MUSTAFA AKYOL > The father of the Kurds

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These days, there is a new hope in Turkey that the three-decade-old armed conflict between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) might come to an end. Yet the man who is expected to build this peace is someone that many Turks would try and kill with their bare hands: Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s jailed leader.

Öcalan, whose political career began in Ankara in the early 1970s as a communist activist, founded the PKK toward the end of that decade, mainly as “the vanguard of socialism in Kurdistan.” After the 1980 coup that crushed political activists from almost all sides, but especially the left, the PKK re-emerged in 1984 with a vengeance. With bloody attacks on not just Turkish security forces but also fellow Kurds who refused to support the organization, the PKK unleashed a terrorist campaign that has left Turkey hurt to this day.

This “low-intensity civil war,” as some have called it, has been disastrous for both sides. The PKK lost at least 30,000 “guerillas,” whereas the Turkish security forces have given more than 6,000 “martyrs.” Thousands of civilians were also killed, either through PKK attacks or the state’s “collateral damage.”
Since Öcalan was somehow responsible for all this carnage, the overwhelming majority of Turks hated him passionately, giving him the nickname “baby killer.” For the pro-PKK Kurds, however, who constitute roughly one-third of all Kurds in Turkey, Öcalan was a savior and a saint. They saw him as the “people’s leader” who bravely stood up against the Turkish yoke. “He is our Atatürk,” some Kurds even used to say, referring to the founder of the Turkish Republic, or “the Father of the Turks.”

That is why when Öcalan was finally captured by Turkey, with American assistance, in 1999, two opposing reactions emerged. The overwhelming majority of Turks felt relieved and cheerful, in a way similar to the common American delight in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Pro-PKK Kurds, on the other hand, felt traumatized. A few of them even burnt themselves alive to manifest their despair.

Since 1999, Öcalan has been in a Turkish prison on the island of İmralı in the all-Turkish Marmara Sea. He is mainly cut off from the outside world, including the PKK, but his prestige, and cult of personality, among the Kurds persist.

The better news is that Öcalan gradually realized in his cell that he could regain his freedom only by being instrumental in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. Hence he began to give dovish messages to the state and society, trying to recast his image as a peacemaker rather than a terrorist leader.

That is why “dialogue with İmralı” (not explicitly Öcalan, because the man’s name is still too toxic) has become a euphemism that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government publicly announced as a “tool to end terrorism” in the past few years. The AKP, to its credit, had taken a brave step by conceding that terrorism will end not merely through the “war on terror,” but also through “dialogue with the political representatives of terror.”

It also gradually turned out that the definitive “political representatives of terror” are not th pro-PKK deputies in the Parliament, but Öcalan, whose authority is binding for both them and their beloved “guerillas.” That is why the government is now allowing Öcalan to meet with the deputies in question and give them his political messages. And everybody is curious to see whether this will really lead the PKK to say a farewell to arms.


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Pawel Bury

1/7/2013 11:26:38 PM

@Coskan, I totally agree with you.

Coskan U

1/7/2013 7:03:07 PM

Oxymoron …. You mean double standard! Yes, this AKP government has many double standards especially when it comes to it’s foreign policies.

Pawel Bury

1/7/2013 10:58:37 AM

@Coskan, it's oxymoron to refer to EU, US, UN etc since in several other cases Turkey doesn't care for what these organizations have to say. The Kurdish problem has to be solved the soonest. Erdogan made a nice move this time but he is under heavy pressure cause PKK controls southeast Turkey.

Coskan U

1/7/2013 5:49:35 AM

Since PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization, not only by Turkey but also by EU and US, I can’t decide if some guy who made a ridiculous comment comparing PKK leader to Ataturk is ignorant or that repeating it here is the ultimate ignorance.

turkic voice

1/6/2013 10:56:00 PM

@ Turk Uzan well said fully agree with you on this

Mike Newman

1/6/2013 9:12:19 PM

"Turkey (is) hostile to christians???" Are you kidding!!! Look at the Turkish history of independece. You'd see not a single Ottoman Christian fought for Turkiye's independence. They all worked with the victors of WWI and fought against Ankara goverment to fail in its efforts to gain the independence of the democratic Turkish Republic. Still Turks are infinetely tolerant to them, still invite them to be full and equal citizens to participate in its development peacefully and democratically.


1/6/2013 5:28:53 PM

PKK is a narco-smuggling cartel, expert by now shaking down Turkish and Kurdish businesses globally. Does anyone think they care what Apo says or thinks? I give credit to AKP for trying though. Maybe it will remove the shadow of this child killer and rapist from the miserable Kurdish leadership and they will do something useful for a change.

mike alexander

1/6/2013 5:18:05 PM

Turkey MUST find a Kurdish solution ASAP. The E. MED. is a dangerous place and ready for wide range war. If a war brakes, Turkey will have to defend herself from inside and outside. So a solution must be found. This is an unfortunate fact.

Blue Dotterel

1/6/2013 3:23:21 PM

The fact is that Ocalan does not have the power you think he does. On both sides, this is mostly a public relations stunt that will go nowhere.


1/6/2013 12:25:18 PM

I hope , the Turkish state can achieve to find a peaceful solution for the PKK terror.
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