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Leftwing Monster: Abdullah Ocalan, Con't By: Dr. Soner Cagaptay and Düden Yegenoglu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 06, 2006

Lessons for Washington
Ironically today, “Washington can learn a great deal from Syria and Iran regarding how best to deal with the PKK.  Both countries understand that they have much to gain by going after the group directly.  Abandoning their 1990s policy of ‘war by proxy’ against Turkey via support for the PKK, they are now fighting the group in a bid to win Turkey’s heart.  For example, on June 21, 2005, Damascus declared that it had sentenced several PKK members to thirty months in prison.  Tehran adopted a similar policy, attacking PKK bases in Iran that it had previously tolerated.”[xxxv] 

If the U.S. were to actively confront the PKK, it would disarm the threat the PKK poses to U.S.-Turkish relations.  In this regard, Washington can approach the issue from two angles at once.  “The first angle involves law enforcement measures such as targeting PKK front organizations and financial assets in the West,” [xxxvi] especially those inside the EU.[xxxvii]  “Through such actions, Washington can show the Turkish public it is sincere about helping them fight the PKK. In particular, Washington could use its channels to Europe to counter the group’s activities, since many PKK-related organizations enjoy safe haven there.”[xxxviii]


The second angle in the fight against the group “entails confronting the PKK directly in northern Iraq.  Many have questioned whether force is the only option in that arena.  In the wake of Turkey’s EU reforms—…Kurds can now attend classes and listen to news programs in their own language, an unthinkable development as recently as a few years ago—some expected that the PKK might hear the voice of reason and renounce violence.  Yet, the organization seems incapable of such change. [Ocalan and his cadres] are steeped in a culture of violence.”[xxxix]  Just as in the 1980s and 1990s, the organization has resorted to every imaginable form of violence, “today, it uses violence in an effort to pull Turkey into a political maelstrom and derail EU accession.  In this context, the group’s declared ceasefires mean little—the PKK will not abandon terrorism of its own volition.

The best short-term method of fighting the organization in northern Iraq is by targeting its leadership.”[xl]


This strategy would work since the “PKK is more hierarchical than most terrorist groups, composed of a limited number of leadership cadres (who excel at finding allies, funds, and recruits) overseeing fighters who lack proficiency in such functions.  Rather than launching a full-scale war on the PKK, the United States can paralyze it by helping to capture its leaders, such as when Turkey captured Abdullah Ocalan with U.S. assistance in 1999.”[xli]


Ocalan’s Enduring Grip

Even while in jail, Ocalan can kill people, damage Turkey’s liberalization process that has been moving ahead in tandem with the EU process, and even hurt the U.S.-Turkish relationship.  Ocalan’s unwavering devotion to violence is the only constant in his long struggle against Turkey since 1978.  Although Turkey has changed into a freer and more prosperous country, Ocalan has remained the same: a frustrated Maoist who seeks to “kill people for the sake of people.”  With his resilience, Ocalan defies time in his jail cell on the Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea, where he is the only inmate.  Some will say, let him remain in jail, perhaps he will learn.  If only his obstinacy did not cost so many precious lives and perhaps a relationship that is so dear to the U.S.




[i] Yoram Schweitzer, “Suicide Bombings: The Ultimate Weapon?” The Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzlia, Israel, 7 August 2001. 

[ii] Beat Witschi, “Who is Abdullah Ocalan?” CNN.com, 1999.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] “PKK and Terrorism: The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan,” Reference, Assembly of Turkish American Associations, p. 5.

[v] Amberin Zaman, “Ocalan Conducted Ruthless Offensive,” The Washington Post, 17 February 1999.

[vi] “PKK and Terrorism: The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan,” Reference, Assembly of Turkish American Associations, p. 6

[vii] Ibid., p. 5

[viii] Ibid., p. 2

[ix] Ibid.

[x]  “Relations between Armenia and PKK,” Tête de Turc, 2004.

[xi] “PKK and Terrorism: The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan,” p.4.

[xii] Ibid, p. 12

[xiii] “They choked the teacher with a wire,” Milliyet, November 14, 1987.

[xiv] David Barchard, “Ozal signs Security Agreement with Syria,” The Financial Times, 18 July, 1987.

[xv]  “Kurdish rebels declare war on Turkey,” The Financial Times, 9 June 1993.

[xvi] “Abdullah Ocalan: We Are Fighting Turks Everywhere,” Middle East Quarterly, Volume V: number 2, June 1998. 

[xvii] “PKK and Terrorism: The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan,” p. 12.

[xviii] Joshua Black, “WWS Case Study 4/00: Greek Diplomacy and the Hunt for Abdullah Ocalan,” Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Case Studies, Princeton University.

[xix] Amberin Zaman, “Turkey Celebrates Capture of Ocalan; Handcuffed Guerrilla Chief Declares: ‘Let There Be No Torture or Anything,” The Washington Post, 18 February 1999.

[xx] Vernon Loeb, “U.S. Tip to Turkey Led to Capture of Ocalan: Officials Acknowledge Role in Hunt for Rebel,” The Washington Post, 21 February, 1999.

[xxi] Soner Cagaptay, “Where Goes the U.S.-Turkish Relationship?” The Middle East Quarterly, Volume XI: number 4, Fall 2004.

[xxii] Soner Cagaptay and Emrullah Uslu, “Is the PKK still a threat to the United States and Turkey?” PolicyWatch # 940, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 10 January 2005.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Cagaptay, “Turkey at a Crossroads: Preserving Ankara’s Western Orientation,” p. 10.

[xxvi] Cagaptay and Uslu, “Is the PKK still a threat to the United States and Turkey?” 

[xxvii] Cagaptay, “Turkey at a Crossroads: Preserving Ankara’s Western Orientation,” p. 11.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Ibid.,  p. 11-12.

[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 15.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid., p. 15-6.

[xxxvii] For a list of PKK fronts and sympathizing organizations inside the EU, see: Soner Cagaptay and Fikret Cem S. “Europe’s Terror Problem: PKK Fronts Inside the EU,” PolicyWatch # 1057, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2 December 2005.

[xxxviii] Cagaptay, “Turkey at a Crossroads: Preserving Ankara’s Western Orientation,” p. 16.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ibid.


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Dr. Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute and Düden Yegenoglu is a research assistant at the Institute’s Turkish Research Program.

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