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"Hundreds of comrades who waged heroic resistance have become martyrs in the struggle for the establishment of the state of Kurdistan. They are markers on the path to victory, symbols of the revolutionary leadership of our party." Abdullah Ocalan President, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Analysis: A Calculated Risk? Onnik Krikorian OCALAN - NOW MORE THAN EVER - HAS BECOME WITHOUT QUESTION THE EMBODIMENT AND PERSONIFICATION OF THE KURDISH STRUGGLE. On Thursday evening a lone passenger arriving from Moscow was detained at a Rome airport after suspicions were raised with regards to the authenticity of his passport. That passenger turned out to be none other than Turkey's "most wanted criminal" - Abdullah Ocalan, President of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - a political and military movement fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the south east of Turkey. According to western news reports, and from the official communiqués of the PKK's political wing - the ERNK (National Liberation Front of Kurdistan) - Ocalan's appearance in Italy was not only anticipated, but it might also have been with the full knowledge and approval of the Italian government. What is certainly known at this time is that for some reason Ocalan decided to leave the relative safety of Russia for Rome, and apparently to claim political asylum after being forced to vacate his headquarters outside of Damascus as a direct result of Turkish pressure on Syria. News reports are also beginning to imply that Ocalan's arrest was as a direct result of a coordinated effort by European security agencies and Interpol. The success of that coordinated action has been to provoke analysis as to what may happen to the PKK as an effective military force in Turkey now that it has been "deprived" of its founder and leader. What should instead be more significant is that in many respects Ocalan's arrest may not prove to be as damaging a blow to the Kurdish national liberation struggle as the Turkish authorities and media would have everyone believe. Put very simply by the Director of the Washington Kurdish Institute, Mike Amitay, "Even if Apo [Ocalan] is out of the picture, the sources of Kurdish rebellion remain intact. Fighting will continue as long as repression exists." Indeed, the significance surrounding Ocalan's arrest is quite simply that the PKK has never been able to demand such attention from the world media as it can now. A cynical observer might actually question whether the arrest of such a figure was a calculated move to bring the Kurdish Question to international prominence. Any analysis as to the effectiveness of the organisation without the most central of its figures must bear in mind that Turkey and Germany may very well request that Ocalan be extradited, but that it should also realise that past experience has shown that such requests can be not only time-consuming, but that they can also be politically counter-productive. Despite having been invited by a group of British Parliamentarians and whilst on his way to address a Parliamentary meeting at the House of Commons on October 26th 1994, Kani Yilmaz - the European Spokesperson of the PKK - was arrested in London also on immigration irregularities. The current British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, registered his outrage at the time by stating that it was a disgrace that a visiting political representative could be arrested minutes before being expected to address politicians in the so-called "cradle of democracy". What we now know is that the forces that were working behind the scenes were very powerful, and that Turkish pressure was being applied on the British Government to arrest Yilmaz with a view to enacting his extradition to Germany, and then by implication on to Turkey where he too would have certainly faced the death penalty. Extradition proceedings were frustrated by British lawyers and parliamentarians, and it was to take nearly three years before Yilmaz was to leave the United Kingdom for trial in Germany and that whilst being held in solitary confinement in the maximum security wing at Belmarsh prison, Yilmaz was still allowed telephone calls and visitors. The eventual trial proved to be an excellent stage for raising the question of the plight of the Kurds in Turkey among the European media, and the same may turn out to be true for Ocalan. Just as his very arrest in Rome has brought the Kurdish Question straight into the heart of Europe, his very incarceration in Italy will also provoke political debate - and questions that will undoubtedly be raised in the Russian Duma as to why Ocalan's request for political asylum [in Russia] ultimately led to his current predicament. The legitimacy of the Kurdish national liberation movement is not the issue for debate here. What are the circumstances surrounding what may very well turn out to be Ocalan's entrapment, and the duplicity of those European governments and agencies eager to appease Turkey. The Turkish government's political leverage with Europe still remains strong, despite setbacks in recent months, and whilst Turkish military operations are proving to be successful in eliminating many of the "stragglers" on their exodus from Syria, Turkey's cream may very well turn sour. The media is already asking predictable questions. What will become of the PKK without leadership, and how can the PKK remain an effective military force in the south east of Turkey? In actual fact, the question that should be asked - and many months ago - is whether they were such a force in recent years anyway? A cynical observer might argue that the PKK were becoming totally overwhelmed by the strength, persistence and ferocity of Turkish military operations in the south east of the country, and in the so- called "safe-haven" of northern Iraq. Hence Ocalan's recent announcement of a unilateral cease-fire. The PKK will undoubtedly be affected by this recent development to some extent, but in what form such an affect will materialise is still not clear. There are perhaps three likely scenarios: The first is that the PKK might slowly but surely disintegrate and collapse until it eventually disappears, but the second is perhaps more concerning for Turkey. The disintegration might instead manifest itself as a splintering of the organisation into different factions that instead advocate more extreme and violent action against both military and civilian targets in Turkey and Europe - just as the Armenian ASALA did in the eighties. Regardless of whether the reasons were genuine or politically expedient, Ocalan was THE force behind restricting PKK operations to the targeting of "legitimate" military objectives. A third possibility - and probably the most likely - is that with Ocalan in Europe, the strong and extensive European political network represented by the ERNK will be able to maintain the PKK command structure and hierarchy, and whilst also being able to command the interest of the European media. The relevance of the Kurdish Question to both Europe and Russia is now very clear. There is also nothing that can compare with the indomitable spirit and resilience of the Kurdish people, and nothing like their ability to manipulate and control the opinion and support of the liberal and left-wing political movement in Europe. It might turn out not to be such a surprise to eventually discover that Ocalan's arrest in Rome might well have been a calculated move to bring the Kurdish Question into the media spotlight. Moreover, the Kurds appreciate and deify their martyrs. Any criticism that could once have been made of Ocalan sitting in the relative safety of Syria whilst the Kurdish people were being oppressed in Turkey can now be dismissed and discounted. Ocalan has become a martyr himself, and now more than ever has become without question the embodiment and personification of the Kurdish struggle. His arrest may very well prove to be one of the most significant developments in the strengthening of the resolve and resistance of the Kurdish people in their struggle to establish an independent Kurdish statehood. --------------------------------------------------------------- Onnik Krikorian is a journalist, photojournalist and new media consultant who has spent over three years working on projects surrounding the Kurds in Turkey and the Caucasus. His work on the Kurds can be seen online at: http://www.freespeech.org/oneworld/photo/