeks and Armenians treated the Turks ( and Kurds for that matter )during WWI ? Or what the Greeks Cypriots did to the Turkish Cypriots in the 1960 – 70′s ? Fact is that there is and has been wrongs done by all sides…but Turkey gets singled out. Fact of the matter is that Turks living in Greece are not even allowed to refer to themselves as Turks but “Greek Muslims” ! There is not a single Mosque in Athens…(contrast that to the number of Orthodox churches is Istanbul). For the record I did read your post…where you describe the Turkish paranoia….let me try and explain it to you. Fact is that at the end of WW1 Turkey was partitioned by the British, French, Russians etc…various regions of Turkey were under occupation and would have been ceded to Greece, Armenia and the Kurds. Various groups still exist in all those countries that still harbour those dreams, hence their backing of the PKK. The Greeks and Armenians have no love for the Kurds but support them in an effort to destabilise Turkey…theyre not interested in rights for the Kurds. So the fact that what you call “paranoia” has actually happened…could you see how the Turkish psyche can be a bit wary when they see the PKK trained and armed by Greece, Armenia and Russia. Not to mention the funds that they are still able to raise in Western Europe…who despite calling them a terror nothing to confiscate funds or arrest its member?…So have a bit of balance and try to look at the otherside of the coin.

  9. Pingback: » Blog Archive » PKK in Kansas Update

  10. KurdSah Mardin says:


    long live Kurdistan i die for Kurdistan the homeland of Kurds
    yezidi is not an ethnic group they are kurds who have another religion call yezidi it is the oldest kurdish religion after Islam kurds converted to islam but a small group protected jezidism.they are not against kurdistan or kurds.