By Ismet G. Imset

Thursday, December 7, 1995

The Crisis

A burning war:

When in 1984 Turkey found itself faced with a series of armed attacks on military installations in the dominantly Kurdish-populated rural Southeast region, it immediately resolved on a traditional policy, to deal with these so- called “handful of bandits”  in style, with weapons against weapons.

For Ankara officials and many Turks, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which launched the attacks, was nothing but “a remnant of the pre-1980 terrorism” which had spread throughout this strategically important country in the form of violent urban activities in the late 1970’s, constituting an excuse for the US-backed September 12, 1980, military takeover.

Turkey’s enforced mono-ethnic identity was so well carved into millions of minds that no one even questioned the roots of the PKK, what this organization represented, whether its existence had legitimate social or political reasons, or whether the ethnic connotation in the name was anything further than a Marxist ploy to gain regional support.

Instead, both Turkish officials and western intelligence agencies preferred to treat the problem superficially, looking at it with the over-confident assumption that it was a “doomed terrorist group” from the very beginning and one which conspired to divide Turkey for regional foreign interests.

On the surface, every indication supported this view. The PKK’s manpower was then low, ammunition and armament was scarce and the organization, confronting Turkey’s enormous war machine, could clearly stay on its feet only with “outside” support — coming mainly from the regional countries attempting either to control their own Kurdish populations through promotion of crisis’ elsewhere or indeed aiming to cripple NATO- member Turkey as the Cold War dragged on.

Yet, despite repeated assurances from officials that this terrorist group had been “dealt with,” from only a 20-man urban based passive student movement in the late 1970s, the PKK had already grown into a 300 strong trained militant force in the early 1980s.

This expansion actually reflected what was in store for the future. Its number increased several fold over the following years and by 1994, Turkish military officials estimated that its active supporters and sympathizers in the Turkish Southeast alone numbered more than 400,000,  added to over half a million Kurds supporting the organization throughout Europe. If Turkey’s current laws were fully applicable, this means that at least one million Kurdish origin citizens of the country are deemed by officials as “enemies” and could face capital punishment without question.

The PKK is known today to have extensive support among the Kurds of Turkey and Syria, and is gradually expanding into the Kurdish regions of neighboring Iran and Iraq as well.

The exact number of PKK combatants or fighters has been an issue of debate for many years. In 1991, the late president Turgut Ozal claimed there were 3,900 full-time guerrillas. In April 1993, however, the US State Department was to estimate the PKK had only 3,000 guerrillas and two to five thousand active supporters.  In October 1993, The New York Times estimated that 10,000 PKK guerrillas were operating throughout Turkey and neighboring countries.

According to organization officials , the PKK had an active full-time guerilla force of 15,000 in 1994 which it aimed to increase, through a new recruitment drive, to 30,000 in the next two years. As the same figure is extensively used by international wire services  to quote the exact armed strength of the insurgents, this study will be based on the estimate that the PKK’s total active combatant force is approximately 15,000 people, spread out mainly in the Turkish southeast, but existing also in  several European countries as well as in Iraq, Syria, Iran and in Armenia.

It is evident from statements made by PKK leaders  that aside from support coming from regional Kurds, the movement also enjoys extensive support from several countries including Greece, Cyprus, Armenia, Syria, Bulgaria and Russia. It is not hidden either, that a rapprochement has recently been reached between this organization and Turkey’s eastern neighbor, Iran. Despite western advise and pressure –often to the point of straining bilateral relations– the Turks have so far ignored the fact that the PKK is but an end result both of the early 20th. century post-war artificial division of the Kurdish people in the Middle East (or the failure of the Allied Powers in enforcing  the 1920 Treaty of Sevres) and specifically of the repression of the Kurdish population and lack of human rights in modern Turkey. They have closed their ears to arguments that it is because of these, not the organizations own so-called real socialist policies, that the Kurdish insurrection in Turkey has managed to grow so rapidly and spread throughout the region.

Instead, consecutive Turkish governments have insisted on regarding the PKK purely as a terrorist phenomena allegedly aiming only “to destroy Turkish sovereignty and divide the country with foreign supervision and/or support.” Repeated statements by the PKK over the past years, to the extent of withdrawing its demands for a separate Kurdish state, calling to end the fighting in favor of a peaceful and lasting solution through direct dialogue and under the framework of a sovereign yet democratic Turkey have not been taken seriously, mainly in light of  decade-long bloodshed and atrocities, all still too fresh in the minds of many Turks.

The result is 19,000 dead in a matter of ten years… By the end of 1994, at least 2.664 Kurdish villages and hamlets in Turkey’s troubled Southeast region were recorded as completely evacuated or partially destroyed by government forces.  At the end of 1993, the score of villages destroyed and evacuated by troops in military operations allegedly conducted against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region had been 874.  This meant that in a single year alone the number of villages evacuated by the Turkish military in the region had reached 1,800.

The consequences of this ongoing scorched earth campaign was a vast population movement, or displacement, involving some 2 million Kurdish civilians that year .  While some limited out-migration has been economically motivated  the majority were forced out of the region and the total number of displaced Kurds at the end of 1995 is believed to have reached three million.

Some of these civilians, effected both by Turkey’s hard-handed security operations and the Kurdish insurgency, have escaped from the region altogether seeking protection from the conflict in larger Turkish cities, boosting the local population by several fold and adding to the already-existing economic hardships and unemployment.  Others escaped into neighboring northern Iraq where currently, in the Ertush camp alone, there are over 15,000 Kurdish refugees from Turkey enjoying partial United Nations protection.

As if these were not enough, documented human rights violations by Turkish security forces in the form of village raids, torching, bombings, systematic death squad assassinations, torture and disappearances have also increased immensely over the past five years. Hundreds have been tortured to death or killed by para-military death squads, tens of thousands have been arrested, forced into starvation and/or purged from their settlements altogether. Only last year the military was caught in the midst of attempts to create special “containment camps” for Kurds, although immediate publicity in the United States and appeals made before the US Congress  fortunately ended the said operation before it could catch up steam.

It is evident that in the past two decades, both the Kurdish and Turkish people of Turkey have suffered dearly. The names of over 20,000 Kurdish settlements have been forcefully changed into Turkish, the language was totally outlawed for ten years and even Kurdish names to be given to children were banned. Any Turkish scholar, scientist, researcher or journalist seeking a peaceful solution to the problem through debate has been arrested. Scores of journalists working on Kurdish issues have been assassinated or imprisoned. The low intensity civil war, on the other hand, has not only robbed the troubled region of its own economic resources along with possible investments, but also drains approximately 7 billion dollars a year out of Turkey’s budget…

A policy of denial:

The root of the conflict unquestionably lies in Turkey’s insistent refusal to give ear to Kurdish demands for equal political, social and cultural representation as well as an end to economic disparity between the Kurdish regions of Turkey and more prosperous areas of western Turkey.

Ankara’s ignorance, in the first half of the century, was mainly attributed to the birth pains of a new Republic order. Later, there was the Cold War during which Turkey played a vital role as being an essential buffer zone both for the threat from the East and regional Soviet domination plans. After the Cold War, just as Turkey expected to be one of the primary beneficiaries of that era, a new role was found for this country. Its exclusive secular nature and acceptable standards of democracy (when compared to other regional countries) turned it into yet another buffer zone for the West, this time both against the rise of fundamentalist Islam and as a deterrent force against regional dictatorships.

In any event, these roles were heartily enjoyed by Turkish officials as, throughout modern history, they were used to justify to western powers why the post-1923 mono-ethnic structure had to be protected in Turkey. Although it has changed in form and reason, the argument has always been that any change in the status quo of the current nation state would lead to vast instability, or even civil conflict, and this in turn would hinder overall western industrial, geopolitical and military interests in the region.

Through the skillful use of the bogeyman of possible instability, Turkey not only won time for a forceful Turkification of the whole population but was also offered a precious tolerance which no other regional country enjoyed from the West. Within this tolerance it managed to get away with almost anything; including military coups, mass deportations and even systematic human rights abuses significantly not even witnessed in the past tyrannical Soviet states or present Islamic countries. The most specific policy it managed to coerce the West to sustain was its suppression of all Kurdish demands by force.

The most recent demands in this form have undoubtedly been raised by the PKK which, by Turkey and many of her allies, is still regarded as a terrorist organization owing mainly to activities carried out against non-combatants in the past.

Although the Kurds constitute approximately 20 % of Turkey’s population of 60 million,  Turkish policy on the “Kurdish problem” has been and continues to be based on the systematic denial of this problem and of the ethnic identity and demands of the Kurds altogether. It is thus essential for Ankara to maintain the international argument that the PKK is terrorist. Period. Otherwise, it would have to concede that the ongoing conflict is of social and political nature and address its reasons. Even though this may be portrayed as a successful state policy, one keeping sovereignty in mind, the PKK has emerged as the focal point of nationalist Kurdish resistance to Turkish rule in the past decade  as result of it — despite its initial Marxist- Leninist philosophy.

In this context, to find a suitable label for the PKK rather than the weaker prescription issued by Turkey, one has first to look into its strategy and, set out as early in as in 1977.  These would be the only acceptable signs

According to the Party’s initial program  which, despite amendments, has remained intact for years, the PKK recognized from the beginning of its struggle that the geographical region called Kurdistan had been divided into four regions by four separate colonial countries; that the largest part of this territory is Turkish Kurdistan; that the classic pattern of exploitation is semi- feudal production and that the revolt would have to be of a national- democratic origin.

It is specifically said in all of the earlier PKK documents throughout the 1980s that the main aim of the movement is to achieve freedom for the Kurdish people, based on the argument that the Kurds are (a) oppressed; (b) victims of colonialism and (c) have the right for self determination.

To be more clear, the PKK claims that it is acting on behalf of the Kurdish people and addressing their just demands.  The essential question which needs to be answered here, even before debating what is right and wrong as far as the PKK is concerned, is whether the Kurdish people actually have that sort of right in the first place. In other words, do international laws and moral codes give a major part of the divided Kurdish people –those living in Turkey– a jus ad bellum, or the right to go to war.

Once this issue is addressed, the question of whether any political or armed group, with views which fail to meet mainstream capitalist requirements can actually use such a right on behalf of a mass of people would, clearly, be the next question.

A brief history of Kurdistan:

It is evident, given Turkey’s own history and the colonialism of the geographical region called Kurdistan, that the current existence of a Kurdish national identity –despite fierce historic attempts to crush it– and the subsequent Kurdish pursuit of an armed uprising could only be based on substantial reasons. Reasons which are seen by many involved in the recent conflicts as having given the right to go to war to regional Kurds in the absence of any other alternatives to voice their demands.

This right lies in the very heart of the current conflict: Its true beginning point, is even before the PKK was ever established.

The origin of the Kurdish people is uncertain. They have retained their distinct identity for at least two thousand years whilst their neighbors on the plains have suffered successive invasions and absorbed both foreign peoples, and foreign cultures.  Supposedly they were the mountain people in conflict with the Mesopotamian empires of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, and the Kurds themselves believe they are descended from the Medes. As with the Arabs, the question of identity is not only to do with real ethnic origin. It is also to do with imagined lineage.

It is known, however, that the first record of Kurdish writing –in the form of a short text in verse– dates back to the 7th Century, evoking the sufferings of the people during the Arab invasion. After converting to Islam, the Kurds are known to have made important contributions to the Muslim civilization. In the 10th and 12th centuries, history witnessed the emergence of the first independent Kurdish principalities in the region. From then to the 18th century, the Kurds witnessed a Mongol invasion, the subsequent recreation of Kurdish principalities and an alliance with the Ottomans against Shiite Persia during which they were promised, by Sultan Selim, a recognition of “Kurdish states.” The turning point in 1695 could be regarded as the publication of Mem-o-Zin, a Romeo-Juliet style saga based on the appeal of creating a united state of Kurdistan.  Mem-o-Zin is, perhaps, the best expression of historic Kurdish aspirations which is still an essential part of Kurdish culture today.

Imprisoned Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikci  points out that “perhaps one of the most tragic events in the history of the Middle East and of the world in the first quarter of the 20th century was the implementation of an interstate colonial system in Kurdistan.”

Indeed, the Kurdish people today “have the unfortunate distinction of being probably the only community of over 15 million persons which has not achieved some form of national statehood, despite a struggle extending back over several decades.”   Throughout their history, they been victims of divide-and-rule policies and colonial interests motivated mainly by the economic resources and geopolitical importance of the region.

The “colonial system in Kurdistan” can easily be identified as a human tragedy. Along with it, millions of people not only saw an end to their historic, somewhat traditional, aspirations but had to witness their families and property being divided between new nation states after the first war of division.

The most unfortunate aspect of this division for the predominantly Muslim Kurds was, undoubtedly, the downfall of the Ottoman Empire which was a multi-culture state in which religion (Islam/Ummet) and not nation was one of the main criteria for unity.

The Ottoman Empire, as widely accepted, was essentially a multi-national political entity before WWI  when it embraced the Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Albanians, Armenians, Circassians, Laz and many other people. For years on before the end of the 18th Century it was described as a “menace” for Europe. Yet having failed to adapt to the Industrial Revolution, undermined by internal contradictions (the maintenance of a gigantic army, a “statist” landholding system which prevented an evolution towards capitalism, the sclerosis of scientific and philosophical thought due to absolutism, etc.) and harassed by Austria and expansionist Czarist Russia, finally began to fall apart during the 19th Century.

Up until the beginning of that century, the Kurdish principalities maintained their existence. However, the Empire was weary of their independence and in view of its rapidly diminishing strength throughout, turned instead to subjugate them which led to a series of revolts against central authority.

Before WWI, the Arabs had already seceded from the empire. During the war, in retaliation to a bloody internal uprisings, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred and deported. As for the Kurds, a majority of whom were part of the larger “Ottomans,” their fate depended completely on the Turkish War of Independence between 1919 and 1923.

Taking part on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary during the war, the Ottoman Empire had been defeated and despite Anatolian armed resistance to occupation forces, the Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920. This treaty provided for the dismantling of the Empire and the formation of national states along the lines of ethnic and cultural self determination of peoples which allowed the formation of Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic states and the Turkish Republic. Kurds, Arabs and the Armenians participated in the discussions held in Paris with the delegations recognized by the allies.

Article 62 and 64 of the Treaty of Sevres (Section III, Kurdistan) envisaged the formation of a Kurdish state, at first within Turkey’s borders. (Article 62). Yet Article 64 Paragraph of the same Treaty added that, “if within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty the Kurdish peoples within the areas defined in Article 62 shall address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in such a manner as to show that a majority of the population of those areas desire independence from Turkey, and if the Council then considers that these peoples are capable of such independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to execute such a recommendation, and to renounce all rights and title over these areas.”

The wording of the Treaty of Sevres, which was signed by the parties concerned, is important as –if nothing else– it disproves Turkey’s current argument that the Kurds are neither an ethnic minority nor have any national status in general. “If and when such renunciation takes place,” it said, “no objection will be raised by the Principal Allied powers to the voluntary adhesion to such an independent Kurdish state of the Kurds inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul Vilayet.”

However, instead of continuing an autonomous or independent state, the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq were planed under a British mandate,  the Franco-Turkish Treaty had already incorporated three Kurdish areas into Syrian territory (under a French mandate) and the biggest part of Kurdistan was incorporated into the Turkish Republic.

Kurdish forces by then had been actively involved in the repression of Armenian revolts in the East and had started to make  great contributions to the liberation struggle going on in Anatolia. A majority of the Kurds were clearly misguided. Some were identifying themselves as “equals” mainly under the influence of the Amasya Protocol of 1919 which had “recognized the national and social rights of the Kurds.” Others were literally led to believe in modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s promise that “Turks and Kurds will live as brothers and equals.”

But with the new borders of the Turkish Republic, the Misaki Milli,  set after the War of Liberation and “occupation troops” forced to move out, Ankara signed the historic Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which implicitly and en passant annexed the Kurds to Kemalist Turkey.

With the Treaty of Lausanne, a new artificial nation-state had come to being and despite all promises, despite all talk of “Kurdistan mebuslari” or Kurdish deputies in the first meeting of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, there were to be no more discussions on Kurdistan or the Kurdish people in Turkey for many years. This was, however, not perhaps a direct result of the Treaty itself, but more or less a consequence related to its overall interpretation , as has been well pointed out by Lord Kilbracken exactly 70 years later.  The Treaty made no mention of the Kurds, and granted them no national rights. It did, however mention the “protection of minority rights.”

Articles 38 and 39 were crucial.

Article 38, for instance, read as follows: “The Turkish government undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion… All inhabitants of Turkey shall be entitled to free exercise, whether in public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, the observance of which shall not be incompatible with public order and good morals.”

Article 39, on the other hand, included the paragraphs, “No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press or in public meetings… Notwithstanding the existence of the official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Turkish nationals of non-Turkish speech for the oral use of their own language before courts.”

But in the overall interpretation of the Treaty, Ankara argued (notably in the absence of the Kurds during the Lausanne Conference) that “Turks and Kurds are equal partners in the government of Turkey”  and all parties resolved that articles 40-45 specified that the minorities concerned were “non Muslim minorities.” Henceforth Ankara was automatically armed with powers to freely assimilate all other Muslim ethnic groups and in a matter of few years, the Kurds, along with their cultural and social identity, suddenly disappeared in Turkey.

Having avoided the Treaty of Sevres which  proposed more realistic borders for the newly emerging states, the Republic of Turkey immediately resolved to the Treaty of Lausanne to deny any promised liberties. Being a predominantly Sunni Muslim country of Turks, the Republic immediately started to take measures to convert other ethnic Muslim groups living within the same borders and assimilate them within the new culture.

Yet in this new concept of “Turks” was hidden a major problem from which the country now seriously suffers.

The word “Ottoman” had no ethnic connotations for the people of Anatolia. However, the root of the word “Turk,” as generally known, has an ethnic origin. Beginning at that time, the new state thus proclaimed itself mono- ethnic and having called this mono-ethnicity Turkish, demanded for everyone living within the borders of Turkey to become Turkish. The policy was thus based on the “Turkification” of a whole population, regardless of their ethnic roots, language, culture, literature and even differing religious practices.

The first move by Ankara in this direction is best expressed by Kemal’s historic quotation “How happy I am to be a Turk,” a slogan now block-printed even on the mountains of Southeast Turkey. The expression is the basis for the new Turkish identity and the current constitution and laws. Although some scholars still argue that the reference to “Turk” was not ethnic and that Kemal aimed to identify a whole mosaic of people living in the same boundaries, the official perception of the reference is evident.

In any case, immediately after securing the new boundaries of Anatolia, the “misaki Milli” or the sovereign Republic of Turkey, the Turks set out to change the people living within. There were mass population movements of specific “risk groups” seen to be resisting Turkish assimilation. The Kurds and Circassions were high on the list and suffered painful internal migrations. They were no longer regarded as an integral component of a newly forming system. Neither were they any longer “non-combatants.” Their status was that of “suspects,” and frequently, of combatants where any resistance was witnessed, just like the Armenians.

Kemal was swift in subscribing to the view that to forge a Turkish nation was absolutely vital to liquidate the main enemy, Armenians, and to assimilate the Kurds. He was so dedicated to the creation of a new united nationality that as early as in 1924, a decree banned all Kurdish schools, associations, publications, religious fraternities and medressehs.

It is as of that date that Turkey’s racially-motivated campaign to crush and destroy the Kurdish identity started and, expectedly, provoked a series of revolts on the Kurdish side.

Mustafa Kemal himself may have been alarmed in February 1925 when the Southeast of Turkey was shaken by a major Kurdish revolt, as researcher Alan Palmer suggests , but the development was no surprise in the view of the ongoing Turkish repression. The Sheikh Said revolt, under the green banner of Islam, was swiftly dealt with mainly assumed as a threat against secularism. Said himself and some thirty of his followers were immediately sent to the gallows.

Yet similar uprisings and identical solutions, almost all formulated by the Turkish Chief of General Staff, continued all the way up till 1939. Brutal repercussions against attempts to rise for autonomy were recorded in this period. Hundreds were killed. Eventually, in line with the dominant Sunni- Turkish mono-ethnic identity, the Kurds were branded by official policy as “a different Turkish tribe,”  and later identified, again officially, as “Mountain Turks.”

Although the Kurds left in Iraq, Iran and Syria had similar problems, neither were as systematic and discreet as those in Turkey faced. In Iraq, despite serious problems, the Kurds defended their identity and enjoyed autonomy from the 1970s until directly attacked in the late 1980s by Saddam Hossein’s forces. Despite their autonomous existence, in 1987-88 they were subject to vicious attacks in which chemical gasses were used, finally killing 5,000 civilians. The oppression, combined with the Gulf War, led to a rebellion after which, under allied protection, the Kurds there were allowed to set up their own control north of the 36th parallel. Both Iran and Syria have dealt with their Kurds in different fashion. Despite existing problems, such as language bans during the US-backed repressive regime of the Shah, the Kurds in these two countries currently have relative freedom and can practice their language, cultural and social rights. Notably, Syria in supporting the Turkish Kurdish rebellion, has managed for years to distract attention among its own Kurdish people.

The Kurdish legitimacy:

In its 70 plus years of republic order, Turkey has not only formally deny the Kurdish identity but has also introduced bans that would prevent the practice of Kurdish culture, education and traditions. One of those, still present in the Turkish laws, prevents anyone to name a child, village and/or settlement “against mainstream Turkish tradition and culture.” In practice and similar to the 1980s repression of Turks in Bulgaria, Turkey has forcefully changed the names of over 20,000 Kurdish villages and towns into Turkish. It has also banned Kurdish families from naming their children in their own language and refuses to sign international children rights agreements which would force it to abolish this ban.

But the heavy-handed assimilation policy of Ankara did not stop at this. The use of any language  other than those formally recognized by Turkey was banned for over a decade, the country’s single official language was identified as Turkish (although millions could not initially use this language) and even the national anthem of the country was based on the words “my courageous race!” In this period, any Kurd who even voiced his or her aspirations was severely punished, often ending up on the gallows as “traitors” or “terrorist bandits.” The best example to date is former Public Works Minister Serafettin Elci who was arrested, tried and imprisoned, only for saying “I am a Kurd.”

Today, forced since 1991 both by developments in neighboring Iraq and a new but stronger armed Kurdish resistance, Ankara has had to revise this age-old policy of denial.

On the official and diplomatic platform, it formally accepts “a Kurdish identity” exists, only because the initial step in limited recognition was taken by late President Turgut Ozal and there is no viable face-saving way to go back on this. Even this argument, though, maintains that the Kurdish identity is only of cultural origin.

Aside from this “diplomatic” recognition, Turkish official ideology refuses to accept the overall Turkish culture as “a cultural mosaic” and insists that any rights to individual groups would only lower members of those groups to second-rate citizens. The argument is that the Turks themselves would revolt if Kurds were given privileged rights, based on the concept that ethnic “rights” are not rights but a privilege. There is also the state-sponsored argument that if the Kurds received cultural rights or self-control, the Turks would insist a majority Kurdish population living throughout Anatolia to return to their land of origin and this would lead to immense polarization and, possibly, civil war.

Indeed, Turkish Kurds are scattered around the country but living concentrated in only ten provinces of the east and southeast. If the figures of 13-15 million Turkish Kurds are to be taken as true, it would mean that at least half of the Turkish Kurds are living outside of the “troubled region” and for years were not directly affected by the ongoing crisis. It was only after 1989, when Ankara turned to brutal measures to silence Kurdish demands, that this section of the “Turkish society” started to feel the pain suffered by those in the troubled region.

In that region, the main problem is that mainstream Turkish laws are not applicable in whole and it is under a State of Emergency with special authority and laws. A majority of the population there are treated, at the best, as “suspects” and more than often as “terrorists.” Although they are “non combatants” under international law, they are frequently and systematically placed by Turkey in the “combatant” group. In the western parts of the country, though, the Kurds can enjoy basic freedoms and benefit from the principle of equal treatment and living as “equal” with the remaining population. However, they can only do this if they deny their own ethnic identity.

The precondition for equality, under constitution and laws, is that the Turkish Kurds can only enjoy the freedoms and rights guaranteed under that constitution to “all Turkish citizens”, if they deny their heritage and accept themselves as Turks.

Turkish officials often boast that nearly one-fourth of the 450 seat parliament is made up of “Turks of Kurdish origin” but in reality only those who deny their ethnic identity and those who are Turkofied can enter any profession. They can become ministers, such as aforementioned Elci, only either hiding their origin or denouncing it. They can be teachers, students, administrators and even army officers on the same grounds. They can even enter Parliament without hindrance — although a majority are leaders of local tribes and feudal landlords who have since the creation of the Republic enjoyed state support. The situation closely resembles Ankara’s arguments of a joint Turkish-Kurdish government at the Lausanne convention in 1923.

When these supposedly “Kurdish” individuals do identify with their own ethnic origin, they suffer dearly. Only last year Turkey persecuted and later prosecuted 15 members of parliament who openly stated they were Kurds and voiced the demands of their own electorates — demands which the Turkish majority took as “terrorism” but were still the will of the people who had elected them. Some of these MPs are still in prison while seven are in exile in Europe. Mus deputy Sirri Sakik, released on the same trial, was arrested in July 1995, only for attempting to monitor another court case involving a politician who openly identified himself as a Kurd.

The persecution of anyone involved in Kurdish issues is so great that it speaks for itself. The case of the Kurdish MPs has been widely publicized in the West. But it is not all. In the past two years, for instance, 23 journalists working on newspapers related to the Kurdish issue have been killed by death squads. Another MP was assassinated the same way. Newspaper offices and magazines have been bombed. Non of the culprits have been caught. In the meantime, some 3,000 “mystery assassinations” have been recorded in the Southeast. Anyone writing on the Kurds risks persecution, torture and death. Currently there are over 100 academicians, scientists and writers in Turkish jails serving lengthy prison terms for what they have put into writing. One scientist, who has devoted his studies to the sociological background of the Kurds, has been in prison for 15 years just for publishing results of his research!

In the words Ismail Besikci, who the controversial Turkish justice system now also regards as a terrorist, “denial of one’s ethnic identity means being in bondage and disinherited.”

Even in the words of Elci, the former minister who is an outspoken critic of the tactics of the PKK, “the Kurds want their identity to be recognized. Obviously there are also the rights which stem from such a recognition. The honor of an individual is to have an identity, to be himself.” It is worth to note once again that despite his ministerial portfolio in a past Turkish government, Elci was promptly charged and later sentenced to jail for openly expressing his Kurdish identity years ago.

Even though he disproves of armed tactics employed mainly by the PKK, Elci himself agrees that currently “the most essential demand of the Kurds is to have rights. The right for education coming first. This is not only the demand of the Kurds but a right established in the by the UN for children’s rights which Turkey has also signed. Every child has the right to education in his/her own language. The other demand is the right for organization in the form of political parties and cultural institutions. If this right is granted, it will be a very positive step. Because then the true representatives can be seen.”

Unfortunately even today, Turkey is not willing to change its policies. While explaining to the West that its attempts at democratization are constantly hindered by “Kurdish terrorism,” Ankara maintains that no exceptional rights can be given to the Kurds. “Now they want our hand. Once they take our hand, they will want our arm,” is how the Prime Minister publicly views the situation echoing the military argument of a sinister “salami tactic” being in force.

This denial together with Turkey’s repressive policy towards any issue related to the Kurdish identity, is seen as a justification for a Kurdish armed resistance in the region. Not one for the PKK alone, as the organization may at times claim, but the struggle of Turkey’s Kurdish people in whole.

Terrorism or Armed Conflict?

Much of the current argument related to the current Kurdish insurgency depends on finding answers to vital questions related to the very existence of the organization behind it. It is thus essential before identifying the PKK for what it is, to first determine the conditions under which it has come to being in Turkey.

As the moral code of behavior which sets the regular just causes of the world is often based on the moral codes of democratic countries alone, the first question that needs to be answered is whether Turkey actually falls into the category of being a fully democratic country.

This is a vital question as the definition of Turkey and the Turkish state system alone would be efficient to answer whether a Kurdish insurgency has any justification for being. If Turkey is taken for granted as being democratic — as its military leaders boldly argue– there is more reason to challenge any armed alternative. Yet if the system is un-democratic, this situation alone gives a natural right for the people to challenge the system. In this context, it can be said without room for any further debate that as Turkey remains to be a semi-military state, still based on a military constitution and accused internationally of systematic human rights violations, the legitimacy of the state is in itself doubtful and this alone justifies any activity against that state as was accepted in the case of the former East Bloc countries. Since it is the state which first used weapons against its own people in the case of the Kurdish repression, it may also be possible to argue that the very right to respond in style as in the case of the Kurds, does indeed exist.

Another question which immediately comes to mind is related to the status of the Kurds in Turkey, as explained in the previous section,  and whether their alliance with the state was or is based on a voluntary unity. Here it could be readily argued that owing to the mono-ethnic structure of the Turkish nation state and the forceful assimilation of all other cultures, the right to defend national identity at all cost or the right to self determination also exists for such groups.

This right in turn leads to the crucial question as to whether it can ever be right for minorities, even if they are not recognized in this context by their host state, “to use violence to try to coerce the majority of the government into submitting to their demands.”  Indeed, in democracies, as there is almost always a peaceful method for minorities to voice their grievances and demands, violence on part of minorities appears to be impermissible.

As for Turkey’s Kurdish struggle, to argue that such activities are impermissible, one would have to conclude that the Turkish system is an established democracy, that the alliance of all citizens to the state are unquestionably on a voluntary and equal basis and, finally, that there were alternative peaceful ways to voice grievances and demands (as would be the case in most western democracies)  before an armed struggle based partially on violence or what the state has referred to as “political crime” has been committed.

The very lack of all of these three conditions in Turkey alongside the argument that those involved in the armed struggle are no more immoral than those engaged in ordinary war on behalf of the government appears to constitute the legitimacy of the Kurdish revolt today in justifying its reasons of existence and casting further doubts on the legitimacy of the current Turkish system which, according to many observers, falls short of being a totalitarian police state in disguise of a democracy.

What then is the PKK? Where does it fit in this ruthless jigsaw puzzle? It claims itself to be a national freedom movement, representing the Kurds. Yet, as seen earlier,  in the divide-and-rule borders of the Middle East, the Kurds is far too wide and divided a national concept even to speculate upon.

There are  probably three factors which closely influence the original  identity of the PKK in this respect if a definite label for this armed popular movement is deemed as essential.

The first factor is undoubtedly the artificial division of the Kurdish population in the region between the four nation states as described earlier. It is no longer a secret that the PKK is actively supported in two of these and is gaining more strength in the third, namely Iraq. Yet, despite this vast support, it is also no secret that there are other dominant Kurdish political groups active in the region and although their proportional representation of the Kurdish people is hardly anywhere close to that of the PKK, this prevents us from concluding that the PKK represents all of the regional Kurds. The end result is that the PKK represents only a proportion of the world’s 30 million Kurds scattered throughout the region, in the Caucuses and in European state. Yet, this is the largest proportion of the overall Kurdish population.

The second factor is related to its representation of Turkish Kurds. As  only about half  of Turkey’s Kurds actually live in the Southeast region  where the PKK has concentrated most of its activities, the remaining Kurdish population is spread out among the Turks in the southern, central and western parts of the country. Most of these have been assimilated in time while some are newly embracing their Kurdish identity.

Clearly the overall Kurdish population distribution, along with electoral results to establishment parties from Kurdish populated areas, strengthens Ankara’s essential argument that the PKK’s claim to represent all Turkish Kurds  is questionable. Then again this also matters little in the current conflict, given the amount of support the PKK does enjoy from the predominantly Kurdish populated Turkish southeast  and most important of all, from hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in Europe who provide the essential manpower it needs to continue its warfare.

As in the regional context, in Turkey as well, it could be said that the PKK represents the important proportion of the Kurdish population or the proportion that counts in a crisis at such a gross level.  Since Turkey’s repression of the Kurds and heavy censorship of debate on related issues prevents us to know exactly what the aspirations or political inclination of all Turkish Kurds are, we have no grounds to work on other than the support the PKK enjoys, which can be observed in practice, leaving aside the questionable public opinion polls and general or local election results which are completely unreliable.

The third and final factor which helps to identify the PKK lies within Turkey’s own history of Kurdish repression and official racism, and the fact that over the past five years, as result of PKK activities, Turkey has come to the  point of accepting the existence of a Kurdish identity even if at face value. This serves to prove that the PKK has a dominant role in the current conflict and is the only single party, other than the Ankara government, which is an essential part of it.

It is, in effect, fighting against a systematic, state-sponsored racism. It is also fighting against attempts to kill the Kurdish identity altogether. Whatever its methods, it claims to be fighting for the Kurdish rights to self determination.

However, while arguing on this basis that the PKK can no longer be identified as a terrorist organization alone –as terrorist organizations are identified in the moral codes of the world today– it could also be concluded that given (a) the Kurdish population distribution in Turkey and the region (b) the existence of other dominant Kurdish political entities in the area and (c) its methods of warfare which have yet to improve according to the standards of international human rights, the organization cannot yet be identified as freedom fighter movement for a Kurdish majority either. In any event, even the PKK itself claims currently to be a national freedom fighter movement mainly for the Northern Kurds, or those in Turkey, but accepts it aims to expand its influence throughout the region.

In effect, the PKK is a armed political organization, outlawed by a government whose constitution, laws and ruthless policies are questioned throughout the world and tolerated for greater economic interests,  professing itself through military activity in the lack of all other peaceful alternatives to which Ankara has closed its doors. It is a group which has evolved in a decade from a rural based violent background into a major ethnic insurgency movement in the region and one which, given its background and adaptable policies, is currently challenging all other regional powers.

The PKK may indeed not represent all of the Kurds of the region and   it may be difficult to say whether it represents all of the Kurds in Turkey. What is clear though is that it does represent an important majority of the regional Kurds and in this context, given its structure, policies and mass support, is clearly an Armed Conflict Group.

Whether it has the right to use arms, and pursue the heavily criticized methods it has, is yet another issue.

If such rights are sought for in the UN Charter, or  what means are allowed in seeking and pushing through the peoples’ right to self-determination, it appears that it will take some time before the General Assembly expresses any opinion regarding the means of liberation struggles and the question of violence.

Whether the ban on violence in Article 2 Section 4 of the UN Charter is applicable in such situations and whether the accusations of terrorism are justified is to be discussed in the following sections. Yet, it is noteworthy to mention here that insession XXV in 1970, the UN General Assembly for the first time spoke of “the inherent right of all colonized peoples… to use all the necessary means at their disposal to struggle against the colonial power, which oppresses their striving for freedom and independence.” Three years later, an explicit recognition of the right to wage armed struggle was passed by the UN. Later, a series of resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly legitimized the use of force in armed struggle. The most significant of these resolutions was passed in December 1973, despite resistance from the 13 Western states. Entitled “The Fundamental Principles Of The Legal Status Of Combatants Who Struggle Against Colonial Or Foreign Rule As Well As Against Racist Regimes,” the resolution stated: 1. The struggle of the people under colonial or foreign rule or under a racist regime to gain their rights to self-determination and independence is legitimate and in full agreement with the Principles of the Rights of Peoples. 2. All attempts to suppress the struggle against colonial or foreign rule or against a racist regime are incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations, the Principles of the Rights of Peoples, the declaration concerning friendly relations and cooperation between states in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the declaration guaranteeing independence to colonized nations and peoples, and such attempts pose a threat to international peace and security.  Clearly the status of Turkey, rather that the PKK itself, is subject to debate at this point. Turkey and her well-paid lobbyists naturally deny charges of colonialism as well as racism. Yet, it is evident from history that “the Turkish state does resort to terror to annihilate Kurdish culture and impose Turkish language and culture on the Kurds — the aim is to deny the existence of the Kurdish language and the Kurdish nation and insist that everyone is of Turkish origin.”  What is evident is that it is essential, to find any viable solution to the crisis, to recognize the extent of racism which motivates the modern Turkish state and the fact that today’s Kurdish revolt is only an end product of this history of repression.

If for nothing else, because of these, the PKK is regarded as a freedom movement for an important proportion of Turkey’s Kurds and this alone, in the current conflict and in seeking solutions for it, is what truly counts. In the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Kurds –not a dozen or two hundred, not people like those ruled by ruthless and primitive tribal laws in neighboring Iraq but hundreds of thousands of Kurdish origin citizens of Turkey– the PKK is a freedom fighter.

This is what matters and this, together with Turkey’s tyranny against the Kurds, is a major factor determining all other criteria as to the status of the PKK in the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

The criteria of terrorism:

Studying terrorism in the Middle East, Hippler and Lueg  conclude that “in contrast to other forms of violent resistance, terrorism does not comply with the basic criteria of legitimacy i.e. it is not based on widespread popular resistance, it is not primarily directed against a repressive dictatorial regime, against which there are no longer any peaceful means possible, and it does not minimize or avoid injury to those not involved.”

The consequences of the 1987 Geneva Declaration on Terrorism  are almost identical and are summarized as follows:

“As repeatedly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, peoples who are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination have the right to use force to accomplish their objectives within the framework of international humanitarian law. Such lawful uses of force must not be confused with acts of international terrorism. Thus, it would be illegal to treat members of national liberation movements in the Carriean Basin, Central America, Namibia, Northern Ireland, the Pacific Islands, and southern Africa, among others, as if they were common criminals. Rather, national liberation fighters, particularly those whose movements are recognized under Protocol 1, should be treated as combatants subject to the laws and customs of warfare and to the laws of international laws of humanitarian armed conflict… Thus when a liberation soldier is captured by a belligerent state, he should not be tried as a criminal, but should be treated as a prisoner of war… In the Spirit of Geneva Protocol 1, just as is true for soldiers in regular armed forces, when a national liberation fighter is captured after directly attacking innocent civilians as such, he would still be treated as prisoner of war, but would be subject to prosecution for the commission of war crimes before an impartial international tribunal, preferably in a neutral state or by an international court…”

Based on the commonly accepted judgment that terrorism “essentially means any method of war which consists in intentionally attacking those who ought not to be attacked,” Turkey and many of her allies in the late 1980s have subsequently branded the PKK as a “terrorist organization.”

As mentioned above, the definition of “terrorist organization” is mainly the result of an overall agreement that the PKK has (a) resolved to armed struggle rather than a political one in pursuit of its goals and (b) in doing so, has inflicted harm on civilians. Turkish Security Directorate statistics issued in 1993 suggest that in the escalation period of PKK armed attacks between 1984 and 1990, a total of 678 “civilians” have been killed. Most of the casualties have been recorded in attacks on villages armed by the state as paramilitary forces and of those killed, 119 were children and 160 women.

Although in the subsequent years the PKK has denounced activities carried out against civilians, especially those in the later half of the 1980s, and punished most of the commanders involved in what the organization branded as “blind violence,” such attacks have also been recorded in the 1990s, accompanied this time by other activities against “civilian targets” consisting of kidnapping tourists and journalists, attacking village guard villages as well as off-duty soldiers, advocating, threatening and carrying out attacks on tourism facilities and extra judicial killings of alleged “state collaborators.”

These have fanned Turkish claims in the recent years that, given the method of  its activities alone, the PKK, which apparently represents the aspirations of several million Kurds in Turkey and abroad, is purely a “terrorist organization” and should be treated as a criminal phenomena by the rest of the world. Yet while demanding the West to treat the PKK as criminal, Turkey itself has emphasized through laws and creation of new security courts that the organization is mainly carrying out activities not against the community, as would be the case in terrorist-criminal issues, but against the state.

When determining the true status of the PKK as an organized illegal and armed movement with an overt political goal, one must thus first identify Turkey’s own criteria in branding this organization  a “terrorist organization,” or an organization allegedly lacking justification, legitimate demands and a political context.

It is clear that Ankara’s US-recognized criteria in identifying the PKK as a terrorist organization rests only on two arguments. The first, the alleged separatist nature of the movement which, according to domestic laws, is in itself a capital offense although many armed activities would not fall into such a severe penal category. On the basis of the Kurds being a people linguistically and culturally different than the Turks and their essential right of self-determination, this argument can swiftly be brushed aside on the international platform. The PKK itself denies its separatist nature and has repeatedly called for a unified settlement.

The second is the aforementioned argument that as it has been involved in “attacks against non-combatants,” the PKK could be nothing else but a terrorist group.

Directing attention to this argument has undoubtedly assisted many conservative right-wing governments in Turkey in veiling legitimate Kurdish demands voiced by the PKK and other outlawed Kurdish movements, preventing further democratization in the country and maintaining traditional Kemalist military control over major national and international affairs. A situation which, given the enormous military market it has created for western allies and especially Turkey’s main arms supplier, the United States, appears to have been partially welcomed in the industrial world which recognizes now that the essence of the problem are Kurdish aspirations but still ignores the fact that those aspirations are being voiced only by a single organization.

Clearly, attacks on civilians or non-combatants are unacceptable and deplorable no matter what the circumstances are. They are against the “morally accepted” codes of behavior in modern warfare and insurgency. Moreover, many would suggest such activities also violate the principles of discrimination required in any conflict. Indeed, because of these, the “terrorist” is often accused of pursuing an “unjust” war by “intentionally” attacking “the innocent.”

However, the equation that “attacking civilians is admittance of terrorism” has often proven to be misleading and, especially in modern warfare, a controversial issue of debate. Groups or individuals referred to as “terrorists” often attack “targets” which are legitimate in their view and civilian casualties are more than often described as unavoidable by-products of regular wartime or irregular insurgency activities.  In the example of the PKK, they have more or less been explained in the argument that “if people accept to fight us, they also accept the consequences.”

In treating the Turkish-Kurdish insurgency as a criminal and/or terrorist problem, if the criterion for terrorism is cited only as “attacks on civilians,” those who approach the issue would have to accept that  such a definition would clearly have to be applicable to all sides of past and present conflicts and expand itself in the terms of “state terrorism” or “gross activities” against civilians by government troops as well.

There is clearly a vital distinction between activities carried out against civilians –or intentionally harming civilians– and activities carried out during an armed conflict which harm civilians but either for a greater cause (often explained as “establishing peace” by those states pursuing them) or as result of the wartime conditions.

Today, when such activities are carried out by industrial states based on war industries, the claim is often that their aim is to perpetrate greater peaceful results — often based on the argument that more civilians would have died had any other line of action been taken.

When pursued by smaller and especially third world states, the international moral code brands these powers almost automatically as “state terrorism” — mainly because such states lack the essential elements of democracy, peoples’ representation and fall short of meeting the expectations of a world public opinion which is more than ever influenced by an industrially-controlled and often monopolized media.

When such activities are carried out by groups, it is unfortunate that the political status and goals of the group concerned, its commitment to western interests, overall financial interests in the conflict countries or regions and longer term exploitation plans motivate the definition. Such has been the case with the PLO, IRA and, quite openly, the African National Congress.

The 20th century post-industrialized world order has developed its own “acceptable codes of behavior” in such conflicts and, regardless of what international charters or conventions say, in reality it is under these codes that it is decided whether killing civilians is a violation –or– “terrorism,” or an act of peace — as in the case of larger state policies.

Thus, when looking into the current status of the PKK or the question of whether it is a “terrorist organization” or “freedom movement,” one cannot act on a single criterion or be dependent on a single constant time span. Given the circumstances and the immense and systematic abuses of human rights by Turkey which have been proven and documented by international organizations, the criteria with regard to the PKK and the overall conflict cannot be “attacking those who ought not to be attacked” as this is mainly done by Turkey in the said conflict.

In other words, the criterion here cannot be “attacking civilians” alone as, in such a case, it would only be natural to judge both sides of the conflict in accordance with the same criterion: i.e. the damage inflicted on civilians by the PKK forces and by the state forces. This, in turn, would lead us to the obvious conclusion that if “attacks on civilians” are what counts to determine “terrorism,” in quantity, deliberation, systematizing and techniques, it would then be Turkey and Turkish forces which are “more terrorist” than the PKK and its own forces.

On the practical scale, the argument could be supported by documented incidents. The PKK, believing that Turkey’s village guards system is an obstacle before Kurdish freedoms, has targeted this system. Its main purpose has been to deter villagers from joining the para-military structure and instead to support the armed movement. Its methods of deterrence have been ruthless. Paramilitary villages have been raided, the collaborators have been killed and often their whole families have been eliminated. In several cases houses have been burned to the ground and the villagers have been forced to flee.

This campaign strongly resembles the campaign launched by Turkish troops against suspected PKK collaborator villages. Troops are known to have indiscriminately attacked villages, fired on towns and cities with the aim of deterring locals from supporting the PKK. They have been involved in wide- spread extra judicial killings, the gunning down of civilians, torching around 3,000 villagers to the ground and displacing 3 million villagers and so on…

It can be argued, thus, if the moral codes are to be applied to the conflict under a single criterion, both sides would be terrorist — if terrorism was, in fact, purely attacking non-combatants. As the state has the duty of upholding laws and acting within moral codes, it can also be argued that if a crime has been committed, the greater burden falls on those who carry this duty.

As for other activities, a mirror-reflection to all PKK practices can be found in the state’s own methods yet at a larger level.

Thus in attempting to identify the PKK, one is called to look for further criteria other than those offered by Ankara.

In this context, it is evident that any study related to the current status of the PKK organization has to be based on a wider model, one which involves not only the “methods” of warfare put into practice by this organization but also the roots or causes of the current conflict; whether conditions justify (or justified) an armed conflict in Turkey in the first place;  whether the proportional Kurdish demands voiced by the PKK –be they political or ethnic– are legitimate according to international laws and generally accepted moral codes and finally, what the Turkish state’s role has been in promoting or provoking irregular activities on the part of the Kurds.

As vital as these is the fact that what must judge the status of the PKK should be the overall status of the Kurds in the Middle East region as explained above, their role and repression in Turkey proper and Ankara’s past and present policies with regard to the Kurds in general — even before the PKK came into existence.

Only these, together with the “methods” employed by the PKK in its warfare, its “political” targets, “organizational structure” and longer term strategy may identify — in line with Turkey’s counter-guerilla policies– whether the organization can any more be referred to bluntly as a terrorist organization as was the case in the late 1980s  when a decision to this effect was taken in Washington –or whether it has finally outgrown its initial, superficial, terrorist nature despite its ongoing exploitation of armed violence.

The PKK argues that its justification for an armed Kurdish struggle in Turkey; now in the form of a limited uprising against seven decades of official denial of the Kurdish identity, lies in the right of the Kurdish people to go to war or their jus ad bellum.

Yet the jus ad bellum of the Kurds in Turkey in relation to historic repression of the Kurds and confronting a racist regime is  not satisfactory to justify the PKK’s own acclaimed right to go to war, allegedly on behalf of the Kurdish people. It has been  argued that the Kurdish issue and PKK separate, that one is related to rights whereas the other is pure terrorism. It has also been argued that the Kurdish problem in Turkey can or should be solved without the PKK.

Significantly, the PKK cites that its own jus ad bellum lies within the right enjoyed by  the Kurdish people in general but more significantly is also time- dependent, rather circumstantial. The PKK argues at this point that its war is (a) of defensive rather than offensive nature; (b) is a just war which is based on a just cause and (c)  is revolutionary in nature. In fact, its stages of warfare on the tactical scale do start with a prolonged “armed defense stage” although the organization has in every platform already reached the stage of “armed balance” within the matter of a decade.Before going into the PKK’s wrong- doings or discussing the second essential element of a just war, the jus in bello –or what is right in a conflict–  one has to review the history of the PKK to locate the exact settings of its armed campaign. The questionable legitimacy of subsequent post-coup governments in Turkey since 1960 may in general be accepted as evidence enough that conditions of armed uprising on behalf of the people have existed in the country but are inefficient to explain the role of the PKK in such an uprising.

The first factor is, as explained above, the overall repression of the Kurdish people. The largest stateless nation in the world, divided by artificial post-war borders and suffering atrocities of all sorts by regional governing states with the aim of crushing, controlling or assimilating their cultural, social and political identity. This alone, in a historical context and given the moral codes set out by the creation of even newer nation states, is cited as a legitimate reason for war by many Kurds. In fact, the argument is further strengthened by developments in neighboring Iraq where, against the Saddam regime, allied western states led by the United States have not only promoted and supported a Kurdish uprising against the established nation-state, but are now even guarding its existence. The hypocrisy in US and allied policy vis a vis the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey is so clear that any further reference appears irrelevant for the time being.

Yet the near history of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the era in which the PKK came to being, is clearly more indicative in seeking any form of jus ad bellum for the current struggle.

In establishing the past repression of the Kurds, the first and most obvious argument is that a wrong doing has taken place in history and that those in government have blocked all legal and peaceful means to correct this. Yet this alone could hardly justify an immediate armed struggle. In fact, many governments have been blamed or even taken responsibility for various crimes of similar nature but solutions have been sought for either within the legal, established, political system or through a struggle more in line with international codes of conduct. So what is the difference for the Turkish Kurds?

First of all, it is evident that the same difference for the Kurds in Iraq is applicable for those in Turkey. The Kurdish right to go to war, as one would put it, lies in the very meaning of Kurdish rights. As in the Iraqi example, the Kurds seek not a privilege but their most basic human rights; the right for political representation, the right to learn and speak their mother tongue, the right to maintain their cultural heritage, the right to have a say in their own future and most specific of all, the right to defend themselves against assimilation by other dominant –and often colonialist– cultures.  As state terrorism has throughout human history regularly taken the form of economic and cultural terrorism alongside military tyranny, it could then be said that the Kurdish right to go to war also means the right to actively defend and preserve the Kurdish identity.

The stronger argument, though, is related to the timing of the Turkish- Kurdish conflict in specific and under which practical circumstances added to the lack of the above rights,  did the Kurds, or those claiming to be acting on their behalf, actually act upon their jus ad bellum. This argument lies perhaps in the brief history of the PKK movement.

Conditions of War:

As I explained in detail in my 1992 dated study “PKK: A Report on Separatist Violence in Turkey,” and its updated Turkish edition in 1993 , the PKK started off first in an ideological form as an offshoot of a Marxist student organization in Ankara after the 1971 military take-over during which immense human rights violations were recorded throughout the country.

Only in the mid-1970s did its current leaders move into the Southeast region. It was, however, formally established with a party manifesto and program on Nov.27, 1978, vouching “to fight against colonialism, feudalism, imperialism and capitalism.”

It is rather important in this stage to note two points. First, had the initial leaders of the PKK been allowed to conduct legal student activities in Ankara rather than be banned and persecuted, they may never have gone underground in the first place. Secondly, from the day it was founded, the PKK has aimed (as proven also by state documents) to reveal the existing veiled repression in Turkey rather than to lead to a form of repression or force the state into adopting a non-existing repressive policy.

The latter is especially important in the context of the argument in relation to the legitimacy of revolutionary war concerning the question as to whether the armed group intends to change the  political situation in a way that conforms to its ideological picture or whether it simply aims to reveal it.

The question is, simply, whether the PKK aimed to reveal to the people the oppression that they faced with the message that they could in fact stand up against it or whether it aimed to coerce them, through violence, and provoke the state forces into oppressive attacks against the people.

Partly the answer to this question lies in the PKK’s own strategy and tactics laid down in the early 1980s. As confirmed by Turkish Chief of Staff documents as well, the PKK regarded its warfare in three stages combined of Strategic Defense, Strategic Balance and Strategic Offense. Hence the concept of “revolutionary terror” was based on conducting armed propaganda, creating the guerilla and developing the guerilla into armed forces. Currently the PKK appears to be approaching the third stage of both strategy and tactic.

Another answer to the question lies in the words of the PKK’s Chairman Abdullah Ocalan who, analyzing the strategic defense period in his published work The Daily Tactical Duties of Guerilla Warfare, emphasizes that the reason for armed struggle is pursue activities with the aim of revealing state oppression to the people:

“Defense is the only way to wait at guard and try to build ones own force,” he said then. “The people are not even able to take a breath in any case, it’s own self defense is virtually non-existent. The people cannot utter their names, they cannot defend their identity and they can not even meet the simplest requirements in the field of economy, health and care…”

And Ocalan concluded in the late 1980s:

“It is clear that the pioneers now have the responsibility to act on this deep reality of the people they live among and to find the methods and ways to bring into open the self-defense of the people… there is the duty to elevate the people to the stage of being able to defend  themselves and to make them believe, before anything else, that they need to be defended.”

One argument is that “revolutionary war is aimed at persuading the supporters of the state that, in the long term its oppressive rule is not sustainable.” To an extent this is exactly what the Iraqi Kurds, which American and allied assistance, have managed to do and what the PKK has apparently aimed from the very beginning.

Although the PKK, under a completely different name and structure, was forced underground in the late 1970s and was involved, like many of Turkey’s student-based urban groups in limited armed activities until 1980, most fell in the scope of “criminal terrorism” and were bluntly ignored by the-then officials who refused to recognize that a social problem in relation to the Kurds had come to its limits.

Thus, the history of the PKK between when it was established in 1978 until 1980 is not truly indicative in relation to its current or mid-1980s structure both because of the form of its activities and its very limited membership at that time. Most activities were locally supported peasant-based attacks on tribal chiefs in the Urfa province and contained in that specific region.

Yet, another development in 1980, added to the overall history of repression of the Kurds, provided the true jus ad bellum the PKK required in order to use the overall Kurdish right to go to war. This was non other than the military coup in Turkey, supported by Washington, which gave not only the Kurds but also the Turks the unquestionable right to legitimately pursue any method of struggle against an illegitimate, foreign supported, military junta; its leaders and its forces.

Immediately prior to the take-over, several senior PKK leaders had predicted what was going to happen and in fear of persecution had escaped from the country like many other intellectuals.

By the morning of September 12, 1980, when tanks moved into capital Ankara and a nation-wide curfew was imposed by the junta, Turkey’s martial law-based system had already banned most legal left-wing, radical Marxist activities as well as  propaganda and had jailed  thousands of Turks under the US-indoctrinated concept of “preventing the spread of Communism.” Hundreds of Turks and Kurds were facing systematic torture sessions throughout the country as even school children at the age of 12 were being detained and promptly beaten to extract confessions — incidents which have all been placed on the record.

With the  military takeover though, the conditions for a “just cause” to launch a war for freedom and democracy if nothing else, were stronger than ever and the very fact that a group of generals, using their force and weaponry had ousted an elected civilian regime and abolished the country’s constitution, spoke for itself in way of legitimacy for any form of resistance. The generals had taken over the country, closing down parliament, banning all political parties and placing their leaders, including the prime minister, under “protective custody.”

A summary of that period was recently published in a Turkish news magazine and is highly important in the context of the PKK’s own struggle and its reasons. It is, in reality, a full explanation of the immediate circumstances in which the organization launched its armed struggle and thus claimed that it was a legitimate one or a just war: Throughout the coup era in which the PKK launched its first organized operation in Turkish territory, a total of 650 thousand people were detained and most suspects were either beaten or tortured; over 500 people died while under detention as result of torture; 85,000 people were placed on trial mainly in relation to thought crimes or guilt by association; 1,683,000 people were officially listed in police files as suspects; 348 thousand Turks and Kurds were banned from traveling abroad; 15,509 people were fired from their jobs for political reasons; 114 thousand books were seized and burned; 937 films were banned; 2,729 writers, translators, journalists and actors were put on trials for expressing their opinions. One can hardly argue, as we enter the 21st century, that such a regime had any legitimacy other than to conform with the financial and political expectations of its foreign supporters.

It is true that urban terrorism between January 1979 to September 1980 had claimed the lives of 3,546 civilians and 164 security officers. Mass demonstrations had spread to the cities with “liberated zones” being established in urban and rural areas. In central Anatolia, fundamentalist Moslems, themselves arguing they were deprived of fundamental religious rights with the creation of the secular republic, were on the rampage. Hundreds had died in Sunni-Alawi sect clashes and thousands were placed in prison even before the coup. These justified the coup in the eyes of a Turkish majority as well as among Turkey’s western allies — despite the fact that Martial Law actually existed throughout Turkey as these developments took take place. Yet,  the repressive nature of the overt military administration was so great that it soon started to bother all. Most of all the Kurds in Turkey.

The takeover in Turkey prompted the PKK’s limited number of supporters first to train with Palestinian fighters in the Middle East region and later to fight alongside them during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This cooperation then led to various regional movements opening their territories to the PKK, where it trained and prepared for warfare. It had also managed to spread among Turkey’s migrating Kurdish community abroad, specifically in Libya.

With initial financial assistance coming from Kurdish businessmen and workers in Libya, some political backing from the Iraqi Kurds and training grounds provided in Lebanon and Syria, the PKK was set to begin activities in 1982 when its first forces infiltrated into Turkey to deal with logistic problems for the strategic defense stage.

It was a year after Turkey’s generals in 1993 formally banned the use of the Kurdish language altogether and launched one of the most ruthless repression campaigns in the Kurdish regions that the PKK seriously took up arms and systematically challenged these forces. It was the same year, that in the province of Van, I spotted a Turkish Major with my own eyes beating a 10-year-old boy in the street for speaking Kurdish. It was evident then, as it is now, that the PKK was destined to strengthen and expand, out of natural reaction if nothing else.

The Armed Conflict

The classic concept of “terrorist”  has no problem in justifying its targets whether they be of civilian nature or not. Often the explanation is that the civilian target was either directly or indirectly involved in the warfare, as a counter-terrorist, part of the work force, government collaborator, civil servant or in another form. The same rule, as practice has shown, applies also to insurgency movements.

Yet in wider conflicts, “targets” are often the immediate and alterable results of the conflict. Those who enjoy the so-called “non-combatant immunity” also vary according to the level of the conflict, strategic and tactical goals as well as the frequently pursued goal of “establishing control.”

Although this argument fits well into the overall concept of terrorism, it is one which no longer is isolated to the phenomena of classic terrorism or even insurgency. History of conflict has shown that governments and established state forces are equally discriminate in changing targets and their concept of “immunity” granted to non-combatants.

In established democracies where there are viable alternatives to voice grievances and demands through peaceful means, the voluntary unity of the citizen with the state, or the democratic state, is habitually seen to legitimately use force against force when challenged by terrorism.

This is, in moral terms, often described as the result of the state protecting and/or defending its citizens; a moral obligation of a voluntary state towards its society. The terrorist in such systems is the aggressor, the anti-social or the criminal. As there are limited doubts in relation to the very structure of such a state, its legitimacy alone isolates anti-state or anti-communal violence as illegitimate. Yet the Kurds of the Middle East, living in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, hardly enjoy any benefits of a democracy and are confronted in the first place with regimes whose legitimacy are highly questionable.

In its fight against such a regime, the PKK has been influenced by numerous developments and has strengthened both in manpower and military force over the past ten years.

One of the major differences this organization had in comparison to other existing Kurdish groups was that it recruited among lower class Kurds such as the peasants who form the majority of the population and –from the very beginning– set out to fight traditional Kurdish tribal leaders as well.

Unlike Turkish left-wing organizations, it never organized around a fixed publication. Unlike traditional communist parties, it never had a politburo until 1995. Its Central Committee has always been made up mainly of commanders in the field and has changed in number according to conditions. But it has always been under the control of its leader Abdullah Ocalan and has always planned its moves timely.

Even the mention of a Kurdish identity or the use of the word “Kurd” was banned in Turkey in this period. Children could be harassed or beaten only for speaking in Kurdish — leave alone voicing Kurdish demands for equal rights. Thus the PKK accepted that (a) it had only one choice, that to function illegally and (b) its instrument for politics would have to be armed tactics for that era. Its tactics and stages of warfare were summarized above. It never made it secret that it saw armed struggle as a means of freedom against Turkish state repression and also larger land owners in the region.

In the words of senior PKK leaders, the strategic defense period was thus one in which the forces fought against were very strong and the “revolutionary forces” were very weak. In this stage, selected political violence would draw up new recruits from among the people and thus the people would be politicized, forced either to side with the guerilla or be branded as state “collaborators”  — as is often the case in such conflicts.

Ocalan himself saw armed propaganda not as a part of a military warfare but as a vital part of political struggle. According to him, “before anything else, armed propaganda will attract the attention of masses who have been lost in daily life and who have been brainwashed by imperialist media or become dependent on this or that establishment party, to the revolutionary movement. It will thus activate the pacified masses.”

Working on this strategy, the PKK established  a popular front (ERNK) in March 1985 to gather the non-Marxist and often religious Kurdish masses under one roof and in 1986 announced the foundation of its Kurdistan National Liberation Army (ARGK) to organize these masses into guerilla units. It was after these that the PKK truly set out to fight its war.

The Challenge:

It is important at this stage to understand the PKK’s argument on warfare for it is one which not only has worked successfully in practice but has also led to the current situation in with Turkey has found itself.

The policy of the PKK was so different than anything Ankara had tackled with before that it actually worked in the view of Turkish mistakes which boosted local support and justified the acts of this organization in the eyes of many Kurds.

Its main difference from urban-based Turkish Marxist movements, as aforementioned, was that it did not organize around a single publication and based itself at the very beginning in rural areas. Its main difference from other regional Kurdish organizations was that instead of representing tribes, it represented the poorest and most dissatisfied Kurdish masses. Masses of people who not only had grown under the nuzzle of the Turkish gendermerie but who suffered the most from the economic backwardness of the region — topped furthermore by the internal exploitation of feudal landlords. Turkey, in line with its assimilation policies, had strengthened the feudal structure in Turkish Kurdistan for years in an attempt to use tribes to control any possible uprisings.

But, since the warfare the PKK pursued was popular in origin, there was the need to move the masses to the side of the movement and this, in such a semi-feudal society, repressed by force for tens of decades, was not easy. The Kurds feared state retaliation more than anything. In their history they had suffered from the backlashes of colonialism and had been instrumental in what may these days be regarded as humanitarian crimes, including the massacring of Armenians on behalf of Turkey. Thus, they needed to break through their fear of the state and more important of all, believe that this time they were not being exploited.

The PKK, from the day it has set out, has openly claimed being Marxist- Leninist in origin but this ideological concept, aside from a minority of leaders, has hardly been a serious attraction for others. It has, for instance, never claimed to be a movement attempting to seize power for an ideological purpose, as it is. Just the opposite, it has claimed that it aimed to reveal the repression of the state, activate the people in giving them the courage, so as they themselves would participate in the changing of it.

When the PKK came into being as a centralized armed organization, the circumstances throughout the country were clearly not as worse as they are now.

In the Southeast, the war zone, millions suffered from economic poverty owing to decades of neglect in substantial investments. As explained, with the 1980 coup, a nation-wide roundup of “suspects” had started. Torture, in its most systematic form, was witnessed everywhere in Turkey but mostly in the Kurdish regions. The language and all basic rights were banned. Kurdish people were feeling the pressure of the “state policy” more than ever before and were silent only for one reason: Fear.

Turkish officials have frequently been quoted arguing in public that “the Kurds side with the strongest” in reflection of Ankara’s own oppression techniques. Thus, the PKK evidently aimed also to show to its potential recruits that it could take on the state and that in its existence they could gain strength.

The late 1980s is a clear indicator of what the PKK has thus achieved. When in 1984 it raided two fortresses, the general image among the local people was one of petty-affection. They were referred to “the kids,” or “the students.” In a region torn by its own feudal conflicts and a history of banditry, the concept of having armed youngsters fighting was not too surprising. In 1987, as Ankara branded the outlaws as “a handful of bandits,” local affection increased, describing them as “the resistance.” Today, a whole population is talking of the “guerrillas” and in the words of several MPs, every family in the region now has a member with the guerilla.

Perhaps the most unfortunate era of the PKK’s struggle is the period in which it spread its forces in the region and started to constitute a serious challenge to Turkish troops. It is unfortunate because the amount of civilian bloodshed in this period between 1987 and 1990 is indeed terrifying and unacceptable by any standards — no matter what explanations may be offered in defense by the organization.

Many experts of the conflict agree that the PKK’s approach to attracting popular support to the movement has brought along many human rights issues but there is also growing understanding now that it was partly Ankara’s unorthodox practices in the troubled region, its arming of civilians against civilians, which led to this bloodshed. In its alleged jus ad bellum, however, it can be claimed that the PKK has often confused or deliberately ignored the jus in bello, or what is right at war.

Yet, it has been observed that supporters of the PKK and sympathizers of the Kurdish cause gradually saw into the violence, realizing what truly lied behind it. In this case, as many others, the locals held Ankara responsible. The argument is that immediately after the PKK’s first attacks in 1984, a decision taken by Turkey to organize and arm feudal Kurdish tribes which were known to be close to the state was a vital turning point in the conflict.

The Ottoman empire under the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II , had decided to cope with local rebellions using special militia forces established in Southeast Anatolia. The main aim of this practice then was “to discipline the nomadic people of the region”  and to maintain the loyalty of Kurdish tribes to central authority. In 1985, exactly 80 years after the first Ottoman Hamidiye Regiment was created in Southeast Anatolia, the Turkish-Kurdish Village Guards came on the scene.

Aware that the 1984 attacks of the PKK were signaling further trouble for the future, the Motherland Party (ANAP) administration under the prime ministry of Turgut Ozal, then added two articles to the Turkish Village Law on April 4, 1985, and created the conditions to hire “temporary village guards” in areas where activities of violence required a state of emergency and in event that “aggression on the property or lives of the villagers increased.”

With the government offering a high salary to would-be village guards, there was an immense interest in the system. Unemployment was one of the main problems of the region for years over and initially the project appeared to be an attractive offer to earn a good income and arm oneself. But this tactic served no purpose other than creating a buffer zone of flesh for the state.

In the first days of the practice, tens of people applied to become village guards, posing for newspapers and magazines with their machine guns, trekking the mountains alongside troops and hunting down PKK militants on the rugged border terrain. Today, Turkey has approximately 70,000 village guards and is paying each an attractive salary. The sector is the most profitable investment in the troubled region but also one which depends completely on the continuation of the conflict.

It is also a system which has led to (a) atrocities committed by these paramilitary forces and (b) state troops forcing locals, to the extent of direct attacks, to accept weapons against the Kurds. There have also been increasing reports from the region on clashes between different village guard tribes with conflicting interests as well as on raids conducted by these guards. In the border town of Cizre, last winter the village guards set up their first interrogation center.

The turn to the village guards system was the first of a series of decisions which would revolve the Kurdish problem into a major, bloody conflict in the following years. Turkey had managed this way both to draw on local support in the region and to create discord among the Kurds who were now fighting each other. The government was and still is completely ignorant of the parliamentary argument that it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens rather than arm them –often forcefully– to protect themselves.

Thus the creation of these para-military forces not only gave further momentum to PKK activities but also insured that the direct targets in front of the Kurds were again the Kurds though in a different way. The age-old Turkish expression  “to have the Kurds kill the Kurds,” or “Kurdu Kurde Kirdirmak” had once again become real. In order to keep it that way, Turkish troops themselves started in 1991 to raid and torch villages where people refused to join the guards system and it is currently one of the main reasons for human rights abuses in the region.

The Military Solution:

As soon as the village guards system was established, the PKK naturally turned its full attention to these para-military forces and aimed to prevent participation to them. As of 1985, more and more attacks were thus recorded and reported on “civilians.” All of those killed, including Kurdish infants and women, were related only to the village guards. The message was  that any family “who dealt with the state would be destroyed.”

By 1987, the crisis had not only grown but the PKK had managed to get better organized and had recruited thousands of sympathizers. It had created a popular front, which gathered and organized non-Marxist Kurdish peasants and a so-called peoples’ army which trained full-time fighters or the movement’s “mountain units.”

That year the PKK attacked many Kurdish villages in the Southeast declaring them as “state collaborators.” In only three of these attacks,  a total of  38 people were killed. Many of them were only relatives of para-military village guards which the state had armed and was paying a fixed salary to in order to combat the guerrillas. In 1988 and 1989 the situation was similar.

Militants –often disorganized or poorly commanded units– of the PKK, then in its growing period,  raided one village after another, spraying women and children with bullets and explaining these attacks as attacks launched against village guards.

Many hundreds of civilians were killed in this campaign which frustrated state officials and security forces. More important, it led to a Turkish national reaction to Kurdish demands in general. Despite its contrast to any just war theory, it was evident that the PKK was succeeding partly in what it aimed to do politically, for this was what it named as “armed propaganda.” Intimidation, obviously, was the main theme of such activities and this period of the expansion of the PKK closely resembled the blood-ridden days of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.

Yet, the argument of jus in bello was in the wrong hands: Namely Turkish security officials who themselves were responsible in one way or another for many similar activities in the region’s recent history. Thus news spread fast in the region of one village raid  following another and the PKK managed to raise the impression, with the indirect help of security officials, that it was as strong and dangerous –and, unfortunately, often as vicious– as the state forces. In certain areas, fear of the PKK even replaced the age-old bogeyman of the Turkish gendermerie.

The message was spread that the PKK would punish those who collaborated with Turkey or turned against the organization and that the movement had no intention of tolerating local village guards.

In this form  the PKK was gaining success on the popular level as the government got more and more involved in the conflict, lifting its veil in many instances and showing its true face and repressive policies to the people.

Though mass killings in the region led to an outcry among a majority of the Turks and in the West –and at face value may appear to have served against the interests of this organization– these terrorist activities actually served the campaign to force the people into a defensive position. As far as the local Kurds were concerned, they knew that PKK attacks were directed not at ordinary people but villagers with state connections, who agreed to collaborate against the Kurds although they themselves were Kurds.

Even though women, children and elderly people were being killed in the dozens at one period, this sort of activity was taking place in Turkey’s most backward region where blood feuds in which the killing of whole families were part of the tradition. More often, such activities drew a clear line between who the PKK regarded as combatants and who it saw as immune.

As Ocalan himself later claimed, the people killed “were not killed on purpose.” They were either the families of para-military village guards or locals identified as “state collaborators.” The villages targeted in the campaigns were chosen ones and were almost always located in areas where the PKK needed to expand mass support.

As ironic as it may sound, by determining the targets for such acts of terrorism in a selective way, the PKK was basically maintaining its effectiveness and gaining popular support — even if out of sheer fear at times. It was showing to the local Kurds what happened to “traitors” or state “collaborators.” The messages the PKK gave to the Kurdish people were clear. It was dangerous. It was determined. And, it was more effective in both ways than government troops. In short, it was simply in the peoples’ best interest to give their support to this organization rather than to Turkey.

Turkey had already declared a State of Emergency in 11  provinces of the Southeast in July 1987.  With the appointment of a central governor to Diyarbakir, the authority of the gendermerie forces had also increased. A Regional Security Commander was appointed to organize further military activities. Meanwhile, there was a heavy deployment of new security forces to the region.

In 1989, while the-then Prime Minister Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party was still in power, Turkey was forced to take a second major decision. In the words of Ocalan, this was the basis of Ankara’s 1990 decision to launch “special warfare” in the region or one which had turned the conflict into a real “dirty war.”

According to Turkish Chief of Staff Gen.Necip Torumtay though, it was unavoidable. “We  will fight  against the  guns with guns, we are obliged to do this,” Torumtay said in a written statement he issued in August that year, adding that the five-year-old insurgency in southeastern Anatolia was aiming to disrupt national solidarity and territorial integrity with a wave of terrorism. The same day, Ozal declared after a crucial cabinet meeting that there would be no political measures to diffuse the crisis, pointing out on behalf of his government, “we will reinforce the existing measures,” meaning an increase in military activities. By the end of 1989, 98 percent of the security forces operating in the troubled region were military personnel while only 2 percent were police forces.

Tougher Policies:

According to Rt.Gen.Nevzat Bolugiray,  a former Martial Law commander, one of the reasons for the turn to military measures alone was “the ignorance and incompetence of the ANAP government.”  Since 1985, all Turkish officials were announcing at the end of each winter that the PKK had been crushed, exploiting the decline in armed activities which was nothing but the result of harsh winter conditions. This situation, which has now become an official tradition, continues.

The establishment of the village guards system and the creation of an Emergency Law Regional Governor’s office as well as a Regional Security Command were the main pillars of Turkey’s turn towards a military solution.

“The ANAP government,” explains Bolugiray who followed the developments from inside the system, “was completely focused on having Ozal being elected as president and, as a result, the government ignored all problems in the region and left them to be solved by the Emergency Law Governor’s office and the Turkish Armed Forces.”

In contrast to the Turkish Security Directorate figures, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch/Helsinki reported that a total of 950 people had been killed in Kurdish-linked violence from 1984 to May 1988 and even before Ankara formally turned to the policy of “answering guns with guns,” the situation was desperate. In 1988, the same organization was warning in writing that “Indiscriminately, the Turkish army is terrorizing the local people on the grounds that they are supporting the terrorists… As a result of this, the Southeast region gives the image that it is completely besieged.”

The turning point:

After 1989, the PKK strengthened rapidly in the region facing almost no problems in finding new recruits, weapons or financial resources. It expanded among the people and established itself as a popular movement. In November 1989, following crucial local elections held in March, Turgut Ozal was elected as the eighth president of the Turkish Republic. His Motherland Party which came to power in 1984 was still in government but the local polls had reflected a decline in national support.

Ozal immediately appointed Parliament Yildirim Akbulut as prime minister with the aim of preventing the ANAP from falling apart and in belief that Akbulut would remain only as his mouthpiece. Akbulut’s first test, as with all Turkish prime ministers, was to deal with “terrorism.”

The turning point for the Kurdish issue was in March that year with a meeting of the National Security Council which ended with a government- backed decision to launch a major military and psychological crackdown on Kurdish separatists. “We have decided to answer guns with guns,” Akbulut announced after coming out of this seven hour meeting. He added that a series of measures would be taken both against the terrorists and their supporters.

According to these decisions, the Turkish press would be placed under a heavy censorship, citizens living in the region could be banished by local officials, anyone who supported the separatists or gave them aid would be sentenced to ten years imprisonment and the state would in no way tolerate PKK sympathizers.

The ANAP government, which was losing the support of the electorate, had accepted the military package and was looking for the support of the country’s armed forces. And, the impact of the decisions were seen almost immediately in the region with even more indiscriminate security operations leading to immense human rights violations everywhere.

The PKK, which was already strengthening, had then also caught the opportunity to establish local authority in various areas, filling the gap of state authority. Secret Kurdish schools started functioning in the darkness of the night. The number of court cases heard at Turkish civil courts declined rapidly as so-called PKK peoples’ tribunals came to being. In several provinces the PKK even set up its local police and intelligence units.

What was disastrous for Ankara in 1990, however, was a major change in the PKK’s own policy towards village guards. Until then, the organization was blamed to have  terrorized the region with raids on villages and civilians. But in a 1990 party congress it decided to cease all such activities which could lead to civilian casualties  and to concentrate more on military targets and political struggle. It also declared a general amnesty for all village guards, valid for a whole year, for anyone who turned in their guns and refused to collaborate with the state.

This move, unfortunately, did nothing to curb violence but changed its source. It literally forces Turkish troops to target village guards and families attempting to drop out of the system, to carry out mass arrests, deportations and a wave of arson attacks on civilian villages.

As the PKK moved to clean its own human rights record, turning to a more politicized struggle, Turkey was unknowingly deciding to get harsher. Thus, at this crucial junction point, wide-spread human rights violations on the Turkish part only supported the PKK’s argument and further strengthened the organization.

The Government

Since 1990, much of Turkey’s political scene has changed. From a time when even writing the word “Kurd” was banned and punishable, Ankara –in face of a serious Kurdish insurgency– has come to the point of accepting the existence of “a Kurdish identity.” Currently Suleyman Demirel is the President and the government is a temporary coalition between the conservative True Path Party and the Republican Peoples Party.

The main change, however, is the increase of military control over state affairs, often leading to claims that PM Ciller’s coalition is merely a rubber- stamp government for the Turkish army. Ciller has indeed abandoned all Kurdish policy issues to the military in general belief that the problem is only of terrorist origin. Her prime advisors on the issue are businessmen of Kurdish origin who have vast personal interest in the region and some, in the continuation of the conflict. For today’s Ankara, “there is no Kurdish problem. There is a problem of terrorism which we will eradicate.”

The year 1994 turned out to be one in which Turkey introduced yet a new dose of bitter medicine for the Kurds. From the very beginning of the so- called Ciller era, it became evident that Turkey’s military commanders were quite confident with the civilian administration and saw it as an ideal structure to work with. Ironically, this era of covert military rule actually started a year after the reputable Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued its strongly worded report titled: “Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Kurds of Turkey.” Three years after this report, the New York Times was to carry a major commentary titled: “The Kurdish Killing Fields,” emphasizing how horrifying the conflict had become.

Under normal circumstances, a social democrat partner with a conservative right-wing party would have become a political problem but it was soon made clear by the junior coalition partner of the coalition that as long as its deputies remained in power, neither the coalition protocol (based on promises of democratization) nor other political principles of the party itself mattered. As for the senior coalition partner DYP, despite some resistance from the extreme hard-liners, the social democrats were an ideal camouflage.

Many practices and decisions which could not have been enforced under a right-wing administration alone were being put into life with only slight problems owing to the “social democrat” element which the conservatives exploited fully. Immediately after taking to power, Ciller went to work on the country’s economic problems and literally abandoned the whole decision making process in all security-related issues to the forces concerned. To deal with urban terrorism, the Turkish police force immediately implemented urgent measures with the support of the government. Despite an ailing human rights record owing to frequent disappearances under detention and alleged extra judicial killings, a major success was scored in this field.

The drive against urban terrorism turned out to be so successful that it increased the say of a specific group of individuals in the civilian security apparatus, later lining them up along with selected military commanders as well as the Emergency Law Regional Governor’s office. An undeclared secret command structure under the control of the military had come to being and those with the backing of the armed forces even within the police force were enjoying extensive authority. In the words of a senior intelligence officer, “by the year 1994, it was clear that Turkey was being run by a state within the state and we had nothing to do about it.”

The military-Ciller relationship appeared to be so strong that commanders in the troubled region had started to speak proudly of the “complete harmony” they enjoyed with the administration and were more and more often praising the prime minister’s capability to “grasp the situation.” According to former Chief of Staff Gen.Dogan Gures, Ciller was “worth 30 generals.” According to the Emergency Law governor, she was fully supportive of “the campaign on terrorism.” He in fact noted that “although the prescription is a painful one, it has to be administered.” Yet, according to Ankara-based observers, she had completely surrendered in.

Thus, on the one hand realizing the “Kurdish identity” for the sake of a western audience but on the other arguing that a “Kurdish problem” did not exist and the problem was of terrorist origin alone, Ankara turned once more to a fully military origin solution to solve the Southeast crisis. The solution, in the minds of those with the authority, is still simple. The solution to ethnic terror was state terror. If the state could make itself felt in the Southeast, if it could show to the people how “strong” it was, then — theoretically– the PKK could be isolated.  No one in authority seemed to consider the internationally accepted alternative that the “strength” of the state comes not from using force but by representing democratic standards, respecting human rights and winning the confidence of its own people.

The result of this policy was best expressed in a September 1995 report issued by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation which noted that in the year 1994, Turkey’s repression of the Kurds had spilled over to western areas as well and not only the Kurds but a large part of the Turkish population was suffering from the results of this policy. The Foundation report boldly claimed  that 1077 security personnel had been killed in clashes with the PKK in 1994 alone. And, the figures continued: 32 people were killed by police during controversial house raids; 1,128 people were  tortured while under detention; 32 others were tortured to death while in police custody; 49 disappeared while under the custody of security officials; 97 were killed only for failing to stop when ordered to do so and 432 were killed in mystery murders generally attributed to security forces.

In 1994 the press –especially the Kurdish press– had suffered from the continuing repression dearly:

2 journalists and a newspaper distributor were killed, a journalist is still missing after being detained by police, 961 newspapers and magazines have been seized by state forces, 24 newspaper and magazines have been closed down and 37 books have been confiscated. In the meantime, a total of 213 journalists, writers and intellectuals were sentenced in a matter of one year to a total of 448 years 6 months imprisonment.102 journalists and writers, a majority working on the Kurdish issue, were arrested in the same period.

As if to emphasize the PKK’s argument for legitimacy, Turkey’s formal policy since the early 1990s has been one of preventing all attempts to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the Kurdish problem through open debate and dialogue. Among the most outstanding cases is that of Turkish sociologist Besikci who has spent most of his last decade in prison. Besikci, who carried out a sociological survey on the Kurds, was first fired from his job with a university then placed in prison. Since the incident, he has been sentenced to a total of 84 years jail on 40 separate cases related to his books and faces up to 198 years imprisonment with 27 more cases to go.

Even Turkey’s reknown author Yasar Kemal may now be jailed if found guilty on charges related to an article he wrote in January for the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Three separate charges have been brought up against him which could earn this 72-year-old intellectual 15 years of prison life. Ironically, one of the charges is related to alleged remarks of “racism” in the said article.

Many more examples can be listed. One outstanding and very recent example is related to 1080 Turkish intellectuals who collectively defied the laws and issued a book containing banned articles. They are all now being prosecuted and may face up to the three years in jail.

To put it bluntly, Turkey still fears to seek for a social, economic or cultural solution for the Kurds. It fears that any of these principle rights, actually guaranteed by international agreements, are nothing but “concessions,” and even to restore the principal human rights, would lead to ethnic demands and eventually to the division of the country.

As for what a June 1995 military briefing to newspaper owners in Ankara has shown, the army will not tolerate  any demands for reforms on the issue and will not even consider a bi-lingual solution to the problem as it deems it as a concession to terrorism. No one in the hard-liner flanks seems to comprehend the idea that once the state restores confidence among the local people and  the Kurds start to enjoy  equal rights as well as the right to freely organize on the democratic platform, there will be a natural atmosphere for a voluntary unity — eventually isolating all remaining separatist demands and marginal methods and one which the PKK itself has promised to unconditionally support.

The military formula is one too easy. First, terrorism will be crushed fully and then Ankara “may” introduce economic reforms and social measures for further “Turkification” in the area. This plan involves a massive repopulation of the region, using ethnic Turkic emigrants as well, concentrating local Kurdish populations into “collective villages” where they can be assimilated and monitored easily and, finally, restoring the firm hand of the state in the region.

It is worth to mention here that the dominant military argument fails because it is based on the assumption that (a) Turkey is a democracy and terrorism has a short life span in democracies; (b) the Kurds are a Turkish people who side with the stronger force and thus strength and force is required and (c) Kurdish demands for independence will continue either until they are all fully assimilated or the pioneering groups are completely annihilated.

The formula is in fact so simple that since 1984, when the PKK was only a group of around several hundred fighters, Ankara has actually recruited for this organization and literally forced it to grow into a 30,000-strong guerilla force.  It is so simple that it continues to constantly recruit for the guerrillas even more than the PKK could have recruited for itself. Again it is so simple that it has turned what initially appeared to be “a mere terrorist group,” based on marginal demands and ideology,  into a major ethnic insurgency movement, an armed conflict group, backed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Refusing to see that local conditions or accept the ethnic repression of the Kurds, and the state of overall Turkish democracy are actually fanning the Kurdish revolt. Officials ignorantly insist the problem is one of terrorism and they will deal with terrorism first and then look into other aspects of the crisis. Their argument is based only on assumptions. The assumption that the Kurds have no democratic demands, that the complaints voiced aim only to divide Turkey, that the problem is created only by the foreign powers which back them and that unless terrorism is dealt with, any democratic rights to the Kurds will only further provoke terrorism to the extent of division.

In other words, instead of resolving on a new “state policy” on the Kurds, which would effectively end separation demands and lead to a solution through dialogue, Ankara has found it fit to “index” the whole of its state policy on the activities of a single organization and in doing so, has thus managed to continue its denial of a Kurdish identity or that the Kurds are basically an ethnic minority who don’t have their own state and who live in more than one different state — which under international laws gives them the right for self determination.

Changing Tactics:

The most recent change in the tactics and strategy of the PKK was recorded in 1990 when, as may  be remembered, the organization halted all centrally controlled activities which could harm civilians. In 1993 there were several attacks on tourism targets, abduction of tourists and a three-month cease fire which Ankara wished later to ignore.

Instead of dealing with reforms that could hinder violence, Turkish officials chose to attack the PKK and anyone deemed to “sympathize” with the organization. In many cases this led to retaliation of sorts. In fact, the cease- fire itself was ended in a bloody PKK attack on a military convoy during which over 30  off-duty soldiers were killed. The Turkish press did not mention that a day before this attack, 12 PKK guerrillas in the same area had been killed and that constant Turkish air raids had continued, in provocative manner, on various PKK units.

After the cease-fire, the PKK concentrated more on centralizing control and selecting targets. This was a time of strong provocation. Not only were Turkish troops attacking all Kurdish villages and hamlets (and often torching them to the ground) but they were intentionally trying to provoke the people. In many cases, later relayed to state officials, gendermerie/commando A and B teams were involved in mutilating guerilla bodies (i.e. carving their eyes or hearts out) before shipping them back to their families.

It was in this period that a new argument, voiced for years by local commanders, was given an ear in Ankara. The major complaint in the region was that conventional forces were fighting guerrillas in “home territory” and this was complicating the struggle as it was impossible to differentiate between these forces and the civilians. “It would have helped” as an officer in Hakkari put it, “if we were operating in a foreign land. At least then we would know the enemy.”

In 1993, Turkey set out to create that enemy. Attacks on all “legal” Kurdish formations including political parties and newspapers were intensified. Villages were raided one after another. Torture became but a local part of life. Many of thousands of the “undecided” civilians, regarded as “suspects” by Turkey, were “forced” to join the guerrillas where they could be dealt with militarily and legally.

This was, perhaps, a bizarre example of a state promoting –by its own laws– a crime and criminal activities. But the military had their say and a major plan, drawn up in the early 1990s but rejected by Ozal and later by Prime Minister

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The PKK: Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Ismet G. Imset

Thursday, December 7, 1995

The Crisis

A burning war:

When in 1984 Turkey found itself faced with a series of armed attacks on military installations in the dominantly Kurdish-populated rural Southeast region, it immediately resolved on a traditional policy, to deal with these so- called “handful of bandits”  in style, with weapons against weapons.

For Ankara officials and many Turks, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which launched the attacks, was nothing but “a remnant of the pre-1980 terrorism” which had spread throughout this strategically important country in the form of violent urban activities in the late 1970’s, constituting an excuse for the US-backed September 12, 1980, military takeover.

Turkey’s enforced mono-ethnic identity was so well carved into millions of minds that no one even questioned the roots of the PKK, what this organization represented, whether its existence had legitimate social or political reasons, or whether the ethnic connotation in the name was anything further than a Marxist ploy to gain regional support.

Instead, both Turkish officials and western intelligence agencies preferred to treat the problem superficially, looking at it with the over-confident assumption that it was a “doomed terrorist group” from the very beginning and one which conspired to divide Turkey for regional foreign interests.

On the surface, every indication supported this view. The PKK’s manpower was then low, ammunition and armament was scarce and the organization, confronting Turkey’s enormous war machine, could clearly stay on its feet only with “outside” support — coming mainly from the regional countries attempting either to control their own Kurdish populations through promotion of crisis’ elsewhere or indeed aiming to cripple NATO- member Turkey as the Cold War dragged on.

Yet, despite repeated assurances from officials that this terrorist group had been “dealt with,” from only a 20-man urban based passive student movement in the late 1970s, the PKK had already grown into a 300 strong trained militant force in the early 1980s.

This expansion actually reflected what was in store for the future. Its number increased several fold over the following years and by 1994, Turkish military officials estimated that its active supporters and sympathizers in the Turkish Southeast alone numbered more than 400,000,  added to over half a million Kurds supporting the organization throughout Europe. If Turkey’s current laws were fully applicable, this means that at least one million Kurdish origin citizens of the country are deemed by officials as “enemies” and could face capital punishment without question.

The PKK is known today to have extensive support among the Kurds of Turkey and Syria, and is gradually expanding into the Kurdish regions of neighboring Iran and Iraq as well.

The exact number of PKK combatants or fighters has been an issue of debate for many years. In 1991, the late president Turgut Ozal claimed there were 3,900 full-time guerrillas. In April 1993, however, the US State Department was to estimate the PKK had only 3,000 guerrillas and two to five thousand active supporters.  In October 1993, The New York Times estimated that 10,000 PKK guerrillas were operating throughout Turkey and neighboring countries.

According to organization officials , the PKK had an active full-time guerilla force of 15,000 in 1994 which it aimed to increase, through a new recruitment drive, to 30,000 in the next two years. As the same figure is extensively used by international wire services  to quote the exact armed strength of the insurgents, this study will be based on the estimate that the PKK’s total active combatant force is approximately 15,000 people, spread out mainly in the Turkish southeast, but existing also in  several European countries as well as in Iraq, Syria, Iran and in Armenia.

It is evident from statements made by PKK leaders  that aside from support coming from regional Kurds, the movement also enjoys extensive support from several countries including Greece, Cyprus, Armenia, Syria, Bulgaria and Russia. It is not hidden either, that a rapprochement has recently been reached between this organization and Turkey’s eastern neighbor, Iran. Despite western advise and pressure –often to the point of straining bilateral relations– the Turks have so far ignored the fact that the PKK is but an end result both of the early 20th. century post-war artificial division of the Kurdish people in the Middle East (or the failure of the Allied Powers in enforcing  the 1920 Treaty of Sevres) and specifically of the repression of the Kurdish population and lack of human rights in modern Turkey. They have closed their ears to arguments that it is because of these, not the organizations own so-called real socialist policies, that the Kurdish insurrection in Turkey has managed to grow so rapidly and spread throughout the region.

Instead, consecutive Turkish governments have insisted on regarding the PKK purely as a terrorist phenomena allegedly aiming only “to destroy Turkish sovereignty and divide the country with foreign supervision and/or support.” Repeated statements by the PKK over the past years, to the extent of withdrawing its demands for a separate Kurdish state, calling to end the fighting in favor of a peaceful and lasting solution through direct dialogue and under the framework of a sovereign yet democratic Turkey have not been taken seriously, mainly in light of  decade-long bloodshed and atrocities, all still too fresh in the minds of many Turks.

The result is 19,000 dead in a matter of ten years… By the end of 1994, at least 2.664 Kurdish villages and hamlets in Turkey’s troubled Southeast region were recorded as completely evacuated or partially destroyed by government forces.  At the end of 1993, the score of villages destroyed and evacuated by troops in military operations allegedly conducted against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region had been 874.  This meant that in a single year alone the number of villages evacuated by the Turkish military in the region had reached 1,800.

The consequences of this ongoing scorched earth campaign was a vast population movement, or displacement, involving some 2 million Kurdish civilians that year .  While some limited out-migration has been economically motivated  the majority were forced out of the region and the total number of displaced Kurds at the end of 1995 is believed to have reached three million.

Some of these civilians, effected both by Turkey’s hard-handed security operations and the Kurdish insurgency, have escaped from the region altogether seeking protection from the conflict in larger Turkish cities, boosting the local population by several fold and adding to the already-existing economic hardships and unemployment.  Others escaped into neighboring northern Iraq where currently, in the Ertush camp alone, there are over 15,000 Kurdish refugees from Turkey enjoying partial United Nations protection.

As if these were not enough, documented human rights violations by Turkish security forces in the form of village raids, torching, bombings, systematic death squad assassinations, torture and disappearances have also increased immensely over the past five years. Hundreds have been tortured to death or killed by para-military death squads, tens of thousands have been arrested, forced into starvation and/or purged from their settlements altogether. Only last year the military was caught in the midst of attempts to create special “containment camps” for Kurds, although immediate publicity in the United States and appeals made before the US Congress  fortunately ended the said operation before it could catch up steam.

It is evident that in the past two decades, both the Kurdish and Turkish people of Turkey have suffered dearly. The names of over 20,000 Kurdish settlements have been forcefully changed into Turkish, the language was totally outlawed for ten years and even Kurdish names to be given to children were banned. Any Turkish scholar, scientist, researcher or journalist seeking a peaceful solution to the problem through debate has been arrested. Scores of journalists working on Kurdish issues have been assassinated or imprisoned. The low intensity civil war, on the other hand, has not only robbed the troubled region of its own economic resources along with possible investments, but also drains approximately 7 billion dollars a year out of Turkey’s budget…

A policy of denial:

The root of the conflict unquestionably lies in Turkey’s insistent refusal to give ear to Kurdish demands for equal political, social and cultural representation as well as an end to economic disparity between the Kurdish regions of Turkey and more prosperous areas of western Turkey.

Ankara’s ignorance, in the first half of the century, was mainly attributed to the birth pains of a new Republic order. Later, there was the Cold War during which Turkey played a vital role as being an essential buffer zone both for the threat from the East and regional Soviet domination plans. After the Cold War, just as Turkey expected to be one of the primary beneficiaries of that era, a new role was found for this country. Its exclusive secular nature and acceptable standards of democracy (when compared to other regional countries) turned it into yet another buffer zone for the West, this time both against the rise of fundamentalist Islam and as a deterrent force against regional dictatorships.

In any event, these roles were heartily enjoyed by Turkish officials as, throughout modern history, they were used to justify to western powers why the post-1923 mono-ethnic structure had to be protected in Turkey. Although it has changed in form and reason, the argument has always been that any change in the status quo of the current nation state would lead to vast instability, or even civil conflict, and this in turn would hinder overall western industrial, geopolitical and military interests in the region.

Through the skillful use of the bogeyman of possible instability, Turkey not only won time for a forceful Turkification of the whole population but was also offered a precious tolerance which no other regional country enjoyed from the West. Within this tolerance it managed to get away with almost anything; including military coups, mass deportations and even systematic human rights abuses significantly not even witnessed in the past tyrannical Soviet states or present Islamic countries. The most specific policy it managed to coerce the West to sustain was its suppression of all Kurdish demands by force.

The most recent demands in this form have undoubtedly been raised by the PKK which, by Turkey and many of her allies, is still regarded as a terrorist organization owing mainly to activities carried out against non-combatants in the past.

Although the Kurds constitute approximately 20 % of Turkey’s population of 60 million,  Turkish policy on the “Kurdish problem” has been and continues to be based on the systematic denial of this problem and of the ethnic identity and demands of the Kurds altogether. It is thus essential for Ankara to maintain the international argument that the PKK is terrorist. Period. Otherwise, it would have to concede that the ongoing conflict is of social and political nature and address its reasons. Even though this may be portrayed as a successful state policy, one keeping sovereignty in mind, the PKK has emerged as the focal point of nationalist Kurdish resistance to Turkish rule in the past decade  as result of it — despite its initial Marxist- Leninist philosophy.

In this context, to find a suitable label for the PKK rather than the weaker prescription issued by Turkey, one has first to look into its strategy and, set out as early in as in 1977.  These would be the only acceptable signs

According to the Party’s initial program  which, despite amendments, has remained intact for years, the PKK recognized from the beginning of its struggle that the geographical region called Kurdistan had been divided into four regions by four separate colonial countries; that the largest part of this territory is Turkish Kurdistan; that the classic pattern of exploitation is semi- feudal production and that the revolt would have to be of a national- democratic origin.

It is specifically said in all of the earlier PKK documents throughout the 1980s that the main aim of the movement is to achieve freedom for the Kurdish people, based on the argument that the Kurds are (a) oppressed; (b) victims of colonialism and (c) have the right for self determination.

To be more clear, the PKK claims that it is acting on behalf of the Kurdish people and addressing their just demands.  The essential question which needs to be answered here, even before debating what is right and wrong as far as the PKK is concerned, is whether the Kurdish people actually have that sort of right in the first place. In other words, do international laws and moral codes give a major part of the divided Kurdish people –those living in Turkey– a jus ad bellum, or the right to go to war.

Once this issue is addressed, the question of whether any political or armed group, with views which fail to meet mainstream capitalist requirements can actually use such a right on behalf of a mass of people would, clearly, be the next question.

A brief history of Kurdistan:

It is evident, given Turkey’s own history and the colonialism of the geographical region called Kurdistan, that the current existence of a Kurdish national identity –despite fierce historic attempts to crush it– and the subsequent Kurdish pursuit of an armed uprising could only be based on substantial reasons. Reasons which are seen by many involved in the recent conflicts as having given the right to go to war to regional Kurds in the absence of any other alternatives to voice their demands.

This right lies in the very heart of the current conflict: Its true beginning point, is even before the PKK was ever established.

The origin of the Kurdish people is uncertain. They have retained their distinct identity for at least two thousand years whilst their neighbors on the plains have suffered successive invasions and absorbed both foreign peoples, and foreign cultures.  Supposedly they were the mountain people in conflict with the Mesopotamian empires of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, and the Kurds themselves believe they are descended from the Medes. As with the Arabs, the question of identity is not only to do with real ethnic origin. It is also to do with imagined lineage.

It is known, however, that the first record of Kurdish writing –in the form of a short text in verse– dates back to the 7th Century, evoking the sufferings of the people during the Arab invasion. After converting to Islam, the Kurds are known to have made important contributions to the Muslim civilization. In the 10th and 12th centuries, history witnessed the emergence of the first independent Kurdish principalities in the region. From then to the 18th century, the Kurds witnessed a Mongol invasion, the subsequent recreation of Kurdish principalities and an alliance with the Ottomans against Shiite Persia during which they were promised, by Sultan Selim, a recognition of “Kurdish states.” The turning point in 1695 could be regarded as the publication of Mem-o-Zin, a Romeo-Juliet style saga based on the appeal of creating a united state of Kurdistan.  Mem-o-Zin is, perhaps, the best expression of historic Kurdish aspirations which is still an essential part of Kurdish culture today.

Imprisoned Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikci  points out that “perhaps one of the most tragic events in the history of the Middle East and of the world in the first quarter of the 20th century was the implementation of an interstate colonial system in Kurdistan.”

Indeed, the Kurdish people today “have the unfortunate distinction of being probably the only community of over 15 million persons which has not achieved some form of national statehood, despite a struggle extending back over several decades.”   Throughout their history, they been victims of divide-and-rule policies and colonial interests motivated mainly by the economic resources and geopolitical importance of the region.

The “colonial system in Kurdistan” can easily be identified as a human tragedy. Along with it, millions of people not only saw an end to their historic, somewhat traditional, aspirations but had to witness their families and property being divided between new nation states after the first war of division.

The most unfortunate aspect of this division for the predominantly Muslim Kurds was, undoubtedly, the downfall of the Ottoman Empire which was a multi-culture state in which religion (Islam/Ummet) and not nation was one of the main criteria for unity.

The Ottoman Empire, as widely accepted, was essentially a multi-national political entity before WWI  when it embraced the Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Albanians, Armenians, Circassians, Laz and many other people. For years on before the end of the 18th Century it was described as a “menace” for Europe. Yet having failed to adapt to the Industrial Revolution, undermined by internal contradictions (the maintenance of a gigantic army, a “statist” landholding system which prevented an evolution towards capitalism, the sclerosis of scientific and philosophical thought due to absolutism, etc.) and harassed by Austria and expansionist Czarist Russia, finally began to fall apart during the 19th Century.

Up until the beginning of that century, the Kurdish principalities maintained their existence. However, the Empire was weary of their independence and in view of its rapidly diminishing strength throughout, turned instead to subjugate them which led to a series of revolts against central authority.

Before WWI, the Arabs had already seceded from the empire. During the war, in retaliation to a bloody internal uprisings, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred and deported. As for the Kurds, a majority of whom were part of the larger “Ottomans,” their fate depended completely on the Turkish War of Independence between 1919 and 1923.

Taking part on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary during the war, the Ottoman Empire had been defeated and despite Anatolian armed resistance to occupation forces, the Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920. This treaty provided for the dismantling of the Empire and the formation of national states along the lines of ethnic and cultural self determination of peoples which allowed the formation of Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic states and the Turkish Republic. Kurds, Arabs and the Armenians participated in the discussions held in Paris with the delegations recognized by the allies.

Article 62 and 64 of the Treaty of Sevres (Section III, Kurdistan) envisaged the formation of a Kurdish state, at first within Turkey’s borders. (Article 62). Yet Article 64 Paragraph of the same Treaty added that, “if within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty the Kurdish peoples within the areas defined in Article 62 shall address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in such a manner as to show that a majority of the population of those areas desire independence from Turkey, and if the Council then considers that these peoples are capable of such independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to execute such a recommendation, and to renounce all rights and title over these areas.”

The wording of the Treaty of Sevres, which was signed by the parties concerned, is important as –if nothing else– it disproves Turkey’s current argument that the Kurds are neither an ethnic minority nor have any national status in general. “If and when such renunciation takes place,” it said, “no objection will be raised by the Principal Allied powers to the voluntary adhesion to such an independent Kurdish state of the Kurds inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul Vilayet.”

However, instead of continuing an autonomous or independent state, the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq were planed under a British mandate,  the Franco-Turkish Treaty had already incorporated three Kurdish areas into Syrian territory (under a French mandate) and the biggest part of Kurdistan was incorporated into the Turkish Republic.

Kurdish forces by then had been actively involved in the repression of Armenian revolts in the East and had started to make  great contributions to the liberation struggle going on in Anatolia. A majority of the Kurds were clearly misguided. Some were identifying themselves as “equals” mainly under the influence of the Amasya Protocol of 1919 which had “recognized the national and social rights of the Kurds.” Others were literally led to believe in modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s promise that “Turks and Kurds will live as brothers and equals.”

But with the new borders of the Turkish Republic, the Misaki Milli,  set after the War of Liberation and “occupation troops” forced to move out, Ankara signed the historic Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which implicitly and en passant annexed the Kurds to Kemalist Turkey.

With the Treaty of Lausanne, a new artificial nation-state had come to being and despite all promises, despite all talk of “Kurdistan mebuslari” or Kurdish deputies in the first meeting of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, there were to be no more discussions on Kurdistan or the Kurdish people in Turkey for many years. This was, however, not perhaps a direct result of the Treaty itself, but more or less a consequence related to its overall interpretation , as has been well pointed out by Lord Kilbracken exactly 70 years later.  The Treaty made no mention of the Kurds, and granted them no national rights. It did, however mention the “protection of minority rights.”

Articles 38 and 39 were crucial.

Article 38, for instance, read as follows: “The Turkish government undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion… All inhabitants of Turkey shall be entitled to free exercise, whether in public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, the observance of which shall not be incompatible with public order and good morals.”

Article 39, on the other hand, included the paragraphs, “No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press or in public meetings… Notwithstanding the existence of the official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Turkish nationals of non-Turkish speech for the oral use of their own language before courts.”

But in the overall interpretation of the Treaty, Ankara argued (notably in the absence of the Kurds during the Lausanne Conference) that “Turks and Kurds are equal partners in the government of Turkey”  and all parties resolved that articles 40-45 specified that the minorities concerned were “non Muslim minorities.” Henceforth Ankara was automatically armed with powers to freely assimilate all other Muslim ethnic groups and in a matter of few years, the Kurds, along with their cultural and social identity, suddenly disappeared in Turkey.

Having avoided the Treaty of Sevres which  proposed more realistic borders for the newly emerging states, the Republic of Turkey immediately resolved to the Treaty of Lausanne to deny any promised liberties. Being a predominantly Sunni Muslim country of Turks, the Republic immediately started to take measures to convert other ethnic Muslim groups living within the same borders and assimilate them within the new culture.

Yet in this new concept of “Turks” was hidden a major problem from which the country now seriously suffers.

The word “Ottoman” had no ethnic connotations for the people of Anatolia. However, the root of the word “Turk,” as generally known, has an ethnic origin. Beginning at that time, the new state thus proclaimed itself mono- ethnic and having called this mono-ethnicity Turkish, demanded for everyone living within the borders of Turkey to become Turkish. The policy was thus based on the “Turkification” of a whole population, regardless of their ethnic roots, language, culture, literature and even differing religious practices.

The first move by Ankara in this direction is best expressed by Kemal’s historic quotation “How happy I am to be a Turk,” a slogan now block-printed even on the mountains of Southeast Turkey. The expression is the basis for the new Turkish identity and the current constitution and laws. Although some scholars still argue that the reference to “Turk” was not ethnic and that Kemal aimed to identify a whole mosaic of people living in the same boundaries, the official perception of the reference is evident.

In any case, immediately after securing the new boundaries of Anatolia, the “misaki Milli” or the sovereign Republic of Turkey, the Turks set out to change the people living within. There were mass population movements of specific “risk groups” seen to be resisting Turkish assimilation. The Kurds and Circassions were high on the list and suffered painful internal migrations. They were no longer regarded as an integral component of a newly forming system. Neither were they any longer “non-combatants.” Their status was that of “suspects,” and frequently, of combatants where any resistance was witnessed, just like the Armenians.

Kemal was swift in subscribing to the view that to forge a Turkish nation was absolutely vital to liquidate the main enemy, Armenians, and to assimilate the Kurds. He was so dedicated to the creation of a new united nationality that as early as in 1924, a decree banned all Kurdish schools, associations, publications, religious fraternities and medressehs.

It is as of that date that Turkey’s racially-motivated campaign to crush and destroy the Kurdish identity started and, expectedly, provoked a series of revolts on the Kurdish side.

Mustafa Kemal himself may have been alarmed in February 1925 when the Southeast of Turkey was shaken by a major Kurdish revolt, as researcher Alan Palmer suggests , but the development was no surprise in the view of the ongoing Turkish repression. The Sheikh Said revolt, under the green banner of Islam, was swiftly dealt with mainly assumed as a threat against secularism. Said himself and some thirty of his followers were immediately sent to the gallows.

Yet similar uprisings and identical solutions, almost all formulated by the Turkish Chief of General Staff, continued all the way up till 1939. Brutal repercussions against attempts to rise for autonomy were recorded in this period. Hundreds were killed. Eventually, in line with the dominant Sunni- Turkish mono-ethnic identity, the Kurds were branded by official policy as “a different Turkish tribe,”  and later identified, again officially, as “Mountain Turks.”

Although the Kurds left in Iraq, Iran and Syria had similar problems, neither were as systematic and discreet as those in Turkey faced. In Iraq, despite serious problems, the Kurds defended their identity and enjoyed autonomy from the 1970s until directly attacked in the late 1980s by Saddam Hossein’s forces. Despite their autonomous existence, in 1987-88 they were subject to vicious attacks in which chemical gasses were used, finally killing 5,000 civilians. The oppression, combined with the Gulf War, led to a rebellion after which, under allied protection, the Kurds there were allowed to set up their own control north of the 36th parallel. Both Iran and Syria have dealt with their Kurds in different fashion. Despite existing problems, such as language bans during the US-backed repressive regime of the Shah, the Kurds in these two countries currently have relative freedom and can practice their language, cultural and social rights. Notably, Syria in supporting the Turkish Kurdish rebellion, has managed for years to distract attention among its own Kurdish people.

The Kurdish legitimacy:

In its 70 plus years of republic order, Turkey has not only formally deny the Kurdish identity but has also introduced bans that would prevent the practice of Kurdish culture, education and traditions. One of those, still present in the Turkish laws, prevents anyone to name a child, village and/or settlement “against mainstream Turkish tradition and culture.” In practice and similar to the 1980s repression of Turks in Bulgaria, Turkey has forcefully changed the names of over 20,000 Kurdish villages and towns into Turkish. It has also banned Kurdish families from naming their children in their own language and refuses to sign international children rights agreements which would force it to abolish this ban.

But the heavy-handed assimilation policy of Ankara did not stop at this. The use of any language  other than those formally recognized by Turkey was banned for over a decade, the country’s single official language was identified as Turkish (although millions could not initially use this language) and even the national anthem of the country was based on the words “my courageous race!” In this period, any Kurd who even voiced his or her aspirations was severely punished, often ending up on the gallows as “traitors” or “terrorist bandits.” The best example to date is former Public Works Minister Serafettin Elci who was arrested, tried and imprisoned, only for saying “I am a Kurd.”

Today, forced since 1991 both by developments in neighboring Iraq and a new but stronger armed Kurdish resistance, Ankara has had to revise this age-old policy of denial.

On the official and diplomatic platform, it formally accepts “a Kurdish identity” exists, only because the initial step in limited recognition was taken by late President Turgut Ozal and there is no viable face-saving way to go back on this. Even this argument, though, maintains that the Kurdish identity is only of cultural origin.

Aside from this “diplomatic” recognition, Turkish official ideology refuses to accept the overall Turkish culture as “a cultural mosaic” and insists that any rights to individual groups would only lower members of those groups to second-rate citizens. The argument is that the Turks themselves would revolt if Kurds were given privileged rights, based on the concept that ethnic “rights” are not rights but a privilege. There is also the state-sponsored argument that if the Kurds received cultural rights or self-control, the Turks would insist a majority Kurdish population living throughout Anatolia to return to their land of origin and this would lead to immense polarization and, possibly, civil war.

Indeed, Turkish Kurds are scattered around the country but living concentrated in only ten provinces of the east and southeast. If the figures of 13-15 million Turkish Kurds are to be taken as true, it would mean that at least half of the Turkish Kurds are living outside of the “troubled region” and for years were not directly affected by the ongoing crisis. It was only after 1989, when Ankara turned to brutal measures to silence Kurdish demands, that this section of the “Turkish society” started to feel the pain suffered by those in the troubled region.

In that region, the main problem is that mainstream Turkish laws are not applicable in whole and it is under a State of Emergency with special authority and laws. A majority of the population there are treated, at the best, as “suspects” and more than often as “terrorists.” Although they are “non combatants” under international law, they are frequently and systematically placed by Turkey in the “combatant” group. In the western parts of the country, though, the Kurds can enjoy basic freedoms and benefit from the principle of equal treatment and living as “equal” with the remaining population. However, they can only do this if they deny their own ethnic identity.

The precondition for equality, under constitution and laws, is that the Turkish Kurds can only enjoy the freedoms and rights guaranteed under that constitution to “all Turkish citizens”, if they deny their heritage and accept themselves as Turks.

Turkish officials often boast that nearly one-fourth of the 450 seat parliament is made up of “Turks of Kurdish origin” but in reality only those who deny their ethnic identity and those who are Turkofied can enter any profession. They can become ministers, such as aforementioned Elci, only either hiding their origin or denouncing it. They can be teachers, students, administrators and even army officers on the same grounds. They can even enter Parliament without hindrance — although a majority are leaders of local tribes and feudal landlords who have since the creation of the Republic enjoyed state support. The situation closely resembles Ankara’s arguments of a joint Turkish-Kurdish government at the Lausanne convention in 1923.

When these supposedly “Kurdish” individuals do identify with their own ethnic origin, they suffer dearly. Only last year Turkey persecuted and later prosecuted 15 members of parliament who openly stated they were Kurds and voiced the demands of their own electorates — demands which the Turkish majority took as “terrorism” but were still the will of the people who had elected them. Some of these MPs are still in prison while seven are in exile in Europe. Mus deputy Sirri Sakik, released on the same trial, was arrested in July 1995, only for attempting to monitor another court case involving a politician who openly identified himself as a Kurd.

The persecution of anyone involved in Kurdish issues is so great that it speaks for itself. The case of the Kurdish MPs has been widely publicized in the West. But it is not all. In the past two years, for instance, 23 journalists working on newspapers related to the Kurdish issue have been killed by death squads. Another MP was assassinated the same way. Newspaper offices and magazines have been bombed. Non of the culprits have been caught. In the meantime, some 3,000 “mystery assassinations” have been recorded in the Southeast. Anyone writing on the Kurds risks persecution, torture and death. Currently there are over 100 academicians, scientists and writers in Turkish jails serving lengthy prison terms for what they have put into writing. One scientist, who has devoted his studies to the sociological background of the Kurds, has been in prison for 15 years just for publishing results of his research!

In the words Ismail Besikci, who the controversial Turkish justice system now also regards as a terrorist, “denial of one’s ethnic identity means being in bondage and disinherited.”

Even in the words of Elci, the former minister who is an outspoken critic of the tactics of the PKK, “the Kurds want their identity to be recognized. Obviously there are also the rights which stem from such a recognition. The honor of an individual is to have an identity, to be himself.” It is worth to note once again that despite his ministerial portfolio in a past Turkish government, Elci was promptly charged and later sentenced to jail for openly expressing his Kurdish identity years ago.

Even though he disproves of armed tactics employed mainly by the PKK, Elci himself agrees that currently “the most essential demand of the Kurds is to have rights. The right for education coming first. This is not only the demand of the Kurds but a right established in the by the UN for children’s rights which Turkey has also signed. Every child has the right to education in his/her own language. The other demand is the right for organization in the form of political parties and cultural institutions. If this right is granted, it will be a very positive step. Because then the true representatives can be seen.”

Unfortunately even today, Turkey is not willing to change its policies. While explaining to the West that its attempts at democratization are constantly hindered by “Kurdish terrorism,” Ankara maintains that no exceptional rights can be given to the Kurds. “Now they want our hand. Once they take our hand, they will want our arm,” is how the Prime Minister publicly views the situation echoing the military argument of a sinister “salami tactic” being in force.

This denial together with Turkey’s repressive policy towards any issue related to the Kurdish identity, is seen as a justification for a Kurdish armed resistance in the region. Not one for the PKK alone, as the organization may at times claim, but the struggle of Turkey’s Kurdish people in whole.

Terrorism or Armed Conflict?

Much of the current argument related to the current Kurdish insurgency depends on finding answers to vital questions related to the very existence of the organization behind it. It is thus essential before identifying the PKK for what it is, to first determine the conditions under which it has come to being in Turkey.

As the moral code of behavior which sets the regular just causes of the world is often based on the moral codes of democratic countries alone, the first question that needs to be answered is whether Turkey actually falls into the category of being a fully democratic country.

This is a vital question as the definition of Turkey and the Turkish state system alone would be efficient to answer whether a Kurdish insurgency has any justification for being. If Turkey is taken for granted as being democratic — as its military leaders boldly argue– there is more reason to challenge any armed alternative. Yet if the system is un-democratic, this situation alone gives a natural right for the people to challenge the system. In this context, it can be said without room for any further debate that as Turkey remains to be a semi-military state, still based on a military constitution and accused internationally of systematic human rights violations, the legitimacy of the state is in itself doubtful and this alone justifies any activity against that state as was accepted in the case of the former East Bloc countries. Since it is the state which first used weapons against its own people in the case of the Kurdish repression, it may also be possible to argue that the very right to respond in style as in the case of the Kurds, does indeed exist.

Another question which immediately comes to mind is related to the status of the Kurds in Turkey, as explained in the previous section,  and whether their alliance with the state was or is based on a voluntary unity. Here it could be readily argued that owing to the mono-ethnic structure of the Turkish nation state and the forceful assimilation of all other cultures, the right to defend national identity at all cost or the right to self determination also exists for such groups.

This right in turn leads to the crucial question as to whether it can ever be right for minorities, even if they are not recognized in this context by their host state, “to use violence to try to coerce the majority of the government into submitting to their demands.”  Indeed, in democracies, as there is almost always a peaceful method for minorities to voice their grievances and demands, violence on part of minorities appears to be impermissible.

As for Turkey’s Kurdish struggle, to argue that such activities are impermissible, one would have to conclude that the Turkish system is an established democracy, that the alliance of all citizens to the state are unquestionably on a voluntary and equal basis and, finally, that there were alternative peaceful ways to voice grievances and demands (as would be the case in most western democracies)  before an armed struggle based partially on violence or what the state has referred to as “political crime” has been committed.

The very lack of all of these three conditions in Turkey alongside the argument that those involved in the armed struggle are no more immoral than those engaged in ordinary war on behalf of the government appears to constitute the legitimacy of the Kurdish revolt today in justifying its reasons of existence and casting further doubts on the legitimacy of the current Turkish system which, according to many observers, falls short of being a totalitarian police state in disguise of a democracy.

What then is the PKK? Where does it fit in this ruthless jigsaw puzzle? It claims itself to be a national freedom movement, representing the Kurds. Yet, as seen earlier,  in the divide-and-rule borders of the Middle East, the Kurds is far too wide and divided a national concept even to speculate upon.

There are  probably three factors which closely influence the original  identity of the PKK in this respect if a definite label for this armed popular movement is deemed as essential.

The first factor is undoubtedly the artificial division of the Kurdish population in the region between the four nation states as described earlier. It is no longer a secret that the PKK is actively supported in two of these and is gaining more strength in the third, namely Iraq. Yet, despite this vast support, it is also no secret that there are other dominant Kurdish political groups active in the region and although their proportional representation of the Kurdish people is hardly anywhere close to that of the PKK, this prevents us from concluding that the PKK represents all of the regional Kurds. The end result is that the PKK represents only a proportion of the world’s 30 million Kurds scattered throughout the region, in the Caucuses and in European state. Yet, this is the largest proportion of the overall Kurdish population.

The second factor is related to its representation of Turkish Kurds. As  only about half  of Turkey’s Kurds actually live in the Southeast region  where the PKK has concentrated most of its activities, the remaining Kurdish population is spread out among the Turks in the southern, central and western parts of the country. Most of these have been assimilated in time while some are newly embracing their Kurdish identity.

Clearly the overall Kurdish population distribution, along with electoral results to establishment parties from Kurdish populated areas, strengthens Ankara’s essential argument that the PKK’s claim to represent all Turkish Kurds  is questionable. Then again this also matters little in the current conflict, given the amount of support the PKK does enjoy from the predominantly Kurdish populated Turkish southeast  and most important of all, from hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in Europe who provide the essential manpower it needs to continue its warfare.

As in the regional context, in Turkey as well, it could be said that the PKK represents the important proportion of the Kurdish population or the proportion that counts in a crisis at such a gross level.  Since Turkey’s repression of the Kurds and heavy censorship of debate on related issues prevents us to know exactly what the aspirations or political inclination of all Turkish Kurds are, we have no grounds to work on other than the support the PKK enjoys, which can be observed in practice, leaving aside the questionable public opinion polls and general or local election results which are completely unreliable.

The third and final factor which helps to identify the PKK lies within Turkey’s own history of Kurdish repression and official racism, and the fact that over the past five years, as result of PKK activities, Turkey has come to the  point of accepting the existence of a Kurdish identity even if at face value. This serves to prove that the PKK has a dominant role in the current conflict and is the only single party, other than the Ankara government, which is an essential part of it.

It is, in effect, fighting against a systematic, state-sponsored racism. It is also fighting against attempts to kill the Kurdish identity altogether. Whatever its methods, it claims to be fighting for the Kurdish rights to self determination.

However, while arguing on this basis that the PKK can no longer be identified as a terrorist organization alone –as terrorist organizations are identified in the moral codes of the world today– it could also be concluded that given (a) the Kurdish population distribution in Turkey and the region (b) the existence of other dominant Kurdish political entities in the area and (c) its methods of warfare which have yet to improve according to the standards of international human rights, the organization cannot yet be identified as freedom fighter movement for a Kurdish majority either. In any event, even the PKK itself claims currently to be a national freedom fighter movement mainly for the Northern Kurds, or those in Turkey, but accepts it aims to expand its influence throughout the region.

In effect, the PKK is a armed political organization, outlawed by a government whose constitution, laws and ruthless policies are questioned throughout the world and tolerated for greater economic interests,  professing itself through military activity in the lack of all other peaceful alternatives to which Ankara has closed its doors. It is a group which has evolved in a decade from a rural based violent background into a major ethnic insurgency movement in the region and one which, given its background and adaptable policies, is currently challenging all other regional powers.

The PKK may indeed not represent all of the Kurds of the region and   it may be difficult to say whether it represents all of the Kurds in Turkey. What is clear though is that it does represent an important majority of the regional Kurds and in this context, given its structure, policies and mass support, is clearly an Armed Conflict Group.

Whether it has the right to use arms, and pursue the heavily criticized methods it has, is yet another issue.

If such rights are sought for in the UN Charter, or  what means are allowed in seeking and pushing through the peoples’ right to self-determination, it appears that it will take some time before the General Assembly expresses any opinion regarding the means of liberation struggles and the question of violence.

Whether the ban on violence in Article 2 Section 4 of the UN Charter is applicable in such situations and whether the accusations of terrorism are justified is to be discussed in the following sections. Yet, it is noteworthy to mention here that insession XXV in 1970, the UN General Assembly for the first time spoke of “the inherent right of all colonized peoples… to use all the necessary means at their disposal to struggle against the colonial power, which oppresses their striving for freedom and independence.” Three years later, an explicit recognition of the right to wage armed struggle was passed by the UN. Later, a series of resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly legitimized the use of force in armed struggle. The most significant of these resolutions was passed in December 1973, despite resistance from the 13 Western states. Entitled “The Fundamental Principles Of The Legal Status Of Combatants Who Struggle Against Colonial Or Foreign Rule As Well As Against Racist Regimes,” the resolution stated: 1. The struggle of the people under colonial or foreign rule or under a racist regime to gain their rights to self-determination and independence is legitimate and in full agreement with the Principles of the Rights of Peoples. 2. All attempts to suppress the struggle against colonial or foreign rule or against a racist regime are incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations, the Principles of the Rights of Peoples, the declaration concerning friendly relations and cooperation between states in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the declaration guaranteeing independence to colonized nations and peoples, and such attempts pose a threat to international peace and security.  Clearly the status of Turkey, rather that the PKK itself, is subject to debate at this point. Turkey and her well-paid lobbyists naturally deny charges of colonialism as well as racism. Yet, it is evident from history that “the Turkish state does resort to terror to annihilate Kurdish culture and impose Turkish language and culture on the Kurds — the aim is to deny the existence of the Kurdish language and the Kurdish nation and insist that everyone is of Turkish origin.”  What is evident is that it is essential, to find any viable solution to the crisis, to recognize the extent of racism which motivates the modern Turkish state and the fact that today’s Kurdish revolt is only an end product of this history of repression.

If for nothing else, because of these, the PKK is regarded as a freedom movement for an important proportion of Turkey’s Kurds and this alone, in the current conflict and in seeking solutions for it, is what truly counts. In the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Kurds –not a dozen or two hundred, not people like those ruled by ruthless and primitive tribal laws in neighboring Iraq but hundreds of thousands of Kurdish origin citizens of Turkey– the PKK is a freedom fighter.

This is what matters and this, together with Turkey’s tyranny against the Kurds, is a major factor determining all other criteria as to the status of the PKK in the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

The criteria of terrorism:

Studying terrorism in the Middle East, Hippler and Lueg  conclude that “in contrast to other forms of violent resistance, terrorism does not comply with the basic criteria of legitimacy i.e. it is not based on widespread popular resistance, it is not primarily directed against a repressive dictatorial regime, against which there are no longer any peaceful means possible, and it does not minimize or avoid injury to those not involved.”

The consequences of the 1987 Geneva Declaration on Terrorism  are almost identical and are summarized as follows:

“As repeatedly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, peoples who are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination have the right to use force to accomplish their objectives within the framework of international humanitarian law. Such lawful uses of force must not be confused with acts of international terrorism. Thus, it would be illegal to treat members of national liberation movements in the Carriean Basin, Central America, Namibia, Northern Ireland, the Pacific Islands, and southern Africa, among others, as if they were common criminals. Rather, national liberation fighters, particularly those whose movements are recognized under Protocol 1, should be treated as combatants subject to the laws and customs of warfare and to the laws of international laws of humanitarian armed conflict… Thus when a liberation soldier is captured by a belligerent state, he should not be tried as a criminal, but should be treated as a prisoner of war… In the Spirit of Geneva Protocol 1, just as is true for soldiers in regular armed forces, when a national liberation fighter is captured after directly attacking innocent civilians as such, he would still be treated as prisoner of war, but would be subject to prosecution for the commission of war crimes before an impartial international tribunal, preferably in a neutral state or by an international court…”

Based on the commonly accepted judgment that terrorism “essentially means any method of war which consists in intentionally attacking those who ought not to be attacked,” Turkey and many of her allies in the late 1980s have subsequently branded the PKK as a “terrorist organization.”

As mentioned above, the definition of “terrorist organization” is mainly the result of an overall agreement that the PKK has (a) resolved to armed struggle rather than a political one in pursuit of its goals and (b) in doing so, has inflicted harm on civilians. Turkish Security Directorate statistics issued in 1993 suggest that in the escalation period of PKK armed attacks between 1984 and 1990, a total of 678 “civilians” have been killed. Most of the casualties have been recorded in attacks on villages armed by the state as paramilitary forces and of those killed, 119 were children and 160 women.

Although in the subsequent years the PKK has denounced activities carried out against civilians, especially those in the later half of the 1980s, and punished most of the commanders involved in what the organization branded as “blind violence,” such attacks have also been recorded in the 1990s, accompanied this time by other activities against “civilian targets” consisting of kidnapping tourists and journalists, attacking village guard villages as well as off-duty soldiers, advocating, threatening and carrying out attacks on tourism facilities and extra judicial killings of alleged “state collaborators.”

These have fanned Turkish claims in the recent years that, given the method of  its activities alone, the PKK, which apparently represents the aspirations of several million Kurds in Turkey and abroad, is purely a “terrorist organization” and should be treated as a criminal phenomena by the rest of the world. Yet while demanding the West to treat the PKK as criminal, Turkey itself has emphasized through laws and creation of new security courts that the organization is mainly carrying out activities not against the community, as would be the case in terrorist-criminal issues, but against the state.

When determining the true status of the PKK as an organized illegal and armed movement with an overt political goal, one must thus first identify Turkey’s own criteria in branding this organization  a “terrorist organization,” or an organization allegedly lacking justification, legitimate demands and a political context.

It is clear that Ankara’s US-recognized criteria in identifying the PKK as a terrorist organization rests only on two arguments. The first, the alleged separatist nature of the movement which, according to domestic laws, is in itself a capital offense although many armed activities would not fall into such a severe penal category. On the basis of the Kurds being a people linguistically and culturally different than the Turks and their essential right of self-determination, this argument can swiftly be brushed aside on the international platform. The PKK itself denies its separatist nature and has repeatedly called for a unified settlement.

The second is the aforementioned argument that as it has been involved in “attacks against non-combatants,” the PKK could be nothing else but a terrorist group.

Directing attention to this argument has undoubtedly assisted many conservative right-wing governments in Turkey in veiling legitimate Kurdish demands voiced by the PKK and other outlawed Kurdish movements, preventing further democratization in the country and maintaining traditional Kemalist military control over major national and international affairs. A situation which, given the enormous military market it has created for western allies and especially Turkey’s main arms supplier, the United States, appears to have been partially welcomed in the industrial world which recognizes now that the essence of the problem are Kurdish aspirations but still ignores the fact that those aspirations are being voiced only by a single organization.

Clearly, attacks on civilians or non-combatants are unacceptable and deplorable no matter what the circumstances are. They are against the “morally accepted” codes of behavior in modern warfare and insurgency. Moreover, many would suggest such activities also violate the principles of discrimination required in any conflict. Indeed, because of these, the “terrorist” is often accused of pursuing an “unjust” war by “intentionally” attacking “the innocent.”

However, the equation that “attacking civilians is admittance of terrorism” has often proven to be misleading and, especially in modern warfare, a controversial issue of debate. Groups or individuals referred to as “terrorists” often attack “targets” which are legitimate in their view and civilian casualties are more than often described as unavoidable by-products of regular wartime or irregular insurgency activities.  In the example of the PKK, they have more or less been explained in the argument that “if people accept to fight us, they also accept the consequences.”

In treating the Turkish-Kurdish insurgency as a criminal and/or terrorist problem, if the criterion for terrorism is cited only as “attacks on civilians,” those who approach the issue would have to accept that  such a definition would clearly have to be applicable to all sides of past and present conflicts and expand itself in the terms of “state terrorism” or “gross activities” against civilians by government troops as well.

There is clearly a vital distinction between activities carried out against civilians –or intentionally harming civilians– and activities carried out during an armed conflict which harm civilians but either for a greater cause (often explained as “establishing peace” by those states pursuing them) or as result of the wartime conditions.

Today, when such activities are carried out by industrial states based on war industries, the claim is often that their aim is to perpetrate greater peaceful results — often based on the argument that more civilians would have died had any other line of action been taken.

When pursued by smaller and especially third world states, the international moral code brands these powers almost automatically as “state terrorism” — mainly because such states lack the essential elements of democracy, peoples’ representation and fall short of meeting the expectations of a world public opinion which is more than ever influenced by an industrially-controlled and often monopolized media.

When such activities are carried out by groups, it is unfortunate that the political status and goals of the group concerned, its commitment to western interests, overall financial interests in the conflict countries or regions and longer term exploitation plans motivate the definition. Such has been the case with the PLO, IRA and, quite openly, the African National Congress.

The 20th century post-industrialized world order has developed its own “acceptable codes of behavior” in such conflicts and, regardless of what international charters or conventions say, in reality it is under these codes that it is decided whether killing civilians is a violation –or– “terrorism,” or an act of peace — as in the case of larger state policies.

Thus, when looking into the current status of the PKK or the question of whether it is a “terrorist organization” or “freedom movement,” one cannot act on a single criterion or be dependent on a single constant time span. Given the circumstances and the immense and systematic abuses of human rights by Turkey which have been proven and documented by international organizations, the criteria with regard to the PKK and the overall conflict cannot be “attacking those who ought not to be attacked” as this is mainly done by Turkey in the said conflict.

In other words, the criterion here cannot be “attacking civilians” alone as, in such a case, it would only be natural to judge both sides of the conflict in accordance with the same criterion: i.e. the damage inflicted on civilians by the PKK forces and by the state forces. This, in turn, would lead us to the obvious conclusion that if “attacks on civilians” are what counts to determine “terrorism,” in quantity, deliberation, systematizing and techniques, it would then be Turkey and Turkish forces which are “more terrorist” than the PKK and its own forces.

On the practical scale, the argument could be supported by documented incidents. The PKK, believing that Turkey’s village guards system is an obstacle before Kurdish freedoms, has targeted this system. Its main purpose has been to deter villagers from joining the para-military structure and instead to support the armed movement. Its methods of deterrence have been ruthless. Paramilitary villages have been raided, the collaborators have been killed and often their whole families have been eliminated. In several cases houses have been burned to the ground and the villagers have been forced to flee.

This campaign strongly resembles the campaign launched by Turkish troops against suspected PKK collaborator villages. Troops are known to have indiscriminately attacked villages, fired on towns and cities with the aim of deterring locals from supporting the PKK. They have been involved in wide- spread extra judicial killings, the gunning down of civilians, torching around 3,000 villagers to the ground and displacing 3 million villagers and so on…

It can be argued, thus, if the moral codes are to be applied to the conflict under a single criterion, both sides would be terrorist — if terrorism was, in fact, purely attacking non-combatants. As the state has the duty of upholding laws and acting within moral codes, it can also be argued that if a crime has been committed, the greater burden falls on those who carry this duty.

As for other activities, a mirror-reflection to all PKK practices can be found in the state’s own methods yet at a larger level.

Thus in attempting to identify the PKK, one is called to look for further criteria other than those offered by Ankara.

In this context, it is evident that any study related to the current status of the PKK organization has to be based on a wider model, one which involves not only the “methods” of warfare put into practice by this organization but also the roots or causes of the current conflict; whether conditions justify (or justified) an armed conflict in Turkey in the first place;  whether the proportional Kurdish demands voiced by the PKK –be they political or ethnic– are legitimate according to international laws and generally accepted moral codes and finally, what the Turkish state’s role has been in promoting or provoking irregular activities on the part of the Kurds.

As vital as these is the fact that what must judge the status of the PKK should be the overall status of the Kurds in the Middle East region as explained above, their role and repression in Turkey proper and Ankara’s past and present policies with regard to the Kurds in general — even before the PKK came into existence.

Only these, together with the “methods” employed by the PKK in its warfare, its “political” targets, “organizational structure” and longer term strategy may identify — in line with Turkey’s counter-guerilla policies– whether the organization can any more be referred to bluntly as a terrorist organization as was the case in the late 1980s  when a decision to this effect was taken in Washington –or whether it has finally outgrown its initial, superficial, terrorist nature despite its ongoing exploitation of armed violence.

The PKK argues that its justification for an armed Kurdish struggle in Turkey; now in the form of a limited uprising against seven decades of official denial of the Kurdish identity, lies in the right of the Kurdish people to go to war or their jus ad bellum.

Yet the jus ad bellum of the Kurds in Turkey in relation to historic repression of the Kurds and confronting a racist regime is  not satisfactory to justify the PKK’s own acclaimed right to go to war, allegedly on behalf of the Kurdish people. It has been  argued that the Kurdish issue and PKK separate, that one is related to rights whereas the other is pure terrorism. It has also been argued that the Kurdish problem in Turkey can or should be solved without the PKK.

Significantly, the PKK cites that its own jus ad bellum lies within the right enjoyed by  the Kurdish people in general but more significantly is also time- dependent, rather circumstantial. The PKK argues at this point that its war is (a) of defensive rather than offensive nature; (b) is a just war which is based on a just cause and (c)  is revolutionary in nature. In fact, its stages of warfare on the tactical scale do start with a prolonged “armed defense stage” although the organization has in every platform already reached the stage of “armed balance” within the matter of a decade.Before going into the PKK’s wrong- doings or discussing the second essential element of a just war, the jus in bello –or what is right in a conflict–  one has to review the history of the PKK to locate the exact settings of its armed campaign. The questionable legitimacy of subsequent post-coup governments in Turkey since 1960 may in general be accepted as evidence enough that conditions of armed uprising on behalf of the people have existed in the country but are inefficient to explain the role of the PKK in such an uprising.

The first factor is, as explained above, the overall repression of the Kurdish people. The largest stateless nation in the world, divided by artificial post-war borders and suffering atrocities of all sorts by regional governing states with the aim of crushing, controlling or assimilating their cultural, social and political identity. This alone, in a historical context and given the moral codes set out by the creation of even newer nation states, is cited as a legitimate reason for war by many Kurds. In fact, the argument is further strengthened by developments in neighboring Iraq where, against the Saddam regime, allied western states led by the United States have not only promoted and supported a Kurdish uprising against the established nation-state, but are now even guarding its existence. The hypocrisy in US and allied policy vis a vis the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey is so clear that any further reference appears irrelevant for the time being.

Yet the near history of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the era in which the PKK came to being, is clearly more indicative in seeking any form of jus ad bellum for the current struggle.

In establishing the past repression of the Kurds, the first and most obvious argument is that a wrong doing has taken place in history and that those in government have blocked all legal and peaceful means to correct this. Yet this alone could hardly justify an immediate armed struggle. In fact, many governments have been blamed or even taken responsibility for various crimes of similar nature but solutions have been sought for either within the legal, established, political system or through a struggle more in line with international codes of conduct. So what is the difference for the Turkish Kurds?

First of all, it is evident that the same difference for the Kurds in Iraq is applicable for those in Turkey. The Kurdish right to go to war, as one would put it, lies in the very meaning of Kurdish rights. As in the Iraqi example, the Kurds seek not a privilege but their most basic human rights; the right for political representation, the right to learn and speak their mother tongue, the right to maintain their cultural heritage, the right to have a say in their own future and most specific of all, the right to defend themselves against assimilation by other dominant –and often colonialist– cultures.  As state terrorism has throughout human history regularly taken the form of economic and cultural terrorism alongside military tyranny, it could then be said that the Kurdish right to go to war also means the right to actively defend and preserve the Kurdish identity.

The stronger argument, though, is related to the timing of the Turkish- Kurdish conflict in specific and under which practical circumstances added to the lack of the above rights,  did the Kurds, or those claiming to be acting on their behalf, actually act upon their jus ad bellum. This argument lies perhaps in the brief history of the PKK movement.

Conditions of War:

As I explained in detail in my 1992 dated study “PKK: A Report on Separatist Violence in Turkey,” and its updated Turkish edition in 1993 , the PKK started off first in an ideological form as an offshoot of a Marxist student organization in Ankara after the 1971 military take-over during which immense human rights violations were recorded throughout the country.

Only in the mid-1970s did its current leaders move into the Southeast region. It was, however, formally established with a party manifesto and program on Nov.27, 1978, vouching “to fight against colonialism, feudalism, imperialism and capitalism.”

It is rather important in this stage to note two points. First, had the initial leaders of the PKK been allowed to conduct legal student activities in Ankara rather than be banned and persecuted, they may never have gone underground in the first place. Secondly, from the day it was founded, the PKK has aimed (as proven also by state documents) to reveal the existing veiled repression in Turkey rather than to lead to a form of repression or force the state into adopting a non-existing repressive policy.

The latter is especially important in the context of the argument in relation to the legitimacy of revolutionary war concerning the question as to whether the armed group intends to change the  political situation in a way that conforms to its ideological picture or whether it simply aims to reveal it.

The question is, simply, whether the PKK aimed to reveal to the people the oppression that they faced with the message that they could in fact stand up against it or whether it aimed to coerce them, through violence, and provoke the state forces into oppressive attacks against the people.

Partly the answer to this question lies in the PKK’s own strategy and tactics laid down in the early 1980s. As confirmed by Turkish Chief of Staff documents as well, the PKK regarded its warfare in three stages combined of Strategic Defense, Strategic Balance and Strategic Offense. Hence the concept of “revolutionary terror” was based on conducting armed propaganda, creating the guerilla and developing the guerilla into armed forces. Currently the PKK appears to be approaching the third stage of both strategy and tactic.

Another answer to the question lies in the words of the PKK’s Chairman Abdullah Ocalan who, analyzing the strategic defense period in his published work The Daily Tactical Duties of Guerilla Warfare, emphasizes that the reason for armed struggle is pursue activities with the aim of revealing state oppression to the people:

“Defense is the only way to wait at guard and try to build ones own force,” he said then. “The people are not even able to take a breath in any case, it’s own self defense is virtually non-existent. The people cannot utter their names, they cannot defend their identity and they can not even meet the simplest requirements in the field of economy, health and care…”

And Ocalan concluded in the late 1980s:

“It is clear that the pioneers now have the responsibility to act on this deep reality of the people they live among and to find the methods and ways to bring into open the self-defense of the people… there is the duty to elevate the people to the stage of being able to defend  themselves and to make them believe, before anything else, that they need to be defended.”

One argument is that “revolutionary war is aimed at persuading the supporters of the state that, in the long term its oppressive rule is not sustainable.” To an extent this is exactly what the Iraqi Kurds, which American and allied assistance, have managed to do and what the PKK has apparently aimed from the very beginning.

Although the PKK, under a completely different name and structure, was forced underground in the late 1970s and was involved, like many of Turkey’s student-based urban groups in limited armed activities until 1980, most fell in the scope of “criminal terrorism” and were bluntly ignored by the-then officials who refused to recognize that a social problem in relation to the Kurds had come to its limits.

Thus, the history of the PKK between when it was established in 1978 until 1980 is not truly indicative in relation to its current or mid-1980s structure both because of the form of its activities and its very limited membership at that time. Most activities were locally supported peasant-based attacks on tribal chiefs in the Urfa province and contained in that specific region.

Yet, another development in 1980, added to the overall history of repression of the Kurds, provided the true jus ad bellum the PKK required in order to use the overall Kurdish right to go to war. This was non other than the military coup in Turkey, supported by Washington, which gave not only the Kurds but also the Turks the unquestionable right to legitimately pursue any method of struggle against an illegitimate, foreign supported, military junta; its leaders and its forces.

Immediately prior to the take-over, several senior PKK leaders had predicted what was going to happen and in fear of persecution had escaped from the country like many other intellectuals.

By the morning of September 12, 1980, when tanks moved into capital Ankara and a nation-wide curfew was imposed by the junta, Turkey’s martial law-based system had already banned most legal left-wing, radical Marxist activities as well as  propaganda and had jailed  thousands of Turks under the US-indoctrinated concept of “preventing the spread of Communism.” Hundreds of Turks and Kurds were facing systematic torture sessions throughout the country as even school children at the age of 12 were being detained and promptly beaten to extract confessions — incidents which have all been placed on the record.

With the  military takeover though, the conditions for a “just cause” to launch a war for freedom and democracy if nothing else, were stronger than ever and the very fact that a group of generals, using their force and weaponry had ousted an elected civilian regime and abolished the country’s constitution, spoke for itself in way of legitimacy for any form of resistance. The generals had taken over the country, closing down parliament, banning all political parties and placing their leaders, including the prime minister, under “protective custody.”

A summary of that period was recently published in a Turkish news magazine and is highly important in the context of the PKK’s own struggle and its reasons. It is, in reality, a full explanation of the immediate circumstances in which the organization launched its armed struggle and thus claimed that it was a legitimate one or a just war: Throughout the coup era in which the PKK launched its first organized operation in Turkish territory, a total of 650 thousand people were detained and most suspects were either beaten or tortured; over 500 people died while under detention as result of torture; 85,000 people were placed on trial mainly in relation to thought crimes or guilt by association; 1,683,000 people were officially listed in police files as suspects; 348 thousand Turks and Kurds were banned from traveling abroad; 15,509 people were fired from their jobs for political reasons; 114 thousand books were seized and burned; 937 films were banned; 2,729 writers, translators, journalists and actors were put on trials for expressing their opinions. One can hardly argue, as we enter the 21st century, that such a regime had any legitimacy other than to conform with the financial and political expectations of its foreign supporters.

It is true that urban terrorism between January 1979 to September 1980 had claimed the lives of 3,546 civilians and 164 security officers. Mass demonstrations had spread to the cities with “liberated zones” being established in urban and rural areas. In central Anatolia, fundamentalist Moslems, themselves arguing they were deprived of fundamental religious rights with the creation of the secular republic, were on the rampage. Hundreds had died in Sunni-Alawi sect clashes and thousands were placed in prison even before the coup. These justified the coup in the eyes of a Turkish majority as well as among Turkey’s western allies — despite the fact that Martial Law actually existed throughout Turkey as these developments took take place. Yet,  the repressive nature of the overt military administration was so great that it soon started to bother all. Most of all the Kurds in Turkey.

The takeover in Turkey prompted the PKK’s limited number of supporters first to train with Palestinian fighters in the Middle East region and later to fight alongside them during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This cooperation then led to various regional movements opening their territories to the PKK, where it trained and prepared for warfare. It had also managed to spread among Turkey’s migrating Kurdish community abroad, specifically in Libya.

With initial financial assistance coming from Kurdish businessmen and workers in Libya, some political backing from the Iraqi Kurds and training grounds provided in Lebanon and Syria, the PKK was set to begin activities in 1982 when its first forces infiltrated into Turkey to deal with logistic problems for the strategic defense stage.

It was a year after Turkey’s generals in 1993 formally banned the use of the Kurdish language altogether and launched one of the most ruthless repression campaigns in the Kurdish regions that the PKK seriously took up arms and systematically challenged these forces. It was the same year, that in the province of Van, I spotted a Turkish Major with my own eyes beating a 10-year-old boy in the street for speaking Kurdish. It was evident then, as it is now, that the PKK was destined to strengthen and expand, out of natural reaction if nothing else.

The Armed Conflict

The classic concept of “terrorist”  has no problem in justifying its targets whether they be of civilian nature or not. Often the explanation is that the civilian target was either directly or indirectly involved in the warfare, as a counter-terrorist, part of the work force, government collaborator, civil servant or in another form. The same rule, as practice has shown, applies also to insurgency movements.

Yet in wider conflicts, “targets” are often the immediate and alterable results of the conflict. Those who enjoy the so-called “non-combatant immunity” also vary according to the level of the conflict, strategic and tactical goals as well as the frequently pursued goal of “establishing control.”

Although this argument fits well into the overall concept of terrorism, it is one which no longer is isolated to the phenomena of classic terrorism or even insurgency. History of conflict has shown that governments and established state forces are equally discriminate in changing targets and their concept of “immunity” granted to non-combatants.

In established democracies where there are viable alternatives to voice grievances and demands through peaceful means, the voluntary unity of the citizen with the state, or the democratic state, is habitually seen to legitimately use force against force when challenged by terrorism.

This is, in moral terms, often described as the result of the state protecting and/or defending its citizens; a moral obligation of a voluntary state towards its society. The terrorist in such systems is the aggressor, the anti-social or the criminal. As there are limited doubts in relation to the very structure of such a state, its legitimacy alone isolates anti-state or anti-communal violence as illegitimate. Yet the Kurds of the Middle East, living in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, hardly enjoy any benefits of a democracy and are confronted in the first place with regimes whose legitimacy are highly questionable.

In its fight against such a regime, the PKK has been influenced by numerous developments and has strengthened both in manpower and military force over the past ten years.

One of the major differences this organization had in comparison to other existing Kurdish groups was that it recruited among lower class Kurds such as the peasants who form the majority of the population and –from the very beginning– set out to fight traditional Kurdish tribal leaders as well.

Unlike Turkish left-wing organizations, it never organized around a fixed publication. Unlike traditional communist parties, it never had a politburo until 1995. Its Central Committee has always been made up mainly of commanders in the field and has changed in number according to conditions. But it has always been under the control of its leader Abdullah Ocalan and has always planned its moves timely.

Even the mention of a Kurdish identity or the use of the word “Kurd” was banned in Turkey in this period. Children could be harassed or beaten only for speaking in Kurdish — leave alone voicing Kurdish demands for equal rights. Thus the PKK accepted that (a) it had only one choice, that to function illegally and (b) its instrument for politics would have to be armed tactics for that era. Its tactics and stages of warfare were summarized above. It never made it secret that it saw armed struggle as a means of freedom against Turkish state repression and also larger land owners in the region.

In the words of senior PKK leaders, the strategic defense period was thus one in which the forces fought against were very strong and the “revolutionary forces” were very weak. In this stage, selected political violence would draw up new recruits from among the people and thus the people would be politicized, forced either to side with the guerilla or be branded as state “collaborators”  — as is often the case in such conflicts.

Ocalan himself saw armed propaganda not as a part of a military warfare but as a vital part of political struggle. According to him, “before anything else, armed propaganda will attract the attention of masses who have been lost in daily life and who have been brainwashed by imperialist media or become dependent on this or that establishment party, to the revolutionary movement. It will thus activate the pacified masses.”

Working on this strategy, the PKK established  a popular front (ERNK) in March 1985 to gather the non-Marxist and often religious Kurdish masses under one roof and in 1986 announced the foundation of its Kurdistan National Liberation Army (ARGK) to organize these masses into guerilla units. It was after these that the PKK truly set out to fight its war.

The Challenge:

It is important at this stage to understand the PKK’s argument on warfare for it is one which not only has worked successfully in practice but has also led to the current situation in with Turkey has found itself.

The policy of the PKK was so different than anything Ankara had tackled with before that it actually worked in the view of Turkish mistakes which boosted local support and justified the acts of this organization in the eyes of many Kurds.

Its main difference from urban-based Turkish Marxist movements, as aforementioned, was that it did not organize around a single publication and based itself at the very beginning in rural areas. Its main difference from other regional Kurdish organizations was that instead of representing tribes, it represented the poorest and most dissatisfied Kurdish masses. Masses of people who not only had grown under the nuzzle of the Turkish gendermerie but who suffered the most from the economic backwardness of the region — topped furthermore by the internal exploitation of feudal landlords. Turkey, in line with its assimilation policies, had strengthened the feudal structure in Turkish Kurdistan for years in an attempt to use tribes to control any possible uprisings.

But, since the warfare the PKK pursued was popular in origin, there was the need to move the masses to the side of the movement and this, in such a semi-feudal society, repressed by force for tens of decades, was not easy. The Kurds feared state retaliation more than anything. In their history they had suffered from the backlashes of colonialism and had been instrumental in what may these days be regarded as humanitarian crimes, including the massacring of Armenians on behalf of Turkey. Thus, they needed to break through their fear of the state and more important of all, believe that this time they were not being exploited.

The PKK, from the day it has set out, has openly claimed being Marxist- Leninist in origin but this ideological concept, aside from a minority of leaders, has hardly been a serious attraction for others. It has, for instance, never claimed to be a movement attempting to seize power for an ideological purpose, as it is. Just the opposite, it has claimed that it aimed to reveal the repression of the state, activate the people in giving them the courage, so as they themselves would participate in the changing of it.

When the PKK came into being as a centralized armed organization, the circumstances throughout the country were clearly not as worse as they are now.

In the Southeast, the war zone, millions suffered from economic poverty owing to decades of neglect in substantial investments. As explained, with the 1980 coup, a nation-wide roundup of “suspects” had started. Torture, in its most systematic form, was witnessed everywhere in Turkey but mostly in the Kurdish regions. The language and all basic rights were banned. Kurdish people were feeling the pressure of the “state policy” more than ever before and were silent only for one reason: Fear.

Turkish officials have frequently been quoted arguing in public that “the Kurds side with the strongest” in reflection of Ankara’s own oppression techniques. Thus, the PKK evidently aimed also to show to its potential recruits that it could take on the state and that in its existence they could gain strength.

The late 1980s is a clear indicator of what the PKK has thus achieved. When in 1984 it raided two fortresses, the general image among the local people was one of petty-affection. They were referred to “the kids,” or “the students.” In a region torn by its own feudal conflicts and a history of banditry, the concept of having armed youngsters fighting was not too surprising. In 1987, as Ankara branded the outlaws as “a handful of bandits,” local affection increased, describing them as “the resistance.” Today, a whole population is talking of the “guerrillas” and in the words of several MPs, every family in the region now has a member with the guerilla.

Perhaps the most unfortunate era of the PKK’s struggle is the period in which it spread its forces in the region and started to constitute a serious challenge to Turkish troops. It is unfortunate because the amount of civilian bloodshed in this period between 1987 and 1990 is indeed terrifying and unacceptable by any standards — no matter what explanations may be offered in defense by the organization.

Many experts of the conflict agree that the PKK’s approach to attracting popular support to the movement has brought along many human rights issues but there is also growing understanding now that it was partly Ankara’s unorthodox practices in the troubled region, its arming of civilians against civilians, which led to this bloodshed. In its alleged jus ad bellum, however, it can be claimed that the PKK has often confused or deliberately ignored the jus in bello, or what is right at war.

Yet, it has been observed that supporters of the PKK and sympathizers of the Kurdish cause gradually saw into the violence, realizing what truly lied behind it. In this case, as many others, the locals held Ankara responsible. The argument is that immediately after the PKK’s first attacks in 1984, a decision taken by Turkey to organize and arm feudal Kurdish tribes which were known to be close to the state was a vital turning point in the conflict.

The Ottoman empire under the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II , had decided to cope with local rebellions using special militia forces established in Southeast Anatolia. The main aim of this practice then was “to discipline the nomadic people of the region”  and to maintain the loyalty of Kurdish tribes to central authority. In 1985, exactly 80 years after the first Ottoman Hamidiye Regiment was created in Southeast Anatolia, the Turkish-Kurdish Village Guards came on the scene.

Aware that the 1984 attacks of the PKK were signaling further trouble for the future, the Motherland Party (ANAP) administration under the prime ministry of Turgut Ozal, then added two articles to the Turkish Village Law on April 4, 1985, and created the conditions to hire “temporary village guards” in areas where activities of violence required a state of emergency and in event that “aggression on the property or lives of the villagers increased.”

With the government offering a high salary to would-be village guards, there was an immense interest in the system. Unemployment was one of the main problems of the region for years over and initially the project appeared to be an attractive offer to earn a good income and arm oneself. But this tactic served no purpose other than creating a buffer zone of flesh for the state.

In the first days of the practice, tens of people applied to become village guards, posing for newspapers and magazines with their machine guns, trekking the mountains alongside troops and hunting down PKK militants on the rugged border terrain. Today, Turkey has approximately 70,000 village guards and is paying each an attractive salary. The sector is the most profitable investment in the troubled region but also one which depends completely on the continuation of the conflict.

It is also a system which has led to (a) atrocities committed by these paramilitary forces and (b) state troops forcing locals, to the extent of direct attacks, to accept weapons against the Kurds. There have also been increasing reports from the region on clashes between different village guard tribes with conflicting interests as well as on raids conducted by these guards. In the border town of Cizre, last winter the village guards set up their first interrogation center.

The turn to the village guards system was the first of a series of decisions which would revolve the Kurdish problem into a major, bloody conflict in the following years. Turkey had managed this way both to draw on local support in the region and to create discord among the Kurds who were now fighting each other. The government was and still is completely ignorant of the parliamentary argument that it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens rather than arm them –often forcefully– to protect themselves.

Thus the creation of these para-military forces not only gave further momentum to PKK activities but also insured that the direct targets in front of the Kurds were again the Kurds though in a different way. The age-old Turkish expression  “to have the Kurds kill the Kurds,” or “Kurdu Kurde Kirdirmak” had once again become real. In order to keep it that way, Turkish troops themselves started in 1991 to raid and torch villages where people refused to join the guards system and it is currently one of the main reasons for human rights abuses in the region.

The Military Solution:

As soon as the village guards system was established, the PKK naturally turned its full attention to these para-military forces and aimed to prevent participation to them. As of 1985, more and more attacks were thus recorded and reported on “civilians.” All of those killed, including Kurdish infants and women, were related only to the village guards. The message was  that any family “who dealt with the state would be destroyed.”

By 1987, the crisis had not only grown but the PKK had managed to get better organized and had recruited thousands of sympathizers. It had created a popular front, which gathered and organized non-Marxist Kurdish peasants and a so-called peoples’ army which trained full-time fighters or the movement’s “mountain units.”

That year the PKK attacked many Kurdish villages in the Southeast declaring them as “state collaborators.” In only three of these attacks,  a total of  38 people were killed. Many of them were only relatives of para-military village guards which the state had armed and was paying a fixed salary to in order to combat the guerrillas. In 1988 and 1989 the situation was similar.

Militants –often disorganized or poorly commanded units– of the PKK, then in its growing period,  raided one village after another, spraying women and children with bullets and explaining these attacks as attacks launched against village guards.

Many hundreds of civilians were killed in this campaign which frustrated state officials and security forces. More important, it led to a Turkish national reaction to Kurdish demands in general. Despite its contrast to any just war theory, it was evident that the PKK was succeeding partly in what it aimed to do politically, for this was what it named as “armed propaganda.” Intimidation, obviously, was the main theme of such activities and this period of the expansion of the PKK closely resembled the blood-ridden days of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.

Yet, the argument of jus in bello was in the wrong hands: Namely Turkish security officials who themselves were responsible in one way or another for many similar activities in the region’s recent history. Thus news spread fast in the region of one village raid  following another and the PKK managed to raise the impression, with the indirect help of security officials, that it was as strong and dangerous –and, unfortunately, often as vicious– as the state forces. In certain areas, fear of the PKK even replaced the age-old bogeyman of the Turkish gendermerie.

The message was spread that the PKK would punish those who collaborated with Turkey or turned against the organization and that the movement had no intention of tolerating local village guards.

In this form  the PKK was gaining success on the popular level as the government got more and more involved in the conflict, lifting its veil in many instances and showing its true face and repressive policies to the people.

Though mass killings in the region led to an outcry among a majority of the Turks and in the West –and at face value may appear to have served against the interests of this organization– these terrorist activities actually served the campaign to force the people into a defensive position. As far as the local Kurds were concerned, they knew that PKK attacks were directed not at ordinary people but villagers with state connections, who agreed to collaborate against the Kurds although they themselves were Kurds.

Even though women, children and elderly people were being killed in the dozens at one period, this sort of activity was taking place in Turkey’s most backward region where blood feuds in which the killing of whole families were part of the tradition. More often, such activities drew a clear line between who the PKK regarded as combatants and who it saw as immune.

As Ocalan himself later claimed, the people killed “were not killed on purpose.” They were either the families of para-military village guards or locals identified as “state collaborators.” The villages targeted in the campaigns were chosen ones and were almost always located in areas where the PKK needed to expand mass support.

As ironic as it may sound, by determining the targets for such acts of terrorism in a selective way, the PKK was basically maintaining its effectiveness and gaining popular support — even if out of sheer fear at times. It was showing to the local Kurds what happened to “traitors” or state “collaborators.” The messages the PKK gave to the Kurdish people were clear. It was dangerous. It was determined. And, it was more effective in both ways than government troops. In short, it was simply in the peoples’ best interest to give their support to this organization rather than to Turkey.

Turkey had already declared a State of Emergency in 11  provinces of the Southeast in July 1987.  With the appointment of a central governor to Diyarbakir, the authority of the gendermerie forces had also increased. A Regional Security Commander was appointed to organize further military activities. Meanwhile, there was a heavy deployment of new security forces to the region.

In 1989, while the-then Prime Minister Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party was still in power, Turkey was forced to take a second major decision. In the words of Ocalan, this was the basis of Ankara’s 1990 decision to launch “special warfare” in the region or one which had turned the conflict into a real “dirty war.”

According to Turkish Chief of Staff Gen.Necip Torumtay though, it was unavoidable. “We  will fight  against the  guns with guns, we are obliged to do this,” Torumtay said in a written statement he issued in August that year, adding that the five-year-old insurgency in southeastern Anatolia was aiming to disrupt national solidarity and territorial integrity with a wave of terrorism. The same day, Ozal declared after a crucial cabinet meeting that there would be no political measures to diffuse the crisis, pointing out on behalf of his government, “we will reinforce the existing measures,” meaning an increase in military activities. By the end of 1989, 98 percent of the security forces operating in the troubled region were military personnel while only 2 percent were police forces.

Tougher Policies:

According to Rt.Gen.Nevzat Bolugiray,  a former Martial Law commander, one of the reasons for the turn to military measures alone was “the ignorance and incompetence of the ANAP government.”  Since 1985, all Turkish officials were announcing at the end of each winter that the PKK had been crushed, exploiting the decline in armed activities which was nothing but the result of harsh winter conditions. This situation, which has now become an official tradition, continues.

The establishment of the village guards system and the creation of an Emergency Law Regional Governor’s office as well as a Regional Security Command were the main pillars of Turkey’s turn towards a military solution.

“The ANAP government,” explains Bolugiray who followed the developments from inside the system, “was completely focused on having Ozal being elected as president and, as a result, the government ignored all problems in the region and left them to be solved by the Emergency Law Governor’s office and the Turkish Armed Forces.”

In contrast to the Turkish Security Directorate figures, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch/Helsinki reported that a total of 950 people had been killed in Kurdish-linked violence from 1984 to May 1988 and even before Ankara formally turned to the policy of “answering guns with guns,” the situation was desperate. In 1988, the same organization was warning in writing that “Indiscriminately, the Turkish army is terrorizing the local people on the grounds that they are supporting the terrorists… As a result of this, the Southeast region gives the image that it is completely besieged.”

The turning point:

After 1989, the PKK strengthened rapidly in the region facing almost no problems in finding new recruits, weapons or financial resources. It expanded among the people and established itself as a popular movement. In November 1989, following crucial local elections held in March, Turgut Ozal was elected as the eighth president of the Turkish Republic. His Motherland Party which came to power in 1984 was still in government but the local polls had reflected a decline in national support.

Ozal immediately appointed Parliament Yildirim Akbulut as prime minister with the aim of preventing the ANAP from falling apart and in belief that Akbulut would remain only as his mouthpiece. Akbulut’s first test, as with all Turkish prime ministers, was to deal with “terrorism.”

The turning point for the Kurdish issue was in March that year with a meeting of the National Security Council which ended with a government- backed decision to launch a major military and psychological crackdown on Kurdish separatists. “We have decided to answer guns with guns,” Akbulut announced after coming out of this seven hour meeting. He added that a series of measures would be taken both against the terrorists and their supporters.

According to these decisions, the Turkish press would be placed under a heavy censorship, citizens living in the region could be banished by local officials, anyone who supported the separatists or gave them aid would be sentenced to ten years imprisonment and the state would in no way tolerate PKK sympathizers.

The ANAP government, which was losing the support of the electorate, had accepted the military package and was looking for the support of the country’s armed forces. And, the impact of the decisions were seen almost immediately in the region with even more indiscriminate security operations leading to immense human rights violations everywhere.

The PKK, which was already strengthening, had then also caught the opportunity to establish local authority in various areas, filling the gap of state authority. Secret Kurdish schools started functioning in the darkness of the night. The number of court cases heard at Turkish civil courts declined rapidly as so-called PKK peoples’ tribunals came to being. In several provinces the PKK even set up its local police and intelligence units.

What was disastrous for Ankara in 1990, however, was a major change in the PKK’s own policy towards village guards. Until then, the organization was blamed to have  terrorized the region with raids on villages and civilians. But in a 1990 party congress it decided to cease all such activities which could lead to civilian casualties  and to concentrate more on military targets and political struggle. It also declared a general amnesty for all village guards, valid for a whole year, for anyone who turned in their guns and refused to collaborate with the state.

This move, unfortunately, did nothing to curb violence but changed its source. It literally forces Turkish troops to target village guards and families attempting to drop out of the system, to carry out mass arrests, deportations and a wave of arson attacks on civilian villages.

As the PKK moved to clean its own human rights record, turning to a more politicized struggle, Turkey was unknowingly deciding to get harsher. Thus, at this crucial junction point, wide-spread human rights violations on the Turkish part only supported the PKK’s argument and further strengthened the organization.

The Government

Since 1990, much of Turkey’s political scene has changed. From a time when even writing the word “Kurd” was banned and punishable, Ankara –in face of a serious Kurdish insurgency– has come to the point of accepting the existence of “a Kurdish identity.” Currently Suleyman Demirel is the President and the government is a temporary coalition between the conservative True Path Party and the Republican Peoples Party.

The main change, however, is the increase of military control over state affairs, often leading to claims that PM Ciller’s coalition is merely a rubber- stamp government for the Turkish army. Ciller has indeed abandoned all Kurdish policy issues to the military in general belief that the problem is only of terrorist origin. Her prime advisors on the issue are businessmen of Kurdish origin who have vast personal interest in the region and some, in the continuation of the conflict. For today’s Ankara, “there is no Kurdish problem. There is a problem of terrorism which we will eradicate.”

The year 1994 turned out to be one in which Turkey introduced yet a new dose of bitter medicine for the Kurds. From the very beginning of the so- called Ciller era, it became evident that Turkey’s military commanders were quite confident with the civilian administration and saw it as an ideal structure to work with. Ironically, this era of covert military rule actually started a year after the reputable Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued its strongly worded report titled: “Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Kurds of Turkey.” Three years after this report, the New York Times was to carry a major commentary titled: “The Kurdish Killing Fields,” emphasizing how horrifying the conflict had become.

Under normal circumstances, a social democrat partner with a conservative right-wing party would have become a political problem but it was soon made clear by the junior coalition partner of the coalition that as long as its deputies remained in power, neither the coalition protocol (based on promises of democratization) nor other political principles of the party itself mattered. As for the senior coalition partner DYP, despite some resistance from the extreme hard-liners, the social democrats were an ideal camouflage.

Many practices and decisions which could not have been enforced under a right-wing administration alone were being put into life with only slight problems owing to the “social democrat” element which the conservatives exploited fully. Immediately after taking to power, Ciller went to work on the country’s economic problems and literally abandoned the whole decision making process in all security-related issues to the forces concerned. To deal with urban terrorism, the Turkish police force immediately implemented urgent measures with the support of the government. Despite an ailing human rights record owing to frequent disappearances under detention and alleged extra judicial killings, a major success was scored in this field.

The drive against urban terrorism turned out to be so successful that it increased the say of a specific group of individuals in the civilian security apparatus, later lining them up along with selected military commanders as well as the Emergency Law Regional Governor’s office. An undeclared secret command structure under the control of the military had come to being and those with the backing of the armed forces even within the police force were enjoying extensive authority. In the words of a senior intelligence officer, “by the year 1994, it was clear that Turkey was being run by a state within the state and we had nothing to do about it.”

The military-Ciller relationship appeared to be so strong that commanders in the troubled region had started to speak proudly of the “complete harmony” they enjoyed with the administration and were more and more often praising the prime minister’s capability to “grasp the situation.” According to former Chief of Staff Gen.Dogan Gures, Ciller was “worth 30 generals.” According to the Emergency Law governor, she was fully supportive of “the campaign on terrorism.” He in fact noted that “although the prescription is a painful one, it has to be administered.” Yet, according to Ankara-based observers, she had completely surrendered in.

Thus, on the one hand realizing the “Kurdish identity” for the sake of a western audience but on the other arguing that a “Kurdish problem” did not exist and the problem was of terrorist origin alone, Ankara turned once more to a fully military origin solution to solve the Southeast crisis. The solution, in the minds of those with the authority, is still simple. The solution to ethnic terror was state terror. If the state could make itself felt in the Southeast, if it could show to the people how “strong” it was, then — theoretically– the PKK could be isolated.  No one in authority seemed to consider the internationally accepted alternative that the “strength” of the state comes not from using force but by representing democratic standards, respecting human rights and winning the confidence of its own people.

The result of this policy was best expressed in a September 1995 report issued by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation which noted that in the year 1994, Turkey’s repression of the Kurds had spilled over to western areas as well and not only the Kurds but a large part of the Turkish population was suffering from the results of this policy. The Foundation report boldly claimed  that 1077 security personnel had been killed in clashes with the PKK in 1994 alone. And, the figures continued: 32 people were killed by police during controversial house raids; 1,128 people were  tortured while under detention; 32 others were tortured to death while in police custody; 49 disappeared while under the custody of security officials; 97 were killed only for failing to stop when ordered to do so and 432 were killed in mystery murders generally attributed to security forces.

In 1994 the press –especially the Kurdish press– had suffered from the continuing repression dearly:

2 journalists and a newspaper distributor were killed, a journalist is still missing after being detained by police, 961 newspapers and magazines have been seized by state forces, 24 newspaper and magazines have been closed down and 37 books have been confiscated. In the meantime, a total of 213 journalists, writers and intellectuals were sentenced in a matter of one year to a total of 448 years 6 months imprisonment.102 journalists and writers, a majority working on the Kurdish issue, were arrested in the same period.

As if to emphasize the PKK’s argument for legitimacy, Turkey’s formal policy since the early 1990s has been one of preventing all attempts to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the Kurdish problem through open debate and dialogue. Among the most outstanding cases is that of Turkish sociologist Besikci who has spent most of his last decade in prison. Besikci, who carried out a sociological survey on the Kurds, was first fired from his job with a university then placed in prison. Since the incident, he has been sentenced to a total of 84 years jail on 40 separate cases related to his books and faces up to 198 years imprisonment with 27 more cases to go.

Even Turkey’s reknown author Yasar Kemal may now be jailed if found guilty on charges related to an article he wrote in January for the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Three separate charges have been brought up against him which could earn this 72-year-old intellectual 15 years of prison life. Ironically, one of the charges is related to alleged remarks of “racism” in the said article.

Many more examples can be listed. One outstanding and very recent example is related to 1080 Turkish intellectuals who collectively defied the laws and issued a book containing banned articles. They are all now being prosecuted and may face up to the three years in jail.

To put it bluntly, Turkey still fears to seek for a social, economic or cultural solution for the Kurds. It fears that any of these principle rights, actually guaranteed by international agreements, are nothing but “concessions,” and even to restore the principal human rights, would lead to ethnic demands and eventually to the division of the country.

As for what a June 1995 military briefing to newspaper owners in Ankara has shown, the army will not tolerate  any demands for reforms on the issue and will not even consider a bi-lingual solution to the problem as it deems it as a concession to terrorism. No one in the hard-liner flanks seems to comprehend the idea that once the state restores confidence among the local people and  the Kurds start to enjoy  equal rights as well as the right to freely organize on the democratic platform, there will be a natural atmosphere for a voluntary unity — eventually isolating all remaining separatist demands and marginal methods and one which the PKK itself has promised to unconditionally support.

The military formula is one too easy. First, terrorism will be crushed fully and then Ankara “may” introduce economic reforms and social measures for further “Turkification” in the area. This plan involves a massive repopulation of the region, using ethnic Turkic emigrants as well, concentrating local Kurdish populations into “collective villages” where they can be assimilated and monitored easily and, finally, restoring the firm hand of the state in the region.

It is worth to mention here that the dominant military argument fails because it is based on the assumption that (a) Turkey is a democracy and terrorism has a short life span in democracies; (b) the Kurds are a Turkish people who side with the stronger force and thus strength and force is required and (c) Kurdish demands for independence will continue either until they are all fully assimilated or the pioneering groups are completely annihilated.

The formula is in fact so simple that since 1984, when the PKK was only a group of around several hundred fighters, Ankara has actually recruited for this organization and literally forced it to grow into a 30,000-strong guerilla force.  It is so simple that it continues to constantly recruit for the guerrillas even more than the PKK could have recruited for itself. Again it is so simple that it has turned what initially appeared to be “a mere terrorist group,” based on marginal demands and ideology,  into a major ethnic insurgency movement, an armed conflict group, backed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Refusing to see that local conditions or accept the ethnic repression of the Kurds, and the state of overall Turkish democracy are actually fanning the Kurdish revolt. Officials ignorantly insist the problem is one of terrorism and they will deal with terrorism first and then look into other aspects of the crisis. Their argument is based only on assumptions. The assumption that the Kurds have no democratic demands, that the complaints voiced aim only to divide Turkey, that the problem is created only by the foreign powers which back them and that unless terrorism is dealt with, any democratic rights to the Kurds will only further provoke terrorism to the extent of division.

In other words, instead of resolving on a new “state policy” on the Kurds, which would effectively end separation demands and lead to a solution through dialogue, Ankara has found it fit to “index” the whole of its state policy on the activities of a single organization and in doing so, has thus managed to continue its denial of a Kurdish identity or that the Kurds are basically an ethnic minority who don’t have their own state and who live in more than one different state — which under international laws gives them the right for self determination.

Changing Tactics:

The most recent change in the tactics and strategy of the PKK was recorded in 1990 when, as may  be remembered, the organization halted all centrally controlled activities which could harm civilians. In 1993 there were several attacks on tourism targets, abduction of tourists and a three-month cease fire which Ankara wished later to ignore.

Instead of dealing with reforms that could hinder violence, Turkish officials chose to attack the PKK and anyone deemed to “sympathize” with the organization. In many cases this led to retaliation of sorts. In fact, the cease- fire itself was ended in a bloody PKK attack on a military convoy during which over 30  off-duty soldiers were killed. The Turkish press did not mention that a day before this attack, 12 PKK guerrillas in the same area had been killed and that constant Turkish air raids had continued, in provocative manner, on various PKK units.

After the cease-fire, the PKK concentrated more on centralizing control and selecting targets. This was a time of strong provocation. Not only were Turkish troops attacking all Kurdish villages and hamlets (and often torching them to the ground) but they were intentionally trying to provoke the people. In many cases, later relayed to state officials, gendermerie/commando A and B teams were involved in mutilating guerilla bodies (i.e. carving their eyes or hearts out) before shipping them back to their families.

It was in this period that a new argument, voiced for years by local commanders, was given an ear in Ankara. The major complaint in the region was that conventional forces were fighting guerrillas in “home territory” and this was complicating the struggle as it was impossible to differentiate between these forces and the civilians. “It would have helped” as an officer in Hakkari put it, “if we were operating in a foreign land. At least then we would know the enemy.”

In 1993, Turkey set out to create that enemy. Attacks on all “legal” Kurdish formations including political parties and newspapers were intensified. Villages were raided one after another. Torture became but a local part of life. Many of thousands of the “undecided” civilians, regarded as “suspects” by Turkey, were “forced” to join the guerrillas where they could be dealt with militarily and legally.

This was, perhaps, a bizarre example of a state promoting –by its own laws– a crime and criminal activities. But the military had their say and a major plan, drawn up in the early 1990s but rejected by Ozal and later by Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, was accepted by Demirel. Accordingly a “cleansing operation” began in the region with hamlets, villages, towns and even city centers being systematically attacked by state forces — often pulled to the ground. The first “trial” was staged in the province of Sirnak where the Tatar tribe collaborated heavily with Turkish troops and attempted –but fortunately failed– to brand “85 percent of the population as traitors.”

Over the past four years, although much harm has been inflicted on noncombatants by both sides, Turkey’s own human rights record has grown to overshadow anything done by the PKK.

This has not only further strengthened the PKK, but justified its struggle in the eyes of the Kurdish people in the Southeast, those who have been forced into exile into other areas of Turkey and Europe, and is consistently justifying and legitimizing its struggle throughout the world audience. In its own policy mistakes, the justification of the PKK’s “secret army” activities lies thus in Ankara.

The PKK Today

Currently, the PKK constists of a main political body which is the Party itself. In effect, this body functions as the legislative while the Kurdistan National Liberation Front (ERNK) and the Kurdistan National Liberation Army (ARGK) are executive bodies. The overall political, social and military apparatus of the organization is highly complicated. It does not function in the form of a secretive small group, as would be the case in a terrorist organization, but as a well organized, massive and complicated machine. Each function or activity is carried out by separate committees.

The Central structure:

The Party structure consists of the Chairman, Abdullah Ocalan, a Chairmanship Council, a Central Committee and a Central Disciplinary Board. Elections for chairmanship and all of the related council and committees are held every four years with the participation of several hundred delegates. Each congress, council and committee is entrusted with different functions.

The Party Congress is the highest level authority within the PKK and is the only body which is open to mass participation. It meets every four years or (a) when called for an emergency meeting by the Chairman or (b) when two- thirds of the Central Committee vote for such a meeting. Delegates from all party organizations participate in Congress meetings yet the number of participants from each organization depends on the strength of these organizations and their membership level. This is regarded as a “representation system” meaning that a specific number of delegates represent a specific number of supporters. The Chairman, members of the Central Committee and members of the Central Disciplinary Board are natural members of the Congress. The Party Congress also has the authority to evaluate and amend the party program and to draw the plans for a four year policy.

The Party Conference more or less resembles the Party Congress but is a contingency committee which meets during emergencies when the Congress cannot be called for. The Party Conference can be held on an appeal by the Chairman and its main duty is to evaluate current policies and pass policy decisions. However, unlike the Congress, it does not have authority to change the Party program. Only delegates in whole may vote to do so.

Between two congresses, or in the four year gap between the delegate meetings, the party Chairmanship is entrusted with carrying out the role of leading both the party and its other related organizations. The Chairman works together with the Chairmanship Council and can be elected only with a two-third majority vote in Party Congresses. The Chairman also has to submit a full report of his activities before the Congress and his duties include the creation of new fields of operations in sciences, arts and other areas of social interest.

The Chairmanship Council is also elected by a two-third majority, but that of the Central Committee, and is smaller than this Committee. It is more or less a body which assists the Chairman in his line of work and controls all ideological, political, organizational, military and front activities. Members of the Council, depending on conditions, organize their own bureaus depending on their responsibilities and are liable for inspection both by the Chairman and the Central Committee.

During the laps of four years between the Congresses, the highest level authority within the PKK is the Chairman and Chairmanship Council, yet the Party’s main decision making and executive organ is the Central Committee. The Central Committee elects the Chairmanship Council from among its members for a period of four years and is responsible mainly for organizing overall activities. It is thus regarded as “the highest level tactical leadership structure” within the PKK and is in charge of organizing and controlling all other party organizations and committees. It meets every year but emergency meetings may be called for again by the Chairman in person or on a two-third majority vote. The Central Committee does take policy decisions but all must be based on an absolute majority and failure to reach such a majority could lead to replacements from among reserve members.

The PKK’s Central Disciplinary Board (CDP) is in charge of inspecting party discipline and functions for four years between Congresses. It is attached to the Chairman and has the authority to investigate all abuses of discipline and Party regulations and inform the Central Committee (CC) of its findings. The CDP does not have legislative powers and can only take its case to the Central Committee which then has authority to recommend punishments (i.e. membership suspension, temporary expulsion or full expulsion) which can only be carried out after a tribunal hearing and upon the ratification of the Chairman in person.

The Provincial structure:

All party organizations within the Kurdish areas, including committees and representation offices together form the Party Provincial Organization (Parti Eyalet Orgutu-PEO). The “Eyalet Kongresi” or Provincial Congress is the highest level authority in charge of the PYOs.  The Provincial Congress meets every two years and dates of its meetings are set either by the Chairman or Central Committee. During these meetings, all committees and organizations in the subject province are represented in accordance to their strength, membership level, activities and importance. The Provincial Congresses (PCs) are responsible for evaluating all local party activities, and to set down local policies and tactics. Although the PCs have the authority to take decisions, these are only valid after approval of the Central Committee and Chairman. If decisions are not ratified, new members can be appointed to the PCs within six months.  They are also in charge of planning the election of the Party Provincial Committees.

The Party Provincial Committees (PPC) are the highest level local authorities in the two years between Provincial Congresses and members are elected at the party congress meeting. These bodies have the responsibility of organizing all party activities and to inspect them in their own regions. The PPCs are required to distribute authority between its members depending on fields of interest (i.e. front, army, political activities) and hold their meetings every four months.

The Provincial Disciplinary Boards are the third most important body in the regional PKK  structure with its members being elected during the Provincial Congress meetings. These Boards work in cooperation with the Central Disciplinary Board and under its control.

Following these bodies on provincial level come similar Regional structures. These are run by provincial organizations and are the Regional Congresses, Regional Committees and the Regional Organization. Under the regional framework are Local Committees which are known as the “Parti Yerel Komiteleri” and they function, again, in the disciplinary form of Local Congresses, Local Committees and Local Organizations. This chain finally leads to the smallest nucleus group within the PKK identified as Party Cells.

The popular structure:

Aside from the Party there are the ERNK and ARGK which are both run by executive councils and committees  similar to the PKK.

ARGK fighters, allegedly now numbering around 15,000 in the whole region (including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria) are trained in central camps, work according to a former East Bloc 3-3 formation order, constitute units from platoons to regiments and are well equipped. They are easy to identify as although they do not wear ranks, all are in uniform and operate under a tight military discipline. They constitute the main core of the PKK’s armed activities which are carried out according to a central committee order supervised by the ARGK Military Council.

ARGK Units consist of Military Units, Local Units and Peoples’ Defense Units.  Structurally, the ARGK functions under the Central Military Council which is in charge of the Field Commands, Provincial Military Councils, Regional Command Offices and Local Stations.  These military forces operate out of three forms of bases which are identified as (1) Gathering-Support base; (2) Main Base and (3) Operations Base. Their main activities consist of ambush, raids, sabotage, assassinations and mine laying. ARGK units function under very strict discipline regulated by about a dozen manuals issued to all members. It is also governed by a set of laws which include first, second and third degree crimes. Membership to the ARGK is compulsory for all Kurds at or above the age of 18 regardless of their gender. As of 1995, however, there have been reports that a voluntary Children’s’ Battalion has also been established with the aim of training younger generation Kurds until they are recruited into the army.

The ERNK, which at one stage was involved also in outlawed –and sometimes armed activities– has now been completely trusted with a diplomatic peace-time mission and appears to be actively involved in international diplomacy, meetings with foreign governments and officials, in search for a solution through dialogue to the ongoing conflict. It too consists of various member organizations, including youth, labor, women, religious, peasant, intellectual and student groups. ERNK members have been charged in Europe with participation in violent demonstrations and local clashes with extreme right-wing militants. Recently Human Rights Watch Helsinki warned PKK leader Ocalan in a letter that the organization was suspected of involvement in arson attacks on Turkish houses in Germany as well.

Aside from the structures listed above, the PKK also has an Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence organization, various forms of peoples’ resistance committees in the cities and rural areas of Turkey and the so-called “Metropolitan Revenge Teams” which have claimed responsibility for many of acts of violence over the past two years.

The “reforms”

In the past ten months, the PKK has undergone a series of major reforms which it claims to be to conform with international law and the law of war.

The changes started with senior PKK leaders  holding direct talks with officials in the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross earlier this year. The ICRC has thus been given full access to Prisoners of War in the hands of the PKK but attempts to reach them have been blocked by Ankara in fear this would further serve to legitimize the organization as a freedom movement. Turkey has vehemently denied ICRC access to the conflict zone and to other Kurdish POWs.

In another move, the PKK has revised all of its initial demands from Turkey which were voiced mainly during the Cold War era when both regional and world balances were different.

Since 1994, the PKK has repeatedly been calling for a cease-fire to be followed by dialogue to find a lasting  peaceful solution to the conflict within the boundaries of a sovereign Turkey. Ocalan has even sent personal letters to various western state leaders in this respect, pointing out that his organization is willing to drop all armed activities if a dialogue can be achieved.

At the end of 1994, the PKK took its diplomatic efforts a step forward and issued a formal “Declaration of Intention” to abide by the humanitarian law and rules of war set forth in the original Geneva Convention and additional protocols.

In this Declaration  it specifically said:

“For the avoidance of doubt, the PKK regards the following groups as part of the Turkish Security Forces and therefore as legitimate targets of attacks: -Members of the Turkish Armed Forces -Members of the Turkish contra-guerilla forces -Members of the Turkish intelligence services -Members of the Turkish Gendarmerie -Persons designated as village guards by Turkish authorities It does not regard civil servants as members of security forces, unless they come within one of the above categories.”

It also attempted to make a presentation in this line with the United Nations. Moreover, on April 12, 1995, representatives of Turkish Kurds not allowed to voice their aspirations in parliament, set up a Kurdish Parliament in Exile to further effort for a peaceful solution. Kurdish MPs persecuted by Turkey as well as representatives of the ERNK are members of that Parliament, currently based in Brussels and working on a major Kurdish National Congress Meeting.

Very recently, Ocalan sent a personal letter to US President Bill Clinton not only asking for the United States to be involved in finding a lasting solution to the ongoing conflict and end the bloodshed but also guaranteeing that his organization was willing to start an unconditional cease-fire immediately. He also made similar appeals for European heads of states to make initiatives for peace.

Another highlight this year, leading to the developments listed above, was the 5th Congress of the PKK which was held between January 8-27, 1995. This marked  the beginning of a new and massive restructuring of the organization and its policies in line with the changing world order.

A total of 317 delegates participated in the said meeting to elect new members of a Central Executive Board, the chairmanship, military, political and training councils. Also, new members were elected for the central disciplinary board and a special council was established for diplomatic and front activities.

One of the most important resolutions adopted there was to abandon the traditional Cold War symbols of the hammer and sickle and drop them completely from the PKK’s party flag and emblem which were promptly renewed. The Party decided that the hammer and sickle represented a peasant-workers alliance and had become too traditional to represent current real socialism. In its resolution related to the issue, the PKK said “such a change is a matter of courage as the hammer and sickle were until today a taboo. Now, the PKK has taken a  pioneering a step towards overcoming these taboos. This shows the determination and the self- confidence of the PKK.”

More was to come. In the same Conference, PKK delegates voted to reject the concept of Soviet socialism and other dogmatic policies, emphasizing once again that it had to keep up with changes in world history. The PKK leadership thus denounced Soviet socialism as “the most primitive and violent era of socialism.” In accordance with these changes, the PKK Party Regulation program was also completely re-written.

The Congress decisions included a major reference to the importance in this new era of political and diplomatic activities to be carried out alongside guerilla warfare, emphasizing that armed struggle was only instrumental in the conflict and not a purpose. Diplomacy in this period was thus accepted as important as the Kurdish fight for freedom and self-determination, and its significance was stressed in related decisions to boost the PKK’s diplomatic and political activities throughout the world.

As like 1990, the 5th Congress also led to a partial amnesty for state-armed Village Guards, noting that they had until May this year to drop their weapons. It revised the PKK’s activity zones within “Kurdistan” under ten specific provinces  and shed light on past, current and future activities.

The changing world order was in itself a major topic of discussion with decisions taken to launch even further initiatives to adapt to the new face and balances of the world.

Adaptation, however, is clearly not an easy process for a force which has been at war for over ten years and faces daily attacks from government troops. One of the outstanding problems, also believed to be leading to activities in violation of human rights, is the proportion of the PKK. Owing to participation, the organization appears to be witnessing problems in controlling all of its organs and personnel.

Yet, the process and this organizations activities is still being observed and despite criticism,  human rights circles do note a dramatic decline in attacks and activities directed at non-combatants. As mentioned earlier in this study though, such attacks and threats of such attacks have continued on and off for most part of this year claiming at least 54 innocent lives. Just as the said 5th Congress gathered, for instance, an ARGK unit publicly accepted responsibility for a major attack on the Hamzali village in Southeast Turkey where 17 civilians, most of them women and infants, were killed. The village was a village-guard village but the women and children were certainly not combatants….

Conclusion

As a recent Chief of General Staff briefing paper issued in Ankara has shown, no matter what the government is doing in the way of window dressing for western relations, the Turkish military believes that (a) the PKK has employed successful propaganda tactics in the recent years; (b) That the PKK has been able to stir foreign understanding and support to its cause and (c) The PKK is giving priority to diplomatic/political efforts in the new era.

Effective since last year,  the PKK has been involved in a major “diplomacy drive” trying to justify its struggle and legitimize its position as an “armed liberation movement” rather than a terrorist organization. Propaganda and diplomacy have thus become its main objectives for the future.

Realizing the importance of this, Turkey itself has changed its “Psychological Warfare” mechanism, thus creating a framework to control all intelligence/propaganda activities under one roof. Unfortunately, all such activities have been taken from the hands of civilians and are now under military control.

What is important at this stage is that along with the militarization of Turkish propaganda, and the employment of 118 secret assassins in Europe by the military (as confessed in public by a senior commander), the Turkish approach to future counter-PKK activities  also appears to have changed.

In the era of PKK expansion through attacks, Ankara’s propaganda objectives focused around publicizing what the PKK had done and documenting this mainly for western public opinion and governments. In that stage, the “main targets” in counter-terrorism campaign were PKK leaders, PKK members, PKK supporters, PKK sympathizers and, finally, those providing logistic support to the PKK — or the innocent bystanders.

As Chief of Staff documents now show, though, the diplomacy/political drive of the PKK is now regarded as “the priority threat” by Turkey. Even if it promises a peaceful solution or a non-violent outlet from the current conflict, the military viewpoint is that this “threat” is greater than fighting in the fields — as it contains Turkey’s greater nightmare: the possible recognition of legitimate ethnic and self-determination demands of the Kurdish people.

Thus, even stronger than before, Ankara is involved in efforts to prevent  a peaceful solution and such efforts have recently been highlighted by extremist Turkish nationalist attacks on Kurdish individuals and houses in Europe. There is suspicion that such attacks, both in Turkey and abroad, aim mainly to force the PKK back into radical politics and a reactionary armed campaign and suffocate the organization within such a military drive by further discrediting it and in doing so, silencing the demands of Turkey’s Kurds.

It is unfortunate and even frightening that the instruments of provocation are working on a daily basis at such a sensitive period. 3 million Kurds have been displaced from their homes. Some have been forced up to the mountains. Others have migrated to the larger Turkish cities. As was put during a parliamentary debate, “every Kurdish family has a member with the guerrilla.” The mountains of the Southeast and the cities of Turkey have turned into dynamite, ready to explode at any given time. There is room to be concerned that in the bid to prevent the PKK from legal politics and diplomacy, there may be circles in Turkey aiming to light the fuse any moment.

The PKK itself claims to be a revolutionary liberation movement, fighting for the freedom or self-determination of the Kurdish people. It has also stressed repeatedly this year that such a solution could be sought within a sovereign and democratic Turkey in which both people, the Turks and Kurds, would have equal rights and representation. In its peace proposals though, as in the case of the beginning of all such processes, are also hidden threats. It too is aware of the potential danger Turkey has created with its own hands in the urban settlements.

Ankara maintains that based upon the criterion that terrorism is “a form of attack on non-combatants,” the PKK should be continued to be seen purely as a terrorist phenomena and be treated as such.

Yet, it is evident more than ever today that to subscribe to such a view would be to share the historical burden of Turkey’s atrocities against the Kurdish people by indirectly approving of the repression campaign and ignoring the essence of the ongoing conflict.

The concept “Freedom Fighter” or “Freedom Movement” is very subjective, depending on the individual or community idea of what true freedom is. It also has strong political connotations as we approach the 21st century. In this context, I would rather not refer to the PKK as a Freedom Movement, even if its supporters proudly proclaim this.

Instead, in view of the conditions described in this study and the developments of the Kurdish crisis in Turkey, I would define the crisis as an armed conflict, a contained civil war, and the PKK as a major party to this or, more openly, an Armed Conflict Group. Yet it must be understood that this group claims to be acting on the legitimate demands of the Kurds altogether. Kurds who should and do have the right of self-determination.

Such a definition would undoubtedly require this organization to continue to act as an armed conflict group and take immediate measures to abandon any activities which violate international laws and especially the Common Article 3  of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which regulate the conduct of all participants of a non-international conflict.

To solve the problem after this stage, it is evident that Turkey itself can no longer address only the Kurdish issue, even if it decided to do so against military and hard-line political pressure. Perhaps five to six years ago this would have been possible. Today though, the amount of popular support behind the PKK means that such a policy could only lead to genocide. As for promises to “crush” the PKK, it has to be understood by all concerned that this movement can only be marginilized if Kurdish demands, actually voiced by the PKK and summarized in the message “peace through dialogue,” are met. Otherwise the vicious circle and bloodshed will continue.

The PKK, as an armed conflict group, not only represents an important portion of Turkish Kurds, but also currently employs a full-time task force of tens of thousands of guerrillas, activists, politicians and self-declared diplomats. It is for such practical reasons along with all others that the current conflict can no longer be solved without any form of negotiation with the PKK as, other peace processes have shown,  a solution has many technical aspects alongside political ones as well.

The disarmament of 20 to 30 thousand guerrillas, their return to civilian life, returning liberated zones to state authority, general social and legal issues related to over a million Kurds in exile and similar “technical” issue tend to be neglected when the issue of “solution” is raised in Ankara. Yet recent peace processes have shown have vital even such details are in establishing a lasting peace.

If one can severe himself or herself from the pro-status quo approach of 1987, it is not difficult to observe that neither the conflict nor its participants are the same any longer. The world itself has changed along with its past balances. Policies, tactics and strategies have also changed. Unfortunately, many “official” observers of Turkey’s Kurdish conflict fail to keep up with these changes motivated either by the temptations of nationality or larger financial exploits involving governments — as in the cases of Germany, the United Kingdom and America, there are vested military and financial interests and gains in such an ongoing conflict.

Even what was only several years ago possible, containing the PKK through overall Kurdish reforms and marginilizing its demands and public support, no longer appears to be a viable alternative. In the late 1980s, perhaps. Now, it seems impossible.

It no longer appears to be  possible to consider the Kurds of Turkey without a PKK or a solution process which would not involve the PKK. For saying this, I know I will raise further reaction from Turkey and perhaps some of her allies. Yet it is the Turkish government and those who put financial gains before longer-term interests who created this situation, not the Marxist PKK organization. It is also the Turkish government which started the conflict, through a racially-motivated repression of the country’s colorful cultures and who recruited for the guerrillas for years over.

I have argued for years and continue to do so, as did the head of Turkey’s Gendermerie Intelligence Organization   who was assassinated after bringing his views to the public, that had it not been the PKK, there would definitely have been another organization fighting in the Turkish Southeast today.

His argument, not mine, stands as evidence that the PKK is far more a complicated phenomenon than a terrorist organization and that if it is branded as terrorist, the same definition would be applicable to what appears to be several million supporters and sympathizers of this movement world wide. An argument which would only further complicate the conflict and turn all of those who back the PKK, out of their own just causes if not of the organization’s, into terrorists.

It should also be realized that correctly identifying the PKK as an armed conflict movement will lead to further control on its future activities under international conventions and laws, thus preventing needless bloodshed and harm to civilians which may otherwise be unavoidable with a growing crisis.

Finally, the only way to come closer to a process for a peaceful solution to the conflict is by taking a step in the right direction and recognizing the Kurdistan Workers Party for what it truly is…

Endnotes

1  Over the years it is clearer now that the only reason for this belief was the amount of support the PKK enjoyed from neighboring Syria which has claims both over Turkish territory and regional waters. Many Turks regarded the PKK as “Syria’s trump card” in international diplomacy. 2 In an interview with the author, the-then National Security Council (MGK) Undersecretary Gen.Ahmet Corekci claimed in 1993 that the PKK’s active sympathizers in the Southeast numbered at least 375,000. 3  U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism. April 1993. pp 40. 4 Turks War with Kurds Reaches New Ferocity, Alan Cowell, The New York Times, October 16, 1993. 5 Interview with Kani Yilmaz, currently imprisoned European spokesman of the ERNK, in Belgium, 1994. Yilmaz claimed that there were 15,000 active fighters but a new recruitment drive would double the figure by 1996, drawing participants mainly from Turkey and Europe. 6 Reuters, on Nov.4, 1993, also gave an estimate of 15,000 guerillas which has also  been picked up by Turkey’s domestic press and several officials. 7 Addressing MED TV on October 15, 1995, Abdullah Ocalan listed all the countries with which the PKK had active relations. 8 The first such change in policy was recorded in 1989 when PKK Chairman Abdullah Ocalan was interveiwed by journalist Dogu Perincek for Yuzyil magazine. In an interview with the Turkish Daily News in 1991, he openly referred to the possibility of a federative solution. In 1993, he mentioned the PKK’s willingness to accept a solution within a sovereign Turkey. This year, both in public statements and letters he has written to world leaders, the PKK chairman suggested western countries with the USA at top of the list could intervene in the conflict to find a peaceful solution and stressed that talks did not even have to focus on federal alternatives and that “solutions can be found within the context of a unified Turkey.” 9 Official statistics of the Super-Prefecture of the State of Emergency Region, Derya Sazak, Milliyet newspaper, July 25, 1994. 10 Update on the state of affairs in Turkey, Comite International pour la Liberation des Deputes Kurdes Emprisonnes en Turquie, Aug.1 , 1995. 11  On October 11, 1994, Turkey’s Human Rights Minister Azimen Koyluoglu stated that two million had been displaced during the ten years of conflict. 12 Forced Displacement of Ethnic Kurds from Southeastern Turkey, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report, October 1994, pp.4, Vol.6, No.12. 13 According to figures issued by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) and quoted by international human rights watchdog groups. 14 According to State of Emergency Governor Unal Erkan interviewed by the author in 1993, the population of the provincial capital of Diyarbakir alone had gone up to over one million since 1991 in contrast to the previous 300,000. 15 Turkish troops have branded this camp as a “terrorist stronghold” despite the proven fact that it is populated mainly by elderly men and women and children. 16 Remzi Kartal, one of the seven elected Kurdish MPs forced into exile, brought the issue to the attention of the Congress while on a visit to Washington. 17 Rt.Gen.Nevzat Bolugiray, Ozal Doneminde Bolucu Teror “Kurtculuk,” Tekin Publications, Ankara, 1992. 18 Henri J.Barkey, Survival, vol.35, no.4, Winter 1993, pp.52. 19  i.b.i.d. pp 53. 20  Party Program Draft, 1977 — Provided in detail by Sahin Donmez, a major PKK defector whose testimonies led to the first serious operations to be launched against this organization. Extensive accounts of Donmez and other PKK defetors were published in the Yeni Forum magazine published in Ankara. The magazine itself was funded partially by United States agencies for several years during which it promoted Turkish rightwing views and acted as a shelter for leftwing defectors. There have been claims that some of the US funding was later diverted to secretly support ultra-nationalist activities in Turkey. 21 Ismet G.Imset, The PKK: A report on separatist violence in Turkey, TDN Publications, Ankara, Oct. 1992 pp. 15 (Hereafter referred to as The PKK). 22 David McDowall, The Kurds, Minority Rights Group, Report No. 23, March 1989, ISBN 0 946690 64 Z, pp. 5. 23  i.b.i.d. pp. 7. 24 A People Without a Nation, The Kurds and Kurdistan, Edited by Gerard Chaliand, Zed Books Ltd, London, 1993, ISBN 1 85649 194 3 pbk. pp.248. 25 Ismail Besikci: Selected Writings, Kurdistan and Turkish Colonialism, KSC-KIC Publications December 1991, pp. 3. Excerpts from Kurdistan: An Interstate Colony, Reflections on Kurdish identity and Kurdistan. Besikci, who carried out Turkey’s first sociological survey on the Kurds, was first fired from his job with a university then placed in prison. Since the incident, he has been sentenced to a total of 84 years jail on 40 separate cases related to his books and reaserch works and faces up to 198 years imprisonment with 27 more cases to go. 26 Gerard Chaliand, The history of the Kurdish movement, A People Without a Nation, The Kurds and Kurdistan, Zed Books Ltd, London, 1993, ISBN 1 85649 194 3 pbk. pp.4. 27  In attempt to justify this division, the most widely heard argument in the region has been that the Kurds were a nomadic people in the first place and never in history posessed a place of their own. Yet social studies conducted in the area over the years have proven that fully nomadic tribes are becoming rare and many formerly nomadic tribes have settled either voluntarily or under government compulsion . In any event, even when fully nomadic, their movement was rather restricted and consisting of spending all of the winter in one place, in the same place, and move in spring to summer pastures. 28 Kendal, The Kurds Under the Ottoman Empire, A People Without a Nation, The Kurds and Kurdistan, Edited by Gerard Chaliand, Zed Books Ltd, London, 1993, ISBN 1 85649 194 3 pbk. pp.11-37. 29 Perhaps as result of the early stages of repression, it was at the end of the century in 1898 that the first Kurdish press emerged in the country. 30 Great Britain Parliamentary Papers, 1920, Treaty Series, No 11, Cmd. 964, pp 16-32. 31  Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) House of Lords, Official Report, Vol.550, No. 6, Published by HMSO, 1993. 32 Kendal, Kurdistan in Turkey,  A People Without a Nation, The Kurds and Kurdistan, Edited by Gerard Chaliand, Zed Books Ltd, London, 1993, ISBN 1 85649 194 3 pbk. pp.50. 33  i.b.i.d. pp 51. 34 Alan Palmen, Makers of the Twentieth Century: Kemal Ataturk, Sphere Books Ltd., London, 1991, ISBN 0 7474 0563 8, pp. 80-81. 35 Kirzioglu M. Fahrettin, Her Bakimdan Turk Olan Kurtler (The Kurds who are Turks in every way) Tarih Bakimindan Kurtlerin Turklugu, Caliskan publications, Ankara, 1964. 36The Turkish theory, conjured up in Ankara and later placed into Chief of General Staff text books for military cadets, was that this tribe like other tribes of the Turkish race had set off from Central Asia and crossed into the Anatolian peninsula over snow-covered mountains. In this exodus for new lands, they walked on snow day and night, thus producing under their feet the sound “kirt” or crunch in English, which later gave them a tribal name of Kurd! As far fetched as this may seem, it remained Turkey’s official view for around 70 years. 37 Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, of the Roskilde University of Denmark have published a detailed research on “Colonial language legacies: the prospects for Kurdish” (Kurdistan Report, October/November 1993, pp 31-34). 38 Over the past year, both President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Ciller have been publicly blasted by officials, the military and the country’s national press only for suggesting the introduction of the concept of “a constitutional citizenship.” The concept is deemed against Turkey’s best interests and it is evident, from the Chief of Staff briefing given to newspaper owners and editors in June 1995, that the military still sees it this way. Notable is the insistence on part of the military commanders to refuse even bi-lingual settlements for current problems on grounds that such demands are but part of a “salami tactic” to divide Turkey “slice by slice.” 39  Paul Gilbert, Terrorism, Security & Nationality, An Introductory Study in Applied Political Philosophy, Routledge, Kent, 1994, ISBNM 0-415-09176-4 (pbk). 40 Dr. Norman Paech, Expert Opinion with respect to the Rights of Peoples concerning the implications of and questions about the Interior Ministry’s 22 November 1993 decision to ban Kurdish organizations and associations in the Federal Republic Of Germany. 41 One year later, the UN General Assembly passed a measure during consultations without a vote which defined aggression, and Article 7 clearly absolves the liberation struggle of the notion of aggression:” No determination of this definition, in particular Article 3, can in any wayinfluence the right to self- determination, freedom, and independence, as spelled out in the Charter, of those who have been violently denied this right, in particular peoples living under colonial, racist, or some other form of foreign rule, in accordance with the fundamentals of the rights of peoples and the friendly relations and cooperation between states in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations; nor can it affect the right of these peoples to struggle toward these ends and to seek support in accordance with the fundamentals of the Charter and in accordance with the above-mentioned declaration.” 42 Ismail besikci, Kurdistan — Interstate Colony. 43 Gewalt als Politik [Force as a Policy] Cologne 1987, pp. 26. 44 Declaration adopted by the United Nations International Conference on the Question of Terrorism, held at Geneva from 19 to 21 March 1987. 45 Both arguments were sponsored by Ankara which insists that it can tackle with social, cultural and economic issues can only be addressed after terrorism is crushed, ignorant of the fact that failing to address these issues only recruits for the insurgency. 46 Ismet G. Imset, PKK: Ayrilikci Siddetin 20 Yili, TDN Yayinlari, Ankara, June 1993, ISBN 975-95711-0-2. 47 Perhaps one of the best political summaries of this period is given, notably without any mention of human rights issues,  in Turkey Under the Generals, Kenneth Mackenzie, Conflict Studies No 126, January 1981. 48 Buyuk Larousse Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, Gelisim publications, Istanbul, 1987. pp. 4994. 49 Hidir Goktas, Kurtler: Isyan-Tenkil, Alan publications, Istanbul, April 1991/Ismail besikci, Dogu Anadolu’nun Duzeni, E publications, Ankara, July 1969. 50 Rt.Gen.Nevzat Bolugiray, Ozal Doneminde Bolucu Teror “Kurtculuk,” Tekin publications, Ankara, 1991. 51 PKK Compulsory Military Service Law, CC decisions, Lebanon, pp 2. 52 Ismet G. Imset, PKK: Ayrilikci Siddetin 20 Yili, TDN Yayinlari, Ankara, June 1993, ISBN 975-95711-0-2. pp. 193. 53 Some of the ARGK manuals are: ARGK Brigade Regulations; ARGK Regulations; ARGK Compulsory Military Service Law; Regulations to Stage Attacks; Regulations to Enter Villages; Regulations for Village Meetings; Regulations for Bases; Regulations for Investigation; Regulations for Tribunals; Regulations for Couriers; Regulations for Assassinations; Regulations for Discipline and Regulations on Secrecy. All are published and are in manual form for easy and immediate reference. 54 A claim which the PKK has denied. Despite this denial, though, there are indications that Kurdish youth were involved in some of the attacks although it is not yet clear whether these were orchestrated activities or spontaneous outbursts. 55 Including bus bombings, attacks on civilian targets and buildings. 56 Declaration of application of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol 1 of 1977, Abdullah Ocalan, PKK. 57 Major Ahmet Cem Ersever also headed covert operations against the PKK. After publicly criticising Turkish policy he was kidnapped and killed, after which three of his colleagues were “terminated” the same way. The incident took place several months after Ersever claimed that Turkey’s Gendermerie Force Commander who died in a controversial plane crash while carrying vital information related to the Kurds, was actually assassinated.

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