PKK leader, Abdullah "Apo" Ocalan, once openly relied on the Assad regime's support. While the PKK conducted terror attacks inside Turkey, Ocalan enjoyed the Damascus cafe scene. In 1998, several Turkish Army divisions appeared on the Syrian border. The Turks told Syria to give up Ocalan or the tanks would roll. Ocalan sought refuge in other countries. The facts surrounding his capture are disputed, but in 1999 Turkish agents apprehended him in Kenya.
Ocalan has spent the last 14 years in prison. Last year, however, Turkish government officials began hinting that both they and Ocalan were interested in reaching a political settlement. Why? Consider what Ocalan knows. The Soviet Union is gone. Saddam is gone. Bashar Assad is losing. Iran's ayatollahs are desperate. Though many Turkish citizens despise the PKK for its heinous terrorism, the Turkish government wants to take the Kurdish card from Assad and the ayatollahs.
On March 21, Ocalan called for a permanent ceasefire and a political solution. There will be no separate Kurdish state. Turkey provided economic guarantees, however, and agreed to protect the cultural rights of Turkish Kurds. His most senior field commander, from a camp in Iraq's Qandil Mountains, ratified Ocalan's decision on March 23.
This is by no means a done deal. Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government supports the peace, but Assad and Iran's ayatollahs don't. Hard-core Kurdish terrorists could wreck it.
Turkey's Kurdish citizens, however, will benefit. Many Turkish Kurds opposed the PKK because its violence stalled economic development. They also valued Turkey's comparative political stability. They argued that an independent Kurdistan, with Iraq, Iran and Syria as neighbors, would only survive if Turkey were an ally.
Perhaps, after surveying the regional chaos, Ocalan reached the same conclusion.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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