Turkey is a country, which is located between two continents. These are Europe and Asia. Its neighbors are Greece, in the west, Iran and Iraq in the east, at north lies Russia, and in south is the Mediterranean Sea. It is a very geologically important country. The reason for that is that Turkey controls three different seas, which are the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. The country has a very long history. It is the continuation of the old Ottoman Empire, which has ruled the whole Europe, part of Africa, and most of the Middle East for over three hundred years. This great history makes most of its neighbors very uncomfortable. Over these years, Turkey has been faced with a lot of problems from its neighbors. One of these is the Kurdish problem.
At this point, I would like to introduce you the Kurds. The Kurds are the people who live in the Northern part of Iraq, southwest of Iran, and southeastern part of Turkey. The Kurds claim that they are a nation and after the Serv Agreement they requested a considerable piece of land from those three countries. However, the land that they claim theirs is almost half of Turkey and the north part of Iraq. Both countries deny this and they both stated that not even a square foot of land will be given to the Kurds. This is where the problem begins.
The Turkish army has been fighting with Kurdish terrorists (PKK, Kurdish Independence Party) for over fifteen years now. In this regional war, Turkish government has spent ninety billion dollars and lost fifty five thousand civilians and soldiers. The war between the PKK and the Turkish army has no rules. Turkish villages have been attacked, bombed, burned to the ground, and most importantly the residents of these villages have been shot in front of their children by PKK.
As I stated above, the problem began in 1984. In that year, a terrorist group called PKK was formed and started bombing the consulates in the European capitals. In addition, they called Turkish authorities, and claim the responsibility for these bombings. Since that time, Turkish government has declared that PKK is a terrorist group, and there would be no negotiations with them. Above all of this, in 1991 the Turkish intelligence has learned that other European countries have supported the PKK. Countries such as Greece, Germany, Syria, and Iraq have been helping them with their ammunition and artillery supply. In addition the Turkish intelligence has found out that PKK is selling drugs to the European countries and earning incredible profits in hard currency. After a couple of years, PKK announced that their headquarters is in Syria, and their leader is Abdullah Ocalan. Immediately following this, the Turkish government contacted the Syrian authorities and asked them to get rid of the PKK terrorists. However, the Syrian government denied all of these allegations and didn?t make any effort in locating these terrorists.
In the past couple of years, the Turkish and Kurdish problem has grown rapidly with thousands of casualties from both sides. On the other hand, Turkey has accepted Kurdish people, gave them Turkish citizenship and the equal rights as any ordinary Turkish citizen has. This didn?t stop PKK of their terrorist attacks. The problem actually got worse because those Kurds that chose to accept the citizenship, angered the remaining Kurds that will settle for nothing less than their land that they feel is theirs. The terrorists attacks were done only in the country region, and not in the major cities like Istanbul. These attacks took place at night. The terrorists would come from Syria at night, and sneak over the Turkish border. They would then attack the villages, killing the civilians and soldiers before crossing the border back to Syria. Their advantage was to know the regions landscape to the best of their knowledge. The region was a rugged terrain full of mountains, valleys, caves, and small hills. Most importantly, this region consisted of no roads. At that time, the Turkish army didn?t have enough technological equipment to control their border in this area, making the situation even easier for the terrorists.
Even though the Turkish nation has lost a lot of citizens and soldiers, they still have not broken their original principle, which is not to deal with terrorists under any circumstances. This situation drove the Kurdish terrorists crazy, and they moved to attacking the major cities. They have done massive killings such as bombing the malls, murdering police officers, and assassinating the governors. By the year 1995, the police and terrorists constantly played the game of cat and mouse, where the terrorists commit these crimes, and the police go crazy trying to catch them. This showed that the PKK was weakening in the country region. The Turkish army declared that they were going to invade the northern part of Iraq, to kill the PKK terrorists, and ?clean up the region?.
As of 1996 the Turkish army crossed the Iraqi border, and began battling with the terrorists. On the other hand, the Kurds were broadcasting untrue information, claiming that the Turkish army was killing regular Kurdish citizens.
After the 1996 elections, the new government declared that they are going to be even stricter about terrorism in Turkey. The fight continued and the Turkish army continuously went into Iraq. In December of 1998, the Turkish government issued a letter to Syrian president Hafiz Esad, saying that the leader of PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, was in Syria, and should be handed over to the Turkish authorities immediately. If Syria didn?t agree to hand over Abdullah Ocalan, the Turkish army would go into Syria and get him themselves. Syria was trapped and shocked with this letter, but they were frightened after they saw Turkey putting pressure on them by sending 30,000 troops to the Syrian border. Supporting their troops with heavy artillery, tanks, and fighter jets. Syria had fifteen days to decide. Syria was too afraid, and secretly sent Abdullah Ocalan to Russia. However, Turkish intelligence tracked Ocalan down in an airport in Rome, Italy.
The Italian police captured him and placed him under Italian custody. Turkish government officially requested to have Ocalan sent from Italy to Turkey. Unfortunately, Italy?s answer was no because Italian courts stated that they cannot give a prisoner to a country supporting the death penalty. At this point, all of the Kurds in the world began a celebration due to Italy?s decision in not releasing Ocalan. On the other hand, the Turkish people were furious and began protests and boycotts against Italy and its products. The Italian government was feeling the pressure, but decided to stand their ground, by not releasing Ocalan to Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey began warning Italy on diplomatic basis. Approximately a month later, the Italians understood that they didn?t have any chance, either release Ocalan or send him to another country, and let that country deal with Turkey. The reason for this was that their economy began to weaken, and both countries were losing tremendous amounts of money. In result, after searching all of Europe and Africa they came up with the country Kenya.
It is here where Ocalan was sent. Not long after this, Greece?s involvement in where Ocalan was sent was apparent to the Turkish government. At that time nobody knew where he was, and all of the Turkish people were upset that again Ocalan has disappeared and slipped through their fingertips.
This situation was a little bit different. From day one, the Turkish secret service knew where he was being sent. Immediately, they contacted the Kenyan authorities, and began a secret operation in bringing the Kurdish leader home to Turkey. On March 2, 1999 Ocalan and two of his assistants were captured in Kenya. They were already on their way to Turkey before the public and the rest of Europe even knew. It was like a holy day celebration in Turkey, but it was also when the big problems began.
All of the Kurds around the world began attacking Greek consulates and taking hostages. The reason for this was because the Kurds now felt that it was Greece?s fault in Ocalan?s capture. The entire Europe, including Greece was in shock. Greece now became the target of not only the Kurds, but also the Turks. The Turkish government accused Greece of helping and training terrorists to make mass killings in Turkey. On the other hand, Ocalan was put into a maximum-security prison on an island in the Bosporus.
While I was writing this paper, Ocalan was still awaiting his trial. The capture of Ocalan seemed that it would solve the Kurdish problem, however it wasn?t so. In every major city of Turkey, bombings and mass killings began. The Kurds were setting bombs off almost every hour, and the police couldn?t do anything. The people became extremely worried, and most of them weren?t even going to public places, for example theatres or malls.
The main question that rose in every person?s mind was if Ocalan would end up facing the death penalty. At this point, I would like to talk about Turkeys justice system. Unlike the United States of America, Turkey is using a different justice system, and a special type of court, in which this country is unfamiliar with. According to my research, if a person is convicted in Turkey, they are guilty until proven innocent. When the trial begins, the accused would find three judges facing them, and an attorney on their side. The prosecutor decides about their sentence, and presents their case to the court and judges. It is up to his defense, and these judges to chose whether they are proven innocent or guilty.
Another important information that caught my attention was that a person may get the death penalty, but their sentence may be changed to life in prison without parole. The reason for this is, it takes two thirds of the Turkish Parliament?s vote to decide the fate of the person being accused, or to carry out the death penalty. The records that I requested from the Turkish justice department, show that in the past twenty five years, with seventeen people on trial, no prisoner has yet to be put to death by the Parliament. However, Ocalan is considered the jackal of Turkey, and it is now a huge controversy whether the death penalty will or will not be approved.
Abdullah Ocalan is being accused of having a significant part in over fifty thousand Turkish deaths. In addition to this, he is also accused of treachery to Turkey. On the other hand, there is a very important question that comes to mind; By executing Ocalan, would the Turkish people be more relieved or would they face even more terrorist acts? As I previously stated, Ocalan is considered the leader of all Kurds and not only Kurds, but the whole European media is giving much attention to his upcoming trial, which will be held in the middle of May 1999.
This trial has an extreme importance in Turkish and Kurdish relations. The Kurdish people are trying to get the human rights activists involved in their situation, and put pressure on the Turkish government so that Ocalan will not face the death penalty. Perhaps in the future when this problem is resolved, he would be released, and the Kurds would get what they have been after since day one. The Turkish authorities know the importance and the results of giving him the death penalty, but on the other hand they are afraid of the protests from the relatives of those fifty thousand people who have lost their lives due to Ocalan and his actions.
In my opinion, Turkey?s Parliament has no choice but to put Ocalan to death because if by some strange odd reason that he ever gets out of their reach again, it is almost definite that he will do even more terrorist acts as the Kurd leader than before. They are aware that killing a leader of a significant group, such as the Kurds, can make the situation worse, but sometimes you are caught between a rock and hard place and must make harsh decisions.
When this all took in Turkey, the rest of the world was watching and some were even commenting. One of the commenting countries was the United States of America. When Ocalan was caught in Rome, Italy, the secretary of state Madeline Albright, held a news conference. At this conference, she stated that the United States accepts PKK as a terrorist group and Abdullah Ocalan is the leader of this terrorist group. She also said that the Italian government should hand Ocalan to the Turkish authorities at once because both countries are NATO allies, and basically Italy should understand the importance of Ocalan to Turkey. Also, England, France and Germany asked Italy to hand him over to the Turkish authorities.
As a conclusion the problem between the Turks and the Kurds really evolved approximately twenty years ago, and is growing rapidly. The Turkish government has accepted the PKK as a terrorist group and they are refusing to sit down and discuss anything with them.
On the other hand the Kurds will not stop doing terrorist acts until they get what they want. After researching and writing this paper, I understood better that even if it takes Turkey to lose another fifty thousand people, it will not help the Kurds to get what they want. In my opinion, what the Kurds should do, is to use the opportunity given by the Turkish government to them, and live with in Turkey having the same rights as the rest of the Turkish citizens. I realize that Turkey as a whole will not give a square foot of land of their land to the Kurds or anyone else, especially terrorists because it was very hard for them to earn their independence and land.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The Turks vs. Kurds
March / April 1999. Pages 26-37
Entessar, Nades, Kurds- Political and government
Bouler: Lynn Reinner Publishers, 1992
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
My encounters with Kurdistan
Randal, Jonathan C.
New York NY: Farrar, Staus & Giroux, 1997
The Kurdish nationalist movement in the 1990?s
Its impact on Turkey and the Middle East
Olson, Robert W.