ATbar The Arrest of Ocalan: The last stage in the turkey-PKK Showdown?
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The Arrest of Ocalan: The last stage in the turkey-PKK Showdown?

17/02/1999 | by Karmon, Ely (Dr.)  

The arrest, or kidnapping, of PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan, represents a huge victory for the Turkish government and indeed for the nationalist, unitary, secular ideology of the Kemalist regime. It is clearly an achievement with psychological, moral and political aspects.

This development comes after a long and bloody guerrilla and terrorist war, in which the Turkish government has scored a series of military, political and diplomatic achievements over the past year. See The Showdown Between the PKK and Turkey

The question remains whether the capture and trial of Ocalan will bring an end to the armed conflict between Turkey to the PKK and its constituency. The violent protests staged by Kurdish demonstrators in many European cities and the threats of retaliation from PKK’s leadership suggest rather an escalation in the hostility between the two sides.

The prospects for the PKK and its struggle 

Word of Ocalan's arrest set off a wave of Kurdish protests in Europe. Demonstrators forced their way into the Greek embassies and consulates in London, Bonn, the Hague, Moscow, Brussels, Copenhagen, Marseilles and Frankfurt. Greek diplomats and their families were taken hostage. Kurdish protesters set fire to the Greek embassy in Kenya. Kenyan embassies throughout Europe were also attacked.

Kurdish protesters set themselves ablaze in Athens and Copenhagen, thus heightening the emotional effect of the protests and hinting at possible desperate terrorist attacks against Turkish and other countries’ targets.

If in the short range these actions will bring the PKK and the Kurdish cause ample, and sometimes sympathetic media coverage, in the long run the Kurdish workers and refugees in Europe risk a backlash from their violent behavior. This was the case once before, in 1993 - 1994, when the PKK was banned in several countries after it violently attacked Turkish embassies and installations and clashed with Turkish citizens living in these countries.

As for the PKK itself, it is a highly centralized organization on the Marxist-Leninist model. Ocalan was not only a loved and charismatic leader, but also a dictatorial figure who did not permit the growth of an alternative leadership. This means that the organization will have difficulty in finding a new leader and is threatened with increasing internal personal and ideological conflicts and splits.

It is not at all clear if the more moderate political wing will have the upper hand. It is just as likely that the military commanders will attempt to take the lead and restart the guerrilla war. The easiest option for the more extremist elements will be as always, to open a new terrorist front. But even this path will not be easy to follow, considering the neutralization of Syria as the main state sponsor, together with the European consensus not to support a PKK bound to use terrorism.

From the point of view of the Turkish authorities, they will have to take into account the fact that the solution to the Kurdish problem will need to pass a political, economic and social concerted effort before a complete cessation of violence will be achieved. Ocalan’s trial and its use as a political tool by the PKK will also influence future events. The international attention it will attract will surely weigh into the Turkish government’s policy.

Are there lessons to be learned? 

However one considers the Kurdish problem in Turkey and its possible solutions, it is indisputable that the PKK under Ocalan, although a political organization and a guerrilla force, has extensively used terrorism in its attempt to achieve its strategic goals. Terrorism was also used against Kurdish fellow countrymen and during the last years has escalated to the point of using suicide terrorism, perpetrated, oddly enough, mostly by women.

Thus, the Turkish-Syrian agreement on terrorism, together with Ocalan’s expulsion from Syria and the consequent refusal of practically all the countries in the world to give him asylum; all this represents a victory in the fight against terrorism, not only for Turkey, but for all those suffering from this plague—in short, for the entire international community.

This victory was made possible first of all by the firm policy of the Turkish government. Yet, the Turkish strategy was clearly influenced by the United States’ policy of pursuing terrorists everywhere in the world and its resolve after the attacks in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salam to immediately strike against the responsible terrorist organization, thus creating a new political international climate favoring the fight against terrorism.