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FLAK: PKK THUGS?

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In your January 2009 issue, you noted (page 60) the existence of "PKK thugs." Some would declare that the real thugs are the leaders of the Turkish government who deny the reality of the Kurdish people, calling them "Mountain Turks" and doing all that is possible to crush their independent culture in a way different from Saddam Hussein only in degree.

You might wish to "check out" your sources on this issue to ensure that they are not Turks or persons who derive benefits from or through the Turkish government or interests. You might ask some of our troops who have been fortunate enough to serve in Kurdish-controlled parts of Iraq as to their opinions.

James Pawlak

The author responds:

Turkey has quashed Kurdish independence efforts since the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds launched several unsuccessful revolts, and Turkey declared martial law after a 1937 revolt.

A fitful calm continued until the late 1970s, when Kurdish nationalism manifested itself through the Socialist Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK under Abdullah Ocalan’s leadership. The PKK attempted to assassinate a Kurdish tribal chief, and civil strife within the Kurdish region continued for a few years. Ocalan exported his training camps to the Bekaa Valley in Syria.

The PKK took advantage of the 1980 Turkish coup, linked up with the terrorist group the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), and other Communist groups. Abuses and slaughter of the Kurds and the Armenians have been well documented since WWI, but the terror tactics the PKK and ASALA used were not justified in the eyes of the world.

In 1984, the PKK launched a guerilla war in southeast Turkey, targeting fellow Kurds who were seen as siding with the Turks, as well as Turkish troops. Both sides slaughtered civilians, with over 5,000 civilian deaths by the mid-1990s.

Human Rights Watch blamed the PKK for at least 768 extra-judicial killings of “civil servants and teachers, political opponents, off-duty police officers and soldiers, and those deemed by the PKK to be ‘state supporters’” to the group, along with at least 25 massacres of civilians in the mid 1990s. By 1993, the PKK had outraged the world when it detonated bombs in several hotels and restaurants, injuring 28, including 12 foreigners. The PKK kidnapped 19 tourists that same year, bombing near an ATM machine and a tourist bus, wounding more tourists. Before the end of the year, the PKK assassinated two dissidents seeking safe haven in Iran and initiated a series of attacks against Turkish consulates in Europe.

Attacks on tourists continued through the 1990s. A British tourist was killed and several other foreigners were kidnapped. In 1998, two PKK terrorists threw a bomb from a motorcycle, wounding three tourists.

I was living in Europe during the height of Ocalan’s mischief, and working in Europe off and on in 1998 when the suicide bombings began. Syria was pressured into expelling Ocalan. From there he went to Italy, fearing the death penalty in Turkey. Like many such cowards who take lives and fear for their own, Ocalan begged for mercy.

Italy, as member of the Council of Europe that forbids the death penalty, did not extradite Ocalan, but he was forced to leave in 1999. He made his way to Kenya, and while seeking asylum at the Greek embassy, he was captured and sent to Turkey for trial. As an international lawyer, I must say I quite enjoyed watching justice at work during the trial. He is now serving time in solitary confinement. Turkey, seeking EU membership, did not execute him. He sued Greece for allowing him to be captured in their Kenyan embassy.

Ocalan was forced into calling for a truce. An uneasy calm continued for five years. The restless PKK renamed itself Kongra-Gel and went back to its terrorist ways. The PKK has been accused of several more attacks since then, in which several innocent people have been killed.

There is no doubt that the dynamics in the Kurdish areas have changed since the U.S. invasion and the Kurdish people have hope for sovereignty. I have met many fine Kurds in Turkey and throughout Europe. But any time that I hear that the PKK launched attacks against innocent people, I will continue to call those perpetrators “thugs,” and that, sir, is a nicety.

Thanks for writing and keep on reading SOF. I expect fireworks in the near future. Turkey will not stand for a Kurdish state with the huge number of Kurds in Turkey. I hope that my prediction is wrong, because the conflict could only result in a bloodbath.

Dr. Martin Brass