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  • The Kurdistan Workers’ Party Turns against the European Union
  • Emrullah Uslu (bio)

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is the largest Kurdish opposition group in Turkey, serving as an umbrella for a myriad of organizations. The PKK includes the following basic components:

  1. 1. Organizations

    • • an armed militia group, called Kongra-Gel/PKK (Kurdish People’s Congress)

    • • a political party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which serves as its legal wing

    • • the Free Youth Organization

    • • the Free Women’s Organization

    • • the Kurdistan Students Association

    • • the Kurdish Imams’ Association

  2. 2. Media outlets

    • • three newspapers: Yeni Ozgur Politika in Germany and Gundem and Azadiya Welat (a Kurdish-language publication) in Turkey

    • • two news agencies: Firat News Agency and Dicle Haber Ajansi

    • • two satellite TV stations: Roj TV (Denmark) and MMC TV

    • • a radio station: Radio Serhildan

In February 1999 the PKK’s founder and leader, Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan, was arrested in Kenya and brought to Turkey in a complex international [End Page 99] operation. Shortly thereafter he was sentenced to death, but European Union pressure compelled Turkey to abolish the death penalty, and Ocalan’s sentence was amended to life imprisonment. Not long after his arrest, Ocalan declared a cease-fire and ordered PKK militants to take refuge in northern Iraq. Ocalan justified this action with the argument that he had had “a change of heart and now considered violence inappropriate.”1 As a result, a relatively peaceful atmosphere prevailed between 1999 and 2004. However, in the latter year the PKK resumed its campaign of terror, arguing that Turkey had not responded positively to the cease-fire in that it had refused to seek a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.2

The PKK’s resumption of terror activities surprised many observers, because in order to meet EU accession requirements, Turkey had reformed many of the antidemocratic characteristics of its state system to the great benefit of its Kurdish and other minorities. For the PKK again to resort to terrorism was seen as impeding Turkey’s EU negotiations and therefore threatening the Kurdish people’s recent gains. Several conspiracy theories were offered to explain the PKK’s intentions. Some anti-PKK Kurds accused the PKK of cooperating with so-called deep-state elements in Turkey’s security bureaucracy.3 (“Deep state” is a term used to describe a group of Turkish security elements that oppose Turkish membership in the EU and operate clandestinely to undermine the accession process.) Such theories find a ready market among both Turks and Kurds who support Turkey’s EU membership bid. Others believed the PKK had calculated that Turkey’s EU membership would erode the PKK’s grassroots support.4 These explanations are unsatisfactory. In this essay I examine more fully why the PKK and its subordinate organizations, including its legal wing, the DTP, have acted so decisively to forestall Turkey’s EU membership.

In this essay I use the terms “Kurds” and “Apocu Kurds” (Apocu meaning, in Turkish, pro-“Apo”— Ocalan’s nickname) interchangeably to represent those Kurdish opposition groups that function under the Kongra/Gel/ PKK and DTP umbrella, considering jointly those who sympathize with or [End Page 100] support either the PKK or the DTP. I acknowledge that the PKK and its affiliated organizations do not represent the totality of Turkey’s Kurdish-speaking population. There are many Turkish Kurds and Kurdish organizations that support Turkey’s EU membership. However, in this essay I specifically examine the attitudes of the Apocu Kurds toward the EU. I consider the role of the Apocu elites in Turkey’s EU membership process: how they have positioned themselves according to changing circumstances, how they have reacted when their expectations are not met, and how they have mobilized their constituencies around their arguments.

After establishing a theoretical framework, I outline how EU negotiations benefit the Kurds. In this respect, I have discovered two chronologically distinct viewpoints of the Apocu elites toward the EU accession process. Between 1999 and 2005, these elites clearly supported accession negotiations.However, after September 2005 they withdrew that support. Thisreversal was due largely to the disappointment of Kurdish organizations with the EU’s policies toward Turkey’s Kurds, specifically the EU’s September 2005 progress report, which...


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pp. 99-121
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2019
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