We drive at night, from Sulaymaniyah towards Qandil, a mountain range on the Iranian border in northern Iraq, for the festival of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year. During a break, a caravan of buses passes, adorned with flags of Ocalan. After passing a number of peshmerga checkpoints, our taxi driver shouts “PKK”, a guerrilla checkpoint, we enter liberated territory.
We see people camping along the way and groups of people sitting around a campfire in the open air, waiting until dawn. We spread our camping mats, more or les sheltered by a roofgutter of a house.
I wake up in the rain after three hours of sleep and I see that we are in the mountains, hillsides with sparse vegetation, mountain tops covered with snow. The whole valley is dotted with makeshift tents, plastic roofs and cars. From all over the world, Kurds return to their country for celebrate Newroz. In Amed (Diyarbakir) two million people gather, here in the mountains a few tens of thousand of people gather for the Newroz festival organised by the PKK, the The Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
From all over the world, Kurds return to their country for celebrate Newroz. In Amed (Diyarbakir) two million people gather, here in the mountains a few tens of thousands. The road downhill, on foot, to the festival grounds at the bottom of the valley is muddy and full of cars. At the intersection, PKK militants control the traffic. The access to the muddy festival grounds is via cutouts in a deep ditch, where a smiling female guerrilla fighter searches us with a metal detector. Next to her is a German girl, who joined the women’s organization in the mountains two years ago.
Then I notice their shoes. They stand in the mud with sneakers and I’m standing there, well prepared, with my new boots. Why don’t you wear combat boots, I ask a guerrilla fighter, later that day, while we have a glass of tea in the KCK building. Far too clumsy and too heavy. For guerrillas every second counts and we try to avoid carrying every gram we don’t need. Sometimes, during missions, we wear those shoes for several weeks. And it takes too long to put combat shoes on and out.
MEKAP is the name of the brand of shoes, guerrillas wear. Orange leather sneakers with thick soles for rough terrain. Other sneakers wear out after a few months. In rain and snow, militants wear a plastic bag over the socks, which is attached arround the leg with tape. For a better grip on the rocks they burn the rubber soles a little. Everywhere in the mountains there are logistical stocks hidden, also MEKAP shoes for 20,000 PKK militants. MEKAP shoes were originally produced in a factory in Turkey, but the Turkish government closed the factory. The production was then continued in Armenia. Through a variety of channels, they buy all the shoes they can get.
Until August 2, 2015, there was a force of 2000 (Sunni) Peshmerga of the KDP in Shingal, the main Yezidi town in Northern-Iraq. When Daesh advanced, they did not feel responsible for the Yezidi and the Peshmerga retreated, which on August 3 led to a massacre. The rest of the Yezidi population, that fled to the mountains, north of Shingal, were liberated by the HPG, the military wing of the PKK. Now, the Yezidi installed people’s councils in order to organize themselves and they are regarded as traitors by Barzani, who want to divide the Kurds.
Barzani’s KDP and Talabani’s PUK both controll part of the professional, official Kurdistan Regional Government Peshmerga army. They earn (in principle) $ 400 for 10 days service, 20 days off each month. From the age of 16, men can join the Peshmerga. The PKK guerrillas are not paid. At first sight, the Peshmerga and the guerrilla look similar, but the terrorists of Daesh know the difference.
Run, get out of here, the orange shoes are coming.