Is Ab­dul­lah Ocalan a dou­ble agent work­ing for Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence against his own PKK?

The Kurdish Globe - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - By Palash R. Ghosh — In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Times

The name Ab­dul­lah Öcalan may not sound fa­mil­iar to most peo­ple, but is known to ev­ery­body in Turkey. For a few months in early 1999 he even made in­ter­na­tional head­lines, when the Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence leader turned up in Rome, where he pro­voked a diplo­matic brouhaha as the guest of an un­easy Ital­ian government -- be­fore flee­ing to Kenya and even­tu­ally be­ing cap­tured there by Turk­ish agents.

The Turks were af­ter him for a rea­son: He was, at the time, the coun­try’s num­ber one pub­lic en­emy. The 64-year-old co-founder of the sep­a­ratist Kur­dis­tan Work­ers' Party (PKK) is widely blamed for tens of thou­sands of deaths, of both civil­ians and sol­diers, aris­ing from the Turk­ish state’s multi-decade war against Kur­dish na­tion­al­ists in the south­east­ern part of the coun­try.

The Kurds, a sep­a­rate eth­nic group re­lated to Ira­ni­ans, have been seek­ing for a long time to form an in­de­pen­dent state.

Since his ar­rest, Öcalan has been in­car­cer­ated at the Im­rali is­land prison in the Sea of Mar­mara -- up un­til re­cently he was the sole in­mate in the fa­cil­ity. He was sen­tenced to death, but that was later com­muted to life im­pris­on­ment af­ter the Ankara government elim­i­nated cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as part of its bid to join the Euro­pean Union (a process that is still on­go­ing).

Over the past 14 years, the world has changed dra­mat­i­cally for both Öcalan – called "Apo" ("un­cle") by his le­gion of ad­mir­ers – and the Kurds. While the PKK still wages a pe­ri­odic cam­paign against the Turk­ish state from armed camps across the bor­der in north­west­ern Iraq and Iran, the Kurds of Turkey – rep­re­sent­ing at least 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion – have gained some civil and po­lit­i­cal rights, thereby com­pro­mis­ing the PKK’s rad­i­cal and vi­o­lent agenda.

Even Öcalan has called for an end to the vi­o­lent in­sur­gency and for a fo­cus on a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the an­cient Turk-Kurd con­flict.

Late last year, Turk­ish me­dia re­ported that Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of the rul­ing Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment party (AKP) – a long­time ad­ver­sary of the Kurds – di­rected his se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to reach out to the jailed Öcalan in or­der to com­mence some kind of peace di­a­logue be­tween Ankara and the PKK.

Quite a sur­pris­ing turn­around, given that in 2012 Er­do­gan had or­dered Turk­ish jet fight­ers to bom­bard PKK bases in Iraq, kill- ing scores of Kur­dish guer­ril­las.

Mu­rat Yetkin, a colum­nist for Turkey’s Hür­riyet Daily News, com­mented that talks with Öcalan would have been “un­think­able” just a few years ago.

“But now the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple, Turks and Kurds, are giv­ing silent con­sent to the process, hop­ing for an end to the vi­o­lence,” Yetkin wrote.

Specif­i­cally, Öcalan has been talk­ing to Hakan Fi­dan, the head of Turkey’s Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Or­ga­ni­za­tion (MİT), and his aides. In con­nec­tion with th­ese pre­lim­i­nary ne­go­ti­a­tions, PKK gueril­las have tem­po­rar­ily of­fered to lay down their arms.

How­ever, in the com­plex, ser­pen­tine world of Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal in­trigue, not ev­ery­thing is as it seems; in­deed, whose side is Öcalan really on?

Ques­tions about Öcalan's true loy­al­ties and motivations have floated for many years, even among his Kur­dish brethren. Some crit­ics have ac­cused Öcalan of work­ing in league with MİT.

Writ­ing in Kur­ in 2007, a colum­nist named So­sun We­lat ex­plic­itly ac­cused Öcalan of serv­ing as an agent for MİT and blamed him for per­pe­trat­ing a “sys­tem­atic be­trayal and trea­son to [the] Kur­dish cause.”

“Öcalan played a dou­ble agent role for years,” We­lat wrote. “His rise and fall was well planned and con­trolled by [the] Turk­ish state. He and PKK pro­vided cover for [the] Turk­ish state to ... de­stroy [the] Kur­dish heart­land, its way of life, cul­ture, lan­guage."

We­lat and other ob­servers be­lieve that prior to the form­ing of the PKK, in the mid-1950s, Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence in­fil­trated Kur­dish ac­tivist groups and helped es­tab­lish their Com­mu­nist cre­den­tials, thereby pro­vid­ing a le­git­i­mate ex­cuse to op­press Kurds in the name of prevent­ing the spread of Com­mu­nism (which would, of course, please Turkey’s then-new al­lies in West­ern Europe and the U.S.).

Then in the 1970s, so the the­ory goes, Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence fa­cil­i­tated the emer­gence of PKK, hop­ing to use it as a coun­ter­force that would weaken other Kur­dish in­sur­gents. “MİT planned to split Turk­ish left­ist groups by cre­at­ing (its own) Kur­dish left­ist group,www.ekurd. net PKK -- but ap­par­ently it got out of con­trol," said Em­rul­lah Uslu, an an­a­lyst at the Jamestown Foun­da­tion and a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Yeditepe Univer­sity in Is­tan­bul.

Ac­cord­ing to at least one eye­wit­ness, Öcalan's ties to MİT even go back fifty years.

Late last year, Turk­ish jour­nal­ist Mehmet Avni Özgürel, who him­self has been linked to MİT, told lo­cal me­dia that he saw Öcalan at­tend meet­ings at a foun­da­tion op­er­ated by Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence in the 1960s, when the fu­ture PKK leader was still a stu­dent.

Özgürel's al­le­ga­tions about Öcalan's un­sa­vory ar­range­ments with non-Kur­dish or­ga­ni­za­tions were painted with a fairly wide brush. He told the Ak­siyon weekly mag­a­zine that be­sides his links to MİT, Öcalan had re­la­tion­ships with se­nior po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in for­eign coun­tries, in­clud­ing the U.S., UK and Greece.

“I don't want to elab­o­rate on this [Öcalan's re­la­tions with other coun­tries] now be­cause one day I want to prove it with doc­u­ments that show where and with whom Öcalan met,” Özgürel told the publi­ca­tion.

He may have good rea­son to keep quiet; some Turks be­lieve that one in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter lost his life prob­ing al­leged con­nec­tions be­tween Öcalan and MİT.

Özge Mumcu, the daugh­ter of jour­nal­ist Uğur Mumcu, who was killed by a car bomb in 1993, told re­porters in 2010 that her fa­ther died be­cause "he prob­a­bly was in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­i­dence prov­ing that Öcalan was a MİT agent." (Mumcu’s mur­der has never been solved.)

Mumcu was plan­ning to meet with a re­tired pros­e­cu­tor named Baki Tug to dis­cuss Öcalan’s ties to MİT but he never made that ap­point­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Memcu's son, Tug knew of Öcalan's MİT re­la­tion­ship be­cause in 1972 Tug was asked by Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence to re­lease Öcalan from jail af­ter he was ar­rested for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pro-Kur­dish, anti-government boy­cott. Öcalan was freed with­out ex­pla­na­tion, within weeks.

About a month af­ter Mumcu’s death, an­other man who was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the same links, Gen. Eşref Bitlis, died in a mys­te­ri­ous plane crash.

Yeditepe Univer­sity's Uslu said that Öcalan has ad­mit­ted "that when he was a stu­dent at Ankara Univer­sity he had con­tacts with MİT. But Öcalan ar­gues that ‘MİT wanted to use me but I used them in­stead.’"

But MİT isn't the only or­ga­ni­za­tion seem­ingly anath­ema to Kur­dish in­ter­ests that Öcalan has been linked to. Some of Öcalan's clos­est as­so­ci­ates al­lege that he is con­trolled by the Er­genekon ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, also known as the "deep state" -- a se­cre­tive group com­pris­ing Turk­ish mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, right-wing na­tion­al­ists, and oth­ers who seek to top­ple the government of mod­er­ate-Is­lamist Prime min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

Ac­cord­ing to Öcalan's former right-hand-man, Hüseyin Yıldırım, "Öcalan con­trols the PKK and the ‘deep state’ con­trols Öcalan.” As Yıldırım sees it, “Öcalan made an agree­ment with the ‘deep state’ at İm­ralı [prison] to save his life.”

Fol­low­ing this line of rea­son­ing -- which may be lit­tle more than a con­spir­acy the­ory -- the Kur­dish-Turk con­flict is now be­ing di­rected by Er­genekon in or­der to fo­ment so­cial chaos, thereby pre­cip­i­tat­ing a mil­i­tary coup.

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Uslu spec­u­lated that in 2004, en­ti­ties re­lated to the "deep state" may have asked the PKK to re­sume its vi­o­lent ac­tiv­i­ties, af­ter a cease­fire, de­spite the fact that Kurds in Turkey had gained new rights as the government sought to en­ter the EU.

In or­der to pro­tect him­self from ac­cu­sa­tions of serv­ing as a dou­ble agent, Öcalan has also claimed that the PKK was in­fil­trated by Er­genekon. But his former col­league Yildirim says that Öcalan is try­ing to throw up a smoke­screen.

“This is in fact putting his own crimes on the shoul­ders of oth­ers," Yildirim told Taraf. "This is an ef­fort to pro­tect him­self.”

Mean­while, to­day Kur­dish PKK guer­ril­las re­main en­camped over the bor­der in Iraq, await­ing a victorious bat­tle against Turk­ish forces that seems more and more dis­tant by the day.

In­deed, Uslu con­tends that MİT con­tin­ues to pen­e­trate the PKK through a new or­ga­ni­za­tion called Koma Ci­vakên Kur­dis­tan (KCK) – lead­ers of whom are ac­tu­ally MİT agents.

But it is a mys­tery what Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence can gain at this point in keep­ing Öcalan alive and con­tin­u­ing to sup­port its al­leged “en­emy,” the PKK.

“This prob­lem has turned into a po­lit­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal cri­sis,” Uslu con­cluded. “I don't know what the MİT is aim­ing for with this, but it is no se­cret that MİT does not want to harm Mu­rat Karayılan, the cur­rent act­ing head of the PKK.”

As it ap­par­ently does not have any in­ter­est in hurt­ing Öcalan.

In­deed, Öcalan re­mains safely locked away in Im­rali prison with se­crets that he will likely take to the grave, the same place many of his former friends and cur­rent en­e­mies will have to leave their sus­pi­cions about him.

Ar­chive photo of the de­tained PKK Leader Ab­dulla Ocalaln

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