Michael Totten

Men With Guns

Recently I wrote about some mysterious armed military irregulars in the Kurdish city of Civre in Eastern Turkey. I didn’t know who they were. To recap:

“Sean, do me a favor?” I said. “Can you hold my camera at the window and just start taking pictures? I don’t care of they’re photogenic. Just document what this place looks like.”
“Sure,” Sean said and rolled down his window. He snapped pictures of the town as I drove.
Sean looked off to the side. I looked straight ahead.
“Quick, put down the camera,” I said. “Don’t take a picture of those guys.”
Just up ahead in traffic a flatbed truck was loaded down with armed men who looked like guerillas. They wore keffiyehs on their heads. Only Arabs and Kurds wear keffiyehs. Turks never do, at least none that I’ve ever seen. These guys were heavily armed and sloppily dressed. They obviously were not Turkish military. I don’t know if they were PKK or what, but they sure looked like trouble.

A Kurdish journalist friend of mine in Erbil, Iraq sent me an email that might explain who they were.

You asked about these mysterious heavily armed gunmen in the truck in front of your car, wearing Keffiyehs.
I know who the hell are they.
They were what Kurds in general call Jash (or donkeys). These are very well paid Kurdish mercenaries that the Turkish government use against the PKK. Many Turkish soldiers aren’t well trained (in most cases don’t have the courage) to fight a guerrilla war in the uncontrollable Kurdish mountains, so to save the life of their soldiers, the Turks have hired, benefiting from their joblessness and poverty because all their villages and businesses have been destroyed, some local Kurds and paid them very well so that they fight the PKK on their behalf. So the Turkish government kinda used also the poverty policy then blame all on the PKK.
During the eighties of the past century Saddam’s regime did the same. Hired locals, most escapees from military service, and gave them money and arms to fight the Peshmergas. But after the 1991 uprising all of the Iraqi Kurdish Jash failed Saddam and helped the Peshmergas as they liberated the Iraqi Kurdistan towns and cities one after one.

Back to Iraq Part IV will be posted as soon as it’s written.