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A March to Freedom

by Onnik Krikorian

The arrival of Abdullah Ocalan in Rome has put the Kurdish struggle
for autonomy in southeast Turkey firmly on the geopolitical map.
Whether you sympathise with the situation of the Kurds or not - or are
even indifferent - there is now no avoiding the importance of the need
for political debate and discussion. It is, of course, important to
distinguish between the Kurds as an ethnic identity living across the
many countries of the near and Middle East, and the Kurds living
within the borders of the Turkish Republic.  However, the PKK, while
seeking to extend its influence, stands as the representatives of the
aspirations of an identifiable section of the Kurdish population - a
Kurdish population living mainly in Turkey's south east, and as
refugees or migrants in Europe.

Regardless, the PKK has raised many eyebrows in recent days - it may
very well have pulled off one of the most dramatic, calculated and
extraordinary political feats this century.  Facing defeat after defeat
at the hands of the Turkish military, it has managed to switch tact from
the battleground of the mountains of Iraq and Turkey to the political
circles of Europe in just a few days. Whatever the realities of
popular support for the organisation in Turkey, for Ankara's request
for extradition to be accepted would be to provoke nothing short of
Kurdish insurrection - and the resumption of terrorist activities
against European and Turkish targets.

This is not to deny that the PKK might be a considered a terrorist
organisation already. Rather, the problem lies in the perennial
argument of what constitutes a terrorist organisation as opposed to
what constitutes a legitimate struggle for national liberation and
self-determination - as Armenians know only too well. Cliched or not,
the argument is based around a very simple premise - and one that the
United States has taken upon itself as its sole moral right to define.

The United States has even found itself in the same situation as that
which the Italian Government now faces - appeasing and courting figures
such as Gerry Adams and Yasser Arafat, much to the initial condemnation
of their respective opponents - the United Kingdom and Israel. In just
a few short years, both figures were transformed from terrorists to
freedom fighters, from political representatives to peacemakers. The
official line was a belief that through recognition and negotiation,
peace could be achieved. What is the difference in the case of Ocalan
and the PKK?

Quite simply, the difference is one of military and economic
allegiance. Turkey is the United States' ally, and the PKK represent
just as much a threat to the interests of the US in the Middle East
and the former Soviet Union as to the Turkish Government. The PKK has
become personified as the most criminal and terrorist force to plague
the modern world just as the PLO and the ANC [in South Africa] were
before them.  Not the government-backed contra-guerilla death squads
that operate against the Kurdish civilian population in Turkey's south
east, or their US military advisors operating out of Diyarbakir, but
quite simply, the new world evil is the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK) organisation in all of its forms - the ARGK
(People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan - the Guerillas), the ERNK
(National Liberation Front of Kurdistan - the political wing), and the
YAJK (The Free Women's Union of Kurdistan). In point of fact, the
organisation is not unlike many other similar groups that the United
States and its European allies have themselves funded, excused and
armed in the past, perhaps with the exception that the PKK might
actually represents more of a popular mandate than any of the
Latin-American death-squads and paramilitary organisations that the
United States has itself supported politically and militarily.

While the US official line - and many US newspaper editorials - are
criticising and condemning Ocalan, pushing instead for an exchange
with Leyla Zana - the Kurdish woman MP elected to the Turkish
Parliament but arrested and imprisoned in 1994 - it has to be pointed
out that Zana herself is firmly behind the national liberation
struggle as led by Ocalan and the PKK.  Ocalan is now in the situation
of representing the reality that peace will not come to fruition - as
in the Occupied Territories and Northern Ireland - without a genuine
realisation that political negotiation to end the troubles between all
the protagonists is necessary. Zana, in an open letter from prison in
1997 put it simply: " A genuine majority of Kurdish people recognises
the PKK as the indispensable party for the resolution of this historic
issue. And on account of this, the Kurdish people sees the PKK - which
emerged originally from within the Kurdish nation - as having the
right to debate and determine the various proposals such as autonomy,
federation or even independence."

With justification of Ocalan's extradition repeatedly referring to
casualty figures in the region of thirty thousand, it should be
pointed out that much of these casualties represent not civilian or
even Turkish military deaths. The figures to a large extent are made
up of those PKK guerillas killed by Turkish military search-and-
destroy missions in the Turkish southeast and in the "safe-haven" of
Northern Iraq. Likewise, if mention is to be made of those that the
PKK has been responsible for killing and murdering, perhaps too,
reference should be made to the 3,000 Kurdish villages decimated by
the Turkish army, and the hundreds who have been killed, tortured and
"disappeared" in Turkish police and military custody. Indeed, to force
the extradition of Ocalan on the basis of figures that even the
Turkish Government downplayed until very recently, would really only
be little more than inviting a continuation of the very cause of those
deaths in the first place.

Hypocrisy in the example of any promotion of the need for political
dialogue between the PKK and the Turkish Government will only result
in the perpetuation of the conflict. If Ocalan were extradited to
Turkey, more Kurds would join the struggle - and if Ocalan stays in
Europe, more will also become part of a movement that now seems
unstoppable. The ramifications of not using the opportunity to force a
reasoned political agreement will result in a worsening of the
situation. With or without Ocalan at the head of the PKK, the
organisation is attempting to extend its influence over the Kurdish
populations of the Middle East and the Caucasus. Ocalan's arrival in
Rome has only strengthened the determination and allegiance of that
population, and to attempt to vilify Ocalan now would only result in
the spread of Kurdish revolution and force hostility and hatred
towards Europe and the United States. It would also force a regional
instability that the democratic western powers have so far been
seeking to avoid.

There is not one country on Turkey's borders that would remain
unaffected by the outcome, over the next few months, of Ocalan's
detention and subsequent release in Rome. It is in everyone's interest
to negotiate a considered and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish
Question in Turkey, to avoid destabilizing the entire region. The
consequence for other countries in the region, - with their own
Kurdish populations, - specially on Turkey's borders, if they ignore
the need for recognition and discussion of the Kurdish Question, will
be incalculable.

Whatever happens to Ocalan, there is now no escaping the fact that the
Kurdish struggle - as represented by the PKK - has become stronger,
more determined, and with an increased momentum behind it that can
only result in some form of autonomy for the Kurds in south east
Turkey. The only uncertain factor is with regards to the timescale
over which such an inevitability will occur, and how many more will
have to die first.

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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. He currently
lives and works in Armenia. His work on the Kurds can be seen
online at:  http://www.freespeech.org/oneworld/photo/

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