Workers around the world must support the struggle of the Kurdish people against the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Turkish and other regimes in the region. However, it is not sufficient to simply support the cause of the Kurdish people. It is also necessary to explain what lies behind the oppression of the Kurds and show a concrete way out of the impasse they are facing. The arrest of Abdullah Ocalan the leader of the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) in 1999, brought the oppression of the Kurdish people to the attention of the whole world. The Kurds are once again at the centre of attention with the tragic events unfolding in Kobane. Here we reproduce our Marxist analysis of the Kurdish question published at that time.
The arrest of Abdullah Ocalan the leader of the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan), has brought the oppression of the Kurdish people to the attention of the whole world. The Turkish government has attempted to portray Ocalan, as a bloody terrorist, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turks. It is true that many Turkish soldiers and civilians have died in the 15 year war against Kurdish separatism. But that is not the responsibility of one man. It is the result of the national oppression of the Kurds meted out by the Turkish ruling class, the same class that oppresses all workers in Turkey, whether Kurdish or Turkish. Thousands of Kurds have also died as a result of the operations of the Turkish army in South East Turkey.
Workers around the world must support the struggle of the Kurdish people against the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Turkish regime. However, it is not sufficient to simply support the cause of the Kurdish people. It is also necessary to explain what lies behind the oppression of the Kurds and show a concrete way out of the impasse they are facing.
The capture of Abdullah Ocalan, is part of a continuing onslaught on the Kurdish minority in Turkey. The fact that no European power was prepared to give Ocalan asylum shows that they all tacitly supported Turkey's demand for his arrest.
Ocalan had appealed to several European countries for political asylum, or at least an international trial. No one was prepared to give him asylum and yet the right to asylum is inscribed in all their constitutions. In reality they give the right to asylum to suit their purposes, but denied it to Ocalan.
Ocalan's quest for asylum
Germany, initially called for the arrest of Ocalan. When he arrived in Italy last year, seeking asylum, he was arrested because of the German request. But once arrested the German authorities did not request his extradition. The Germans did not want to be left with the hot potato. The Italian government was then left to try and solve the problem. It could not extradite Ocalan to Turkey because the Italian Constitution forbids extradition to countries that have the death penalty. So it resorted to putting pressure on him, to make him understand that he was not wanted. Forced to leave Italy he then spent weeks travelling around half the world looking for another safe haven. He appealed to the Greek government, but all they could come up with was their embassy in Kenya. And that turned out to be a trap.
This shows how the governments of the West all talk of self-determination for the smaller nations, but in reality they treat them as so much small change in their own manoeuvrings.
The CIA was clearly involved in tipping off the Turkish authorities of the presence of Ocalan in the Greek embassy in Nairobi. The Greek government also collaborated in tricking Ocalan into leaving the embassy, letting him believe that he was about to be flown to the Netherlands. It is obvious that the Greek government was put under enormous pressure by the United States. Turkey is an important ally in the area for the US.
However, the collaboration of the Greek government in the arrest of Ocalan has already destabilised the situation in Greece. The Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, has been under fire at home for letting Ocalan fall into Turkish hands. Greece's foreign minister and two other ministers were forced to resign over the affair. It has caused widespread discontent at what is seen as a betrayal. Simitis is facing opposition inside his own party, the Pasok. The youth of Pasok have organised demonstrations in solidarity with the Kurds, in open opposition to the party leadership.
According to the New York Times, "Papandreou [deputy foreign minister of the Pasok government] did not hide his dismay over the government's bungled diplomacy. 'By whatever mistakes, Greece has partial responsibility for turning Ocalan over to Turkey,' he said. 'There is an obvious feeling of humiliation in public opinion that has to be recognized.' The arrest of Ocalan, who was under Greek protection in Nairobi until he was seized by Turkish agents, was devastating to most Greeks, who sympathize with the Kurdish cause..." (New York Times, 19.2.99)
The popularity of Simitis was already lagging. This latest affair will further increase opposition to his government. In fact in the face of this opposition he has attempted to save his face by increasing anti-Turkish demagogy, and this is bound to increase tension between these two countries, both members of the NATO alliance.
Thus all the European governments share in the responsibility for the fate that now awaits Ocalan. In Turkey the authorities have managed to get a 36-page confession out of the man. We can but guess at the methods used to extract this confession. As The Guardian (26.2.99) commented, "Only Mr Ocalan's interrogators know what he has really said" obviously implying that torture may have been used.
Ocalan has now been charged with treason and the state is seeking the death sentence. The Western governments who all refused him asylum are now putting pressure on the Turkish government for a "fair trial". Behind this lies their understanding that if Ocalan were to be executed this would aggravate the situation among the Kurds even further.
Before these events unfolded many people had probably not even heard of the Kurds. But who are the Kurds? The number of Kurds totals about 24-27 million. Kurdistan has a territory the size of France. The bulk of Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, with smaller enclaves in the ex-Soviet republics of the Caucasus. The borders that divide Kurdistan are artificial borders that have been drawn against the will of the Kurdish people according to the interests of imperialism. These borders have divided villages, towns, even families.
The Kurds are one of the most ancient peoples of the Near East. They have been living in the area known as Kurdistan for about 2,500 years, long before the Turks arrived. They have their own language, which is divided into various dialects, and is unrelated to the Arabic or Turkish languages. Of the dialects the most widely spoken is Kurmanci. This is spoken by about 60% of all Kurds, and 90% of the Turkish Kurds speak it. The other main dialect, Sorani is spoken by about 25% of the Kurds, mainly in Iran and Iraq. There is a vast literature in the Kurdish language going back to the tenth century A.D. The overwhelming majority of Kurds are Moslems, about 75% of whom are Sunni and 15% are Alevite Moslems.
The Kurds have played a significant role in the history of this region going back to ancient times. According to Arab, and Armenian sources, the Kurds founded several important states during the Islamic epoch between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, as well as in the distant past. Sultan Salahaddin (Salâh al-Dîn) a Kurd was the founder of the Ayyûbid state, which included Egypt, Syria, and Kurdistan, and played a particularly significant role in history.
The Turks, whose roots are in Middle Asia, arrived in what is now known as Turkey much later, after the eleventh century, and founded the Selchuk and subsequently the Ottoman states. Kurdistan was fought over between the Ottoman and the Persian empires. The Kurdish princes, in this period, managed to maintain a certain autonomy by siding first with one then the other. However in 1638, Kurdistan was officially divided between the Ottoman and Persian empires in the Treaty of Kasri Shirin. From then on Kurdistan has been prey to foreign domination.
The betrayal of French and British imperialism
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Kurds fought for the unity and independence of Kurdistan, but were always defeated. But at the end of the First World War the Kurdish question re-emerged. The Ottoman Empire collapsed and the areas it previously dominated were carved up into new states. In 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres, was signed by Turkey and the Allied powers.
Article 64 of the Treaty stated that: " If within one year the Kurdish people within the areas defined in Article 62 [the area known as Kurdistan] shall .... show that the majority of the population of those areas desires independence from Turkey, and if the Council [of the League of Nations] then considers that these people are capable of such independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to execute such a recommendation and to renounce all rights and title over these areas."
Turkey initially defined its new borders as those "which include the areas settled by the Turkish and Kurdish majority". About 70 Kurdish Members of Parliament were present at the first session of the Great National Assembly in Ankara and were officially designated as the "MPs of Kurdistan". The Turkish representative, Ismet Pasha, declared at the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 that, "The Kurds are not a minority but a nation; the government in Ankara is the government of the Turks as well as of the Kurds."
That was simply to dupe the Kurds in Turkey. Both the Treaty of Sevres and the Treaty of Lausanne were dead letters from the moment they were signed. British and French imperialism had no intention of allowing the Kurds to have their own state. In the building up of the modern Turkish state there was no room for the Kurds. British imperialism tore up the Treaty of Sèvres and proceeded to deploy RAF aircraft against the Kurds in their mountain strongholds.
Subsequently the existence of the Kurds was denied. The Kurdish language, the practice of Kurdish culture, even the concepts of "Kurdish" and "Kurdistan" were forbidden. Article 39 of the Treaty of Lausanne, according to which the citizens of Turkey had the right to freely use their respective languages in all areas of life, was trampled upon, and the Kurdish language was totally forbidden in the educational system and the printed media. Speaking about the Kurds and criticising the oppression of them was held to be a severe crime and was massively punished.
The betrayal of the Kurds by British and French imperialism was embodied in the Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923 which parcelled out the region between Turkey, Iran and Iraq, with no mention of the Kurds. Thus those areas of Kurdistan which had been part of the Ottoman Empire were carved up once more. Part of them were included in the British and French Mandates, where Syria and Iraq later came into being. The biggest area of Kurdistan remained within Turkey.
As a result, in 1925 there was a large-scale revolt in southern Turkish Kurdistan and two years later a resistance movement developed that lasted three years in the north and east. These revolts were put down by the Turkish army, but only after fierce fighting and heavy casualties. The Turkish Government then introduced a series of measures aimed at absorbing the Kurds into the Turkish nation and wiping out their distinct national identity and culture. Most significantly, the study of the Turkish language was made compulsory, and the Kurds became known officially as " Mountain Turks".
This oppression of the Kurds led to further uprisings, the major ones taking place in Ararat in 1930 and in Dersim in 1938. The Turkish state waged war in Kurdistan on a permanent basis. And since 1979, Turkey has ruled Kurdistan through military law, a State of Emergency, and a dirty war.
To this day the Kurds in Turkey are not recognised as a minority because recognised minorities would have the right to teach in their respective languages. A ban imposed by Turkey's last military government on the use of Kurdish in everyday life was lifted in 1991, but Kurdish is still illegal in broadcasts and in educational or political settings. A court case to ban Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party is under way at this very moment. Even to defend the rights of the Kurds in a peaceful manner is considered a crime.
The plight of the Kurds in Iraq and in Iran
The Kurds living within the borders of Iraq, have also been resisting oppression since World War I. They staged uprisings in 1919-1923, and again in 1933 and later. The greatest Kurdish uprising in Iraq began in 1961 and lasted until 1970. Iraq's rulers formally recognised a Kurdish identity after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958. But there has been a constant conflict between the Iraqi state, increasingly centralised and totalitarian since the Ba'ath party came to power in 1968, and the Kurds with their mountain tribal traditions and growing self-awareness as a potential nation.
In 1970 the government of Iraq reached an "agreement" with the Kurds concerning an autonomous region. But this was simply a stalling tactic on the part of Baghdad which ignored the conditions of the agreement, thus provoking a new war in 1975 which lasted until 1991. Iran was supporting the Iraqi Kurds. As has always been the case, Iran supported the Kurds in Iraq while it continued to oppress its own Kurds. Saddam Hussein, under pressure, initially made territorial concessions to Iran. Then, to win back these areas, it started the destructive eight-year war against Iran which devastated the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Using the excuse that some of the Kurdish factions had supported Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein reacted by razing villages and attacking peasants with chemical weapons killing thousands of Kurds.
Saddam Hussein suffered a massive defeat during the Gulf War of 1991 and the Kurds rebelled again. Spontaneously they rose in the northern industrial towns - Suleymania, Hawlir and Kirkuk - where the oil industry is concentrated. Inspired by the Iranian revolution against the shah in 1979 they set up shoras only to be crushed by Iraqi troops, and western imperialism did nothing to help them. Again, we see how the fortunes of the Kurds were dependent on the interests of imperialism, this time US imperialism.
Faced with the spontaneous uprising of the Kurds in Northern Iraq US imperialism left Saddam's elite republican guard untouched, which then moved to reoccupy the Kurdish towns in the north. The imperialists preferred Saddam in power, compared to a socialist revolution. However, even the republican guard was defeated and thrown out of Suleymania, the centre of the uprising.
The problem was that nobody had a clear strategy of what was to be done next. The leaders of the PUK and KDP, having a purely nationalist outlook, were incapable of developing a class strategy and appealing to the workers of the whole of Iraq to unite with them in the struggle to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Once the Kurdish rebellion had been crushed, the United States created a so-called "safe haven" for the Kurds within Iraq by imposing a "no-fly" zone north of the 36th parallel. The refugees expelled previously were able to return to their homeland. But not before a new war had been fought among the Kurds of Northern Iraq. From 1994-98, two Iraqi Kurd factions - the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani - fought a bloody war for power over northern Iraq. In September 1998, the two sides agreed to a power-sharing arrangement and created a "parliament" and a "national government".
US imperialism, in its usual cynical fashion, made use of the Kurdish people's struggle against Baghdad in order to establish its "protectorate" over the north of Iraq. This insolent act had nothing to do with the defence of self determination, but was aimed at crippling Iraq. US imperialism is the main counterrevolutionary force in the world. It was naive and stupid of the Kurdish leaders to expect it to uphold their interests. As we have seen on many occasions, especially in the Middle East and in the Balkans, the bourgeois leaders of small nations, under the guise of "self-determination" end up as the agents of one imperialist power or another.
The problems of the Iraqi Kurds have still not been solved today. The two factions, KDP and PUK are mere puppets of rival imperialist interests in the area. This is revealed by the fact that over the years the PKK has come into conflict with Barzani's KDP faction in Northern Iraq, which controls the Turkey-Iraq border. Barzani has criticised the PKK for establishing military bases inside Iraqi-Kurd territory to launch attacks into Turkey! The KDP controls the road carrying goods between Iraq and Turkey, and it has benefited from the taxes it is allowed to impose on goods travelling through this route. This includes oil sent abroad from Iraq in defiance of United Nations sanctions. To preserve this profitable activity and to maintain good relations with Turkey, the KDP leader, has cracked down on the activities of the PKK inside Iraq. As a token of gratitude the Turks have helped the KDP in its struggle against the PUK. In 1997 a large Turkish force helped the KDP to block a PUK assault.
More recently the Turkish authorities have been trying to cobble together a deal between the two opportunist tribal based Kurdish guerrilla movements, KDP and PUK, in Northern Iraq so that the PKK bases there can be closed down.
Without bases in Syria and Iraq, and without a sympathetic population to supply them food, shelter and arms transport, thanks to the mass deportations, the PKK is finding it more difficult to sustain its guerrilla warfare.
None of this, of course benefits the ordinary Kurdish workers and peasants on both sides of the border. In the meantime the whole country is being subjected to a UN embargo, and the Iraqi Kurds are suffering like the rest of the Iraqi population.
The state of Iran has practised a policy of oppression against the Kurds similar to that of Turkey. After World War II, Iran was occupied in the north by the Soviet Union and in the south by Great Britain. The Kurds were able to proclaim the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in the territories occupied by the Soviet Union. But soon thereafter, once the Soviet troops had withdrawn, the government in Tehran, with the support of Britain and America, annihilated the Republic of Mahabad.
Again when the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, the Kurds of Northern Iran could enjoy relative freedom with the setting up of an autonomous region. But this did not last long either. The new regime of the mullahs clamped down militarily on the Kurds and the armed resistance to the Islamic fundamentalist regime that began in 1979 is still continuing today.
The hypocrisy of US imperialism
What had alarmed the Turkish government was that by the early 1990s, Ocalan's movement had a certain control over large parts of eastern Turkey, appointing local officials, collecting taxes and administering its own legal system. It had developed genuine mass support in these areas. That explains the Turkish government's savage military campaign in which many Kurdish villages were burned and many suspected rebel sympathisers were tortured or killed or disappeared. Between 1991 and 1997, some 1,500 Kurdish nationalists died in what until January 1998 were classified as 'unsolved crimes.' Then a government report revealed that the killings were the work of state-sponsored death squads.
In all this the hypocrisy of the US, is sickening. While they continue to talk of the plight of the Kurds in Iraq they turn a blind eye to the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey. They even allow the Turkish army to enter Iraqi territory to hound the PKK, in spite of the so-called protection of the Northern Iraqi Kurds against the "evil" Saddam Hussein.
Because Iraq and Iran are considered opponents of US interests in the Middle East, US imperialism is prepared to give some limited aid to the Kurdish minorities in these countries. So Kurdish nationalists in Iraq are portrayed as "freedom fighters" while Kurdish nationalists in Turkey are "terrorists". It is true that the Kurds in Iraq have been brutally oppressed. Saddam Hussein has even used chemical weapons against them, killing thousands. But what has the Turkish army been doing for the last 30 years in South Eastern Turkey against its own Kurds? The Turkish generals have mobilised between 200,000 and 300,000 men, about half the forces of the Turkish army in their operations against the Kurdish separatists, maintaining a permanent force of about 50,000 in South East Turkey.
The Kurds in Turkey
The largest part of Kurdistan, which in terms of both its population and its territory makes up about one-half of the total, lies inside Turkey. This part amounts to one-third of the total territory of Turkey. About 13 million Kurds live within the borders of Turkey, 8 to 10 million in Iran, 5 million in Iraq, and 1.5 million in Syria.
About one-third of the labour migrants who have left Turkey in the past 20 to 30 years and came to the countries of Europe are Kurds. If we add to this the number of Kurds from Turkey and the other parts of Kurdistan who have fled to Europe in recent years for political and economic reasons, the number of Kurds living in European countries comes to about 1 million.
Of the roughly 10 to 12 million Kurds that live in Turkey, 70 to 75 percent now live mostly in the slums of Ankara and other cities to the west of the capital, together with millions of Turkish workers. Hundreds of thousands more have gone to cities in Kurdistan or migrated, often illegally, to Europe. Of those who left their villages some 560,000, according to an estimate accepted by the State Department, were forcibly evacuated by government forces. [The purpose of emptying villages was to deny the PKK resources, including food and men who might join it.] According to Turkish government sources, 80 percent of the villagers turned urban dwellers are unemployed.
A journalist from The Guardian visited a village in south-eastern Turkey at the beginning of the year and reported on the situation facing the Kurds:
"The men from the village of Kalkum in south-eastern Turkey gather at the same coffee house at the same time every day...
Their village was burnt and evacuated more than six years ago by the Turkish army, at the height of its battle against the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement. The coffee house is in the centre of the teeming city of Diyarbakir, where the villagers have joined hundreds of thousands of other refugees forced out of the surrounding countryside.
The intensity of the Kurdish war has faded as the military has saturated the region with tens of thousands of troops. But the sense of dislocation is as strong as ever. Conflict still rages in the minds of the dispossessed.
'We've all been evacuated,' said a man with sad eyes, 'and no one has a permanent job. Some of us try to sell goods on the street; some even beg'." (The Guardian, January 2, 1999)
Mass support for the PKK
Only by taking account of this situation can we understand how the PKK, the most militant wing of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, was able to emerge as a mass force in South Eastern Turkey. The PKK has the backing of millions of Kurds inside Turkey.
We cannot condone, of course, the bombing of civilians in the cities, or the vendetta killings of anyone who does not abide by the decisions of the PKK. These methods have not served to further the cause of the Kurdish people. In fact they have strengthened the hand of the Turkish generals who can use these attacks as an excuse for their own military campaign against the Kurds, and in particular against the PKK.
The aim of the Kurdish workers and peasants should be to build unity with the Turkish workers against the common enemy, that is the capitalists and landlords that rule Turkey. This cannot be done with terrorist bombing campaigns. They must win over the Turkish workers who are also oppressed by the Turkish regime. This is even more the case now considering that millions of Kurds have been proletarianised and live in cities like Istanbul and Ankara side by side with Turkish workers. They work in the same factories and workshops. The solution to the problems of the Kurds lies in a joint struggle against the oppressive Turkish regime together with the Turkish workers.
Initially the PKK had proclaimed that its aim was not only the total separation of the Kurdish speaking areas from Turkey, but also that of a state uniting all the Kurds, of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. None of the regimes in the area would allow this. And neither could Western imperialism tolerate such a thing. All the regimes in the area are prepared to give limited support to this or that group of Kurdish nationalists, when it suits their interests, but they will never accept the creation of any Kurdish independent state.
Support for this or that Kurdish nationalist movement that each regime in the area may give only reflects their own narrow national interests. The Iraqi regime has supported different factions at different times, the same goes for the Iranians, Syrians and Turks. But to help them in creating their own state would mean creating a precedent whereby their own Kurds would begin to call for separation. This would lead to the break up of Iraq, and Turkey. In this Iran would stand to benefit. That explains why US imperialism gives mild support to the Northern Iraqi Kurds but will not allow them to set up their own state, because this would put enormous pressure on Turkey that could break up in the process.
That is why the Kurdish people can place no confidence in any of the imperialist powers who may periodically appear to side with their cause. They will only use them as so much small change in their own manoeuvrings in the area.
Oil is an important element in the conflict. A large part of Iraq's oil resources is in Kurdistan. A part of Iran's oil resources is also in Kurdistan, in the region around Kirmanshah. Turkey's oil resources are almost exclusively in Kurdistan (in the regions around Batman, Diyarbakir, and Adiyaman). Syria's oil resources are also mainly in Kurdistan, in the region around Cezire. The territories of Kurdistan are also rich in mineral resources such as iron, copper, chrome, coal, silver, gold, uranium, and phosphates.
There are also plans to develop oil fields in the Caspian Basin. How is that oil to be transported? Proposals are being considered for various new pipelines. One, would pass through or close to Turkish Kurdistan, carrying oil from Azerbaijan and other Caspian oil producing countries of the ex-Soviet Union to a terminal at the Turkish city of Ceyhan near the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
That is one reason why the Turkish ruling class will not relinquish control of this area. The other is that the bourgeoisie of Turkey has big ambitions after the fall of the Soviet Union, especially to its east. It has annexationist ambitions over the Northern Iraqi oil fields. These are also in Kurdish territories. In fact the incursions into Iraq, while serving the purpose of hounding PKK forces, also serve as an excuse to establish a military presence in Northern Iraq. The Northern Iraq no-fly zone, imposed by western imperialism, in fact aids Turkey in working towards this goal.
Syria also has its own ambitions. But it has been weakened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, its former ally. If the Soviet Union had still been a superpower, most likely Turkey would not have been able to threaten Syria with war if it did not expel Ocalan. The Turkish government forced Asad of Syria, under threat of war, to end his support for the PKK. PKK militants were obliged to quit the facilities he had provided for them in Syria and the Bekaa valley in Syrian-controlled Lebanon. This was a humiliation for Asad.
There is a long standing dispute between Syria and Turkey over the Turkish province of Hatay on the Syrian border. It is one of the reasons why Syria, until October 1998, supported the PKK, fighting the Ankara government (while of course silencing its own one million Kurds in the north). The power game that is being played out in the area can be seen by the fact that a month after his capitulation to the Turks, Asad of Syria received the promise of military assistance from Russia.
US imperialism is very worried about Turkey's position because, after Israel, it is its main ally in the area. A simmering conflict has been going on for years between Greece and Turkey. The imperialist aspirations of the Turkish ruling class are adding to growing tensions with Syria, Iraq and Iran. That explains why Turkey has now, a de facto alliance with Israel. Israel is supplying Turkey with arms and Turkey has allowed Israel to carry out military air training operations over Turkish territory. In this line up the United States is backing Turkey. It was in fact the pressure of US imperialism that forced Greece to hand over Ocalan to the Turks. Russia, is also watching, the situation carefully, with its historical allies, Syria and Iraq, as we have already seen.
The struggle of the PKK in difficulty
The huge military onslaught on the part of the Turkish army, together with the mounting pressure on the PKK to dismantle its bases in Syria now means that the PKK is militarily on the retreat. But this was already the case before Ocalan's capture. In fact, the irony of the situation is that Ocalan was proposing a "political solution" to the conflict. The PKK, basing itself on the examples of Northern Ireland, the Palestinians, and ETA in the Basque Country declared, for the second time, a unilateral cease-fire in September 1998.
Ocalan abandoned the call for an independent Kurdistan and appealed to the European Union and the European governments to give the Turkish Kurds limited autonomy. That is not the way one would expect a genuine communist leader to behave. You cannot expect any real help for the oppressed Kurds from the bourgeoisie of Western Europe. The EU has important economic trade links with Turkey and is planning to bring it into the Union at a later stage. The European governments are supplying Turkey with weapons which are killing and maiming Kurdish men, women and children!
Back in November when Ocalan had fled to Italy seeking asylum, The Guardian reported the following: " 'I have come to Italy to open the way to a political settlement,' Ocalan has announced on the PKK's web site. 'I am opposed to all terror, even if it originates from us. I am ready to do whatever I can so that it will be stopped immediately.' But although Italy's president and Germany's foreign minister have suggested that Ocalan's arrival in Europe could form the catalyst for action to solve Turkey's Kurdish crisis, it is obvious that Ankara will never negotiate with people it calls 'bloodthirsty PKK murderers'. (The Guardian, 25.11.98).
The Turkish military are not prepared to make compromises with the PKK guerrillas. They threatened Syria with war, and are on the offensive against the Kurds. The capture of Ocalan has given them a new confidence. After his arrest, the Turkish military sent thousands of soldiers into Iraqi territory, together with armoured cars and helicopters, in pursuit of PKK guerrillas.
Hundreds of arrests were carried out all over the country. Even Ocalan's younger brother Mehmet, who seems to have nothing to do with the guerrillas, was arrested. This reflects the ruthless methods of the Turkish military. They wish to break Ocalan with all means possible and humiliate him before the eyes of the millions of Kurds who look to the PKK and its imprisoned leader.
For now the army is not prepared to talk of "political solutions". It wishes to eliminate the problem militarily. They would like us to believe that the Kurdish cause is a lost cause. However, that conclusion would be a big mistake. For now the PKK is on the retreat, but if no lasting solution is found the problem will come back again and again.
The Turkish government with its mass deportations and forced migration of the Kurds doesn't understand that it has been digging its own grave. By bringing masses of Kurds together in the cities they have paved the way for a genuine mass movement of all the workers of Turkey, which in contrast to guerrilla warfare would actively involve the majority of Kurds. What is more they have also laid the ground for a united struggle by Kurdish and Turkish workers, something which would really shake the military backed regime to its foundations.
All workers in Turkey face the same fundamental problems - military repression, bad housing, unemployment, which are all aggravated by the war in Eastern Turkey - and they are mainly organised in the same unions. In a movement based on the towns they would unite against the common enemy.
The solution of the Kurdish problem is an impossible task under capitalism, for so long as the Kurdish people remain oppressed and without rights the struggle will re-emerge repeatedly.
Although the Turkish authorities wish to break the back of the PKK, at the same time they have combined this with some recognition of a Kurdish identity. For instance it is no longer illegal to use the Kurdish tongue in everyday life, although no newspapers or TV and radio transmissions are allowed in Kurdish, and the use of Kurdish in schools is still forbidden. If genuine concessions on these questions had been made 20 years ago, they might have been sufficient, but, as always, it is a case of "too little, too late". Half hearted measures will no longer suffice. But, on the other hand, the PKK also offers no solution.
It lacks an internationalist perspective and a genuine class approach to the problems of the Kurdish workers and peasants. Without this it is not possible to win over the workers of Turkey and of all the Middle East to the cause of the Kurdish people. Without an internationalist perspective the danger of nationalism is for ever present. This is shown in a recent statement of Ocalan. While continuing to defend the rights of the Kurds to autonomy, he proposed a drive of Turkey towards the East. But genuine autonomy for the Kurds will not be achieved in this way: it is not the way to appeal to the workers and peasants of the countries to the east of Turkey!
What this shows is the impasse facing the leadership of the PKK after 15 years of guerrilla warfare. The PKK is further than ever from its ambition of self-determination for the Kurdish people. The fact is that under capitalism this is not possible. As The Economist (20/2/99) stated, expressing the views of British imperialism, "the Kurds need to recognise that there is no political room in the Middle East, at present or in the foreseeable future, for an independent state of Kurdistan." It does add some advice to the Turkish state: "A lasting peace can be forged only if the Kurds, especially but not only in Turkey, are given the fair deal that has so far been denied them." Of course this ignores completely the role of British imperialism over the years and its part in the consistent betrayal of the Kurds' aspirations.
A solution under capitalism is impossible
Only a prolonged period of economic development would lay the basis for solving the Kurdish question. If there were enough jobs and houses for all the workers of Turkey, both Turkish and Kurdish, if there were a steady increase in the standard of living for all the peoples of this area of the world then one could talk of a "peaceful", "political" solution. But the world is facing exactly the opposite scenario. Forty per cent of the world is already in recession and the rest is moving ever closer to it. Particularly the underdeveloped countries are facing terrible hardship. Unemployment is going up and the standard of living of the masses is under constant attack.
Kurdistan is a particularly backward area from the point of view of economic development. The people live in poverty in a potentially wealthy country. The colonial conditions have prevented the country from developing. Any profits made in Kurdistan flow out of the area. Society has not been modernised, and the feudal structures of the past have not been completely eliminated. The tribal structure in the rural areas has persisted. Kurdistan is still ruled by a semi-feudal social system. There is no significant bourgeoisie or working class in the modern sense of the word. In other words the Turkish bourgeoisie have not even been capable of completing the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution.
In an attempt to reduce support for the PKK the Turkish government has spoken of the need for more roads, more schools, more medical facilities for the Southeast of the country. That is why they have come up with the idea of the "South-Eastern Anatolia Project". The idea is to develop the economy of South Eastern Turkey. The plan encompasses the spending of $1.8 billion on transport, health facilities, education, telecommunications, mining, industry, and tourism. But the Kurdish nationalists, are not so optimistic. There is insufficient foreign investment and many Turkish businessmen doubt it will be profit-making.
As the Financial Times reported, "Business leaders of Turkey's backward south-east can just about keep count of the number of times the government has promised to boost economic development in the region.
"An 'investment onslaught' announced by Bulent Ecevit, the caretaker prime minister, to help win over disgruntled Kurds after the capture last week of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK guerrilla movement, is by their tally the eighth pledge of its kind. But the announcement was not accompanied by any calculation of how much money would be allocated to the region". (Financial Times, 24.2.99)
While the government "talk" of investing money the capitalists understand that the world market leaves no room for the development of Kurdistan. So the money is spent on repression rather than on economic development. The war against the PKK is costing Turkey $8 billion a year.
A Socialist Federation is the only way out
All this shows that there is absolutely no way out for the Kurdish people under capitalism. So how are the aspirations of the Kurds to self-determination to be achieved? So long as the interests of the various local and international ruling classes remain, the road to self-determination is blocked. True autonomy can only be achieved through a Socialist Federation of all the Middle East, including Turkey.
Within this federation there would be autonomy for all the minorities in the area including the Kurds. They would have the right to use their own language, to develop their own culture, etc. Once the interests of capitalism and landlordism are eliminated there would even be the possibility of having their own state. There is no other road.
All the regimes in this area oppress their own peoples. It is in the interests of workers across the Middle East to overthrow their own ruling classes. That is why the struggle must be one for the building of genuine workers' parties in all these countries that would work for the unity of the working class of all nationalities in the struggle for Socialism. This is not a Utopia, but the only practical road.
It should be noted that the Kurds have always come close to some form of autonomy at moments when there was a revolutionary upsurge internationally. The 1917 Russian revolution overthrew Tsarism and thus led to Russia pulling out of the region. This together with the general revolutionary wave that followed the First World War raised the prospect of a state for the Kurds, as embodied in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. As that wave petered out reaction was able to get the upper hand and the Kurds of Turkey (and not only of Turkey) were smashed.
At the end of the Second World War, the presence of Russian troops in Northern Iran, together with the revolutionary movements on a world scale, allowed for the setting up of a Kurdish state in Northern Iran, only to be smashed by Iran, a year later, with the support of British imperialism.
Again, in 1979 it was the revolution of the Iranian workers against the Shah that gave the Kurds in the north a temporary respite and a certain autonomy, with the setting up of an autonomous region, only to be smashed again once the reaction of the mullahs had set in. Had there existed a genuine revolutionary party in Iran at the time things would have turned out differently. A socialist revolution would have been possible in Iran. This revolution would have conceded autonomy to the Kurds in the north. This would have inspired workers across the whole of the Middle East. It would have been the beginning of the revolution throughout the whole of the Middle East, and within this context the question of the Kurds and of all the minorities in the area could have been solved.
This shows that throughout history the question of autonomy of the Kurds has been closely linked to the revolutionary movements of the workers in the region and on a world scale.
We must base ourselves on the perspective of a renewed wave of class struggle across the Middle East. Only in this way can we see the possibility of the overthrow of the despotic regimes that dominate the area, and within that the concrete possibility of self-determination for all the minorities.