The PKK benefited from our mistakes and regional wars
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.
- 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.
- 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.