The PKK Strategy in Europe to Place Turkey on Trial
By Michael Radu
Foreign Policy Research Institute-February 26, 1999
After the arrest of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) “Chairman” Abdullah Ocalan on February 16 in Kenya, and his subsequent transfer to a Turkish jail to stand trial, widespread “Kurdish” demonstrations erupted throughout Europe, Canada, Australia, and the Middle East the very following day.
In the Middle East the protests were centered in Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey, none of which is surprising. Under the protection of Beirut’s overlords in Syria, Lebanon has since 1984 been a haven of PKK training and recruitment. And Iran, not exactly a friend of either Kurdish independence or democratic expression, is ruled by a regime for whom any weakening of Turkey is welcome. As for Turkey, its southeastern region remains infiltrated by the PKK.
More interesting was the geographic scope of demonstrations in Europe: from Berlin, London, Stockholm, Milan, Rome, Marseille, Amsterdam, and Brussels in the west, to Bucharest and Moscow in the east; and also in smaller cities such as Heilbronn, Dresden, and Leipzig. The targets — all highly prized public relations objectives — were diplomatic missions, mostly Greek, as well as Israeli and Kenyan, and offices of international organizations in Switzerland.
The convenient conclusion, shared by willfully ignorant members of the media and leftist parties in Europe and America, was that these protests abundantly demonstrated universal Kurdish support for the man known as “Apo” and his Maoist PKK. The actual size of the demonstrations, however, suggest a carefully coordinated attempt by a small group bent on publicity. The following figures are taken from pro-PKK internet sources; in Berlin, there were 150 protesters, including children; in Frankfurt 50, and in Bonn between 20 and 30 — all in a country with half a million immigrants of Kurdish origin, out of an estimated West European total of 850,000. In Milan the protesters totalled 20, and in Rome a similar number –although there an Italian communist cabinet minister was involved. In London there were 50, the same number as in Bern, and in Moscow, which historically has been supportive of the PKK, 15 were arrested in the takeover of the Greek embassy. “Kurdish” protests also took place in Melbourne, Montreal, and Toronto — and a small, quiet, almost invisible group demonstrated in Washington.
In addition to the small turnout there are three other reasons to conclude that these events were neither “spontaneous” nor broadly “Kurdish” but rather the actions of a well-organized underground terrorist organization amply funded through heroin trafficking, racketeering, and illegal alien smuggling operations in Western Europe.
First, it strains belief that “Kurdish” hostage-taking throughout Europe, Canada, and Australia was spontaneous. Even the spectacular acts of fanatical self-immolation had already been rehearsed during Ocalan’s initial arrest in Italy last year. The telling evidence of planning is that — contrary to the PKK’s long- standing ideological belief that the main enemy is ultimately “imperialism” (i.e., the United States) — there were no attacks against U.S. installations. The reason is clear: the PKK Central Committee controlling the “Kurdish” demonstrations realizes that, after the PKK’s military defeat in Turkey, provoking a hostile reaction from the American public and Congress would work against its real strategic goal — a public relations campaign to discredit Turkey.
Second, the PKK strategy of blurring the distinction between the Kurds in the diaspora and Its own murderous Maoism should be seen for what it is — another aspect of the public relations campaign. The overwhelming majority of Kurds In Europe and even in Turkey do not support, belong to, or want anything to do with the PKK or “Apo.” Those who do should be treated as a security threat everywhere.
Third, as an “internationalist” organization — and one need only check the PKK’s 1995 Fifth Congress documents, all freely available on the Internet – the group’s ideology and practice is profoundly incompatible with democracy. Sharing the same Maoist legacy with the Khmer Rouge and Shining Path, the PKK is an immediate threat to free societies in Turkey and throughout Europe.
Europe and the United States have to prepare to deal harshly and promptly with the Maoist remnants of Ocalan’s organization. Unfortunately, too many European politicians, media outlets, and legal authorities have replaced common sense with romantic “feelings” about the Kurds, an error with potentially catastrophic consequences. It is incomprehensible that MED-TV, a pro-PKK satellite outfit, can continue advocating Ocalan’s cause from Belgium under a British licence. It is shameful that self-proclaimed human rights groups should suddenly be preoccupied with Ocalan’s “rights” rather than those of his Kurdish victims or Turkish sovereignty. And it is unreasonable for governments not known for their effective justice systems — Russians, Iranians, Italians, and Greeks among others — to be providing advice to Turkey.
Indeed, government responses to the wave of “spontaneous Kurdish reactions” to Ocalan’s capture varied, largely in direct relation to the size of their Kurdish community and, more significantly, the nature of the government. In Romania the anti- communist government had no qualms about beating up the few Kurds trying to demonstrate illegally; the police there were already encouraged by their unexpected success in defeating a pro-communist quasi insurrection by violent miners. In Germany the leftist government, under attack from the opposition and the public for renouncing its own arrest warrant against Ocalan for crimes committed on its territory, threatened to “deport” Kurdish troublemakers. How credible that threat is remains to be seen, but
in light of a German intelligence report (done under the previous government) that estimated the local PKK cadres at 10,000 with an additional 40,000 supporters, the PKK threat to domestic law and order is indeed serious.
The PKK’s game is obvious: to galvanize a broad spectrum of the European Left on its behalf. On February 25, taking advantage of the funeral of three PKK militants killed on February 17 while trying to take over the Israeli consulate, they managed to assemble a crowd of 8,500 people in Berlin. That demonstration brought together pacifists, the city’s ubiquitous street cafe activists, as well as Kurds who appear to have come to express ethnic solidarity with their dead kin rather than ideological support for the PKK. Forty-four were arrested for displaying the banned PKK symbols.
The results, however, may not have been what they expected. The February 25 demonstration in Berlin seems to have been enough for the German government to declare the PKK a “terrorist organization,” upgrading its earlier designation of the PKK as a “criminal organization.” As for the nervous Swiss, after some 50(!) Kurdish militants threatened foreign embassies in Bern, and a few others did the same in Geneva and Zurich — again in solidarity with those killed in Berlin — they openly considered using the army for riot control.
The big losers, naturally enough (given their long-standing and not so well hidden support for Ocalan and the PKK), were the Greek and Greek-Cypriot governments — both of which have been involved in the Ocalan imbroglio, to the discomfiture of the European Union. The wave of PICK assaults on their embassies in Europe, even though they turned out to be non-violent, must have been more than disappointing.
Despite the PKK’s totalitarian Ideology and criminal record, Greek, Italian, British and German parliamentarians have already gone on record supporting it, and former lawyers for German and
Italian terrorists are also openly trying to manipulate European Union concerns about Ocalan’s trial. Such actions work quite effectively to the advantage of PKK terrorism and its strategic goals.
The issue, ultimately, is one of historic memory. Too many leftist politicians in Europe (some of whom now share government power) never believed that the Cold War made sense — that Marxism was a threat to freedom, or that “bourgeois” democratic values were worth defending. But the Cold War is not dead as far as the PKK’s Maoists are concerned, and they may succeed where the European New Left never did — for they have learned to pick up a new vocabulary without setting aside an old program. They have discovered that their methods, goals, and ideology can all beforgotten, indeed sanctified in the name of “self-determination” and “human rights.”