Founding Rojava: Kurdish Autonomous Region of Syria and Its Impact on Kurdish Political Identity

By Emrullah Uslu
Submitted to Session P5337 (Kurds and Turcomen in the Current Crisis in the Levant, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been the main driver of Kurdish political identity since its foundation in 1970’s. However, the PKK’s identity has been transforming over the years of its struggle against the Turkish state. First, it was founded as a Marxist Leninist organization, (Imset, 1992). With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the PKK removed Marxist symbols from its flags and adopted a Kurdish Nationalist identity. (Gunter, 2015) Right after 9/11 when the United States launched a global war camping against terrorism, the organization has yet again, revised its ideology, dropped its nationalist claim, and adopted “Confederalist Democratic Union” ideals to pursue them as a new goal (Ocalan, 2011).

Syrian civil war has opened a new avenue for the organization. With its Syrian wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) the PKK, as the umbrella organization of Kurdish political movement has entered a new stage, founding, and running an autonomous territory in Syria.

Despite the fact that Pro-PKK political elites had experience running local municipalities in Turkey since the 1990’s it is the first time a PKK affiliate network is not only running a local government, but also controlling a territory. In addition, the PKK affiliated PYD has been cooperating with the United States against ISIS, which the PKK had long criticized the US for helping Turkey and arresting Abdullah Ocalan, its founder back in 1999. The new political dynamics in the Middle East and the PYD’s partnership with the United States has been transforming the PKK’s identity into adapting statist and internationalist rhetoric.

This paper examines the transformation of the PKK’s ideology, from Marxism to becoming a vital partner of the US, and its impact on Kurdish political identity. Abdullah Ocalan’s books, court testimonies are the primary sources of this paper to examine the PKK’s early ideology. Major PKK media outlets, such as Serxwebun, Yeni Ozgur Politica, and PKK leaders statements, interviews, and speeches are analyzed to examine the second stage of the ideological transformation of the PKK. As for the third stage of the transformation, Pro-PKK media outlets, PYD officials, Kurdish political leaders, and PKK leaders statements are examined.

The major methodology is the case study for which content analysis of the media outlets and in-depth interviews with pro-PKK journalist and political figures have been conducted to identify the component of new identity formation in Rojava and its impact on greater Kurdistan.