Turning points in the PKK’s fortune
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been active for four decades. Like other terrorist groups, the PKK has had to face serious and deadly crises over this time span. Despite these difficulties, it has succeeded against all adversities and has been improving its capacity.
There are several reasons for the PKK’s survival: First is having a leader that suits a political culture. The second is the PKK’s useful ideology, which began with Marxism and now continues with nationalism. It can be accepted as a more functional. The third reason is the PKK’s being a learning organization, and lastly the PKK has a very high capability to exploiting changes in regional political balances.
If the Arab Spring, which triggered the current situation in Syria, is taken into account, it is clear that there will be another turning point in the PKK’s fortunes, since the PKK has had interesting experiences such as the Iran-Iraq War, the USSR’s fall, the first Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Now, there is the Syria crisis, sparked off by the Arab Spring.
The Iran-Iraq war was a turning point in the PKK’s history. This war provided vital opportunities for the rise of the PKK. The PKK obtained a strategically important safe haven and set up camps in northern Iraq. It still continues to use these facilities. Furthermore, the PKK added the Kurdish Democrat Party, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Iran to its sponsors. The PKK had no problems with armament and logistics because they were founded in the field of war. Consequently, between 1979 and 1988, the PKK turned opportunities into successes by improving its military capacity, creating its front organization, finding support from citizens and developing regional networks.
Another turning point was the fall of the USSR and the first Gulf War. At the end of the war, Saddam lost his sovereignty in northern Iraq, when the army was withdrawn. This created a multiplier effect for the PKK. The PKK again obtained arms and logistics capability that would last it a long time. This time, the PKK developed good relations with Iran, Syria and Saddam. Settling in northern Iraq and becoming a host instead of a guest, the PKK has become an active actor.
PKK faced a real crisis in terms of strategy and organization in 1999 when its leader was imprisoned. Not more than three years later, not only had the PKK come through the crisis, it had increased its attack capacity and newly positioned itself. This can be explained by the U.S. intervention in Iraq, which has changed the regional balances. Since Turkey rejected the U.S. army’s presence, it was on the losing side during that time. A short time later, being a little overwhelmed, Turkey demanded the U.S.’s help in solving the PKK problem. For Ankara, this problem could be solved by negotiating with the PKK.
Hence, the PKK began to become implicitly legitimized. This development was a critical turning point in PKK history. The negotiations between the PKK and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) were products of this idea.
The Syria crisis will provide new opportunity spaces generally for Kurds, specifically for the PKK, as in the other examples. With the fall of the Syrian government, the PKK would not only obtain new arms and logistics capabilities but would also find new recruits. Moreover, it would have political legitimacy, rule of discourse and new safe havens. Those points would provide the PKK with a new capacity for bargaining. I think all of these points demonstrate the necessity of looking back at recent history.