by Eric Margolis
ZURICH - "We have no friends but the mountains." So say Kurds, a people
whose long agony and national tragedy are only now coming to be known by
the outside world.
Last week, in a stranger than fiction scenario, charismatic Kurdish rebel
leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was kidnapped by Turkish commandos in Nairobi,
Kenya, of all places, where he had been hiding in the Greek Embassy, and
flown back to Turkey to stand trial for his life. The leader of the
outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, is Turkey's public enemy number
Turkey had no intelligence capability in East Africa. Ocalan was clearly
tracked and shadowed by US intelligence and, very likely, Israeli
intelligence. Both services have important posts in Nairobi, and work
closely to monitor East Africa. Israel, Turkey's new strategic ally,
provides Ankara with substantial anti-guerrilla training, equipment, and
interrogation techniques. The US supplies Turkey's 525,000-man army with
weapons, including armor and helicopters used to fight PKK guerrillas in
Greece was enormously- and rightly- embarrassed by revelations it had been
hiding Ocalan at its Nairobi embassy. Three senior Greek government
ministers resigned. Ocalan and the PKK are branded `terrorists' by NATO,
of which Greece is a member. In fact, Greece has long secretly armed and
financed the PKK to bedevil old foe Turkey. So have Armenian groups.
Greece also covertly aids Serbia, in direct violation of a NATO boycott.
When Ocalan was seized, he was carrying a Greek Cypriot diplomatic
I've followed the Kurdish question for decades, and covered the 15-year
old guerrilla war between the PKK and Turkey in bleak eastern Anatolia.
This complex, tragic drama leaves me torn, and sympathetic to both sides.
There are 25-30 million Kurds, spread across five nations, but most
numerous in Turkey and Iraq, where they account for 20% and 23%,
respectively, of the population. The world's second largest tribal
society after Pathans, Kurds are of ancient Indo-European origin, with
distinct society, customs, and language. Yet these admirable, courageous
highlanders have never had their own nation.
President George Bush's foolish decision not to allow Saddam Hussein to
pull out of Kuwait in 1991, the ensuing Gulf War, and creation of a
US-protected mini-Kurdish state in northern Iraq, let the Kurdish genii
out if its bottle as this column repeatedly predicted it would back in
1990. The result has been massive upsurge of Kurdish nationalism that
destabilized Iraq and Turkey, the latter a close US ally. While war
bands, or `Pesh mergas' of `good,' US- backed Kurds battled Saddam, `bad'
Kurds fought Turkey. But then Turkey battled `good' Kurds in northern
Iraq, and so on.
The legitimate desire of the long-suffering Kurds to have their own nation
conflicts head-on with the fact they live in well-established nations who,
while they grant varying degrees of autonomy to Kurds, will never
voluntarily give up territory, some of it rich in oil, to a new Kurd
state. Kurds, for their part, have been unable to produce a common
leadership or policy; like all mountain peoples, they spend as much time
battling rival tribes as their lowland foes.
Kurds deserve better than PKK leader Ocalan, originally funded and armed
by the Soviet Union. He is a ruthless, Kurdish Stalin, who terrorized his
foes, and exterminated all rivals within the party. PKK guerillas
slaughtered large numbers up to 30,000 civilians, many of them Kurds
who would no cooperate with PKK extremists. Any PKK members who
`deviated' were summarily shot.
As I saw when covering the dirty war in eastern Anatolia, the fierce
Turkish Army was equally brutal battling the PKK. Guerrilla wars fought
in the midst of civilian populations are always bloody, savage affairs.
Supporters of Kurdish independence or greater autonomy have been
frequently murdered by Turkish security agents, and by gangsters, working
for the Turkish government. Torture of arrested Kurdish suspects is
Ocalan's dramatic capture and trial in Turkey will focus world attention
on the neglected Kurdish question. His trial and probable subsequent
hanging will only further inflame Kurdish nationalist passions, and make
it even less likely Turkey will ever be admitted, as it so ardently
desires, to membership in the European Union.
Ocalan has also become a new hero and martyr of Europe's left. When
Ocalan sought refuge in Italy, he was allowed to stay for a time, then
depart in spite of German arrest warrants by Italy's communist-led
government which, ironically, cheered the detention by Britain of
Chile's Sen. Pinochet on charges of human rights violations.
Interestingly, Turkey has cynically sided with NATO in attempting to deny Albanians of Kosova their
legitimate right to self-determination because Ankara fears its Kurds will seize
such a precedent to press for their own independence. This past weekend, at
so-called `peace' talks in France, Albanians, like Kurds, are once again being
sold out by the Great Powers, who are trying to force Albanian Kosovars to
accept bogus `autonomy' that keeps Kosova under brutal Serb rule.
PKK has been decapitated. Turkey has won a major victory and even,
managed to humiliate the Greeks. This triumph will embolden Turkey's real
rulers, the military, to press the war against the Kurds. The day after
Ocalan's arrest, Turkish troops once again invaded northern Iraq to fight
Kurdish separatists. But Kurds are legendary fighters; they will battle
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster
based in Toronto, Canada.]
[At a high level, U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts
on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture
their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey
from invading Iraq. . . .
The dormant PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) Turkish Kurd guerrilla fighters
came to life. By June, the Turkish government was demonstrating its concern
by lobbing artillery shells across the border.-- Robert Novak, "A New
Escapade," Human Events, July 30, 2007]
[Like many other nationalisms, Kurdish nationalism blossomed during the late 1800s. At
this point, all of the Kurdish homeland was ruled by the sprawling Ottoman Empire,
centered in present day-Turkey. But the Ottoman Empire collapsed after fighting on the
losing side of World War I. This, the Kurds understandably believed, was their moment.
The 1920 Treaty of Svres completely dismembered the Ottoman Empire, including most of
what's now Turkey, and allocated a section for a possible Kurdistan. But the Turks
fought back, making enough trouble that the U.S. supported a new treaty in 1923, the
Treaty of Lausanne. The Treaty of Lausanne allowed the British and French to carve off
present-day Iraq and Syria, respectively, for themselves. But it made no provision for
This was America's first, and smallest, betrayal of the Kurds.--Jon Schwartz, "THE
U.S. IS NOW BETRAYING THE KURDS FOR THE EIGHTH TIME,"
theintercept.com, October 7, 2019]
Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights