Kurdish Lessons for Kashmiris
By Amb. (Retd) K. Gajendra Singh
9 Jan 2014
Earlier this year, perhaps echoing views of many Kashmiri leaders, Sajjad Lone, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) People's Conference said, "I don't have to be a genius to realise that the Americans will not allow any violent movement or Islamic militancy to succeed. That applies to Kashmir as well." Pervez Imroz of the Coalition of Civil Society in Srinagar said that there was "a lot of suspicion about the US” in the minds of Kashmiris. "People are wondering if they have not defended the rights of the Kurdish people in Iraq, why they would defend our rights.” "After 9/11, the American perception of Kashmir has changed. They are the ones who are defining what terrorism is." Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat-e-Islami said." The Americans have their own interest (to protect). They are prejudiced and do not want to see just demands being met. If they did, then the situation in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan would not exist."
Even the Kurds in North Iraq are now complaining, although they enjoyed US protection from Saddam Hussein since 1991 Gulf war till the US invasion of Iraq and almost total autonomy, but their status remains ambiguous in 'new Iraq'. When the farce of handing over the 'sovereignty ' to Iraqi exile Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was carried out in end June, it included no guarantee of their autonomy in the UN resolution, which was promised earlier. A press release from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said that "the current situation in Iraq and the new-found attitude of the US, UK and UN has led to a serious re-think for the Kurds. The proposed plans do not seem to promise the expected Kurdish role in the future of a new Iraq. The Kurds feel betrayed once again." Underlining that the Kurds have been the only true friends and allies of the coalition, it added that "if the plight of the Kurds is ignored yet again and we are left with no say in the future of a new Iraq, the will of the Kurdish people will be too great for the Kurdish political parties to ignore--. This will certainly not serve the unity of Iraq."
But Turkey's Kurds Make Progress
After receiving the Sakharov Prize, European Union (EU)'s top human rights award, Leyla Zana, former Turkish deputy of Kurdish origin told the European Assembly in Brussels on 14 October that "Violence has outlived its time. The language and method of solution of our age is dialogue, compromise and peace. It is not 'die and kill,' but 'live and let live'." "Everything that is not given a name and not defined is without identity. It is only the Kurds who do not have a name," added Zana. She said that her aim was to underline the brotherhood of people's languages and cultures. "The Kurds are determined for a peaceful solution within the territorial integrity of Turkey." She spoke partly in Kurdish and partly in Turkish.
Europe's Parliament with its 732-members, which repeatedly called for Zana's release over the last decade, gave her a standing ovation after her 30-minute speech. Zana was awarded the prize in 1995 when as a member of Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP), she was jailed to serve a 15-year sentence by Turkey's State Security Court along with three other DEP deputies -- Orhan Dogan, Hatip Dicle and Selim Sadak -- on charges of separatism and alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The other prominent winners of the award to honor the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov were South African President Nelson Mandela; Alexander Dubcek, father of the Praha Spring and Burmese Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the wake of recent revolutionary changes in Turkey to make its Constitution conform to the Copenhagen criteria and enable it join the EU, Zana and others were temporarily freed in June and now face re-trial on charges that she had sported a hair band in the traditional Kurdish colours of yellow, green and red used by Kurdish militants. She had also defied the ban on speaking in Kurdish in Turkey's Parliament .The four MPs were stripped of their parliamentary immunity in 1995 and their pro-Kurdish DEP party banned. The EU entry aspired new human rights laws made the court consider them as political prisoners, released them, and called for a retrial.
Zana wants to launch a new "movement" for advancing the rights of Turkey's Kurds and invited writers, artists and other intellectuals to join. She said "Our vision and basic goal is to advance the Kurdish democratic movement in the areas of freedom, democracy and participation and pluralistic politics ... and to bring the people to power." Zana has repeatedly called for peaceful tactics to advance cultural rights for Kurds, which have been conceded to a large extent.
While the activities of Zana and other Turkish leaders of Kurdish origin provided the political thrust in the struggle for cultural and other rights, Abdullah Ocalan leader of PKK represented the violent face, which since millennia has resisted forced assimilation by majority ethnic, linguistic and religious groups or nations. Ocalan made his peace with the Turkish state, after his capture in 1999. He was tried and condemned to death (later commuted to life term in 2002) and imprisoned. He asked his followers to give up the gun, but since June, when a unilateral ceasefire by his followers was not renewed, violence has again re-surfaced.
But the Turkish state also paid a heavy price. Since 1984, Ocalan led PKK rebellion for a Kurdish state in South and East cost over 37,000 lives, mostly Kurds but included over five thousand soldiers. Thousands of Kurdish villages were bombed, destroyed, abandoned or relocated. Millions of Kurds were moved or migrated. A third of Turkish army was tied up in South East costing $6 to $8 billion per year .The region's economy was shattered. It brought charges of police and military brutality and human rights violations in the West to which Turkey is linked through NATO, OECD and EU.
Pakistani Media Team in Srinagar
In early part of October, a team of 16 Pakistani journalists during their first-ever historic and path-breaking visit to Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), met with among others, Yasin Malik, leader of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), who was released some years ago after many years in Indian jails. A member of the Pakistani team reported back that Malik made them "squirm with his accusations. He thinks our visit is an example of wily "Punjabi (Pakistan's) statecraft", that India and Pakistan are two pipsqueaks with "tiny" bombs. And then the knockout blow: we are here with a 'brief' from Pakistan and are completely 'confused' about the situation here." The encounters and exchanges during the visit exposed many wrong perceptions about each other.
Shabir Shah, berated the Pakistani scribes for coming to Kashmir on Indian visas. When released from Indian Jail in 1994 he first visited refugee camps in miserable conditions of the Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to leave Kashmir by terrorists and declared himself against any solution that involved a further partition of Jammu and Kashmir "because it will repeat the mistake of Partition and put the lives of Indian Muslims in great danger"; and who, till two years ago, had declared himself willing to fight the state assembly elections .His virulent attack during the visit of Pakistanis reflects the depth of disillusionment with New Delhi's policies too.
A group of students perhaps egged on by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. forced their way into a dialogue between the journalists and students at Kashmir University and, after shouting Nizam-e-Mustapha and Nara-e-Tadbir, said that they welcomed the militants from Pakistan and regarded them as their saviours. But the Pakistan-based militants, have 'liberated' more than 6,000 Kashmiris in the past six years by killing them, and systematically assassinate moderate Kashmiri leaders
Asiya Andrabi of Kashmir's Dukhtaran-e-Millat militant group of women was criticized by Pakistani scribes back home because "A day before (we reached) Srinagar on Oct 6, she held a press conference (and) forewarned the people of Kashmir that journalists from Pakistan were visiting them 'on orders of General Musharraf, who wants to abandon Kashmiris for the pleasure of Americans'.
"The day after, a deadly Jihadi outfit, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, fully endorsed her suspicions. The doubts regarding our visit were not confined to 'extremist fringes'. "Cartoon after cartoon appeared in a section of the popular newspapers of Srinagar, where the journalists from Pakistan were mocked with utmost contempt for avariciously relishing the meaty Wazwun of Kashmir and appreciating the scenic beauty of it like the dazed tourists on an exotic picnic." Kashmiris and the media castigated the team for accepting the J&K government's “5 Star hospitality".
Another wrote that “The official Pakistani discourse still talks about the disputed issue of J&K's accession to India; the religious elements in Pakistan want the State's accession to Pakistan on the basis of religious affinity; the JKLF wants an independent State. The diversity of these discourses is matched in J&K and India. But it is also subdued for the time being because of the larger overhang of the single purpose of getting rid of India.
"Yet, this diversity cannot be avoided. At the negotiating table, whenever that stage comes, one of the most difficult issues to resolve would be defining Azaadi (freedom, liberation, independence) because a resolution would demand, more than emotions, an acceptable mechanism for determining the Kashmiri aspirations.
"One can broadly have two poles, the rest lying between the two. Syed Ali Geelani with his emphasis on accession to Pakistan being one; Omar Abdullah, the chief of National Conference with his emphasis on autonomy within the Indian Union being the other. The JKLF too is clear on its stand but as things stand there are not many takers for the independence option, at least in the way the group has formulated it or continues to do so. Geelani and Abdullah are closer to the ground realities because their solutions take into account the two major players: Pakistan and India. "
Human rights activists also told them stories they had heard before: about missing persons or about individuals who had been tortured or held in jail without trial for a number of years under the draconian anti-terrorist laws. On this score too their perceptions were reinforced. But a cool and confident National Conference leader of the opposition, Omar Abdullah, grand son of legendry leader Sheikh Abdullah and a feisty and shrewd Mehbooba Mufti, daughter of the Chief Minister put across their points of view, which much impressed the visitors.
Another journalist wrote that "It may not constitute the unfinished agenda of Partition, as Pakistan holds, but even from a discerning Indian perspective the state certainly comes across as the unfinished agenda of integration into the Indian Union."
For the Pakistani team it came as a shocking revelation that almost the entire Kashmiri intelligentsia conveyed to them (Pakistan) and to New Delhi too -"A plague on both your houses. We want Azadi." It exploded the belief in Pakistan that, being Muslims, Kashmiris want to join Pakistan. For the last half-century Pakistanis believed and propounded that Kashmir's future be decided by a plebiscite giving Kashmiris only two options, Pakistan or India. It became clear that Kashmiri militant leaders whom Islamabad supports didn't speak for the people of Kashmir but a small minority. Of course Azadi (freedom) is interpreted in many ways by Kashmiris but an Independent Kashmir is not on Pakistani mind.
The message to Pakistanis was that the Kashmiris want a place at the negotiating table .The Pakistani journalists were unable to engage in the long, painstaking discussions needed to get Kashmiri leaders to drop their public postures and start defining Azadi more precisely. Whether Azadi was for the pre-partition princely state of Kashmir, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Valley and 'Azad Kashmir', or only the Valley. Were the Kashmiris prepared for another partition if some parts did not want to secede from India. How much sovereignty would satisfy the thirst for azadi—who would look after Kashmiri defence and security needs, and how much of the present free access to the Indian market, to Indian educational institutions and the Indian fiscal support they wanted to retain. A Mori poll two years ago said that 61 per cent of J& K people preferred to stay with India.
Many in Pakistan naively believe that after years of militant attacks in J&K and India, getting a concession from India would be push over. Indians firmly believe that no Indian government can survive any major concessions. Some say that the unfinished agenda of Partition, could engulf Pakistan, which has as yet to establish itself on the basis of territorial loyalty. Pakistan would come around only if it felt that its policy of confrontation has become counter productive and there is some profit in a solution. While meeting Kashmiri aspirations as the best way toward an agreement, it is for New Delhi and Islamabad to balance the quantum of independence keeping in view Indian and Pakistani vital interests
As for economic packages for J&K by governments of India." These have remained far from being realised," said a senior official recently, who feels that announcements of packages only make official files heavier and burdensome without any concrete results on the ground. Most of money leaks out, even invested in India.
Those in J&K who favour independence have not been happy about the progress of talks, how ever tortuous, between India and Pakistan, done mostly under US prodding. The two countries have moved to discussing "solutions" for J&K with India committing itself to a "peaceful negotiated settlement" in a formal acceptance of its "disputed" nature, while Pakistan has accepted the "bilateral" nature of the dialogue and dropped the insistence on a plebiscite and third-party mediation. Pakistan kept the issue alive except for a decade and a half after 1972, when it lost Bangladesh, with help from UK, USA and China, whose attitudes have changed depending on their own strategic objectives and perceptions.
The Kashmiris and even the Pakistanis might as well study the long drawn out Kurdish struggle and learn something from it.
The Kurdish Problem
The Kurds are an Iranian-related people totalling over 25 million who occupy mostly the adjoining mountainous regions of Turkey (14 million), Iran (8 million) and Iraq (4 million) with nearly half a million each in Syria, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
They have been caught up in ethnic upheavals and the intermingling of Aryan, Turkic and Semitic races for many millennia. Descending from Medes, they were first mentioned as the Kurduchoi, who harassed Xenephon and his Ten Thousand during the epic retreat from Mesopotamia to the Black Sea in 401 BC.
The Turks started moving into Anatolia only after the Byzantines were defeated at Manzikert in 1071 AD. But barring petty dynasties and some principalities in the region, the Kurds, most now Sunni Muslims, failed to establish a lasting kingdom. Salahaddin remains their greatest medieval hero. They have been kept divided and exploited as pawns by the ruling Persian, Turkish and Arab empires, and later by colonial powers, enjoying autonomy only when the empires were week. Sunni Ottomans used them to guard the frontiers against the Shi'ite Safavids of Iran. Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria might have adversary relations with each other, but when it comes to Kurds, they close ranks. But throughout history, whenever suppressed, the Kurds become outlaws and take to the mountains.
Belonging to the Iranian-language! family, Kurdish is spoken in five dialects and many sub-dialects, but the divisions among Kurds are reflected not only in the dialects or the countries they inhabit. Differences among them have persisted throughout history. In north Iraq, the Kurds are split among the Kurdish Democratic Movement (KDM) of Masud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Jalal Talabani, who have been warring with each other for decades.
But, even when divided, they have enjoyed some semblance of autonomy, first under the British mandate, then the leftist regime of Brig Kassem, and even under the kid gloves and poisoned sword treatment of Saddam Hussein, with an almost free run during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. And then under US-led protection after the 1991 Gulf War. The idea of a Kurdish identity and autonomy, which was vigorously suppressed in the unitary Turkish state, was kept alive across in Iraq.
The Iranians have manipulated Iraqi Kurds as did the Russians the Iranian Kurds during World War II, encouraging them to declare the Mahabad Republic, which after the Russian withdrawal in 1946 was annihilated. Iran gave shelter and arms to Iraqi Kurds and the PKK. In return, after the 1979 Khomeini revolution, the Iraqis supported Iranian Kurds. But unlike Iraq, Iran and elsewhere, the Kurds in Turkey are the most, well integrated with other citizens. But they were subjected to harassment and discrimination when the Kurdish insurgency began, although they enjoy equal legal rights. Ataturk's right hand man, Ismet Pasha, later president, had Kurdish blood, as did former president Turgut Ozal. The former foreign minister and the parliament speaker, Hikmet Cetin, a full-blooded Kurd, is another of many such examples of prominent Kurds in Turkey.
Ocalan and the PKK
Nicknamed Apo (uncle in Kurdish), Ocalan was born in 1949 at Omerli, a small town on the Euphrates in Urfa in Turkey who claims a Turkish grandmother, and some Arab blood too. His family took the surname of Ocalan (avenger) for having rebelled against Ataturk's republic in the 1920s. With a mixed population in south Turkey, many people speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic.
More fluent in Turkish than Kurdish, Ocalan was a bright student and after the usual religious education in the village Maktab, at which he excelled, he won a scholarship to the prestigious political science faculty at Ankara, a breeding ground for Turkey's intellectuals, civil servants and even politicians. In the heady days of the early 1970s after the Paris student uprising, the Ankara University had become a centre of leftist thought and activities.
To begin with, Ocalan was an admirer of Ataturk, and even wanted to be a military officer. But the total suppression of ethnic or cultural pluralism, as if Kurdish history and identity did not exist, and a spell in prison after a crackdown on radical students in 1971, where he met other Kurdish students, transformed him into a hardened leftist Kurdish nationalist. After the first tentative steps in 1974 to initiate a Kurdish liberation movement at Ankara, the PKK (in Kurdish - Partia Karkaran-e Kurdish) - an alliance of workers, peasants and intellectuals for a democratic and independent Kurdistan based on Marxist-Leninist principles - was founded by Ocalan with 12 others in the village of Lice in Diyarbakir on November 27, 1978.
The circumstances of its origins; tribalism, feudalism, the grinding poverty of the region compared to the growing prosperity in western Turkey made Marxism an abiding ideology that attracted poorer but educated youth of both sexes. After some unsuccessful attacks in 1979, the really violent incidents, which brought recognition to the PKK as a terror outfit, were carried out in 1984 in Sirit and Hakkari near the Iraq-Iran border.
From a few hundred in 1984, the number of PKK cadres then rose to the thousands and peaked in the first half of the 1990s when the PKK was churning out 300 fighters every quarter. As the state used all the brutal power at its command, the PKK fought back savagely by killing government village headmen, guards, teachers and doctors, apart from innocents and the military and police soldiers. Brutal reprisals and killings by security forces brought in thousands of fresh volunteers to the PKK.
Ocalan left Turkey for Lebanon just before the 1980 military intervention. Afraid that Islamic revivalism and Kurdish nationalism were undermining the state, the military junta banned major political parties and debarred politicians, came down heavily on the media, politicians, students and radicals, especially those of Kurdish origin. But the prisons only proved to be academies for new recruits to the PKK cause.
Ocalan first contacted PLO leftists, but was soon adopted by the Syrians, who provided him a residence in Damascus and gave him the Bekaa Valley for training his cadres. He spent some time in East Germany, but mostly operated from Syria and Lebanon. A ruthless and cruel leader, with a charismatic hold over his followers and in spite of never returning to Turkey, Ocalan was revered by his dedicated followers and feared and obeyed by most.
Roots Of The Kurdish Problem
The roots of the Kurdish problem lie deep in the Turkish psyche. The seeds were sown during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Turkish Republic after World War I. Under the Ottomans, its Christian, Armenian and other millets (religious communities) enjoyed religious freedom with autonomy in their personal laws and education. The Turks complain that the Christian West used the stick of religion and nationalism in Eastern Europe to break up the empire during the 19th and early 20th century. The first to leave were the Balkan Christians, and in the late 19th century it was feared that even the Kurds might desert, like the Egyptians. But the last straw was the revolt by Muslim Arabs, for the Ottoman caliphs were always Muslims first and then Turks. In fact the word "Turk", until Ataturk endowed it with dignity, was used as a term of contempt by the Ottoman elite.
Hence, Turks manifested a pervasive distrust of any cultural or autonomous movement that might lead to fragmentation of the unitary republic. It revives memories of Western conspiracies against Turkey and the non-ratified 1920 Treaty of Sevres forced on the Ottoman Sultan by the World War I victors. It would have divided Anatolia with outright independence to the Armenians and given autonomy to Kurds, leading to their independence and granted zones of influence to France, Italy and Greece. The successful war of independence led by Ataturk, though, undid the Sevres Treaty. In the new treaty of Lausanne in 1923, there was no mention of Armenia or Kurds - not even the latter's language Kurdish, although it permitted Greeks, Armenians and others to speak in their tongues.
To begin with, Ataturk himself had talked of Turks, Kurds, Lazes and others, but a dramatic change came over him during 1923 -24 and he opted for a unitary state. Perhaps it was because of the British detachment of the Mosul and Kirkuk region, the ambivalent attitude of many Kurds and minor revolts after the Treaty of Sevres. In 1924, he abolished the Caliphate and Kurds were just turned into non-persons; their language, music, dress and culture, even the use of Kurdish first names, were made illegal. Conservative Kurds led by Sheikh Said, a follower of the Naqshbandi sect (as are many current Islamic leaders), rebelled against the ungodly state in 1925. The fledgling republic, under pressure from radicals, ruthlessly suppressed Kurdish rebellions, some of which lingered on into the 1930s. Influential Kurdish families were relocated to extreme western Turkey near the border with Bulgaria. They were allowed to come back and rehabilitated only after the introduction of multiparty democracy and slackening of the unitary state's heavy hand in the 1950s.
Turkey's constitution describes itself as a Laic state, which, according to many, is more Jacobin than genuinely secular. It is based on the nationalist philosophy of Zia Gokalp, himself perhaps a Kurd, who unfortunately used for laic/secular, the title la din i.e., anti-religion. After the founding of the republic, its Christian minorities were exchanged with Turks from Greece and the remaining squeezed out later. A few left in the southeast left too, faced with the Kurdish rebellion against the state. So the concept of secularism in Turkey became one of anti-religion, and it tends to become anti this or anti that, which leads to intolerance. The Sunni-dominated police establishment has regularly harassed the Shi'ite Alevis, ironically perhaps, the original Turcoman, who helped conquer Anatolia and then the Kurds. But Turkey claims to be the protectors of Turcomans in north Iraq and warned USA recently on it.
The establishment, a curious macho amalgam of the military-led secular elite and the Sunni-dominated interior ministry tried to resolve problems by force as a compromise might be seen as a sign of weakness. It considered Islamic revivalism and Kurdish rebellion as two major threats to the security, stability and integrity of the state, although the left of centre Social Democrat Party (SHP), in coalition governments in 1991-95, had come to the conclusion in 1990, based on a study that neither Kurdish nationalism nor Islamic fundamentalism posed a threat to the republican order. Many other subsequent reports have confirmed the same conclusions, underlining that most Kurds wanted respect for their identity, the use of the Kurdish language for education and television and cultural freedom.
Kurds after the 1991 Gulf War
The 1990-91 Gulf War proved to be a watershed in the violent explosion of the Kurdish problem. A nebulous and ambiguous situation emerged in north Iraq when, at the end of the war, US president George W Bush Sr encouraged the Kurds (and the hapless Shi'ites in the south) to revolt against Saddam Hussein's Sunni Arab regime.
Turkey was dead against it, as a Kurdish state in the north would have given ideas to its own to Kurds. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Gulf were opposed to a Shi'ite state in south Iraq. The hapless Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites paid a heavy price. In March 1991, protected zone in north Iraq, patrolled by US and British war planes was created for the Iraqi Kurds, who even elected a parliament, which, of course, never functioned properly. Barzani and Talabani, though, mostly run almost autonomous administrations in their areas. This state of affairs allowed the PKK a free run. Earlier, it had used the eight-year Iran-Iraq war to stockpile arms.
It was Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who softened the rigors against his own Kurds, when he publicly proclaimed in 1991 that there were 12 million Kurds in Turkey and allowed them to use Kurdish in speech and music. Earlier, in 1989, he had acknowledged his Kurdish ancestry and had thus ended the legal taboo on the use of word "Kurd" since 1924. The Kurds were till 1989 called mountain Turks.
On this writer's first visit in 1969 to Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city, after checking into a hotel, as soon as he emerged he was accosted by urchins singing Kurdish songs and muttering defiantly "Kurdum Kurdum" (I am Kurd! I am Kurd! - but in Turkish). As late as 1979, when a former minister for public housing said that there were Kurds in Turkey and that he himself was one, he was sentenced to two years in prison. As the Kurds were barred from adopting Kurdish names, many took on Arabic ones. Therefore, they found Turkish protests hypocritical when Bulgaria forced its citizens of Turkish origin to take on Bulgarian names in the late 1980s.
But not only Ozal but also many Turks remain fascinated with the dream of "getting back" the Ottoman provinces of Mosul with Kirkuk now in Iraq. They were originally included within the sacred borders of the republic proclaimed in the National Pact of 1919 by Kemal Ataturk and his comrades, who had started organizing resistance to fight for Turkey's independence from the occupying World War I victors. The oil-rich part of the Mosul region was occupied by the British forces illegally after the armistice and then annexed to Iraq, then under British mandate, in 1925, much to Turkish chagrin.
Iraq was created by joining Ottoman Baghdad and Basra Velayat (provinces). Kuwait 's Kayamakan (sub-governor) came under Basra rule. Later, two British agents, Sir Percy Cox for Iraq and Major John More for Kuwait, drew the frontiers between them in 1923, which remains a cause of perennial claims, tension and wars in the region. Kuwait was known to have oil and Mosul had potential. Thus, control of oil resources remains a permanent factor in the region. At the same time, Turks remain equally apprehensive of an independent Kurdish state evolving in north Iraq, which would act as a magnet for its own Kurds. They would then intervene, they have said.
The Kurdish Problem after The 1991 Gulf War
Attempts to even look at the Kurdish problem dispassionately mostly came to naught. Unfortunately, Ozal, who had helped bring the problem out into the open and might have found a solution, died in April 1993. Soon after his death, the unilateral ceasefire by the PKK, tacitly observed by the government, broke down when, in May 1993 and the PKK-state violence increased. Of course there were many vested interests, with considerable leakage of billions of dollars spent in security operations against the Kurds. Scandals cropped up from time to time. Like rebel movements elsewhere, the PKK was accused of funding itself from the drug trade (also from donations, extortion and taxes in Turkey and in Western Europe).
Because of Turkey's continued importance for NATO, and the PKK's Marxist ideology and Soviet support, it remained anathema to many in the US, but Europeans, especially with Kurdish populations, have been more sympathetic to their plight. Europe also provided safe havens to expelled and persecuted Kurdish MPs and others. Many Europeans, parliamentarians and others extended vocal support to the Kurdish cause, raising Turkish heckles.
Forming nearly 20 percent of the population, about 100 Kurds get elected to the parliament, but their cause was not taken up by their parties. They were not able to form a Kurdish party to politically ventilate their grievances. Such attempts led to harassment of parliament deputies, removal of their immunities, jailing and even killings. Kurdish parties such as the HEP (Kurdish Labour Party), DEP (Democracy Party) and HADEP (People's Democracy Party) were obstructed and suppressed. Their members harassed, jailed and even killed, with radicals across the board setting the agenda discouraging any peaceful and meaningful discussion in parliament or outside.
Since the early 1990s, attempts to explain the Kurdish viewpoint through the media by newspapers like Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda) Ozgur Ulke (Free Country) and others were stopped through harassment and even murder of journalists and distributors, with connivance and help from the establishment. Even the mainline media was punished for writing about Kurds, their problems and even about mishandling of the rebellion. When Urfa-born popular Kurdish singer Ibrahim Tatlisiz complained that he could not sing in his mother tongue, he had hell to pay. Kurds and even Turks, including famous writers like Yassar Kemal, were harassed and imprisoned for writing about Kurds and their problems.
Turkey Goes For PKK's Jugular
Turkey's determination to deal a hammer blow to the Kurdish rebellion was brought to a head in late 1998 when it threatened war on Syria unless it expelled Ocalan and the PKK who were given shelter by Syria as a lever against Turkey for denial of its fair share of Euphrates waters and irredentist claims over Hatay province.
After the collapse of the USSR, Syria's patron and supplier of arms, a weakened and isolated Syria expelled Ocalan, who first went to the Russian Federation and then to Rome in search of asylum. Eventually he was apprehended after leaving the Greek embassy in Nairobi on February 16, 1999 by Turkish agents assisted by other countries, including, perhaps, the US and Israel. His capture was followed by violence and demonstrations in Turkey and European cities with Kurdish populations.
Ocalan was tried and given the death verdict. At his trial, Ocalan, instead of being defiant, promised peace and to bring down the PKK fighters from the mountains. Awaiting a certain death sentence in a glass cage, Ocalan's performance was sober, dignified and consistent in his defence. Apart from the 1993 conditional ceasefire, he had offered the olive branch many times, including in 1994 and 1995. A court commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment in October 2002.
Mountainous Kurdish lands with headwaters of Euphrates and Tigris and birthplace of civilizations in the region became strategic locations and disputed by Sunni Turkish Ottomans, Shia Persians Safavids and Arabs and their predecessors and successors. Kashmir, next to the underbelly of former Soviet Union, still adjoins China's strategic Xingjian and Tibet provinces. China also occupies Kashmir territory in Ladakh. J&K also controls river waters of Punjabs (five waters) in Pakistan and India. Other such strategic places nearby are Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ferghana valley. This is what made Kashmir so important for USA from 1950s to 1970s in West vs. USSR Cold War. But Henry Kissinger's visit to Beijing changed the situation some what. After fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and movement of India towards USA, Kashmir further lost its importance to USA. Of course USA, UK will use it to squeeze whatever concessions they can from India. After 119 USA has now established bases in Central Asia adjoining China and Russia, so Kashmir is not that much valuable.
In the words of the greatest of the Sanskrit poets Kalidas, Kashmir is "more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness." The 19th century British historian Sir Walter Lawrence said: "The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness."
In ancient times, it was called "Kashyapamar" (after saint Kashyapa) that later became Kashmir. The ancient Greeks called it "Kasperia," and the Chinese pilgrim Hiun-Tsang who visited the valley in the 7th century AD, called it "Kashimilo." The earliest recorded history of Kashmir by its historian Kalhan begins at the time of the Mahabharata war. In the 3rd century BC, emperor Ashoka introduced Buddhism in the valley. Kashmir became a major hub of Hindu culture by the 9th century AD. It was the birthplace of the Hindu sect called Kashmiri 'Shaivism', Islam came in 14th century, when Hindu shrines were destroyed, and Hindus were forced to embrace Islam. But major conversions were done by Sufis, which remains its core strength. The Mughals ruled Kashmir from 1587 to 1752, followed by a dark period (1752-1819), of rule by Afghan despots.
The Muslim period, which lasted for about 500 years, came to an end with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab in 1819. At the end of the First Sikh War in 1846, by the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu, was made the ruler of Kashmir. Its boundaries were delimited by the British after negotiations with Afghanistan and Russia. The crisis in Kashmir began immediately after the British rule ended in 1947, when a Pakistan led and directed force of tribals invaded Kashmir. In accordance with the Indian Independence act, which created Pakistan too, the Kashmiri ruler acceded to India. India took the complaint to United Nations. But with Pakistan joining the western side in the Cold War, Kashmir became a pawn in the Cold War strategies and polemics.
The UN a resolution calling for a free and impartial plebiscite could not be implemented because Pakistan did not comply with the resolution calling on it to withdraw its forces from the state. In 1949, with the intervention of the United Nations, India and Pakistan defined a ceasefire line ("Line of Control") that divided the two countries. In September 1951, elections were held in J& K and the National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah came to power, with the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, which re-affirmed the accession of the State to India.
After the Pakistan attack in 1965, war broke out between India and Pakistan. A cease-fire was established, and the two countries signed an agreement at Tashkent in 1966, pledging to end the dispute by peaceful means. After the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, Shimla Agreement was signed in 1972 between the two countries. Both sides agreed to resolve the problem bilaterally and peacefully. But after the withdrawl of USSR from Afghanistan in end 1980s, the militants and Jihadis fighting there were redirected by Pakistan into Kashmir. Pakistan continues to stir up violence in India and in occupied Kashmir trains and funds "Islamic guerrillas" that have waged a war of separatism war since 1989, killing tens of thousands of people. Pakistan always denied the charges, calling it an indigenous "freedom struggle." But even US Congress reports confirm Pakistani hand.
In 1999, intense fighting ensued between the infiltrators and the Indian army in the Kargil area of J&K which lasted for more than two months. Pakistan withdrew troops after intervention by US President Bill Clinton. In end 2001, Pakistan-backed terrorists waged violent attacks on the Kashmir Assembly and the Indian Parliament in New Delhi leading to a serious war like situation. The situation stabilized after President Gen Musharraf promised in a telecast in January 2002 that Pakistan would not support jihadis on Pakistani controlled territory .USA wants Pakistan which joined in its war on terror after 119 to concentrate on catching Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaida and Taleban leaders, for which it needs peace on its eastern borders. India has more or less acquiesced in.
A few months ago media exposed Israeli interference in north Iraq, with the former providing training to Kurdish Peshmarga militias and running covert operations in neighbouring countries like Syria and Iran, which upset Turkey no end, hurting their close military relations. Israel would prefer a weak and decentralized Iraq, if not a divided one. North Iraqi Kurdish leaders still have a tribal, narrow short-term outlook. Help from neighbours like Israel could backfire.
While the future of the Kurds in North Iraq remains uncertain, not much is written about the problems of those in Iran, Syria (where, instigated by the Israelis, they rebelled recently), in Caucasus and beyond. Turkey's Kurds have reached the stage of getting back their identity, language and culture ,accepted after a bloody struggle since almost the inception of the Turkish Republic. It was helped by Turkey's determination to join EU which brought about revolutionary changes in its polity. But it needs watching.
Unlike the Kurds, who are a distinct people, Kashmiris are like the rest of the people of India or Pakistan, mixed. Kashmiris have no problems regarding their identity, language and culture in India's multicultural polity. Yes, the regimes in Delhi have not allowed the young generation of Kashmiris to come up in politics from the grass roots and join the mainstream like Yadavs and Lals of Hindi belt. While efforts have been made to bring minorities (Christians) in North East of India into mainstream, by encouraging political leadership at grass roots and reservations in civil services and education, such steps have not been taken for Muslims of Kashmir in particular and India in general.
There are some similarities between the career of Ocalan and Hizb ul Mujahidin Commander Syed Salahuddin aka Syed Yusuf Shah. The latter took to rebellion when he was denied a legitimate role in political life of the Valley. Frustrated, like others he became a rebel. Delhi has tended to rely on a few Muslim families of Kashmir. A similar tendency can be seen by many political parties in relying on a few reliable Muslim individuals in India's polity, who are recycled regularly. Even after reservations for Other Backward Classes, similar facility was not extended to the Muslims .In the Sub-Continent, converts to Islam or Christianity maintain their caste hierarchy, so it is not difficult to classify them.
Another important thing to remember is that the Kurds in Turkey and for that matter Palestinians in Occupied Territories, while accepting assistance from outsiders, have generally fought their own battles, while the Kashmiris have allowed the outsiders to fight their battle i.e. Pakistanis, Arabs and other Muslims and have become victims of the latter's agenda and interests. And finally without open and full support from western nations, China and Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, apart from Pakistan; the Kashmir struggle would have been a non-starter. But the outsiders then demand their pound of flesh. (Originally posted on 27 October, 2004)
K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. The views expressed here are his own.-