The PKK has always been defined not by Kurdish nationalism but by Marxism. Founder Abdullah Öcalan was half-Turkish, as he himself reminded his Turkish commando captors in Kenya in 1999; its other early leaders included ethnic Turks as well as Kurds, but no “workers.” In the “Party Program of the PKK,” adopted at the Fifth “Victory” Congress of January 1995, the organization portrays itself as the vanguard of the new global socialism movement. On the subject of the decline of the USSR, it claimed that Soviet socialism was a rough, wild, even “primitive” deviation. By contrast, its own approach to socialism was “scientific and creative.”
The Party’s internal structure also demonstrates its Leninist character. Öcalan’s continuous control was only obtained by ruthlessly eliminating challengers, “the most deviated” of whom, he says, “could only be neutralized.” Even journalist Chris Kutschera, a sympathetic but knowledgeable analyst of the PKK, has acknowledged that five or six of the Party’s original leaders were killed. Three others committed suicide, and others have been driven underground.
After training in PLO-run international terrorist camps in Lebanon, the PKK opened its military campaign against the Turkish state in 1984, largely from its secure bases in Syria. By 1990-93 it was able to take advantage of the post-Gulf War environment (specifically, the power vacuum created by the de facto creation of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan), and it became a real threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity. The PKK engaged in a massive rural insurgency in southeastern Turkey, which, by 1999, resulted in some 30,000 fatalities. These deaths were mostly insurgents, civilians and anti-PKK village guards -- and almost all were Kurds. Indeed, far more Kurdish civilians have been killed by the PKK than Turks, some as reprisals for suspected collaboration with Ankara, others during clashes with rival clans. Kurds in Europe and Lebanon who disagreed with Öcalan were murdered. Throughout the 1990s the PKK in Iraq enjoyed Saddam’s support and regularly engaged in clashes with local Kurdish forces.
At its Fifth Congress the PKK decided to engage in suicide bombings and, by 1997, the group had formed “Suicide Guerrilla Teams.” The early “volunteers” came from the most vulnerable segments of society: young, impoverished, poorly educated women. The group’s ambitions went even further: in November 1996, thirteen PKK members arrested on the Syrian border with the Hatay Province were found to possess antimony, which they thought was uranium.
PKK operations in Western Europe are led by relatively well-educated people. They enjoy support from governments and groups in Western countries (Germany, Benelux, Scandinavian states), local governments such as the Basques in Spain, prominent individuals and member parties of government coalitions in Italy, France, Russia, and Greece, and most of the remnants of Germany’s and Italy’s Marxist terrorists. These latter occasionally participated (and were killed or captured) in PKK combat operations.
In addition to its key role in PKK propaganda and political support, Europe was and still is the major source of PKK funding. European assessments of the PKK’s income generally placed it at between $200 and $500 million a year for the mid-1990s. The German government has asserted that the PKK collects millions of deutsche marks at its annual fundraising events, and some sources have estimated PKK’s annual income from these along with drug trafficking, robberies, extortion, and emigrant and arms smuggling at $86 million (U.S.). Considering the range of PKK drug trafficking in Europe (Germany, France, Denmark, Romania, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands), the group is wealthy indeed. None of this dissuaded such self-proclaimed “human rights” militants as Danielle Mitterand, the radical widow of former French president, from addressing Öcalan as “Dear President Öcalan” in a 1998 letter which ended with: “Looking forward to an initial result, rest assured, Abdullah, that I am committed to be beside you in the bid for peace, Sincerely yours, Danielle Mitterand.”
This, then, is the organization the HLP managed to get Judge Collins to allow open support for in the United States in the name of the First and Fifth Amendments. Karen Parker of IED-HLP, an NGO accredited by UNESCO, has called it “an affront to humanitarian law” that Turkey and the United States designate the PKK a terrorist organization. IED-HLP president Ralph Fertig, a retired administrative law judge with the EEO Commission in Los Angeles, claims that the Kurdish civilian population is being “terrorized” by the Turkish armed forces and that the PKK elements are being denied protections they should have under humanitarian law.