MESOP: THE PORTRAIT OF A STALINIST PARTY (PKK) BY SHERI LAIZER – Distorting the Kurdish Question in Turkey

March 24, 2015 by Sheri Laizer in Exclusive, PKK – The Kurds of Turkey need to wake up to the realities of Imrali policy, and appoint, or better still, elect a new leader and abandon the personality cult of Abdullah Ocalan that diminishes their demands to the point where these demands – and the huge sacrifices made – are losing all meaning. Just when the PKK’s affiliate, the PYD, in Syria is stronger than ever before (backed by weaponry and logistics from the International community), jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan calls for the PKK to lay down its arms. And it’s not the first time.

For those whose memory is short, let’s recall how on 2 April 1998, before being expelled from Syria n or leaving by choice – Abdullah Ocalan spoke on MED TV announcing that the PKK was eager to press for a new ceasefire. To this end, he revealed he had sent letters to PM Mesut Yilmaz as well as to the Chief of Staff. To smooth the way he also accused former PKK commander, Semdin Sakik, of being responsible for the deaths of the 33 unarmed Turkish officers during the 1993 ceasefire.

In a report by Hurriyet published on 9 April 1998, Ocalan “praised” the Turkish army. That same report revealed that in response to Ocalan’s accusations against him Sakik had called the BBC Turkish Service and told how Ocalan was responsible as he had given the command by radio urging iUse your right to respondî on learning that every day, units of a dozen or so guerrillas observing the unilateral ceasefire were being wiped out by the Turkish army. (Sakik provided even more details in his defence statement).

A year later, following his own kidnapping to Turkey on 12 February 1999, Ocalan was still ipraisingî the Turkish army. In his defence statement, “Declaration on the Democratic Solution of the Kurdish Question” we find the claim: “The (Turkish) army is more sensitive than the most seemingly democratic parties. … The army has taken upon itself to be the protector of democratic normsÖToday the army is not a threat to democracy, but on the contrary a force that guarantees that democracy will move on to next state in a healthy manner.” [1]

PYD success against ISIS

The timing of the latest call from Imrali strikes me as deeply suspicious given the PYD’s success against ISIS in Kobane and coming right before the Kurdish New Year, (Newroz). This is a time when historically pro-Kurdish tensions often manifest in violent confrontations with Turkish security forces. What’s more, let it not be forgotten how so recently the Turkish military stood by as Syrian Kurds battled and were being slain by ISIS terrorists and Ocalan was threatening to end the ceasefire. At the time, Erdogan claimed that both ISIS and the PKK were terrorists. So why should Ocalan call for an end to arms just as when he was first arrested? Are his captors still seducing him with promises he will not have to spend the rest of his life in prison if he gives them the PKK?

What was the deeper plan behind getting the PKK leader to Turkey?

For some time before Ocalan’s capture in 1999, contrary to the Turkish government saying in public “there will never be a dialogue with terroristsî in 1998 top level political and military figures were holding secret talks with figures linked with the PKK. As the talks progressed, the Turkish side pressed the PKK to announce a new ceasefire to coincide with International Peace Day on 1 September 1998. In a live broadcast screened by the PKK satellite channel, MED TV, on 19 October 1998, just ten days after Abdullah Ocalan had been driven out (or travelled out) of Syria, former ERNK spokesperson, Kani Yilmaz [2], revealed how prior to this event “the Turkish government asked the PKK to declare a ceasefire and specified details of this proposal…Some think we are just imagining that Turkey asked us to declare a ceasefire but it’s a fact. We’ve kept the messages sent by their officials asking for the ceasefire to be declared.

Two months later, Abdullah Ocalan demoted Kani Yilmaz and expelled him from Europe. In his statement to the Turkish court after this capture, Ocalan alleged that Kani Yilmaz had contacts with British and German Intelligence and that Europe was trying to install him as an alternative leader. Apo was frequently given to such speculation. It was baseless.

A clue was given that things were really going on behind closed doors when, writing for the New York Times on 27 September 1998, journalist, Stephen Kinzer, observed in connection with the PKK’s ceasefire announcement of 1st September 1988 how Ocalan “told journalists by telephone from an undisclosed location (Syria), ‘we should be given a fair chance in politics. If we are given this chance in a democratic way we will give up our arms. We are ready for it.’ ” At the same time, Husamettin Cindoruk, a Turkish politician leading the CHP who Kinzer referred to as a “pillar of the establishment” claimed he had “broken ranks and urged the military to consider a solution along the lines of northern Ireland’s.”

Exactly a year later, when support for Ocalan and the PKK, following Ocalan’s kidnapping, had united the Kurds and their friends internationally, Abdullah Ocalan made his startling call from Imrali prison to the guerrillas: “Put down your weapons. Withdraw from inside Turkey.”

On 15 February 1999, on board a private jet bound for Turkey the unforgettable scenes of Ocalan, hands bound, amongst the masked men who had captured him, were broadcast to a triumphant Turkish nation. As a masked member of the Special Forces raised Ocalan’s blindfold, Ocalan murmured as if he had just woken up: “I am ready to help Turkey.” The Imrali period was about to begin.

Imrali dictates

The Imrali period continues today. Ocalan remains a pawn in the hands of his captors but the pro-PKK support base seemingly listens unquestioningly, still waves banners with Ocalan’s portrait and speaks of him with reverence as of a prophet. This is astonishing. Not only does the PKK’s heeding the dictates of a captive break its own rules but Ocalan still gets to call the ceasefires and urge disarmament. For what gains?

Back in late 1993, the Ministry of the Chief of Staff, the Foreign Ministry and General Directorate of Security (police) had begun a co-ordinated search and destroy intelligence operation into the PKK’s “camps” abroad and at home, its financial sources, directors (…). With this aim and to shore up any deficiencies the technical and personnel capability of the intelligence within the Ministry of the General Staff was enhanced; the counterpart unit in the Foreign Ministry was enlarged; the counter-terrorism Department was established with MIT; and the Intelligence Department within the General Directorate of Security (police) was strengthened. Meetings with those countries which harboured the organisation intensified in frequency and relations were established with the agencies of these friendly countries and the flow of information secured. As a result of this activity the organisation’s financial sources abroad were exposed….” [3]

This top-level Turkish search-and-destroy operation in the international arena was aimed at flushing out the PKK’s sources of financial viability, its intelligence and therefore its survival. The secret findings of the Susurluk Commission revealed that so as to launch this operation: “MIT, the Chief of Staff, the Gendarmerie General Command and security officers took part in forming a Special Operations group. To accomplish their work in this area, the Commanders, the Intelligence Chiefs, and Chiefs of Police participated in briefings in which Abdullah Ocalan was specified as the primary target. It was over to each individual security apparatus to take advantage of any channel open to it which it could use and for these to play an active role in the task at hand…” [4]

Well, they have him!

The concept of negotiations with Turkey had been put forward by Ocalan as early as 1996, which raises the question whether the negotiations actually go back to 1996 and not 1998. Turkey had been quick in seizing on Apo’s stated compromise. The Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote on 20 May 1996: “In an interview released yesterday, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan emphasized that the PKK had given up its hope of aiming for a separate Kurdish state and would instead be satisfied with broad autonomy for Kurds under Turkish rule. “It is very difficult to realise a Kurdish state. Other states in the Middle East would oppose this,” he told the German daily Die Welt. He held up Germany as a model. “If a free state of Kurdistan in Turkey could have as much autonomy as, for example, Bavaria in Germany, then we would no longer have to wage our battle that has claimed so many victims,” he said. [5]

What was there to account for this radical change of tone at that time, as again during the 1998 ceasefire, when all the external signs pointed against believing in Turkey’s desire for peace?

From demanding an independent Kurdish State – which had already cost the lives of thousands of Kurdish patriots – the head of the PKK was publicly endorsing the territorial integrity of the Turkish Republic and the legal actions of its army.

In October 2000, details of General Cevik Bir’s subversive “Andic” Plan came out, and in March 2002, retired Colonel Korkut Eken’s revelations on Susurluk and many dark secrets at the heart of the Turkish Deep State were again in the headlines.

The “Andic” plan was formulated after the capture of Semdin Sakik on 13 April 1998. The Chief of Staff, seizing the opportunities this presented, then prescribed for “supplements” to be made to Semdin Sakik’s interrogation statements. These “supplementary statements” were intended to frame certain persons and organisations as having been in contact with the PKK. By using key friends of military intelligence working in the press, these “enemies within” would then be derided in public.

Chief of Staff’s Office confirmed war on going against the PKK In its formal written response while the office of the Chief of Staff tried to argue “that plans were sometimes drafted in the General Staff based on information from the intelligence services, many of those plans were never implemented and that was the case with this one…the army leadership fully supported the initiators of the plan,” it admitted that “Turkey’s security forces are continuing their battle against the terrorist PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, and that part of that battle consists of moving against Turkish and foreign elements which provide moral support to the bloodthirsty PKK…” [6]

The capture and arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on 15 February 1999 was a national humiliation for the Kurds. Was this not one of the key objectives behind Susurluk and the Andic Plan as revealed in their once secret documents?

The cracks first appeared in the PKK when the ‘negotiations’ started. Whether these cracks were the result of, or parallel to the negotiations is not clear. What is clear, however, is that as a result of Ocalan’s ‘negotiations approach’, key individuals and substantial splinter groups successively broke away in protest from the main line PKK.

It appears that the PKK’s organisation is in fact structured in such a way that only one voice can be heard above all others – the voice of Ocalan as its leader and since his capture despite being in the hands of the very forces the PKK has fought against for almost forty years?

“Lay Down Your Arms”

Expressed anew at Kurdish New Year, 2015, the same call as after his capture in 1999 to lay down your arms appears in numerous articles and news reports. Kurdish website Rudaw observes: Ocalan suggested a “democratic solution” for the Kurdish problem and said that the new era for Kurds in Turkey “would be based on free, egalitarian, constitutional citizenship within the Republic of Turkey.”

“We believe it is necessary for PKK to set up a congress to end the 40-year-long armed struggle” against Turkey, the jailed leader said. [7]

There is nothing new in this. From the ‘peace’ initiatives of PKK guerrillas surrendering themselves to Turkey in 1999 only to face long prison sentences [8], and further groups in October 2009 along with the repeated to call to withdraw from the borders of Turkey as part of the 2013 unilateral ceasefire, Turkey wants it all and Ocalan has no choice but to give if he is to keep eating his dinner on Imrali island.The Kurds of Turkey need to wake up to the realities of Imrali policy, and appoint, or better still, elect,a new leader and abandon the personality cult of Abdullah Ocalan that diminishes their demands to the point where these demands – and the huge sacrifices made – are losing all meaning.

[1] English translation by the Kurdistan Information Centre, London, Mesopotamian

[2] Kani Yilmaz was assassinated by the PKK in Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan on 11 February 2006. He and others had split from the PKK opposed to continuing armed confrontation with Turkey. About to return to Europe for the first time since being sent to Iraq by Öcalan just before Apo left Rome, a car bomb placed behind his seat insured there would be no opposition mounted by Yilmaz from Europe. See, Appendices to the posthumous publication of a book on this period by Kani Yilmaz, Kurt Sorunu, Kemalizm, PKK sistemi ve Ulsual Birlik Çozumu, (The Kurdish Problem, Kemalism, the PKK System and the Solution of National Unity), Veng Yayilari, Diyarbakir, April 2007

[3] TC BTKB (Secret page) 103

[4] TC BTKB (Secret page) 104

[5] Turkish press review. 20 May 1996

[6] MIT Raporu, published in detail in the weekly Aydinlik, 21 September 1996 and extracted in other Turkish newspapers the following day.


[8] Two groups of PKK members came to Turkey in 1999 on a similar peace mission, but they were arrested and jailed for belonging to the PKK.


Sheri Laizer, a Middle East specialist and well known commentator on the Kurdish issue.