MEHMET ALİ BİRAND > The PKK benefited from our mistakes and regional wars

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We have arrived at these days by underestimating the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish issue.

First (in the 1980s) we treated them as if they were a bunch of ravagers. We claimed they were a few hundred bandits who raided villages in the mountains. The state presented the PKK to us like this for years. It underestimated the phenomenon and made us underestimate it too.

We now look around these days and we still see the PKK as a terror organization that simply kills. However, when we look a bit closer, there emerges a giant international organization.

We are face to face with not just 5,000-6,000 armed members in the Kandil Mountains, but with a multinational mechanism with information offices scattered across many countries in Europe, with political parties, newspapers, and television stations. They have hundreds of thousands of civilian members who collect money and conduct political activities. They have 3 to 4 million sympathizers.

The PKK has now changed its shell and its shape. If it was able to survive up until today, and moreover was able to grow enormously, what lies underneath must be a very successful organizational capacity, as well as the ability to benefit from domestic and international circumstances.

It was Turkey’s mistakes, as well as the organization’s ability to exploit positive results from regional developments, that made it possible for the PKK to be born and to grow.

Our mistakes
- One of Turkey’s two biggest mistakes was to not take any notice of our Kurdish citizens, to disregard their fundamental rights and to treat them as third class citizens. The second big mistake was to delegate the Kurdish issue and PKK terror to the military from the 1980s to 2003. The military used the only policy it knew: pressurizing, burning villages, banning Kurdish, instigating fear, committing unresolved murders, and bombing. Thousands of Kurds left the country for Europe, to form a very effective anti-Turkish, pro-PKK lobby. The PKK gained sympathy and power both domestically and abroad.

- When it was finally understood that the PKK had originated from the Kurdish issue and at the basis of the issue were social, cultural and ethnic causes, it was already too late.

- Ankara never had a realistic and courageous strategy except for armed struggle (between 1980 and 2003).

- The most dramatic mistake was that after Öcalan was caught in 1998 and made his guerillas leave the country, Ankara acted as if everything was over. The PKK launched itself into terror again in 2006.

- In 2009, the lack of adequate preparation for the Kurdish initiative resulted in nothing but a show of power. This historic opportunity was wasted.

Foreign factors
- The most important development for the PKK at the beginning of 1980s was Syria’s former leader Hafez al-Assad’s offer to accommodate the PKK in the Beqaa valley, following a water-sharing dispute with Turkey. It thus obtained mobility and a training center. After 32 years, again thanks to al-Assad, (this time the son, Bashar al-Assad), Syria again opened its doors and armed them.

- The real strengthening of the PKK happened in 1991, when coalition forces intervened in Iraq. When Saddam attacked northern Iraq and 500,000 Kurds fled to Turkey, Ankara pressed for a “no-fly” zone. With this, both northern Iraqi Kurds and the PKK were saved. The PKK settled in Kandil and obtained huge amounts of arms after Saddam was defeated.

- During the same period (1980-1995), because of the active Kurdish lobby, some of Europe started supporting the PKK, protesting the harsh way Turkey was fighting terror through the burning of villages and unresolved murders.

- The occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the toppling of Saddam were another huge opportunity for the PKK.

- Iran’s insistence on its nuclear program and the resistance to it by Israel and the U.S. also resulted in an environment favorable to the PKK. In particular, Israel, in order to bother Iran, started secretly supporting PKK and its sister organization the PJAK.


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Notice on comments

Deniz Can

9/9/2012 10:50:51 AM

Mr. BIRAND telling dined rights of the Kurds hasn't solved the problem. Democracy won't be able to solve problems, if inputs and outputs of democracy are not studied and discussed by scientists. Politics act on the basis of self-interest, science acts for the interest of public. Politics has to listen to scientists, who have already suggested the solution. But politics, which benefits from nationalism, insist on no solution at the cost of people. PKK is the outcome, not the input of the problem

Nageyec Conduz

9/8/2012 9:47:51 AM

An other domestic mistake is to allow the BDP (a disguised PKK) to function in the country as political arm, coordinate their terror activities and recruiting more fighters.


9/7/2012 4:15:56 PM

How about some reality check Uri? Palestinians are under occupation. West Bank is not not part of state of Israel. Palestinains do not have the full benefits of a citizenship in a liberal AND secular democracy. None of this describes Turkish Kurds. Besides, Israel has already committed to a two-state solution, at least on paper. Maybe you did not get the news? Can you be less trasparent, it is embaressing.


9/7/2012 4:01:03 PM

to Uri D. : Foreign countries only support pkk for their benefits. they do not care independent country for kurdish. i believe that most of kurdish also do not want a independent country. Because they have all the rights as other people in Turkey.

Uri D.

9/7/2012 1:53:31 PM

To Erdinç: you can check in all acceptable data outlets, see for example Wikipedia, search there for "Kurdish people" and you will see that their number is estimated as 30 millions. For your information, Arab-Israeli citizens can be elected to the Israeli parliament and to the Supreme Court; is that the case with non-Islamic people at Turkey?

Recep Ozel

9/7/2012 12:36:39 PM

We had a huge strategic mistake in 2003 also. Not allowing a US base in Turkey for the 2003 American-led war on Iraq mean't the US used Northern Iraq instead. Turkey had the opportunity to enter Northern Iraq and wipe out the PKK there for good. This was the military strategy at the time, and was negotiated with the US. But AKP wanted to win more votes...


9/7/2012 11:43:18 AM

30 million Kurds? are you sure that Uri D.? How do you compare Palestinians and Kurdish? are you joking? Turgut Özal who was a prime minister and president of Turkey was a kurdish. What are you talking about?

Adam Polk

9/7/2012 10:51:11 AM

Mr. Birand, how did you feel when you spent quality time with PKK cold blooded leader Ocalan years back? and called that journalism. your articles are not even little bit close to sincereness

Uri D.

9/7/2012 7:29:09 AM

If Turkey supports Palestinians aspiration for an independent country, they should support the rights of 30 million Kurds for an independent country as well; anything else is double-standards.
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