ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas Abdullah and Zeena broke the cardinal rule of the rebel outfit -- they fell in love.
For their transgression they were unceremoniously expelled from the group which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984.
They are now living as a married couple somewhere in Iraq's northern Kurdish region at a location they refuse to disclose.
Abdullah's flirtation with the PKK began 12 years ago in his home town of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.
"I was in my prime," said the 32-year-old Abdullah, sporting a bushy moustache, his skin deeply tanned by the sun.
"I used to watch the political and cultural struggle of Kurds in my town for their Kurdish identity," he told AFP.
"Kurds there are deprived of their simplest rights, so I decided to join the PKK. It was not easy, I went through the worst, I was even wounded once... I had a dream of seeing the Kurds winning their historical rights."
For the stocky, curly-haired Abdullah, life was good in the mountains.
"We spent most of our time reading, exchanging opinions and talking about our dream of an independent Kurdistan. We had no regrets about choosing this path," he said.
Then he met Zeena.
"She was a PKK fighter five years younger than me. I fell in love with her and she had the same feelings towards me. It was very difficult hiding our affections in a place that bans love.
"Zeena and I tried our best to keep our love a secret but still our leaders found out about it. We were ordered to hand over our guns and told to leave the camp. 'There is no space for love here', they told us."
They moved to a city in northern Iraq, where they married and Abdullah found work.
"We had to leave behind the charming mountains and the life we loved so much," he said sadly.
Abdullah insisted he would return to life as a rebel at any time.
"I am ready to take off my civilian cloths and wear the Kurdish baggy costume of the PKK, to fight and to die for the Kurdistan cause."
Abdullah does not believe Turkey will carry out its threats to invade northern Iraq in a bid to destroy the PKK's mountain redoubts.
"Turkey says its intentions are to chase PKK fighters, but in fact Kurdish achievements, development and construction (in Iraq's Kurdish region) have angered Ankara," said Abdullah, while browsing through a Kurdish newspaper.
"I am sure that the US will not let Turkey enter Iraq's Kurdistan to destroy these achievements."
Abdullah refused to talk about his job or where he lives because of what he called security fears.
However he insists that he has now adapted to an ordinary life, earning his living like any other Kurdish citizen, and that Zeena spends her day cooking, cleaning and washing clothes.
"The armed struggle has ended for us," he said. "We are now a married couple wishing to have children who will fill our house and delight us.
"We are lovers in the full sense of the word," he said.
The PKK was established in the late 1970s, adopting Marxism-Leninism ideology. It has waged an armed struggle against successive Turkish governments for the past 23 years with the aim of winning autonomy for Turkish Kurds.
It is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community.
Abdullah refers continually to the "historic rights" of the Kurds.
"Our demands are simple. They are not impossible. We want Turkey to recognise our Kurdish identity and language -- only then will this bitter armed conflict stop.
"It is better for Turkey to do this today. If they do not they will be forced to do it tomorrow," he said.