Thursday, November 13, 2008


"In April 1973 a group of six people came together in order to form an independent Kurdish political organization. They acted on the assumption that Kurdistan was a classic colony, where the population was forcibly refused their right to self-determination."
~ Abdullah Öcalan, War and Peace in Kurdstan.

Since I have posted the complete English version of DTP's Democratic Autonomy Project, which was brought before the TBMM, I now have another political document, portions of which I will serialize over the next few days.

This document is titled War and Peace in Kurdistan: Perspectives for a political solution of the Kurdish Question by Abdullah Öcalan. It's available online as a pdf document from the International Initiative Freedom for Öcalan.

The first half of the document discusses background information of the Kurdish situation, including the ideological bases of colonial oppression and power politics in Kurdistan, as well as a short discussion of Kurdish identity and resistance. For those needing a brief introduction to the Kurdish Question, the first half of Serok Apo's document will be useful.

The portions I will post here begin with a discussion of the PKK because, as I noted in the closing of yesterday's post, the DTP is able to engage in politics because of the sacrifices of PKK fighters. Understanding the foundation and evolution of PKK is critical to understanding Kurdish political activity in Turkey today.

Without further ado, Serok Apo may speak for himself:

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Short outline of the history of origins of the PKK

In April 1973 a group of six people came together in order to form an independent Kurdish political organization. They acted on the assumption that Kurdistan was a classic colony, where the population was forcibly refused their right to self-determination. It was their prime goal to change this. This gathering may also be called the hour of birth of a new Kurdish movement.

Over the years, this group found new followers who helped them spread their conviction in the rural population of Kurdistan. More and more they clashed with Turkish security forces, armed tribesmen of the Kurdish aristocracy and rival political groups, which violently attacked the young movement. On November 27, 1978 the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded in a small village near Diyarbakir. Twenty-two leading members of the movement took part in the inaugural meeting in order to set up more professional structures for the movement. In an urban environment the movement would not have survived, so they focused their activities on the rural Kurdish regions.

The Turkish authorities reacted harshly to the propaganda efforts of the PKK. Detentions and armed clashes followed. Both sides experienced losses. The situation in Turkey, however, was also coming to a point. The first signs of the imminent military coup were already visible in 1979. The PKK responded by withdrawing from Turkey into the mountains or into other countries of the Middle East. Only a small number of activists remained in Turkey. This step helped the PKK to secure their survival. On September 12, 1980 the Turkish military overthrew the civil government and seized power. Many of the PKK who had remained in Turkey were imprisoned by the military junta.

In this situation, the PKK had to determine whether they wanted to become an exile organization or a modern national liberation movement. After a short phase of re-organization a majority of members returned to Kurdistan and took up armed resistance against the fascist junta. The attacks on military facilities in Eruh and Semdili on August 15, 1984 proclaimed the official beginning of the armed resistance. Although there were deficits, the move towards becoming a national liberation movement had been made.

Originally the Turkish authorities - Turgut Ozal had just been elected prime minister – tried to play down the incident. The state propaganda called the guerilla a “handful of bandits”, which is telling about the mindset of those in charge there. A political approach to the conflict was not perceptible. The clashes grew into a war, which demanded numerous victims from both sides.

It was only in the 1990s that the situation became less gridlocked, when the state seemed to become ready for a political solution. There were statements by Turgut Ozal and Suleyman Demirel, then president, indicating that they might recognize the Kurdish identity, raised hopes for an early end of the conflict. The PKK tried to strengthen this process by declaring a ceasefire in 1993.

The sudden death of Turgut Ozal deprived this process of one of its most important protagonists. There were other obstacles, too. Some hardliners among the PKK stuck to the armed struggle; the situation among the leadership of the Turkish state was difficult and marked by conflicting interests; the attitude of the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani was also not helpful in deepening the peace process. It was the biggest opportunity for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question until then, and it was lost.

Subsequently the conflict escalated. Both parties experienced high losses. However, even this escalation did not lift the dead- lock. The years of war between 1994 and 1998 were lost years. In spite of several unilateral ceasefires on the part of the PKK, the Turkish state insisted on a military solution. The ceasefire of 1998 remained without response as well. Rather, it stirred up a military confrontation between Turkey and Syria, which brought both countries to the edge of a war. In 1998 I went to Europe as the chairman of the PKK in order to promote a political solution. The following odyssey is well known. I was abducted from Kenya and brought to Turkey in violation of international law. This abduction was backed by an alliance of secret services and the public expected the conflict to further escalate then. However, the trial on the Turkish prison island of Imrali marked a political U-turn in the conflict and offered new perspectives for a political solution. At the same time this turn caused the PKK to reorient ideologically and politically. I had been working on these points already before my abduction. This was truly an ideological and political cut. What, then, were the real motives?

Main criticism

Doubtlessly, my abduction was a heavy blow for the PKK. It was nonetheless not the reason for the ideological and political cut. The PKK had been conceived as a party with a state-like hierarchical structure similar to other parties. Such a structure, however, causes a dialectic contradiction to the principles of democracy, freedom, and equality, a contradiction in principle concerning all parties whatsoever their philosophy. Although the PKK stood for freedom-oriented views we had not been able to free ourselves from thinking in hierarchical structures.

Another main contradiction lay in the PKK’s quest for institutional political power, which formed and aligned the party correspondingly. Structures aligned along the lines of institutional power, however, are in conflict with societal democratization, which the PKK was declaredly espousing. Activists of any such party tend to orient themselves by superiors rather than by the society, or as the case may be aspire to such positions themselves.

All of the three big ideological tendencies based on emancipative social conceptions have been confronted with this contradiction. When real-socialism and social democracy as well as national liberation movements tried to set up social conceptions beyond capitalism they could not free themselves from the ideological constraints of the capitalist system. Quite early, they became pillars of the capitalist system while only seeking institutional political power instead of putting their focus on the democratization of the society.

Another main contradiction was the value of war in the ideological and political considerations of the PKK. War was understood as the continuation of politics by different means and romanticized as a strategic instrument.

This was a blatant contradiction to our self-perception as a movement struggling for the liberation of the society. According to this, the use of armed force can only be justified for the purpose of necessary self-defense. Anything going beyond that would be in violation of the socially emancipative approach that the PKK felt itself obliged to, since all repressive regimes in history had been based on war or had aligned their institutions according to the logic of warfare. The PKK believed that the armed struggle would be sufficient for winning the rights that the Kurds had been denied. Such a deterministic idea of war is neither socialist nor democratic, although the PKK saw itself as a democratic party. A really socialist party is neither oriented by state –like structures and hierarchies nor does it aspire to institutional political power, of which the basis is the protection of interests and power by war.

The supposed defeat of the PKK that the Turkish authorities believed they had accomplished by my abduction to Turkey was eventually reason enough to critically and openly look into the reasons that had prevented us from making better progress with our liberation movement. The ideological and political cut undergone by the PKK made the seeming defeat a gateway to new horizons.

Tomorrow, new strategic, philosophic, and political approaches of the Kurdish liberation movement.

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