Middle East, Europe

UK 'aware' of links between PKK and PYD/YPG

‘We urge the PYD to sever any links it might have with the PKK,’ says minister of state for the Middle East

10.01.2018 - Update : 10.01.2018
UK 'aware' of links between PKK and PYD/YPG

London, City of

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal


The U.K. is aware of the relationship between the terrorist PYD/YPG and the PKK, a top government official said Tuesday.

“We are very concerned over possible links. We don’t seek any link with the PKK and ourselves in any way,” said Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East, speaking at a session of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee.

He was responding to a question by the committee from Labour Party member Mike Gapes on links between the PYD/YPG and the PKK.

“We urge the PYD at all times to sever any links it might have with the PKK,” he added.

Tuesday’s evidence session for the select committee’s inquiry on ‘Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the U.K.’ lasted just under two hours and sought answers to various questions regarding the Kurdish and terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Amy Clemitshaw, head of the Eastern Mediterranean Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, argued that the U.K. had no connections with the PKK.

“It [PKK] is a terrorist organization and proscribed in the U.K. We have only very frequent contact with the PYD,” she said.

Clemitshaw said she did not want to comment on how either of those organizations work.

Unsatisfied with the response from the Foreign Office officials, Gapes said the commission received much evidence and written submissions indicating that PKK militants have fought alongside other Kurdish groups in various regions.

“It is well known that [convicted PKK terrorist Abdullah] Ocalan’s photograph is displayed at demonstrations and in public places,” he said. “These aren’t just reports. There are links, and my question was ‘What links does the PYD/YPG have with the PKK?’, Gapes said, also asking what ideological, financial and organizational links the terror groups had.

“Both organizations do have a regard for the role of Abdullah Ocalan. In terms of the distance or…links, it is not right for us to comment,” Clemitshaw said.

She said they were “aware of the reports,” responding to Gapes, who asked why it was not right to comment.

Gapes, however, asked for a further explanation.

“I do not understand why it is not right to comment. You must have a view, ultimately, given that our NATO partner and ally Turkey takes a very robust position on this, and given that we designate the PKK as a terrorist organization…and the Turkish government and others deem it a terrorist organization, including witnesses we [the committee] have had say there are very close links between people within the YPG and the PKK.”

In response, Burt said the U.K. “had no contact with the PKK. We are aware of links as you are aware of links”.

“It [PYD] is a dominant force in the Syrian Democratic Forces. We are not supplying any equipment to those forces. We are not supplying any weapons to those forces. They get air support because they are engaged in a conflict that we support.

“When we talk to PYD/YPG…we say that they should sever links with the PKK. Now, the practicalities are they probably do not, so the links are there. We know about that but we have no contact with the PKK, and we do raise it with the PYD all the time.”

Underlining that they regard the PKK and the PYD as separate, Burt said the two organizations “clearly have links, but it is a massive situation on the ground”.

Replying to a question about whether there were any personnel and weapon passages between the PYD/YPG and the PKK, Burt said he “would be astonished if weapons used in the conflict were not passed between respected parties who would be fighting on the same side. It would be naïve to think anything different”.

“We [the U.K.] do not supply any weapons,” he said.

Gapes also directed a question regarding Turkey’s concerns about weapons deployment in the region.

“Turkey says the weapons provided by NATO countries are reaching the PKK. Do you agree with that view?” he said

“We are aware of Turkey’s concerns. I am not aware of any U.K. weapons being involved,” Clemitshaw responded.

But Gapes again insisted on the same question, saying he was not talking about the U.K. and recalling the U.S.’s weapon shipments to the region.

Burt said he would provide a written response later to the question.

- Why is the PYD/YPG not proscribed?

Gapes continued the session by questioning why the PYD/YPG is not proscribed.

“If there are connections between the PYD/YPG and the PKK, and you, minister, you said there are connections, why have we not designated it [PYD/YPG] as a terrorist organization?”

Burt said they do not talk about those they have not proscribed. He said they give reasons for those who are proscribed but not for those who were not.

Another Labour member of the committee, Ann Clwyd, underlined that there is now a de facto Kurdish-led region in Syria and asked whether the U.K. will engage with it or ignore it.

Burt said the U.K. has “supported [UN mediator] Staffan de Mistura’s work in the Geneva process, which is the only way forward in resolving these issues in Syria.”

“We don’t support bilateral opportunities for countries to start being engaged with different areas. We support the territorial integrity of Syria after this desperate civil war and conflict, which has been perpetuated by President Assad largely against his own people. The constitutional resolution has to be handled by one body and one process; that’s the Geneva process.”

The inquiry on ‘Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the U.K.’ by the 11-member Foreign Affairs Committee asks the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to account for exactly which Kurdish groups the U.K. has supported in the war to defeat Daesh and why, what support has been given, and how it might affect the situation on the ground.

The inquiry was launched last November and various actors and experts from the region were received as witnesses. Turkey’s London Embassy presented a written submission to the committee.

A report on the inquiry is expected to be published when it is completed.

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