The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or Partia Karkaran-e Kurdistan,
was founded on November 7th, 1978, by Abdullah Öcalan and twelve
of his fellow students. Öcalan is often called the ‘apo’,
meaning uncle. His humble Kurdish beginnings did not limit this man's
ambition. He was educated at Ankara University, and after he was arrested
for handing out pro-Kurdish leaflets in 1971, he came out of jail calling
himself a "professional revolutionary." He strongly believed
in the Marxist-Leninist doctrines and eventually became a Maoist, advocating
an uprising of the common people, or in this case, the Kurds. The PKK's
enthusiastic young founders viewed themselves as progressive representatives
of the Kurdish minority, with the sole intention of establishing a 'democratic
and united Kurdistan.'
Unfortunately, frustrated by their initial attempts to realize their
bright ideals, the newly disbanded PKK turned to terrorism. In their
zeal, these PKK participants first targeted the landlords and leaders
of tribes ‘representing the chauvinist class.’ After much
bloody combat and controversy, the Turkish government and army started
to take seriously the threats from this insurgent group of separatists.
Soon after, a ban on speaking Kurdish was initiated, adding to the already
existing bans on Kurdish radio programs, Kurdish newspapers, as well
as teaching in Kurdish. Starting in the early 1980s, PKK guerrillas
began to raid and spread fear among the border towns of Turkey. The
PKK leader Öcalan directed his war against Turkey from Syria and
Lebanon, countries happy to use the PKK to agitate their Turkish neighbors.
According to Jonathan Rugman and Roger Hutchings, the authors of Atatürk's
Children, "Turkey is unfortunate in being surrounded by countries
which, largely because of the colonial Ottoman past, dislike Turks and
want to keep Turkey's regional power in check."
In the early 1990s, the PKK changed its tactics, attacking urban areas
rather than rural communities. With more than 1500 armed guerillas,
the PKK in northern Iraq struck Baghdad, after the defeat of President
Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, but this effort to gain control proved futile.
Abdullah Öcalan was arrested in Kenya by Turkish government officials
in 1999; he then declared a 'peace initiative' in order to increase
the odds of his release, renaming the PKK the Kurdistan Freedom and
Democracy Congress (KADEK). Öcalan claimed that this new organization
was focused on promoting Kurdish rights through acts of nonviolence.
The conflict between
Turks and Kurds still exists as a major problem in the unity of Turkey.
In 2002, Turkey was refused entrance into the European Union largely
on account of past human rights records, and EU officials demanded the
unconditional release of the Kurdish MPs arrested in 1994, including
Leyla Zana. In early 2004, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met American
president George Bush in Washington D.C., to discuss Turkey's potential
admission into the European Union.