Blood and Belief

Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence

Aliza Marcus
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 363
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  • Book Info
    Blood and Belief
    Book Description:

    The Kurds, who number some 28 million people in the Middle East, have no country they can call their own. Long ignored by the West, Kurds are now highly visible actors on the world's political stage. More than half live in Turkey, where the Kurdish struggle has gained new strength and attention since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq.

    Essential to understanding modern-day Kurds-and their continuing demands for an independent state-is understanding the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party. A guerilla force that was founded in 1978 by a small group of ex-Turkish university students, the PKK radicalized the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, becoming a tightly organized, well-armed fighting force of some 15,000, with a 50,000-member civilian militia in Turkey and tens of thousands of active backers in Europe. Under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, the war the PKK waged in Turkey through 1999 left nearly 40,000 people dead and drew in the neighboring states of Iran, Iraq, and Syria, all of whom sought to use the PKK for their own purposes. Since 2004, emboldened by the Iraqi Kurds, who now have established an autonomous Kurdish state in the northernmost reaches of Iraq, the PKK has again turned to violence to meet its objectives.

    Blood and Beliefcombines reportage and scholarship to give the first in-depth account of the PKK. Aliza Marcus, one of the first Western reporters to meet with PKK rebels, wrote about their war for many years for a variety of prominent publications before being put on trial in Turkey for her reporting. Based on her interviews with PKK rebels and their supporters and opponents throughout the world-including the Palestinians who trained them, the intelligence services that tracked them, and the dissidents who tried to break them up-Marcus provides an in-depth account of this influential radical group.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5956-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Note to Readers
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acronyms
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    ONE CHILLY FALL night in 1978, a small group of university dropouts and their friends gathered behind blacked-out windows in Turkey’s southeast to plan a war for an independent Kurdish state. Driven by their revolutionary zeal and moral certitude, the young men and women did not see any serious barriers to their success. But outsiders might have been forgiven for thinking otherwise. Turkey’s military had hundreds of thousands of experienced soldiers. A NATO member, its government was a close ally of the United States and its armed forces recently had showed their fortitude in the swift occupation of northern Cyprus....

  6. Prologue Imagining a State
    (pp. 7-12)

    ON A CRISP fall day in 1978, Huseyin Topgider boarded a bus in the Turkish city of Elazig for the three-hour trip to Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region. It was late afternoon and like most of the male passengers, Topgider smoked one cigarette after another as the bus drove over the winding roads that cut through the rugged terrain. But unlike the others, Topgider, a slightly built Kurdish man in his mid-twenties, kept to himself during the ride. Now and then he offered his neighbor a cigarette, or commiserated when someone spoke of the political anarchy gripping...

  7. I Ocalan, Kurds, and the PKK’s Start
    • 1 The Origins of the PKK, 1949–1976
      (pp. 15-32)

      ABDULLAH OCALAN WAS born in a typical farming village in Sanliurfa, a province just on the edge of the Kurdish region.¹ He often said he did not know for sure the exact year of his birth. His parents registered it as 1949, but as sometimes was the case among rural people in Turkey, the registration might have been delayed a year or two due to disinterest in such official matters or to give young Abdullah a better chance once he was conscripted in the army. The area where he grew up was populated by Kurds, Turks, and Armenians and the...

    • 2 Abdullah Ocalan, Leader, 1975–1980
      (pp. 33-51)

      IN MARCH 1975, the Kurdish nationalist movement suffered its biggest blow since the collapse in 1946 of the Mahabad republic in Iran’s Kurdish region.¹ Iraqi Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani, whose military prowess and nationalist fervor had driven a nearly 15-year-old on-again, off-again armed struggle with Baghdad for Kurdish autonomy in Iraq’s north, was forced to admit total and final defeat. On March 6, Tehran and Baghdad had settled their long-standing border disputes during an OPEC meeting in Algiers. As part of the Algiers accord, the Kurds, so ably used and armed by Iran and its ally the United States...

    • 3 The Flight to Survive, 1980–1982
      (pp. 52-75)

      IBRAHIM AYDIN WAS on guard duty in the mountains abutting Kiziltepe, a Kurdish city-town not far from the border with Syria, when the military coup was announced.¹ Aydin, who heard the news on his portable radio, woke the others. Aydin’s team of about a dozen PKK militants was responsible for maintaining ties between the militants inside Turkey and the PKK leader. They helped couriers cross the border, found safe houses around Kiziltepe, and arranged meetings to announce plans and tactics. The coup, they agreed that day, did not change their responsibilities or goals. If anything, it only emphasized the need...

    • 4 On the Road to War, 1982–1984
      (pp. 76-86)

      THE FORMER PKK militant best known as Sari Baran, a tall, gangly man with deep-set eyes, was sent to northern Iraq late in 1982 as part of the gradual shift of PKK militants in Syria to makeshift bases closer to the Turkish border. The winter months are brutal in the mountains of Kurdistan, and it is near-impossible to move through the treacherous terrain, but by March areas start to turn passable. It was then, in 1983, that Baran and two other men slipped across the border from northern Iraq into Turkey, and began a six-month trek to map out that...

  8. II The PKK Consolidates Power
    • 5 Loyalty and Violence, 1985–1990
      (pp. 89-106)

      TWO YEARS BEFORE the PKK launched its war, Cetin Gungor, a high-ranking member of the group’s European committee, began to argue for internal reform.¹ Gungor, by all accounts a hardworking, intelligent, and committed PKK militant, had come to think the group was too authoritarian and he especially was uncomfortable with the way PKK members voted: They wrote their names on their so-called secret ballots. Gungor’s concerns had developed during the year he spent working for the PKK in Europe—he was sent there in 1981 to build up a local support network among Kurdish refugees—and he hoped to spark...

    • 6 The Struggle to Succeed, 1985–1990
      (pp. 107-130)

      SELAHATTIN CELIK FINALLY made it back into Turkey around the middle of 1985, crossing the mountains that led from northern Iraq to the Sirnak area of southeast Turkey. “We were about 30 or 50 people and it had to be done carefully, but Turkish soldiers couldn’t control the whole mountain range on the border,” he recalled. Once, during an earlier foray into Turkey, Celik had met up with his father and brother in their old village. This time, it was impossible to consider such a meeting. The Turkish military’s offensive had dealt a blow to the relatively inexperienced guerrilla units....

    • 7 The Deluge, 1988–1991
      (pp. 131-152)

      ZEKI OZTURK, LATER known as Azman, was a lawyer before he joined the PKK. He picked law school partly because of pressure from his grandfather, a former government parliamentarian put on trial after the 1960 military coup, and because of an American television program whose name he never managed to remember. But when he started practicing in 1985, two years after the military regime gave up power, he was disappointed.

      “What I encountered was very different [than I imagined],” said Azman, as he is better known. “On the one side, there were laws, but no real freedoms. And on the...

  9. III PKK Militants Fight for Control
    • 8 War in the Streets, 1991–1992
      (pp. 155-174)

      TWO MONTHS AFTER the Kurds in Nusaybin, Cizre, and other cities in the southeast took to the streets, chanting pro-PKK slogans and hurling rocks at state buildings and security forces, 22-year-old Ayhan Ciftci decided to join the rebels. “TheSerhildan[uprising] created a feeling of excitement,” said Ciftci, then a university student in Istanbul. “We Kurdish students believed that this time, we would be able to make a Kurdish state.”

      By his own admission, Ciftci did not know much about the PKK when he made his decision. The group’s publications were hard to find, and local newspaper reporting, which focused...

    • 9 Fueling the War, 1992–1993
      (pp. 175-199)

      THE PKK’S ABILITY to operate successfully in southeast Turkey was due to careful planning and courage—and no small amount of stubbornness and luck. Huseyin Topgider, a commander in the region Kurds called Garzan, once managed to cross a particularly dangerous strip of territory—land mines and Turkish military maneuvers had closed the planned route near the city-town Siirt—because sympathetic villagers insisted on loading the rebels on five trucks and driving them down the road past the police station. It was late in the summer of 1992, and villagers assured the doubtful rebels that the security forces never bothered...

    • 10 Mixing War and Politics, 1991–1993
      (pp. 200-220)

      BEFORE SNOW STARTED to fall in the mountains that cut across the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq and Turkey, Turkish jets began their counterattacks on PKK bases in northern Iraq. The bombing raids, which stretched from August 1991 to May 1992, were aimed at driving PKK rebels away from the Turkish border. But it was hard to pinpoint targets. The deep gorges and mountainside caves offered impenetrable shelter. Turkish ground troops, who sometimes took part, had little luck dislodging the rebels.

      The Turkish attacks raised some uncomfortable questions for the United States and allies Britain and France. These three countries...

    • 11 Change in Fortunes, 1993–1997
      (pp. 221-236)

      THE TURKISH MILITARY turned more aggressive after the PKK broke its own ceasefire in May 1993 and killed 33 unarmed soldiers on a bus stopped at a rebel blockade. PKK attacks now were met with all-out shows of force that made little distinction between civilian and rebel. In October of that year, rebels attacked a transformer, kidnapped two workers, and burned a school in the area around the town of Lice. In the ensuing clashes, a Turkish gendarmerie commander was shot dead. The military retaliated with a blunt show of force.¹ Lice, a town of 10,000 people, was closed off...

  10. IV Ocalan’s Capture and After
    • 12 The Decline, 1995–1998
      (pp. 239-253)

      SAIT CURUKKAYA, THE medical student turned PKK rebel, set off for northern Iraq in July 1995 to attend a meeting of senior military commanders. It was not an easy trip. Stepped-up Turkish military operations forced his team of 17 fighters to make long detours. Depleted supply depots—and very few friendly villages left—meant they never had enough food. By the time Curukkaya reached the city-town Siirt, about halfway to the border, he had no choice but to chance entering the urban center to get provisions. “We found a shop in one of the outlying neighborhoods,” said Curukkaya. “The owner...

    • 13 Searching for a New Way, 1995–1998
      (pp. 254-268)

      DR. SULEYMAN, KUCUK Zeki, and about a dozen other PKK militants left Zap camp for Syria at the end of 1995. Crossing the border was more difficult than expected—Syrian soldiers, who usually ignored the traffic, opened fire—but the militants got past safely. It had been almost five years since either man had seen Ocalan, and they were hopeful they could discuss the PKK’s deteriorating military situation with Ocalan face-to-face. But Ocalan made clear he would not accept challenges to his views.

      “He wasn’t the same Apo I had seen before,” explained Dr. Suleyman. “I saw more his real...

    • 14 Ocalan, Caught by Surprise, 1998–1999
      (pp. 269-285)

      IN THE SUMMER of 1998, Ocalan turned tense and short-tempered. He had a lot of mysterious meetings. Suddenly, he ordered the PKK’s two training compounds disbanded and militants were sent to other parts of the country and northern Iraq. “Syria told Ocalan there was a lot of pressure from Turkey and we have to change places,” recalled Batufa, a PKK fighter ordered to Ocalan’s villa in Aleppo. “And the camps were closed.”

      This was not the first time Syria ordered Ocalan to close down a PKK training facility or tried to limit his movements inside Syria. In 1991, he reportedly...

    • 15 The PKK Saves Itself, 1999–2007
      (pp. 286-300)

      IN AUGUST 1999, two months after Ocalan was sentenced to death, he publicly called for PKK forces to withdraw from Turkey and give up the armed struggle. His demand was made via statements released by his lawyers, who regularly made public the transcripts of their meetings.

      “People thought Ocalan was making this call to end the fighting for a purpose,” said Neval, who was in northern Iraq at the time. “People didn’t want to think he had given up.” Neval hoped the PKK’s Presidential Council would reject Ocalan’s leadership. “The issue was not the war for me, it was the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 301-306)

    “TURKEY’S KURDS USED to face Istanbul,” remarked a friend of mine, Tayfun Mater, a former activist in the militant Turkish left, a current activist in the Turkish peace movement, and an often-prescient commentator. He meant that many Kurds, whether or not they backed the PKK, once believed that the answer to the Kurdish problem lay in the multicultural streets of Istanbul, that Turks and Kurds might jointly come up with a mutually agreeable solution. “But these days, they face Iraq,” he said.

    In 2003, the United States and allied troops invaded Iraq, overthrew Saddam Hussein, and disbanded the country’s military....

  12. Timeline
    (pp. 307-312)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 313-334)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-342)
  15. Index
    (pp. 343-350)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 351-351)