Shared resistance history: Kurdish-Palestinian struggles in the 1980s

Duran Kalkan, founding cadre and member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), evaluated the resistance of the PKK against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon on 2 June 1982 in an interview.

What was the situation in which Israel’s occupation of Lebanon took place on 2 June 1982?

At the beginning of the 1980s, as in the early 1990s, there were significant events and serious changes in this process. On September 12, 1980, there was a military coup in Turkey and the army took over the leadership. On 19 September 1980, the Iraqi state attacked and the eight-year Iraq-Iran war began. Before that, the Islamic Revolution had taken place in Iran in February 1979 and a new Islamic administration began to develop.

All these events were significant and far-reaching for the Middle East. At the same time, they were also related to the conflicts at the international level. In the world, the confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union intensified. All the struggles in the world were directly related to this bloc formation. In short, the confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union had a very strong impact on the Middle East. At the same time, regional contradictions deepened on this basis and transformed into concrete conflicts.

The occupation of Lebanon by the Israeli state on 2 June 1982 therefore took place in this atmosphere and was bound by the conditions mentioned above. It was basically an attack and a push against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), because Israel had occupied Palestine and the Palestinian population and the liberation forces had spread to the neighbouring Arab countries. Refugee camps were set up in many Arab countries, especially in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The largest of these camps was in Lebanon. Movements associated with the PLO had organized themselves well in these camps. Due to the civil war in Lebanon, the central state structure had disintegrated and a large number of regional administrations had emerged. The PLO had assessed this situation, started organizing the guerrillas and brought some areas of Lebanon under its control. On this basis, it organized the Palestinian people and carried out the fight against Israel from the Lebanese border. More and more Fedayeen were sent into Israel’s interior and Israel was bombarded with artillery from the border. This was undoubtedly a very limited military resistance, but it was enough to damage the Israeli State.

The occupation of Lebanon on 2 June 1982 took place under these conditions and as a continuation of the conflicts described above. Previously, the Israeli army had carried out attacks on Palestinian camps in Lebanon with fighter planes and artillery fire. When these attacks could not stop the Palestinian resistance, the Israeli state took advantage of the situation in the region, which was marked by armed conflict, and attacked the Palestinian camps and guerrillas to destroy both. The Arab League was scattered, the Egyptian government had signed a peace agreement with Israel, the Iraq-Iran war had weakened the Arab power and Turkey was bound to the USA, and consequently to Israel, with the military coup of September 12, 1980. In such a state, there was no serious regional force that could have stopped the Israeli occupation or supported the Palestinian resistance. The Israeli state thus easily carried out the occupation of Lebanon and did not meet with any serious reaction.

In what way was the PKK involved in the war against the occupation?

The leader of the PKK had been in the Syrian/Lebanon area since July 1979 and had established relations with organisations linked to the PLO. In order to assess the possibilities of the military training created, the first PKK group came to Lebanon in September 1979. When the Siverek resistance in the country did not bring the expected results and military difficulties arose, the need for military training in the Palestinian territories grew. If one also considers the military-fascist coup of 12 September 1980, the PKK also pursued a tactic of withdrawal in part. In the winter of 1980/1981, cadres and sympathisers were brought into the area and, in addition to military training, organisational strengthening was achieved with the first conference in July 1981 and the second in August 1982. All these activities were carried out in the warlike atmosphere of Lebanon and Palestine in 1980, 1981, 1982. When the Israeli state occupied Lebanon on 2 June 1982, PKK cadres had already been there for three years. So they were not confronted with the occupation all at once, but had been there for three years, or rather had been there for three years during the Israel-Palestine war. The cadres received their military training in the Palestinian camps on the border between Lebanon and Israel and, of course, protected them. Even though the PKK cadres did not take part in Fedayeen actions or artillery attacks organised by the Palestinians themselves, they played an active role in defending the Palestinian territories against the air raids and artillery shells. When the land occupation began on 2 June, the PKK had forces stationed in the Palestinian camps on the Lebanon-Israel border, which were reacting to the occupation.

How do you evaluate the resistance of PKK?

To be honest, the PLO could not effectively resist the occupation. Because of the previous attacks, the Israeli army had created a negative atmosphere among the Palestinians. They had not expected such an occupation. Consequently, they were not well prepared. As a result, they were not able to offer any serious resistance and withdrew scattered. The Israeli army crossed the border and surrounded Beirut in one day. This meant both a fragmentation of the Palestinian guerrillas and a blow to the organisation of the people. Those who resisted in this situation were rather the forces that had come from other countries for training. Here, the PKK took an important place. In the border towns of Sayda, Nebatiye and Sur, there was a significant PKK force and wherever there were attacks, it fought actively. In the battles with the Israeli army, there were martyrs and prisoners. And the PKK forces were the last ones who withdrew, collected the weapons and tried to strengthen the Palestinians. The PKK forces, as militants of the party, were thoroughly educated and disciplined as compared to the Palestinian guerrilla in terms of ideology and organisation. At the same time, they were full of anger because of the torture and massacres carried out by the 12 September regime against the society of Kurdistan. They were there because of the Palestinians’ own education and resistance, and would have gone to war if the situation required it. The Palestinians saw this state of PKK militants and preferred them. That is why they always wanted to have the PKK militants on the front line in case of a possible Israeli occupation. On this basis, all PKK members fought against the developing occupation in every place and fulfilled their tasks. The brotherhood between Palestine and Kurdistan and the Kurdish and Palestinian peoples has been formed on the basis of such a confrontation, such a friendship on the war front.

In this resistance, the PKK had losses and prisoners. Can you tell us about your attempts to liberate them?

In 1982, the PKK forces within the Palestinian resistance had eleven martyrs. Our first was our friend Abdulkadir Çubukçu from Êlih (Batman), who lost his life in an air raid in a camp near Beirut. During the Israeli occupation on June 2, we lost two friends in eastern Lebanon and eight in southern Lebanon at Arnon Castle (Nebatiye area). Comrade Sabri was in southern Lebanon and reached our forces after nine days under Israeli occupation. Comrade Cuma spent three months within the siege of Beirut and in the end, when the Palestinians were released, he was able to reach our forces again. If Comrade Cuma’s group had also been captured, the number of our prisoners would have been much higher.

I remember the names of the following comrades who died in the struggle in Lebanon/Palestine: When news of the death of Comrade Abdulkadir Çubukçu on May 1, 1982 reached us, even the leader Apo went to Lebanon and attended the funeral service together with the Palestinians. On this basis, leader Apo had prepared his Mayday assessment. This death has seriously strengthened our cooperative relations with the Palestinians.

In eastern Lebanon, comrade Abdullah Kumral from Cibinli died together with another friend. Abdullah Kumral was a primary school teacher and we called him Teacher Abdullah. He was also a friend who had taken part in the PKK founding congress. At Arnon Castle we lost Kemal Çelik, İsmet Özkan, Mehmet Atmaca, Mustafa Marangoz, Şerif Aras and three other friends. Comrade Kemal came from Elazîz-Kebanlı. He was the younger brother of comrade Xalit. All his siblings had joined. Comrade Ismet came from Pîrsûs (Suruç). He was the son of Comrade Herbijî and his two siblings were killed in action. Comrade Mehmet Atmaca also came from the village of Cibin and was a commander. Comrade Mustafa was from Çermikli and had a strong fighting spirit. Later there were many fallen in his family.

One comrade who was captured was Kaymak Xalit. Comrade Kemal, who died in Arnon Castle, was his brother. I remember the names of the following comrades who fell into captivity at that time: Seyfettin Zoğorlu, comrade Seyfettin from Nisêbîn (Nusaybin), comrade Sabri Gözübüyük and a few others. These comrades were all released after two years of captivity with great difficulties. The Turkish state had intervened and demanded the extradition of all these prisoners. Israel was receptive to this and wanted to extradite them. But our comrades had all claimed to be Palestinians or from other Arab countries. In the end they had to cross many countries. They got as far as an airport in Syria. Syria did not take care of them. Later they chained themselves at the airport in Athens and with this action they demanded asylum. So they managed to get from there to Europe. It was a real struggle and a long journey.

During this time, have you established relations with other organisations, particularly Palestinian ones?

During this time, especially our leader, together with comrade Cuma, established links with other groups and organizations in the region. We had relations with all Palestinian organizations that were represented in the Palestine Liberation Organization. We had the strongest relations with the Palestinian Democratic Liberation Front, the People’s Liberation Front of Palestine and the Resistance Front for the Liberation of Palestine. To this end, we also established relations with the Communist Party of Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (YNK) and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (PDK), as well as with a number of revolutionary organisations from Turkey and Northern Kurdistan, and we held discussions there. With seven groups from Turkey, we founded the united resistance front against fascism. But it lasted only one year.

As a movement, we took some of the Palestinian resistance with us in this phase. We achieved military training of our forces and organizational strengthening. We supported the Palestinian resistance in a comradely and fraternal way. We have built the solidarity between Palestinian and Kurdish society on this basis. We have taken a lot from the Palestinians and we still evaluate this with respect. We always declare with pride that the guerrilla in Kurdistan has developed within the Palestinian experience. We are convinced that with this resistance we have given a lot back to the Palestinian and Arab peoples and that they see it that way. We still follow the situation and the resistance of the Palestinian society and see the struggle as our own. We want the Palestinian question to be solved on a democratic level and the Arab and Jewish people to live together as brothers and sisters.

What kind of atmosphere has the resistance of PKK in Lebanon created in the mountains of Kurdistan? How do you assess this?

The PKK movement had resisted and given martyrs even before the military coup of 12 September 1980. This resistance was preparing for the fight against the coup. Due to double resistance, PKK forces returned to the country from Lebanon/Palestine and developed the resistance as guerrilla. The first was the large prison resistance, which developed through the pioneering role of Mazlum Doğan, Hayri Durmuş and Kemal Pir. The second was the resistance against the Israeli occupation with its heroic martyrs. The mentioned historical resistance and its immortal martyrs have made the PKK irreversible and gave the guerrilla the strength to move towards freedom. Of course, leader Apo’s correct definition of this resistance has also played a decisive role.

At the time of the prison resistance and the struggle against the Israeli occupation, there was no organised and fighting guerrilla in the mountains of Kurdistan. In the Lebanon/Palestine area, there were guerrillas that were prepared to return to Kurdistan. This guerrilla has developed its spirit and strength to return through this resistance, thus creating the freedom guerrilla of Kurdistan. The heroic march – with the advance of August 15, 1984 against the fascist military regime of September 12 – has developed on the basis of this resistance. The mentioned influence continues until today.

How did such a practice influence the PKK even before August 15?

It is not the same thing to fight at home or abroad, in a country of other peoples. It is undoubtedly much easier for a person to live and fight in his own country and society. It is said that revolutionary movements, after their birth, have two basic fields of experience: first, the practice in prison and second, the practice abroad. Movements that fight in both fields and pass the test successfully, if they do not slacken later, will surely succeed. The period between 1980 and 1984 was such a testing period for the revolutionary movements in Turkey and Kurdistan. The movement that passed both tests was the PKK movement.

And this is exactly the reality that distinguishes the PKK from other revolutionary movements and brought them to the guerrilla advance of August 15, 1984. On this basis, the prison resistance and the resistance outside the country have influenced the PKK. If the PKK had not resisted the Israeli occupation in Lebanon/Palestine, it could not have returned to Kurdistan and turned to the guerrilla resistance.

What were the effects of the resistance in Lebanon and the prison resistance?

The second congress of the PKK took place immediately after the resistance against the Israeli occupation in August 1982. Even though it was not quite visible at this congress, there were first signs of liquidation. For this reason, the second congress was a critical session. It was saved by fighting against liquidation. The first prepared forces realized their return to the country. At this point, the resistance against the Israeli occupation was open to two directions. To a certain extent, the liquidation tried to create fear and break the influence of the resistance with the help of the fallen and prisoners. However, the mentioned resistance and its martyrs have had an encouraging effect for the return to the country and the development of the guerrilla resistance. At this point, leader Apo’s evaluations meant the liquidation come to nothing. The return to the country and the guerrilla resistance became irreversible. For this reason, at the second congress it was decided by an overwhelming majority to return to the country and build up the guerrilla against the fascism of September 12. The result of the two years of practice abroad were 11 martyrs and more than 15 prisoners. People have given their lives for the cause of the party in other countries. In addition, the prison resistance of 1982 is an incomparable reality. The self-immolation of the four and the great death fast of February 14 were within this framework. Of course, it was the resistance of Mazlum Doğan that paved the way and created great determination. People burned their own bodies for the cause. It is obvious what significance this has and how the party line became irreversible for the party cadres. The leader defined the resistance in prison as “building a bridge to free life” and invited the whole society to cross this bridge without fear. Society and especially the youth responded positively to this call. The development of the PKK and the guerrilla took place on this basis. Their history is long and it is a subject worthy of being explained in detail.

Interview with PKK Central Committee member Duran Kalkan by Seyit Evran and Ararat Örkmez, Firatnews 06/02/2015