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A March to Freedom by Onnik Krikorian The arrival of Abdullah Ocalan in Rome has put the Kurdish struggle for autonomy in southeast Turkey firmly on the geopolitical map. Whether you sympathise with the situation of the Kurds or not - or are even indifferent - there is now no avoiding the importance of the need for political debate and discussion. It is, of course, important to distinguish between the Kurds as an ethnic identity living across the many countries of the near and Middle East, and the Kurds living within the borders of the Turkish Republic. However, the PKK, while seeking to extend its influence, stands as the representatives of the aspirations of an identifiable section of the Kurdish population - a Kurdish population living mainly in Turkey's south east, and as refugees or migrants in Europe. Regardless, the PKK has raised many eyebrows in recent days - it may very well have pulled off one of the most dramatic, calculated and extraordinary political feats this century. Facing defeat after defeat at the hands of the Turkish military, it has managed to switch tact from the battleground of the mountains of Iraq and Turkey to the political circles of Europe in just a few days. Whatever the realities of popular support for the organisation in Turkey, for Ankara's request for extradition to be accepted would be to provoke nothing short of Kurdish insurrection - and the resumption of terrorist activities against European and Turkish targets. This is not to deny that the PKK might be a considered a terrorist organisation already. Rather, the problem lies in the perennial argument of what constitutes a terrorist organisation as opposed to what constitutes a legitimate struggle for national liberation and self-determination - as Armenians know only too well. Cliched or not, the argument is based around a very simple premise - and one that the United States has taken upon itself as its sole moral right to define. The United States has even found itself in the same situation as that which the Italian Government now faces - appeasing and courting figures such as Gerry Adams and Yasser Arafat, much to the initial condemnation of their respective opponents - the United Kingdom and Israel. In just a few short years, both figures were transformed from terrorists to freedom fighters, from political representatives to peacemakers. The official line was a belief that through recognition and negotiation, peace could be achieved. What is the difference in the case of Ocalan and the PKK? Quite simply, the difference is one of military and economic allegiance. Turkey is the United States' ally, and the PKK represent just as much a threat to the interests of the US in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union as to the Turkish Government. The PKK has become personified as the most criminal and terrorist force to plague the modern world just as the PLO and the ANC [in South Africa] were before them. Not the government-backed contra-guerilla death squads that operate against the Kurdish civilian population in Turkey's south east, or their US military advisors operating out of Diyarbakir, but quite simply, the new world evil is the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) organisation in all of its forms - the ARGK (People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan - the Guerillas), the ERNK (National Liberation Front of Kurdistan - the political wing), and the YAJK (The Free Women's Union of Kurdistan). In point of fact, the organisation is not unlike many other similar groups that the United States and its European allies have themselves funded, excused and armed in the past, perhaps with the exception that the PKK might actually represents more of a popular mandate than any of the Latin-American death-squads and paramilitary organisations that the United States has itself supported politically and militarily. While the US official line - and many US newspaper editorials - are criticising and condemning Ocalan, pushing instead for an exchange with Leyla Zana - the Kurdish woman MP elected to the Turkish Parliament but arrested and imprisoned in 1994 - it has to be pointed out that Zana herself is firmly behind the national liberation struggle as led by Ocalan and the PKK. Ocalan is now in the situation of representing the reality that peace will not come to fruition - as in the Occupied Territories and Northern Ireland - without a genuine realisation that political negotiation to end the troubles between all the protagonists is necessary. Zana, in an open letter from prison in 1997 put it simply: " A genuine majority of Kurdish people recognises the PKK as the indispensable party for the resolution of this historic issue. And on account of this, the Kurdish people sees the PKK - which emerged originally from within the Kurdish nation - as having the right to debate and determine the various proposals such as autonomy, federation or even independence." With justification of Ocalan's extradition repeatedly referring to casualty figures in the region of thirty thousand, it should be pointed out that much of these casualties represent not civilian or even Turkish military deaths. The figures to a large extent are made up of those PKK guerillas killed by Turkish military search-and- destroy missions in the Turkish southeast and in the "safe-haven" of Northern Iraq. Likewise, if mention is to be made of those that the PKK has been responsible for killing and murdering, perhaps too, reference should be made to the 3,000 Kurdish villages decimated by the Turkish army, and the hundreds who have been killed, tortured and "disappeared" in Turkish police and military custody. Indeed, to force the extradition of Ocalan on the basis of figures that even the Turkish Government downplayed until very recently, would really only be little more than inviting a continuation of the very cause of those deaths in the first place. Hypocrisy in the example of any promotion of the need for political dialogue between the PKK and the Turkish Government will only result in the perpetuation of the conflict. If Ocalan were extradited to Turkey, more Kurds would join the struggle - and if Ocalan stays in Europe, more will also become part of a movement that now seems unstoppable. The ramifications of not using the opportunity to force a reasoned political agreement will result in a worsening of the situation. With or without Ocalan at the head of the PKK, the organisation is attempting to extend its influence over the Kurdish populations of the Middle East and the Caucasus. Ocalan's arrival in Rome has only strengthened the determination and allegiance of that population, and to attempt to vilify Ocalan now would only result in the spread of Kurdish revolution and force hostility and hatred towards Europe and the United States. It would also force a regional instability that the democratic western powers have so far been seeking to avoid. There is not one country on Turkey's borders that would remain unaffected by the outcome, over the next few months, of Ocalan's detention and subsequent release in Rome. It is in everyone's interest to negotiate a considered and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish Question in Turkey, to avoid destabilizing the entire region. The consequence for other countries in the region, - with their own Kurdish populations, - specially on Turkey's borders, if they ignore the need for recognition and discussion of the Kurdish Question, will be incalculable. Whatever happens to Ocalan, there is now no escaping the fact that the Kurdish struggle - as represented by the PKK - has become stronger, more determined, and with an increased momentum behind it that can only result in some form of autonomy for the Kurds in south east Turkey. The only uncertain factor is with regards to the timescale over which such an inevitability will occur, and how many more will have to die first. -------------------------------------------------------------------- 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. He currently lives and works in Armenia. His work on the Kurds can be seen online at: http://www.freespeech.org/oneworld/photo/