The Kurdish Question in Turkish Politics

In November 1998, Turkey’s Kurdish question returned to the top of the international agenda with the seizure in Italy of Abdullah O¨ calan, leader of the rebellious Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan— PKK). Demonstrations in support of Ocalan’s release wreaked havoc throughout Europe and served as a reminder of the war between the PKK and the Turkish state that has claimed over 30,000 lives since 1984. A month before his seizure, Ocalan had been expelled from Damascus, his base for the last nineteen years, after Turkey had threatened Syria with war unless it ceased to provide a safe haven for the PKK. Having failed to find asylum in Russia, Belgium, or the Netherlands, Ocalan—apparently acting on an invitation from Italian leftists—believed he could find refuge in Italy. After heavy Turkish and American pressure, Ocalan was nevertheless forced to leave Italy and seek asylum elsewhere, but was eventually apprehended by Turkish security forces on February 16, 1999, in Nairobi, Kenya.

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