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Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers?

Auteur : Paul J. White
Éditeur : Zed Books Date & Lieu : 2000, London - New York
Préface : Pages : 260
Traduction : ISBN : 1 85649 821 2 cased
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 145x220 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. Ang. Whi. Pri. 3047Thème : Politique

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers?

Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers?

Paul J. White

Zed Books

This is the best scholarly analysis yet written on the PKK. It contextualises fully the Kurdish nationalist movement within the history and politics of Turkey during the last three decades as well as its transnational significance. Everyone interested in the history and politics of the Kurds, Turkey, the Middle East and the emergence and evolution of nationalist movements will want to read this book. It will be difficult in future to understand the great importance of the ‘Kurdish question’ in the Middle East and global politics in the 1990s and in the first decades of the 21st century without reading White’s book. Professor Robert Olson, University of Kentucky White’s book is refreshing because it shows that the ‘unaccomplished’ nature of modernity can produce paradoxical consequences. It opens new perspectives in the understanding of a wide range of nationalist movements across the world. Hamit Bozarslan, Ecole des Hautes Etudes et Sciences Sociales

Dr Paul J. White
teaches Middle Eastern studies at Deakin University. A Kurdish studies specialist, he has contributed numerous papers and articles to learned journals, particularly on the Kurdish question. He is the editor (with William S. Logan) of Remaking the Middle East (Berg Publishers, 1997). He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and serves on the board of directors of the Kurdish Institute, Washington, DC.



'Biji Serok Apo!' they chanted as they stormed into Greek embassies and consulates around the world: 'Long live Leader Apo!’ These Kurdish nationalists were determined to exact some retribution for Greece’s perceived role in his capture by Turkish commandos. Holding aloft pictures of their now imprisoned leader, Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan, they assailed Greek (and, in some cases, Israeli and Kenyan) diplomatic premises in over twenty cities around the world, beginning only hours after Ocalan was seized on 15 February 1999 (Sancton 1909: 44).

These dramatic occurrences were but the latest instalment in a chain of events which had begun in mid-November 1998, when Ocalan had taken the bold step of flying to Rome, in a dual quest for political asylum and recognition of the nationalist cause of Turkey’s Kurds. By so doing, he scaled his own fate, but nevertheless succeeded in focusing unparalleled attention on Turkey’s Kurds. Ocalan's organization, the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party) orchestrated a sophisticated campaign following his flight to the West. This campaign included demonstrations throughout Europe and parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as in Turkey. At its high point, an estimated 40,000 Turkish Kurdish nationalists marched through Bonn on 19 December 1998. They had converged on that city from around Europe, to demonstrate for their cause. About 10,000 PKK supporters - some of whom had even come from as far afield as Australia - had already marched in Rome on 18 November. Hunger strikes had also been organized and several Ocalan loyalists even set themselves alight.

Spectacular events tend to attract the world’s attention. So it was with the events of late 1998 and early 1999, which focused more attention on - and sympathy for - the situation of the Kurds in Turkey, than all the previous generations of Kurdish nationalists had ever achieved.

Yet Turkey’s Kurds remain on the sidelines of history. Ever since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc eliminated the Cold War and the bipolar hostilities and suspicions which underpinned it, the world has witnessed the sudden cessation of hostilities in a great number of long-running, previously intractable disputes. From Beirut to Bougainville the rhetoric now mostly concerns terms of peace and reconstruction, rather than war and destruction. Scholars have rushed to illuminate this turn of events with a rash of studies investigating the workings of citizenship and civil society, and championing the virtues of democratization. Insurgent 'national liberation’ and even ‘Marxist-Leninist’ organizations have begun the process of making peace through bargaining and political accommodation with their sworn enemies. The most remarkable of such cases is that encompassing the state of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Outside the Middle East, even the Irish Republican Army has indicated its willingness to talk seriously about peace. The fact that serious problems and setbacks have arisen in several of these peace processes is not surprising, given the bitterness of previous hostilities on all sides; the fact that peace negotiations have begun at all is far more astonishing, in the circumstances.

In Turkey, however, the picture is different. A conflict that has been raging there since 15 August 1984 has taken 30,000 lives (Voice of America, 13 April 1998) and continues unchecked. The ‘Marxist-Leninist’ PKK and the armed forces of the Turkish state remain locked in conflict, due to the former’s desire to create some form of Kurdish polity inside the present borders of the Turkish Republic, if not a fully independent Kurdish state spanning the current frontiers of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Turkey contains not just one large minority people, 'the Kurds’, but a whole range of ethnic minorities and heterodox identities. Several of these economically, socially and politically marginalized ethnic identities have generally been conveniently subsumed under the catch-all term ‘Kurds’, but differentiation is necessary, not only in order to understand the actual dynamics of Kurdish (Kurmanci) nationalism in Turkey, but also because the non-Kurmanci elements are now increasingly insisting upon their non-Kurdish identity themselves.

Whatever way one defines the Kurds of Turkey, how is the apparent anomaly of a continuing guerrilla insurgency, led by a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ nationalist organization to be explained in today’s post-Cold War world? This book will demonstrate that this is because the overlapping projects of functioning citizenship and democratization have managed to bypass the Kurds, as Kurds, in modern Turkey. Existing conditions have virtually guaranteed that ‘Marxist-Leninist’ leadership of the Kurdish national movement in Turkey persists, despite the much-trumpeted ‘collapse of Communism’.

This book examines the transformation of peasants from ‘social rebels’ into modern Kurdish nationalists and the changing nature of political leadership in Kurdish society in what may be described as the ‘modern’ period. The origins, ethnic make-up, political economy and history of the Kurds are looked at, before the rise and evolution of the Kurdish national movement is investigated, showing that this emerged in the late nineteenth century as a product of traditional Kurdish society. It is seen how this movement was affected by Ottoman and Kemalist economic and political changes, evolving towards a less parochial, purer nationalism, led centrally by urban Kurds formed in the Turkish Left. It is also demonstrated that ethnic differentiation was a central cause of the failure of several armed uprisings in the name of Kurdish nationalism. Ethnic differentiation is a problem with which Kurdish nationalists in Turkey are still coming to terms.

It is argued that, in many significant respects, the present-day Kurdish national movement, in Turkey the PKK, represents a qualitatively different sort of leadership from that of its historical predecessors. Initially a group of ‘primitive rebels’, with both millenarian tendencies and some modern political features, the PKK eventually emerged as a modern revolutionary nationalist organization, with a burgeoning diplomatic presence, which even contemplated bringing a complete end to its armed activities before this political evolution was curtailed by its founder’s capture. The capture of the PKK’s leader, it is claimed, raises the distinct possibility of a political ‘de-evolution’ on the part of the PKK, back towards practices of social banditry.

Finally, this study draws conclusions concerning political modernization in the contemporary Kurdish national movement. In short, it attempts to answer the question posed by its title: are Turkey's Kurdish nationalist leaders 'primitive rebels’ or revolutionary modernizers?

This study incorporates a number of interviews that needed to be conducted with a number of Kurds in the course of researching this book. The principal figures involved were the leaders of the two most important organizations of the Kurdish national movements, and the former leader of a now defunct Kurdish guerrilla organization, who at present heads a political movement critical of Kurdish nationalism.

With one exception, all interviews were conducted in the Turkish language, with the assistance of interpreters, with the code-names or nommes-de-guerre of Koçero and Rizgar. Trainee guerrillas interviewed were code-named, respectively: Koçero, Peyman, Medya and Sait. Of these, all were women, with the exception of Sait, a young man. All were of Kurdish origin, except for Medya, a Turkish leftist who decided to join the PKK. The questions put to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan were translated prior to the interview with the assistance of the interpreter code-named Rizgar. This interview was interpreted by a guerrilla code-named Yado. The interviews with Kemal Burkay and Seyfi Cengiz were conducted in English. Also interviewed was Kani Yilmaz, a senior PKK member, who was at the time the camp commandant in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. This interview was interpreted by Rizgar.

Each of the three leaders interviewed was asked the same basic list of questions, which ranged in subject matter from requests for basic information concerning the origins, background, tactics and social make-up of their organizations, to inquiries about the status of minorities (Alevis and Zazas) in their organization and theoretical queries. Some additional questions of a practical nature were also asked of Abdullah Ocalan, due to the importance of the PKK and the rare opportunity to seek such information offered by the interview. All interviews were tape-recorded, to ensure veracity.
Answers to questions by interviewees were checked against statements (other interviews, articles and books) previously published by the same persons for different audiences on the same topics. This also helped correct any distortions in the interview process caused by the subject feeling the need to appear to be modern and sophisticated in political outlook - another possible manifestation of the interviewer effect, given that the actual research topic deals with political modernization of a national movement in a developing economy.

In addition, a general procedure is followed when dealing with events throughout this book. Given the often controversial nature of events, this is important. Complete objective academic integrity is needed - while still permitting conclusions to be drawn about what probably took place in each instance. As a result, the method used will be to employ intelligent common sense and, as much as possible, sources independent of any players seen to be toeing an ideological line.
Acknowledgements are always difficult to make properly in such a text, since any list of those to whom I am indebted must necessarily be incomplete. I owe tremendous personal debts to Laurie Le Fevre, William S. Logan, Muzaffer Oruçoglu, Mustafa Sezen, Maria O’Shea, Duggi Silins, Nick Dallas, Lea Carter and Rachel West, who have all rendered invaluable support at crucial stages of this project.

Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, Hamit Bozarslan, Robert Olson, Martin van Bruinessen, Vera Beaudin Saeedpour, Bertal Qereman, Senem Gunejer, Endercan Dal, the staff of the Institut Kurde de Paris, Bob Springborg, Graham Little, Mike Amitay, Michael Chyet and Mehrdad Izady have been particularly helpful to me, on several occasions. The patient assistance of Robert Molteno at Zed Books has been most appreciated.

The biggest debts are owed to two people, without whom this project would have been quite impossible. Andrew Vincent has been unstinting in his assistance to my research, at every stage, spending vast amounts of his own time to read various drafts of chapters, and always offering the most insightful critical suggestions, and most positive personal reinforcement. His overall guidance has been absolutely crucial. And my partner, Seher Çinar, has been a constant source of both warm support and insightful feedback.

Naturally, I must assume full responsibility for this book.

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