By Nurullah Ozbek
On May 31, the trial of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan will begin in Turkey. Ocalan faces the death penalty for "treason" — that is, for leading the Kurdish people's struggle for their national rights.
The Kurds are — along with the Arabs, Persians and Turks — one of the four major peoples of the Middle East. For more than 2500 years, Kurdish land has been occupied by various empires.
But the Kurds have seldom confronted such brutality and barbarism as that inflicted on them by their modern oppressors. They have been massacred, forced to leave their land and made to deny their national identity. The names of their villages, towns and the people themselves have been changed. Despite this, the national liberation struggle of the Kurds has now become a central issue in Middle Eastern and world politics.
At the end of World War I, states emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled parts of three continents. National liberation movements emerged, and were also affected by the Russian revolution.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne, the British and French seized the richest and most accessible non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman lands. North-western Kurdistan was left to the Turkish state. Other parts of Kurdistan were incorporated into Iraq and Syria (controlled at that time by Britain and France respectively) and Iran.
Since that time, Kurdish history has been the history of uprisings for national freedom. The Kurds have engaged in an intense life and death struggle against the world's most powerful imperialist regimes and their local collaborators.
The situation in Turkey
Turkey is a hell for the Kurdish people. For 75 years the Kurdish language and culture were suppressed. To sing in Kurdish, to wear Kurdish clothes, to give children Kurdish names, was to risk imprisonment and possibly death.
Turkey has used napalm and chemical weapons to massacre innocent Kurdish civilians. More than 3000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed, with the aim of cutting the Kurdish guerrillas' links to their civilian supporters. Food supplies are restricted to prevent ordinary people sharing food with the freedom fighters.
Legal parties of Kurdish people were banned and parliamentarians who were members of these parties arrested. HADEP (the Kurdish People's Democratic Party), the latest attempt at a legal pro-Kurdish party, has been subjected to constant attack by the Turkish government. The party's newspapers and magazines have been closed.
The buildings of the Kurdish press have been bombed and journalists and writers murdered by paramilitary gangs controlled by the national intelligence agency of Turkey.
Because any organisations that support the Kurdish people are punished cruelly by the state, no-one can talk about peace. In 1991, the Turkish government introduced a new "anti-terrorist" law, which explicitly protects torturers and suppresses reporting of the Turkish state's war.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded as a Marxist-Leninist party in 1978. At first, the party researched and developed its revolutionary analysis of the situation in Kurdistan, and conducted propaganda to win over intellectuals and youth.
On September 12, 1980, a military coup unleashed one of the most brutal counter-revolutionary repressions in Turkey's history. Thousands of Turkish leftists were killed or imprisoned. The level of repression in Kurdistan was 10 times worse. Hundreds of imprisoned PKK cadre were subjected to inhuman pressures in the prisons.
The conditions of the period forced the PKK into a tactical retreat. Exiled PKK members worked with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and other organisations in its refuge in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
On August 15, 1984, the Liberation Units of Kurdistan launched the armed struggle. This was followed by the formation of the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK) on March 21, 1985, and the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK) in 1986.
Until 1992, the PKK believed that armed struggle was the only way to overcome the Kurdish people's slavery. Since then, it has sought a political solution. In the past five years, the PKK has declared a cease-fire three times, but each time the response of the Turkish army has been to escalate military operations to crush the PKK.
The Kurdish struggle and world politics
In recent years, the national liberation struggle of the Kurdish people has gained a more powerful position in world politics. Washington says it has been trying to solve the Kurdish problem, but what this means in practice is that the US government has been using its conservative, pro-imperialist Kurdish allies in southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq) as pawns in its efforts to control the Middle East.
The US has declared a "no-fly zone" over the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq as part of its war with Saddam Hussein. Beneath this air cover, its local Kurdish puppets have collaborated with Turkey's military, which has repeatedly invaded the region, to attack PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Washington sees Turkey as important to its strategy for controlling both the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkey is the safest route for transporting Caspian Sea oil to the world market. For Israel, which is developing a strategic alliance with Ankara, Turkey is a useful counter to balance the Arab countries that surround it. Both the US and Israel have helped Turkey in its campaign against the PKK.
Washington is hostile to the PKK because it is a threat to Turkey, and because it has declared itself a Marxist organisation. In the past, the US created a "green line" of states, including Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, to surround the Soviet Union. Political Islam was used against the "red devil".
However, political Islam turned out to be a two-edged sword. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of its Islamic proxies turned their hostility towards their former ally's interests in the Middle East.
As a result, the US has created a new bloc — with Israel and Turkey at its heart — to control the rich oil resources of the Middle East and the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Turkey is seeking close relations with these Turkic-speaking countries.
Turkey is the sixth largest weapons buyer in the world. In 1994 alone, Turkey spent $US15 billion to finance the war and its army. No country selling weapons can sacrifice such a huge market.
Turkey, backed up by Washington and Tel Aviv, pressured Syria to expel the PKK and its leader Abdullah Ocalan from its territory. US pressure played a major role in the refusal of Russia and European governments to grant Ocalan political asylum. Eventually, he was kidnapped from Kenya by Turkish agents with the aid of US and Israeli intelligence services.
Socialism and the Kurdish struggle
It is essential that solidarity be built between Turkish and Kurdish workers. Without such solidarity, no solution is possible to the problems of the ordinary people of all parts of Anatolia.
Winning the right of national self-determination can end national oppression only in the political sphere. It cannot end the national oppression that stems from imperialism's control. The "free market" is the cruelest dictatorship of all. Even after political liberation, oppressed nations remain in a neo-colonial or semi-colonial relationship to imperialism.
Nevertheless, Marxists defend the right of self-determination because nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice. We must support national liberation movements, such as that of the Kurds, and help them win international support.
[Nurullah Ozbek is a Kurdish activist in Melbourne and a member of the Democratic Socialist Party.]