Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers? The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey, by Paul J. White, ISBN 1856498220
Four out of five stars
There is a cynical adage that is true, “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” Nowhere is that more true than in the Kurdish guerilla group known as the PKK. Led for many years by Abdullah Öcalan, the group has engaged in terrorist acts against the Turkish security forces as well as other Kurds that they for some reason do not approve of.
There is no dispute that the Kurds have legitimate grievances, they are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state. Furthermore, there is a long history of the Turkish majority engaging in the brutal killing of large numbers of ethnic minorities in Eastern Turkey. As is mentioned in this book, in the last years of the Ottomoan Empire, approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed and the Kurds contributed their share to the massacre. For decades, there has been a civil war raging between the Kurds and the Turkish government, entire Kurdish villages have been razed and the inhabitants dispersed or killed. The Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein also killed thousands of Kurds in brutal gas attacks.
Using history as a guide, the large numbers of Kurds means that eventually there will be a Kurdish state. There are an estimated 28 million Kurds located in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, which would make it the 47th most populous country if it were one. Furthermore, there are large numbers of Kurds residing in other nations. For example, there are between 600 and 800 thousand in Germany. Another lesson from history is that nations do not rise into existence as the consequence of terrorist acts, and the terrorist history of the PKK is the primary subject of this book.
While this is a solid academic analysis of the history of the Kurdish battle for recognition, rights and their own state, the delivery is disjointed, it does not follow a temporal sequence. The PKK is presented in an honest and harsh light, White makes it clear that the PKK operatives have many times killed Kurds that the PKK leadership felt were a threat to their leadership in the Kurdish movement or were too “soft” in their opposition to the Turkish government.
The data for the book was gathered in many ways, including interviews with Öcalan, where there are statements of both a statesman and a brutal terrorist. The best point that is made is the reference to PLO head Yasser Arafat. Arafat knew very well that terrorism alone cannot make a state, yet giving it up is the only valuable concession that he really had. As White makes clear, if the PKK engages in a cease fire, which is essential before the Turkish government will consider any form of autonomy, then there will be elements within the movement that will consider it treason against the Kurds. Ironically, Öcalan being held by the Turkish government may be his best chance to hold his leadership position.
If you want to thoroughly understand the complex position of the Kurdish people and their desire for a country, this book is a valuable resource in your quest to reach that goal.