Kurdistan Free Life Party
|Armed wing||Eastern Kurdistan Units (YRK)|
|Women's armed wing||Women's Defence Forces (HPJ)|
|International affiliation||Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK)|
The Kurdistan Free Life Party, or PJAK (Kurdish: Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê), is a militant Kurdish leftist, anti-Iranian government group. It has waged an intermittent armed struggle since 2004 against the Iranian government for self-determination for Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan.
The PJAK is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) through the Kurdistan Communities Union, an umbrella group of Kurdish political and insurgent groups throughout Kurdistan.
Its armed wing, the Eastern Kurdistan Units (YRK), is estimated to have 3,000 members, who are from Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the Kurdish diaspora. PJAK has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Iran, Japan, Turkey, and the United States.
Policies and structure
Members of the PKK founded the PJAK in 2004 as an Iranian equivalent to their leftist-nationalist insurgency against the Turkish government. ` The present leader of the organisation is Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi. According to the Washington Times, half the members of PJAK are women, many of them still in their teens. The group actively recruits female guerrillas and states that its "cruelest and fiercest fighters" are women drawn to the movement's "radical feminism".
PJAK is a member of the Kurdistan Communities Union or KCK (Kurdish: Koma Civakên Kurdistan), which is an alliance of outlawed Kurdish groups and divisions led by an elected Executive Council. The KCK is in charge of a number of decisions, and often releases press statements on behalf of its members.
The PJAK also has sub-divisions:
- Armed wing - Eastern Kurdistan Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Rojhilatê Kurdistan, YRK), formerly known as the Eastern Kurdistan Forces (Kurdish: Hêzên Rojhilatê Kurdistan, HRK)
- Women's armed wing - Women's Defence Forces (Kurdish: Hêzên Parastina Jinê, HPJ), led by Gulistan Dogan.
- Youth and student branch
The PKK is also a member of KCK, and according to the New York Times, the PJAK and PKK "appear to a large extent to be one and the same, and share the same goal: fighting campaigns to win new autonomy and rights for Kurds. The only difference is that the PJAK fights in Iran, and PKK fights in Turkey. They share leadership, logistics and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader currently imprisoned in Turkey."
Like the present PKK goals in Turkey, PJAK leaders say their long-term goals are to establish an autonomous Iranian Kurdistan within the Iranian state. The PJAK leadership claims that the group's goals are mainly focused on replacing Iran's theocracy with a "democratic and federal government" with self-rule for Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, and all other ethnic minorities.
Armed conflict and arrests
|Eastern Kurdistan Units|
Yekîneyên Rojhilatê Kurdistan (YRK)
Flag of the YRK
|Leader(s)||Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi|
|Dates of operation||2004–2011|
|Motives||To establish autonomous regional entities or Kurdish federal states in Iran, Turkey and Syria, and establish a democratic confederalist system as theorised by Abdullah Öcalan.|
|Active regions||Iraq, Turkey and Iran|
The Kurdistan Free Life Party, has been engaged in an armed conflict with the Iranian authorities since 2004.
PJAK killed 24 members of Iranian security forces on 3 April 2006, in retaliation for the killing of 10 Kurds demonstrating in Maku by Iranian security forces. On April 10, 2006, seven PJAK members were arrested in Iran, on suspicion that they had killed three Iranian security force personnel. PJAK set off a bomb on 8 May 2006 in Kermanshah, wounding five people at a government building.
As early as mid-2006, the Iranian security forces have confronted PJAK guerrillas in many different occasions along the border inside Iran. Since then, the United States news channel MSNBC claims that the Iranian military has begun bombardments of Kurdish villages in Iraq along the Iranian border while claiming that their primary targets have been PJAK militants. A number of civilians have died. PJAK claims its guerrillas fight inside Iran, and in August 2007, managed to destroy an Iranian military helicopter that was conducting a forward operation of bombardment by Iranian forces.
On 24 April 2009, PJAK rebels attacked a police station in Kermanshah province. According to Iranian government sources, 18 policemen and 8 rebels were killed in a fierce gun battle. Iran responded a week later by attacking Kurdish villages in the border area of Panjwin inside Iraq using helicopter gunships. According to Iraqi border guards officials, the area attacked by Iran was not considered a stronghold of PJAK, that appeared to have been the target of the raid. According to the ICRC, more than 800 Iraqi Kurds have been forced from their homes by the recent cross-border violence.
On 16 July 2011, the Iranian army launched a major offensive against PJAK compounds in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq. According to the Revolutionary Guards dozens of rebels have been killed. According to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on 26 July, PJAK militants were killed in clashes in several towns in West Azerbaijan province. Kurdish media reported that at least five Revolutionary Guards were killed.
PJAK spokesperson Sherzad Kemankar announced in an interview with the Iraqi Kurdish newspapers Hawlati and Awene that the Iranian forces attacked PJAK strongholds on July 16, however PJAK succeeded in pushing back the Iranian military to their original positions and 53 Iranian soldiers were killed in the battle while PJAK lost two fighters. Sherzad Kemankar also pointed out that Iranian forces were carrying out a joint operation with Ansar al-Islam using heavy weaponry. Iranian media later reported that General Abbas Asemi, one of the most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders in the holy city of Qom along with at least 5 other Revolutionary Guard soldiers were killed in clashes with Kurdish rebels near the Iraq border.
The Iranian government blames the PJAK for sabotage attacks on gas pipelines and ambushing its troops, according to Reuters, aid agencies say shelling by the Revolutionary Guard has "killed some civilians and forced hundreds to flee their homes" in the area. The Revolutionary Guard denies the charge.
On 8 August 2011, during a lull for Ramadan in the IRGC offensive, PJAK leader Haji Ahmadi, told an interviewer his group is prepared to negotiate with Iran and maintained that Kurdish issues need to be solved through "peaceful means". Haji Ahmadi acknowledged that in some cases compromise is inevitable and indicated that PJAK is willing to lay down its arms. He said fighting may not help Kurds secure political and cultural rights in Iran. However, the Guards resumed their offensive on September 2 and rejected any ceasefire call by PJAK, saying the Kurdish rebels have no choice but to lay down arms or leave the border areas. On 19 September, Iran's ground forces commander, Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, told the Vatan-e-Emrooz newspaper his forces would finish off armed Kurdish Iraqi-based rebels in the "coming days".
The rejection of ceasefire offer by PJAK led to new skirmishes between the two sides. On 2 September, after a one-month lull in fighting, IRGC began a new round of ground operations against PJAK. On September 9, 2011, Iranian media reported that Brigadier General Abbas Ali Jannesari of the IRGC was killed during a battle with PJAK rebels.
On 30 September 2011, Deputy Commander of the Ground Forces of Iran's IRGC, Brigadier General Abdullah Araqi announced that after the Iranian military captured the Jasosan heights, the PJAK conceded defeat and agreed to retreat one kilometer away from the Iranian border and to refrain from military activities on Iran's soil and recruitment of Iranian nationals. According to Iranian media, 180 PJAK militias were killed and 300 wounded during the last operations seizing PJAK's headquarters in Jasosan heights in the Northwestern border regions of Iran.
On 25 April 2012, Iranian media reported that four members of elite Revolutionary Guards were killed and four others were wounded during an attack by PJAK rebels near Paveh in Kermanshah province in western Iran.
Alleged Turkish–Iranian cooperation
Although the PJAK operates against Iranian rather than Turkish forces, PJAK officials have advanced unverified claims that Turkey, under alleged policy shifts by the governing AKP, has begun targeting PJAK operations as well—reportedly by engaging in Iranian cooperation that would violate Turkish obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 2011, PJAK leader Rahman Haj Ahmadi, in an interview with the conservative activist Kenneth R. Timmerman, claimed that elements in the units of the Turkish military or Turkish government had deliberately aligned with Iranian forces to suppress the secular PJAK in Iran. Ahmadi alleged that the Turkish special operations, in conjunction with the IRGC, were utilizing IDF Heron drones to monitor PJAK guerrilla positions and movements. Separately, the Firat News Agency also alleged that Turkish armed forces sent up to 20 tanks and 300 Special Forces troops, reportedly to assist the IRGC, which in a separate move had purportedly begun using Ansar al-Islam guerrillas to reclaim Iranian areas then under PJAK control. Zimmerman has also alleged that the Turkish military and the IRGC maintain a joint headquarters at Urmia, Iran, at which Turkish military officials offer advice and train IRGC forces in anti-Kurdish activities. The Government of Turkey has since dismissed the allegations of Turkish involvement with Iran against the PJAK.
PJAK and the United States
Both the United States and PJAK have always denied any form of ties. Since February 2009, PJAK has even been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the US government, freezing any assets the PJAK has under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting American citizens from doing business with the organization. Officials have cited PJAK's connections to the PKK as the basis for this designation—the US has proscribed the PKK as a "Foreign Terrorist Organisation" since 1997 in support of Turkey, a staunch regional ally of the US and fellow NATO member. Iranian media and government figures have frequently charged that PJAK is covertly supported by the United States and its allies in order to undermine Iranian "state power". The Iranian news agency PressTV claimed that US military officials met in Iraq with members of PJAK in early August 2011 and promised them weapons and financial aid. Iranian officials have also claimed that PJAK attacks come "with the support of America and the Zionist regime" (Israel).
In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh, wrote in The New Yorker that the US military and Israel are giving the group equipment, training, and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran.
Hersh's claims sparked much fury in the Turkish media due to the ties between PJAK and the PKK, which has waged a decades-long armed campaign against Turkish state forces for rights and self-determination for Kurds in Turkey. Ross Wilson, the US ambassador to Turkey, quickly issued an official denial of any kind of American assistance to PJAK in an effort to quell the uproar; Wilson also sent a classified cable to Washington in December 2007 (which was later released by WikiLeaks) in which he strongly urged the US government to officially blacklist PJAK. In the wake of this incident, high-ranking PKK commander Cemil Bayık asserted in an interview with Agence France-Presse that while US officials had made contact with PJAK, America had provided no support whatsoever to the insurgent group. Maintaining that the PKK was the founder and only real supporter of PJAK, Bayık further stated that "if the US is interested in PJAK, then it has to be interested in the PKK as well", which would contradict the established hostility of the US toward the PKK.
In 2007, the Washington News claimed that Haji Ahmadi, the leader of PJAK, visited Washington, DC in August 2007 in order to seek political and military backing from the US, but only made limited contact with officials and failed to obtain any such support. However, in a statement released on 18 October 2008, PJAK accused the US of having passed intelligence to Turkish and Iranian forces as they conducted intensified bombing campaigns and cross-border attacks against PJAK and PKK bases in the Qandil region.
Designation as a terrorist organization
The following countries have listed PJAK as a terrorist organization.
- "U.S. brands anti-Iran Kurdish group terrorist". Reuters. February 4, 2009. Retrieved February 9, 2009.
- Iraq's other Kurdish rebel group, BBC, Dec. 19, 2007.
- About PJAK, PJAK Official Website.
- Interview with the Secretary general of PJAK Archived 2016-12-08 at the Wayback Machine, Chris Kutschera, September 2008.
- Turkey says it will stage raids with Iran against Kurdish rebels, Al Jazeera
- Iran says killed dozens in push on Kurdish rebels, Reuters (August 17, 2011).
- Freedman, Benjamin; Levitt, Matthew (December 8, 2009). "Contending with the PKK's Narco-Terrorism". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
the Treasury Department also listed the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), which is under the control of the Kongra-Gel
- "Kurdish Info - The PKK and PJAK fighters of Qendil". Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "Kurdish rebels kill Turkey troops". BBC News. April 8, 2007. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- James Calderwood. "Dreaming and fighting, the Kurdish guerillas who say 'to be free you must accept suffering'". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- Narina, E (2010-01-30). "Kurdish prisoner executed in Iran". WashingtonTV. Archived from the original on 2013-12-25. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- "Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, Kurdistan Free Life Party" ペジャーク(PJAK) (in Japanese). Ministry of Justice of Japan. Archived from the original on 9 March 2019. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
- "Turkey, Iran step up fights on PKK, PJAK". Hürriyet Daily News. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- Treasury Designates Free Life Party of Kurdistan a Terrorist Organization (press release), U.S. Department of the Treasury, (February 4, 2009).
- Graeme Wood. "The militant Kurds of Iran". Jane's Security News. Archived from the original on 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
- Tehran faces growing Kurdish opposition, James Brandon, The Washington Times, April 3, 2006
- "Meet the Kurdish guerrillas who want to topple the Tehran regime". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- "İran karakoluna saldırıyı HRK üstlendi". Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2015-02-22.
- "Îran xwe ji êrişên nû re amade dike". www.nefel.com. Nefel-Rûdaw. Nefel. 19 July 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
- "The PKK, PJAK, and Iran: Implications for U.S.-Turkish Relations". The Washington Institute. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
- Richard A. Oppel, Jr. (October 23, 2007). "In Iraq, Conflict Simmers on a 2nd Kurdish Front". The New York Times.
- Partlow, Joshua. "Shelling Near Iranian Border Is Forcing Iraqi Kurds to Flee". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- "Terrorism Monitor". Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- Iran Arrests 7 PKK Archived 2011-06-05 at the Wayback Machine, April 10, 2006, Cihan News Agency/zaman.com
- "Defence & Security Intelligence & Analysis". IHS Jane's 360. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- "Trouble on the Iran-Iraq Border – Newsweek: World News – MSNBC.com". Retrieved 23 April 2017.[dead link]
- "PJAK helikopter düşürdü". Archived from the original on 29 May 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Death toll 26 in battle with rebels Archived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine, Gulf Times, May 2009.
- Iran helicopters strike Iraq Kurd villages, AFP, May 2009.
- Kurd rebels kill Basij militiaman: Iran agency| AFP| 29 July 2011
- Deaths Reported in Fighting Between Iran, Kurd Rebels| voanews.com, 26 July 2011
- PJAK fighters push back Iranian army, Kurdistan Tribune, July 17, 2011.
- Iran says senior security official killed, Al-Jazeera, Jul 22, 2011
- Rozh Ahmad (2011-08-08). "PJAK Leader: We're Prepared To Negotiate With Iran". Rudaw. Archived from the original on 12 April 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "Iran to finish off Kurd rebels in 'days': commander". AFP. 19 September 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "IRGC officer martyred in fight with PJAK". Tehran Times. 9 September 2011. Archived from the original on 22 February 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "PressTV". Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "PJAK Terrorist Group Surrenders, October 1 2011". Archived from the original on 22 February 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- PJAK Surrenders to Iran, September 29 2011
- "4 IRGC personnel killed in clash with PJAK terrorists". Mehr News Agency. April 25, 2012. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Timmerman, Kenneth R. (16 September 2011). "The Turkey-Iran Pact". Frontpage Magazine. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
As we gazed up at an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base set atop the 12,000 foot peaks of the Qandil mountains, a PJAK guerilla told me that Iran and Turkey had established a joint military headquarters in Urmiyeh, Iran, to coordinate their military strikes against the Kurds. "The goal of the Iranians is to drive us from the border area," rebel leader Biryar Gabar told me. "They want to turn this area into a no-man’s land, so they can use it to smuggle weapons and Islamist guerillas into Iraq to fight the Americans." ... During the latest round of fighting, PJAK showed off NATO-issue weapons they claimed they had taken from dead Iranian troops, including Western-made night vision goggles, GPS systems, anti-tank missiles, and BKC guns. PJAK has claimed for some time that Iran’s ally Turkey has provided NATO weaponry to Iran that has been turned against the Kurds, in direct violation of the North Atlantic Treaty. ... Under the direction of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP, Turkey has increasingly dropped all pretence of remaining a friend and ally of the West. Instead, Erdogan seems intent on throwing in his lot with the Islamists in a bid to restore the Muslim caliphate Ataturk abolished in 1924.
- Timmerman, Kenneth R. (4 August 2011). "Iranian Dissident Leader Claims Victory, Warns US". Newsmax Corporation. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
Iran’s biggest advantage was access to intelligence from Israeli-made Heron surveillance drones that Turkish Special Forces troops flew over the battlefield in coordination with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. "This limited our ability to move, but it didn’t matter much since most of our positions were underground," Ahmadi told Newsmax.
- Timmerman, Kenneth R. (28 July 2011). "Iran, Turkey Escalate Battle Against Iraq Kurds". Newsmax Corporation. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
Turkey sent 20 tanks, 300 special forces troops, and surveillance drones into Iran, eyewitnesses quoted by the Firat news agency reported. [Meanwhile] But as I found out during a visit to the area this February, the PKK camps are hours away from the area where Iran has been battling its own rebel Kurds, who belong to the Kurdistan Free Life Party, PJAK.
- US promises PJAK financial, military aid| PressTV| 10 August 2011
- Hersh, Seymour M. (November 20, 2006). "The Next Act". The New Yorker.
- Agence France Presse (AFP). "PKK commander says Washington 'has contact' with Kurdish rebels fighting Iran". The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- "#07ANKARA2918". WikiLeaks. 1 September 2011. Archived from the original on 18 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- "Kurdish leader seeks U.S. help to topple regime". The Washington Times. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- "PJAK statement accuses U.S. of supporting Turkey-Iran joint military operations". Washington Post. September 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2014.