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Why the US should take PKK off the terror list

Turkey appears on the verge of civil war. Turkish Kurds are enraged by Turkey's refusal to help their Kurdish compatriots in Kobani, a city across the border in Syria under brutal attack by ISIS. The Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) has threatened to end peace talks and resume hostilities.


A picture taken on August 21, 2014 shows women Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) patrolling on the front line in the Makhmur area, near Mosul, during the ongoing conflict against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
Ahmad Al-Rubaye | AFP | Getty Images
A picture taken on August 21, 2014 shows women Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) patrolling on the front line in the Makhmur area, near Mosul, during the ongoing conflict against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

The United States can help calm the situation by removing the PKK from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Dignifying the non-violent struggle of Kurds for greater political and cultural rights would encourage moderation, accelerating the PKK's transformation into a political party.

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For sure, the PKK has committed crimes in the past. But since its cease-fire with Turkey two years ago, the PKK has become a force for good in the region.

PKK fighters recently saved thousands of Yazidis, breaking through ISIS lines to establish a 40-mile long humanitarian corridor from Mount Sinjar to sanctuary in Syria.

The PKK joined Syrian Kurds in a heroic defense of Kobani. Scores of PKK fighters died, defending Kurds and other minorities from beheadings by ISIS.

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The PKK proved its commitment to peace in Turkey following the cease-fire agreement by withdrawing forces from Turkish soil. It entered into a political dialogue with Turkey's National Intelligence Agency.

The United States should link removing the PKK from its FTO list with the PKK's commitment to a peaceful path. The PKK seeks a dignified peace. Eliminating indignities will shape its approach going forward. The region is roiled by enough violence, without a resurgent civil war in Turkey.

Commentary by David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He is a former senior adviser and foreign affairs expert to the U.S. Department of State during the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

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