|Party of Free Life of Kurdistan|
Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê
|Leader||Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi|
|Split from||Kurdistan Worker's Party|
|Armed wing||East Kurdistan Defence Forces (HRK)|
|International affiliation||Koma Civakên Kurdistan|
The Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (Kurdish: پارتی ژیانی ئازادی کوردستان or Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê or PJAK, also known in English as Free Life Party of Kurdistan, Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, and sometimes referred to as PEJAK), is a Kurdish nationalist group with bases in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq, which has been carrying out numerous missions in western Iran, southern Turkey and the northeastern parts of Syria where the Kurdish populations live.
Most experts describe PJAK as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to the New York Times, the PJAK shares the same leadership and logistics of the PKK militants in Turkey, as well as allegiance to its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, but unlike the PKK fights Iranian government forces rather than the Turkish government ones.
 Both groups are members of Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (Koma Civakên Kurdistan or KCK), an umbrella group of insurgent Kurdish groups. The PJAK (and the PKK), has been designated a terrorist organization by a number of states and international organizations.
The membership of PJAK's armed wing, the HRK, is estimated to be 3,000 and come from Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the Kurdish diaspora.
Policies and structure
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 Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK), 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 under the movement, and often, release press statements on behalf of its members. PJAK also has sub-divisions:
- PJAK's armed-wing - "East Kurdistan Defence Forces" (Hêzên Rojhilata Kurdistan, HRK);
- "Yerjerika" - PJAK women's branch, dedicated to serving women's interests within the group and women interests in general;
- 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 Kurdish region within the Iranian state. PJAK leadership claims that the group's goals are mainly focused on replacing Iran's theocracy with a "democratic and federal government", where "self-rule is granted to all ethnic minorities of Iran, including Arabs, Azeris, and Kurds".
Armed conflict and arrests
|East Kurdistan Defence Forces (Hêzên Rojhilata Kurdistan, HRK)|
|Dates of operation||2004–present|
|Leader(s)||Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi|
|Motives||To establish semiautonomous regional entities or Kurdish federal states in Iran, Turkey and Syria similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government, and establish a democratic confederalism as theorised by Abdullah Öcalan.|
|Active region(s)||Iraq, Turkey and Iran|
The armed wing of the PJAK, the East Kurdistan Defence Forces (Kurdish: Hêzên Rojhilata Kurdistan, HRK), is engaged in an armed conflict with the Iranian authorities since 2004.
Istanbul's Cihan News Agency claimed that over 120 members of the Iranian security forces were killed by PJAK during 2005.
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 IRNA 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 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 Pasdaran 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.
On 10 October 2013, ISNA reported that five members of the Revolutionary Guards were killed and two others injured in a clash with PJAK forces near Baneh in Kurdistan 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 Islamist 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 Islamist 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 Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), were utilizing 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.
Relation to United States government and military structures
On April 18, 2006, US Congressman, Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to US president George W. Bush in which he expressed his judgment that the US is likely to be supporting and coordinating PJAK, since PJAK operates and is based in Iraqi territory, which is under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh writing in The New Yorker, supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training, and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran.
The United States government and PJAK deny cooperation. In one of the first actions of the Obama administration, PJAK was declared a terrorist organization, freezing any assets the PJAK has under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting American citizens from doing business with the organization.
In an interview with Slate magazine in June 2006, when PJAK spokesman Ihsan Warya was paraphrased as stating that he "nevertheless points out that PJAK really does wish it were an agent of the United States, and that [PJAK is] disappointed that Washington hasn't made contact." The Slate article continues stating that the PJAK wishes to be supported by and work with the United States in overthrowing the government of Iran in a similar way to the US eventually cooperated with Kurdish organisations in Iraq in overthrowing the government of Iraq during the most recent Iraq war.
In August 2007, the leader of PJAK visited Washington, DC in order to seek more open support from the US both politically and militarily but it was later said that he only made limited contacts with officials in Washington. One of the top officials in the PKK made a statement in late 2006, that "If the US is interested in PJAK, then it has to be interested in the PKK as well" referring to the alliance between the two groups and their memberships in the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK).
Iranian officials have claimed that PJAK attacks come "with the support of America and the Zionist regime".
Arrest of Haji Ahmadi, the group leader
In March 2010 the leader of PJAK, Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi, was arrested at his residence in Germany by German Police. Haji Ahmadi, however was released shortly afterward without the German government giving any details about the reason he was arrested or released.
Before his release, the Iranian government asked Germany to extradite the leader to Iran. Germany turned down Iran's request saying Haji Ahmadi is a German citizen.
Families of individuals killed by the PJAK in Iran demonstrated in front of the German Embassy in Tehran after his arrest, asking for the extradition and punishment of the group leader.
Iran became angry about the Germans' decision to free Haji Ahmadi. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference in Tehran that "the European countries, despite chanting the slogan of defending human rights, are practically supporting terrorism," and "there are many clues showing that Europe has become a safe haven for terrorists."
- Kurdistan Workers Party
- Abdullah Öcalan
- Kurdish people
- Iranian Kurdistan
- List of armed groups in the Syrian civil war
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- İran karakoluna saldırıyı HRK üstlendi
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