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PJAK and Nations’ Right to Self-Determination

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Master’s Degree in International Relations

More than three centuries after the establishment of nation-states as official players of international system, many concepts related to this political phenomenon are still vague and ambiguous. The reason is the system of international law which has been handed down to international community as a legacy. Many thinkers and scholars maintain that since international law arises from Western concepts and theoretical efforts are, as such, not suitable for all players, especially non-Western players of international system. On the other hand, there are even skeptic scholars that attribute international law to colonialistic goals of the West in overseas colonies and maintain that ambiguities surrounding it are quite intentional and aimed to provide the West with suitable grounds to achieve those goals.

The right to self-determination is a concept of international law which is paradoxical in nature. This right enjoys many dimensions and had been formulated to help nations overcome problems resulting from colonialism. Enforcing the right to self-determination becomes an issue when a national minority or a specific region is under pressure from racist, occupationist or colonialistic regimes and is possible to perish. Of course, there is no clear criterion to determine if a nation is victim of colonialism or just a national minority. This ambiguity has further been complicated by inaccurate use of the term “self-determination” and has undermined international reaction to ethnic crises. It has even encouraged separatist movements which brought the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia to their doom at high human cost.

Under the unipolar world system, which gives priority to continued hegemony of the United States through international organizations and institutions, and given ambiguities surrounding the right to self-determination, this right has been used in many cases to put undue pressure on political systems which are not in line with the US interests. As a result, many ethnic groups, which are supported for various reasons by the West, resort to this right as a ground for terrorist activities.

One of those ethnic groups which has banked on the alleged right to self-determination to justify its inhuman acts in north and north western parts of Iran is PJAK.

Since PKK has been recognized as a terrorist group by states and international organizations, following 9/11 terror attacks and to mend its terrorist façade, the group has divided its forces in various ramifications. A group of Turkish Kurds and former members of PKK have now formed a splinter group calling themselves PJAK.

This is an ultra-left militant group which is allegedly “fighting to restore the rights of the Iranian Kurds.” Their ideology is based on Apoism, that is, complete obedience to Abdullah Ujalan who they call the “Apo.”

The party is mostly active along common borders among Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. In Iran, it is mostly active in Horamanat region of Kermanshah province, Eivan in Ilam province, Marivan, and Chehel Cheshmeh in Kordestan province. Its forces are also based in the eastern part of Qandil Mountains in the Iraqi Kurdistan.

The following points should be taken into account before deciding whether this group is qualified to defend the right of nations to self-determination:

Firstly, can PJAK be basically considered as representative of the Iranian Kurds? Is PJAK independent in its ideas or dependent on others in terms of theories, strategic decisions, financial resources and planning?

As said before, the ideology of PJAK is imported from places outside borders that it claims to be defending. Therefore, due to their approach to struggle as well as financial and military dependence on other countries, Iranian Kurds do not recognize it as their true representative.

The second point which sheds more light on qualifications of this group as representing Kurds’ right to self-determination is the method they have chosen to fight the political system in Iran. They have consistently taken recourse in terrorist methods which have cost lives and properties of ordinary people and even fellow Kurds.

Finally, only ethnic groups under repression of suppressive and racist regimes or those fearing possible physical annihilation can resort to this right. Meanwhile, Iranian Kurds have had their share of the political system in Iran and their rights as well as basic freedoms have been respected according to the Iranian Constitution.

The important point, however, is to know that recourse to rules of international law, which are still evolving and abusing existing ambiguities of those rules cannot be used as a ground to justify terrorist activities. A group’s legitimacy comes from its performance and treatment of other ethnicities and nations.

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