U.S. Rewards Offer For Top PKK Commanders Triggers Mixed Reax From Both Sides

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 8 November 2018
U.S. Rewards Offer For Top PKK Commanders Triggers Mixed Reax From Both Sides

The U.S. has offered bounties for information on three top commanders of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a move that could contribute to mending strained ties between Washington and Ankara.

“The U.S. Department of State has authorized rewards for information leading to the identification or location of the senior PKK members: Murat Karayilan (up to 5m dollars), Cemil Bayik (up to 4m dollars), and Duran Kalkan (up to 3m dollars),” according to a statement by the U.S. embassy in Ankara on 6 November, quoting Matthew Palmer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Ankara gave a cautious welcome to the U.S. decision to offer millions of dollars to help capture three top Kurdish PKK militants and urged Washington to break its alliance with Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

All three are Turkey's "most wanted terrorists who have been fighting an armed insurgency against the Turkish government for decades. Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said, adding that Ankara was approaching the decision “cautiously”, calling it “belated”. “They cannot deceive us by saying ‘we are holding the YPG/PYD separate from the PKK’,” Kalin said. Unlike the U.S., Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish group as an extension of the terrorist PKK organization.

Turkey and the U.S., both NATO members, have had strained relations in recent years, particularly with regard to Syria. The surprise move followed a series of steps over the recent months which have eased a diplomatic crisis between the two NATO allies. However, they remain deeply divided, including over the U.S. support for Kurdish YPG fighters in north Syria and a number of issues Ankara deems pivotal for the display of sincere relations.
Turkey positive but cautious on U.S. rewards decision

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the U.S. State Department decision to put up to $5m bounty on three senior members of the outlawed PKK.

“We consider the U.S. State Department’s authorization of rewards for information on identification or location of three leading members of the PKK terrorist organization as a positive development,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

“We expect this step to be supported with concrete actions in Iraq and Syria in the context of countering PKK and its extensions,” he added in reference to Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The announcement that the U.S. is offering up to $5m dollars for those who provide information on the whereabouts of three senior members of the PKK was the lead story on the Turkish media with some ascribing it "surprising development" as well as an "important one" for Turkey.

However, Turkish newspapers with political affiliations reacted differently to the U.S. decision with Milliyet asking “aren’t you late?”, whereas the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper described it as a “chess move”. A retired general told the paper that it was not a gesture for Turkey but a “clear message” to the PKK with the aim of flourishing the YPG. “It is a very important step for the YPG to absorb the PKK,” the general opined.

Nationalist opposition Sozcu newspaper also carried the U.S. announcement at the top of its front page with the headline: "Reward offered for the three traitors." Secularist opposition Cumhuriyet daily reported the decision under the headline: "The U.S. chess game."

Kurds angry about the U.S. rewards for information on PKK leaders
The Kurdish media from across the political spectrum denounced the U.S. decision against the PKK, pointing out the role of PKK fighters in the battles against IS, especially in northern Iraqi Yazidi Sinjar area after IS overran many areas in Ninawa province back in June 2014.

Washington is trying to mend ties with Ankara and the rewards could strain U.S.-Kurdish relations in Syria, where Kurdish and U.S.-led coalition fighters have been allies for the past three years fighting the Islamic State (IS), some Kurdish reports claimed.

Several Iraqi Kurdish MPs have also voiced concerns, claiming that the U.S. offered the rewards to appease Ankara and preserve its interests at the expense of the Kurdish "struggle for self-determination" in Turkey.

Some Kurdish media outlets described Bayik, one of the three PKK leaders for whom the U.S. has offered a reward of up to $3m for information leading to his location, as someone “instrumental” in shaping relations between the U.S. and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting IS militants in northern Syria.

The Iraqi Kurdish outlet said the U.S. rewards have come at a time when Turkey is threatening to attack the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria’s northeast. The U.S. currently urges Turkey to “de-escalate” the situation, unlike last year when Washington used to directly call on Turkey to halt its attacks on its allied Kurdish-led forces battling IS, reports said.

Muhedin Yusuf, head of the parliamentary bloc of the Kurdistan Communist Party of Iraqi (KCPI), said in an official statement that they too “condemned the U.S. decision and call on all freedom seekers of the world to take a stance in order not to remain silent on this historical injustice”.