Why does Öcalan need to approach the Gülen movement?

Emre Uslu
Emre Uslu


Date posted: December 22, 2010

Emre Uslu

The Turkish public has recently been discussing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan’s peace offer to the Gülen movement. Many observers saw this as a surprise step from Öcalan.

Last week I had the chance to speak with both Kurdish politicians and followers of Gülen in the Southeast.

Unlike widely believed rumors, some of which were published by the Turkish press, the Gülen movement never requested to meet with the PKK and its affiliated organizations. What I was told is that despite enormous pressure from the PKK, including the bombing of pro-Gülen schools, threats to local shop owners to stop helping Gülen followers in the Southeast, and pressure on parents to not send their children to Gülen schools, the Gülen movement never approached pro-PKK politicians to ask for any help from them. One of the Gülen followers told me that they were the only group that stays in the region despite PKK pressure. What we were told is to stay even if the PKK comes and kills you, and we will stay here forever, he said.

When I asked why the Gülen movement does not want to communicate with pro-PKK politicians to ease tension, I received a sharp answer: If we communicate with the PKK, the groups, including the deep state, who hates us more than they hate the PKK, would use this to throw mud at us, if not terrorize the movement. Gülen followers strongly deny any rapprochement from their side because they are very sensitive about being portrayed as being close to any illegal, criminal or terrorist organization in any part of the world. They told me that what they do around the world is promote education and transform the society from within, which requires being extra careful to obey rules and not get involved in any wrongdoing. Thus, Gülen followers think that any rapprochement with pro-PKK politicians would harm them in the long run and on the global scale.

When it comes to the question of why the PKK would want to negotiate with the Gülen movement, there is an interesting strategic analysis behind it. First, the PKK has been fighting against the state, and that would be legitimized because of heavy-handed state policies against the Kurds. Second, the PKK had in the past engaged in fights against the Kurdish Hizbullah and Kurdish tribes. During those years, the PKK successfully associated its enemies, i.e., Hizbullah and the tribes, with the state. For instance, Hizbullah is widely known as “HizbulKontra,” a group that formed as a “contra-guerilla” organization. The tribes were easily associated with the state because they accepted the village guard system and became part of the establishment. Therefore, the PKK successfully legitimized its war against the two groups. In addition, both the tribes and the Kurdish Hizbullah were local groups that would not harm the PKK on the global scene when it fought against the two.

The fight against the Gülen movement, however, is a very difficult task. Unlike the PKK’s local enemies, the Gülen movement is a global network that has lobbying power to trigger global criticism of the PKK. In addition, it is a proven reality that the Gülen movement is a peaceful network that has nothing to do with any illegal activity. Therefore, targeting the Gülen movement would automatically weaken the PKK’s strategic calculation to bring the Kurdish question to the international scene.

Furthermore, the Gülen movement has established good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, where the movement runs 10 prestigious private schools, including a university. It is for this reason very difficult for the PKK to explain why it targets a civilian initiative in the Kurdish region. Moreover, the PKK has tried to associate the Gülen movement with the state to delegitimize its existence in the region; however, the strategy did not work this time.

Last but not least, many Kurdish families start sending their children to Gülen institutions when they enter universities in western Turkey. I have had the chance to talk with many Kurds in the Southeast who face a dilemma of having one kid in the mountains and another in Gülen schools or institutions studying. Thus, many Kurdish families do not want the PKK to extend its fight to the Gülen movement as well. Therefore, Öcalan needs to find an available channel to approach the Gülen movement. However, from what I have observed in the Southeast, I do not think the Gülen movement will want to picture itself right next to pro-PKK politicians.

 

Source: Today's Zaman , 21 December 2010


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