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    "Hundreds of comrades who waged heroic resistance
    have become martyrs in the struggle for the
    establishment of the state of Kurdistan.

    They are markers on the path to victory, symbols of
    the revolutionary leadership of our party."

     Abdullah Ocalan
     President, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

Analysis: A Calculated Risk?
Onnik Krikorian


On Thursday evening a lone passenger arriving from Moscow was detained
at a Rome airport after suspicions were raised with regards to the
authenticity of his passport. That passenger turned out to be none
other than Turkey's "most wanted criminal" - Abdullah Ocalan,
President of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - a political and
military movement fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the south east of
Turkey. According to western news reports, and from the official
communiqués of the PKK's political wing - the ERNK (National
Liberation Front of Kurdistan) - Ocalan's appearance in Italy was not
only anticipated, but it might also have been with the full knowledge
and approval of the Italian government.

What is certainly known at this time is that for some reason Ocalan
decided to leave the relative safety of Russia for Rome, and
apparently to claim political asylum after being forced to vacate his
headquarters outside of Damascus as a direct result of Turkish
pressure on Syria. News reports are also beginning to imply that
Ocalan's arrest was as a direct result of a coordinated effort by
European security agencies and Interpol. The success of that
coordinated action has been to provoke analysis as to what may happen
to the PKK as an effective military force in Turkey now that it has
been "deprived" of its founder and leader.

What should instead be more significant is that in many respects
Ocalan's arrest may not prove to be as damaging a blow to the Kurdish
national liberation struggle as the Turkish authorities and media
would have everyone believe. Put very simply by the Director of the
Washington Kurdish Institute, Mike Amitay, "Even if Apo [Ocalan] is
out of the picture, the sources of Kurdish rebellion remain intact.
Fighting will continue as long as repression exists."

Indeed, the significance surrounding Ocalan's arrest is quite simply
that the PKK has never been able to demand such attention from the
world media as it can now. A cynical observer might actually question
whether the arrest of such a figure was a calculated move to bring the
Kurdish Question to international prominence. Any analysis as to the
effectiveness of the organisation without the most central of its
figures must bear in mind that Turkey and Germany may very well
request that Ocalan be extradited, but that it should also realise
that past experience has shown that such requests can be not only
time-consuming, but that they can also be politically

Despite having been invited by a group of British Parliamentarians and
whilst on his way to address a Parliamentary meeting at the House of
Commons on October 26th 1994, Kani Yilmaz - the European Spokesperson
of the PKK - was arrested in London also on immigration
irregularities. The current British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook,
registered his outrage at the time by stating that it was a disgrace
that a visiting political representative could be arrested minutes
before being expected to address politicians in the so-called "cradle
of democracy". What we now know is that the forces that were working
behind the scenes were very powerful, and that Turkish pressure was
being applied on the British Government to arrest Yilmaz with a view
to enacting his extradition to Germany, and then by implication on to
Turkey where he too would have certainly faced the death penalty.

Extradition proceedings were frustrated by British lawyers and
parliamentarians, and it was to take nearly three years before Yilmaz
was to leave the United Kingdom for trial in Germany and that whilst
being held in solitary confinement in the maximum security wing at
Belmarsh prison, Yilmaz was still allowed telephone calls and
visitors. The eventual trial proved to be an excellent stage for
raising the question of the plight of the Kurds in Turkey among the
European media, and the same may turn out to be true for Ocalan.  Just
as his very arrest in Rome has brought the Kurdish Question straight
into the heart of Europe, his very incarceration in Italy will also
provoke political debate - and questions that will undoubtedly be
raised in the Russian Duma as to why Ocalan's request for political
asylum [in Russia] ultimately led to his current predicament.

The legitimacy of the Kurdish national liberation movement is not the
issue for debate here. What are the circumstances surrounding what
may very well turn out to be Ocalan's entrapment, and the duplicity of
those European governments and agencies eager to appease Turkey. The
Turkish government's political leverage with Europe still remains
strong, despite setbacks in recent months, and whilst Turkish military
operations are proving to be successful in eliminating many of the
"stragglers" on their exodus from Syria, Turkey's cream may very well
turn sour.

The media is already asking predictable questions. What will become of
the PKK without leadership, and how can the PKK remain an effective
military force in the south east of Turkey? In actual fact, the
question that should be asked - and many months ago - is whether they
were such a force in recent years anyway? A cynical observer might
argue that the PKK were becoming totally overwhelmed by the strength,
persistence and ferocity of Turkish military operations in the south
east of the country, and in the so- called "safe-haven" of northern
Iraq. Hence Ocalan's recent announcement of a unilateral
cease-fire. The PKK will undoubtedly be affected by this recent
development to some extent, but in what form such an affect will
materialise is still not clear. There are perhaps three likely

The first is that the PKK might slowly but surely disintegrate and
collapse until it eventually disappears, but the second is perhaps
more concerning for Turkey. The disintegration might instead manifest
itself as a splintering of the organisation into different factions
that instead advocate more extreme and violent action against both
military and civilian targets in Turkey and Europe - just as the
Armenian ASALA did in the eighties. Regardless of whether the reasons
were genuine or politically expedient, Ocalan was THE force behind
restricting PKK operations to the targeting of "legitimate" military

A third possibility - and probably the most likely - is that with
Ocalan in Europe, the strong and extensive European political network
represented by the ERNK will be able to maintain the PKK command
structure and hierarchy, and whilst also being able to command the
interest of the European media. The relevance of the Kurdish Question
to both Europe and Russia is now very clear.

There is also nothing that can compare with the indomitable spirit and
resilience of the Kurdish people, and nothing like their ability to
manipulate and control the opinion and support of the liberal and
left-wing political movement in Europe. It might turn out not to be
such a surprise to eventually discover that Ocalan's arrest in Rome
might well have been a calculated move to bring the Kurdish Question
into the media spotlight. Moreover, the Kurds appreciate and deify
their martyrs. Any criticism that could once have been made of Ocalan
sitting in the relative safety of Syria whilst the Kurdish people were
being oppressed in Turkey can now be dismissed and discounted.

Ocalan has become a martyr himself, and now more than ever has become
without question the embodiment and personification of the Kurdish
struggle. His arrest may very well prove to be one of the most
significant developments in the strengthening of the resolve and
resistance of the Kurdish people in their struggle to establish an
independent Kurdish statehood.

Onnik Krikorian is a journalist, photojournalist and new media
consultant who has spent over three years working on projects
surrounding the Kurds in Turkey and the Caucasus.
His work on the Kurds can be seen online at:

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