Alynna J. Lyon
Department of Government and International Studies
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Office: (803) 777-8180

Emek M. Uçarer
Department of Government and International Studies
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Office: (803) 777-1332

Paper prepared for presentation on the panel on "Stateless Ethnic Nations," at the March 1998 International Studies Association annual meeting, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Related papers and documents can be found through Discourse Links

Draft: Comments Most Welcome


Ethnic nationalism can and often does have consequences for countries other than traditional homelands. A prime example of this is the Kurdish separatist movement which continues to be one of the most intriguing and potentially volatile cases of transnational ethnic nationalism. Kurdish people not only reside in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria as citizens but also in western Europe where they live as resident aliens. Kurds arrived in Western Europe as guest workers in the 1960s and early 1970s and then as asylum seekers in the 1980s and 1990s.

 Recently, hunger strikes, protest marches and terrorist bombings have been much publicized manifestations of the increasingly mobilized separatist movements within Germany. These protests are being staged outside the traditional Kurdish homelands. Germany is now faced with considerable dilemmas concerning internal policy towards their Kurdish residents as well as tenuous external relations with the country from which they originated.
This project explores Kurds migration into Germany and how this recipient country has enabled their entry and responded to their presence. In addition, the paper explores the internationalization of these separatist movements as Germany and Turkey have become entangled in the political web of Kurdish nationalism. The mobilization of Kurdish ethnic nationalism in host societies, and the factors that make such mobilization possible in western liberal democracies are given specific focus.

"Alle Zeichen weisen darauf hin, dass der Terror, der bislang auf Kurdistan begrenzt war, nun auf die gesamte Türkei und auf Länder mit türkischen und kurdischen Migranten überschwappt."
(All signs point to the fact that the terror, which has heretofore been limited to Kurdistan, has now spread to all of Turkey and to those countries with Turkish and Kurdish migrants.)


The rise in conflict between distinct communities of people in the 20th century, particularly over the last decade, has become one of the most volatile and contentious phenomena in contemporary international relations. World maps that illustrate by diverse color schemes, a world cleanly divided into nation-states with French people living in France and Russian people living in Russia are highly inaccurate of the reality of political identity and territory on an international scale. Many people do not identify with the state in which they reside and are expressing their dissent at this situation in the form of separatist nationalism. From 1989 to 1993, separatist movements – social movements whose goal is to obtain self-determination over territory and political systems – seemed to become more prevalent throughout the world. Currently, there is little indication that the tension between territorial boundaries and political identity is becoming less widespread. 

The Kurds are the largest stateless nation in the world today. Considerable research has been done on the Kurdish people and their relations with the states in which they live. Traditionally these inquiries have explored this ethnic group’s interaction with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. However, few studies have been done on the diaspora relationships Kurds have established with states outside Kurdish homelands. The internal political situation of Turkey has become relevant for neighboring states. The movements’ struggle for statehood has moved into the countries of the European Union, with specific intensity in Germany. It is estimated that about 500,000 Kurds live within the borders of Germany and consider it to be their home. However, as they were once courted and gladly received with open arms by Germany’s industrial sector, they have recently worn out their welcome as their conflict and separatist movement has become internationalized and taken root on German soil. Germany, in many respects, is no longer able to control the flow of refugees coming from traditional Kurdish homelands. The German government is being pressured from Kurdish contention, especially from the radical Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
The transnational activities of the Kurdish nation are then cross-national and cross-level making the situation of Kurdish ethnic nationalism one that subtly confronts sovereignty and claims to deliberate independent, domestic administration. Furthermore, the consequences of this internationalized conflict are significant for Kurdish nationalism, the maintenance of stable democratic freedoms in Germany and German relations with Turkey and other European countries.

This paper explores the internationalization of Kurdish separatist contention as expressed through the Kurdish separatist movement in Germany. We will first examine the theoretical tools available to facilitate analysis of ethnic conflict that transcends state borders. Then the paper will briefly trace the origin of the Kurdish situation in Turkey and the migration of Kurds into Germany. The bulk of the paper will then examine the Kurdish political presence in Germany with specific focus on the activities of the separatist organization PKK. Following an overview of PKK activities in Germany and the German response, we will explore why the ground is so fertile for Kurdish extremist activities in Germany. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the implications for Germany's relationship with Turkey and other European countries. Here, the symbiotic relationship between these various levels of actors will emerge. Our study suggests that Kurdish separatism is transnational and relevant beyond the borders of its traditional homeland. Moreover, the Western democracies that have provided the political opportunity for radical Kurdish political expression are themselves vulnerable to its offensive. 

The International Diffusion of Ethnic Conflict

The internationalization of Kurdish separatism is inherent in this conflict because Kurdish peoples reside in at least four countries from which they are attempting self-determination. However, the uniqueness of the case under consideration is that this separatist movement has splashed into the political pools of non-Kurdish resident states causing ripples of contention throughout Germany that in turn resonate back to Turkey. Ethnic conflict and Kurdish separatism have become transnational by spilling into other countries through migration of peoples, contagion and deliberate transnational activism. One scholar argues that this is not unique and that "ethnic conflicts have particular characteristics that place them in the area where domestic and international politics interact. They seem to link internal and external forces of conflict and cooperation and, to some extent, the result from such interactions; consequently they must be understood in this context." However, there are few tools that help provide a theoretical context for understanding the transnational dynamics of ethnic conflict.


For traditional studies on ethnic conflict, situations of separatism and ethnic conflict were considered unique to the internal dynamics of the state in which the groups resided. For the most part, these works were detailed descriptions of cultural traits, myths, and language. Although descriptively thick, many case studies provided few conceptual tools to apply towards the spillover of ethnic contention from one country to another. For many scholars of ethnic conflict, the situation in Spain with the Basques was conventionally viewed as specific to that country and very few parallels were be drawn to the separatist movement in Sri Lanka with the Tamils. One scholar explains that, "what has emerged is a plethora of more or less parochial material on ethnic conflict in scores of countries. What has not yet emerged is a comprehensive set of generalizations that fits that material and into which new material can be fitted…We lack explanation…explanation that will hold cross-culturally." Within the case at hand, a framework for consideration of international involvement, cross-border comparison and cumulative theory needs to be used.

A few concepts have emerged that allow us to consider what Benedict Anderson identifies as "long-distance nationalism." One way of understanding this transnational ethnic conflict is to establish how the presence of an ethnic diaspora emerged. One scholar, who examines social protest, contributes a framework for understanding transnational contention. Sidney Tarrow’s work maintains that social contention is the product of popular responses to state policies. He explains, "the national social movement grew out of the efforts of states to consolidate power, integrate their peripheries and standardize discourse among groups of citizens and between them and their rulers." If we understand separatist movements as a type of social movement, this provides a context to understand a contentious dialogue between a state and a distinct ethnic "group of citizens." Again, Tarrow explains, "If movements are becoming transnational, they may be freeing themselves of state structures and thence of the constraining influence of state-mediated contention."

Many groups who are dissatisfied with the political climate in their resident state will "vote with their feet" and migrate to other countries. However, their destinations are dependent on the political opportunities provided by other states. According to Tarrow, current technological innovations provide a conduit for diffusion of contentious politics from state to state. In the case at hand, the rapid growth of communications and transportation provides the mechanism in which Kurdish dissension is sent abroad. Ted Gurr contributes further understanding of this process through his discussion of diffusion. Gurr identifies diffusion as the "processes by which conflict in one country directly affects political action in adjoining countries." Refugees and asylum seekers are the most obvious conduits of contagion and diffusion. Other situations can be present when external kin-groups become mobilized around claims for increased political access based on distinct identities. With advanced communication networks, international demands for labor supplies and freer movement of peoples, the components that are conducive to mobilization are easily transferred from one country to another. Gurr posits that,

a disadvantaged group’s potential for mobilization and communal rebellion is increased by the number of segments of the groups in adjoining countries, by the extent to which those segments are mobilized (whether as disadvantaged minorities or as a dominant groups in control of the state), and by their involvement in open conflict (including civil and interstate war).


This supplies an explanation as to why and how Kurds traveled from Turkey to Germany. However, the Kurdish presence in Germany goes beyond simple spillover or diffusion of conflict. The situation has emerged in which the organization of the extremist Kurdish movement is transnational. The PKK is highly organized and is deliberately managing a protest campaign within Germany. This has expanded the PKK separatist front. This situation has forced both the Turkish government and the German government to be constantly looking both ways. Each must follow the situations with Kurds in the other country, as they are now relevant for upcoming contention and politics within their domestic settings.


The Kurds have taken their political cause and used the German setting to wage a battle for a Kurdish state. For the most part, the 'battle' is only being waged by a faction within the Kurdish population. One author describes the situation, "The conflict is more than the 'export' of a civil war. To be sure, the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), a Stalinist sect and guerrilla movement founded in 1978, has identified Germany as a "second front" now that the Turkish government is pursuing a 'military solution' to the problem." The transnational relationship of Kurdish separatism is illustrated in Figure 1. The solid line portrays the traditional understanding of ethnic conflict and separatism as a relationship between a minority population and its resident government. The broken line indicates common interstate relationships and the dotted lines show the dynamics of transnational ethnic conflict. These dynamics are reflective of diffusion, as the contention becomes relevant for third party governments. The next section will briefly trace the diffusion of contention by first establishing the Kurds in their "original position." We will then look at their relationship to the integrating Turkish state. Finally, we will establish their migration to Germany as they flee the assimilating policies of Turkey. 

The Kurdish Presence in Turkey 

Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East and are Sunni Muslims, although a few living in Iraq are Yazidis. Within each state the Kurdish minority has faced considerable oppression with Iraq being the most notorious offender. The Kurds quest for expression of their cultural and language has been denied by all of the states in which they reside. Kurdish access to political representation has been quelled by policies of assimilation and repression. Half of the Kurdish community worldwide lives within the borders of the Republic of Turkey and most are concentrated in southeastern Anatolia. Within Turkey, statehood has alluded this group partially because of the politics surrounding the valuable territory on which they reside. These issues concern access to natural resources like water and the fact that the Turkish/Iraqi oil pipeline flows through the region. Turkish policy towards the Kurds has been to "assimilate" them and to given them legal status as Turks. 

To establish the emergence of Kurdish separatism, one must trace it back to the 1699 Treaty of Carlowitz when the Ottomans relinquished territory to European powers. This marked the beginning of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and signaled the rise of European influence within the region. The 1718 Treaty of Passarowitz formalized the Ottoman military defeat to European powers. With the decline of the Ottomans and the increasing influence of external powers, an attempt was made to integrate the European ideas of state and sovereignty into the region to support the failing empire. 

During World War I the Ottomans fought on the side of Germany, Austria and Bulgaria. With the defeat of Germany and its allies also came the conclusion of the Ottoman Empire. Before the end of the war, the Allied powers, sensing the defeat of Turkey, negotiated the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. Under this negotiation, Great Britain, Russia and France divided the Fertile Crescent into spheres of influence in which Britain would mandate the territories of Palestine, Jordan and the Iraqi Kingdom while France would control the territories of Lebanon and Syria. In 1920, the Treaty of Sevres was signed and promised a Kurdish state at the conclusion of World War I. However, under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Kurds and the territory in which they reside was "pied up" or severed among the countries of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the former Soviet Union. After the Turkish war of independence, during which time the occupying British, Italian, Russian, French and Greek forces were expelled from Asia minor, the Turkish Republic was created out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire. One of the founding principles of the republic was immutable territorial integrity, which to date makes it politically impossible to entertain separatist pleas. From here the stateless Kurdish nation emerges in its contemporary situation. 

Since the 1920s, Turkey has rejected the notion that separate ethnic identities exist within its borders. This attitude still prevails and is illustrated by the words of Sükrü Sina Gürel, a state minister in the Turkish government, who was recently quoted as saying, "the position of our government is that in Turkey, there is no Kurdish question." This notion was also anchored in the first Turkish Constitution and others that followed. In 1924, the Turkish Constitution adopted a clause that forbade the use of all languages except Turkish. Accordingly, Kurds could not take Kurdish names and it was illegal to provide instruction of Kurdish in Turkish schools. It was under these circumstances that in 1925 there began series of Kurdish uprisings in southeast Turkey led by Sheik Said. The uprising was put down most forcefully. However, the bloody response to these early uprisings could not stamp out the Kurdish identity. Although many Kurds have since then been successfully integrated into Turkish society, there are also those who adamantly demand their ethnic, linguistic and cultural autonomy. Furthermore, they reject explanations that consider them to be "mountain Turks" who have been isolated from their Turkish roots while living in the remote southeast.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Kurds in Turkey began to organize mass demonstrations and protest Turkish denial of Kurdish cultural and political freedoms. This separatist activism was quickly squashed and many of its organizers were imprisoned or assassinated. During the 1970s and early 1980s the cause grew. At the same time, the Turkish regime increased its repressive tactics. One observer describes the political climate.

The repression of the 1980s, both in the numbers of persons seized and imprisoned and in the extent of systematic torture, was far worse than before…prisoners were sometimes brought to court in metal cages loaded on trucks, hardly able to walk or stand. Prison conditions were so harsh that prisoners staged prolonged hunger strike that lasted more than a month at a time, or, in more than a few cases, committed suicide.


The constraints placed on the expression of Kurdish identity continued through other constitutions that were subsequently drafted. More recently, the 1982 Turkish Constitution stated that "no political party may concern itself with the defense, development, or diffusion of any non-Turkish language or culture; nor may they seek to create minorities within our frontiers or to destroy our national unity." In 1984, separatist Kurds in Turkey began a series of protests against the repressive policies of Ankara. The result has been 13 years of civil war. Over time an estimated 27,000 people have been killed. One scholar declares that "today Turkey is waging what amounts to a war, with brutal purges and pacification operations."

After years of violence, the Turkish government declared the southeast to be an emergency area, which allowed it to govern with an iron fist. "Government state of emergency decree 430, codified in 1990 and most recently renewed in November 1995, imposes stringent security measures in the southeast. The regional governor may censor news, ban strikes or lockouts, and impose internal exile." In yet another effort to clamp down on separatist activities, Turkey passed an Anti-Terror Law in 1991 which allowed for a very broad definition of terrorism providing the government carte blanche authority to prosecute separatist activities.

Governmental tactics continued to include imprisonment, torture, raids on Kurdish communities, and complete ban on freedom of speech and expression. In many cases, the Kurds have chosen to flee the repressive policies of the Ankara government. As Tarrow pointed out earlier, these "integrating" Turkish policies have resulted in the diffusion of Kurdish people as they flee intrusive state structures. US State Department sources estimate that "2 million people have left their homes in the southeast over the past 7 years; village evacuations have been one significant contributing factor and economic reasons were another." The US State Department also claims that, "Government programs to deal with and compensate the many internally displaced have been very inadequate. In Tunceli province, police 'special teams' harassed and mistreated civilians." 

The Kurdish Presence in Germany

Germany has been a favorite destination of the Kurdish exodus from Turkey. Although the escalation of violence between Kurds and the Turkish government has only spanned about a dozen years, many Kurdish people have been in Germany for over 30 years. Many Kurdish children have been born and raised within Germany and have never been to Turkey or any country within the traditional Kurdish homelands. In 1961, a bilateral agreement between Germany and Turkey began the first trickle of Kurdish immigrants from Turkey. The agreement established bureaus in Turkey for recruiting guest workers. These early immigrants were limited by Article 10 of the 1965 Aliens Act which established that both residence permits and working permits could be suspended if a foreign resident "impairs significant interests of the Federal Republic of Germany." In 1973 foreign labor recruitment was restricted in Germany due to pressures from international economic recession spawned by OPECs actions and global oil crises. German recruitment bureaus in Turkey were closed. 

This did not stop the flood of Kurdish immigration. In the wake of the 1973 recruitment halt there was a shift towards asylum as means for entering Germany. By the 1980s, the numbers continued to grow and Turkish immigrants composed nearly 30 percent of German’s foreign labor supply. A recent article claims that currently, close to 90 percent of the 16, 900 refugees from Turkey are Kurds. While another report asserts that of the 60,000 asylum applications filed in Germany from Turkey, 80 percent are Kurds. Although Germany’s rejection of asylum seekers has steadily increased with close to 5,000 rejected since 1995 there is still a steady flow of Kurds entering Germany. In 1991, a new Aliens Act was passed which expanded political rights for immigrants who have been in Germany a considerable amount of time. The Act also made the guidelines for current migration more restrictive. The results of these restrictions on regular migration have in turn created a problem of increased illegal immigration. 

Although Germany, France, Italy and Greece are all confronted with Kurdish immigration. The stream of Kurds into the Federal Republic of Germany is heavier than its neighboring EU states because of the benefits the German states offers recognized refugees. The French requirements for recognition are stricter than in Germany and recognized refugees in Germany can receive social welfare benefits. Although entry into Italy is substantially easier than Germany, again the Italian government does not provide recognized refugees with social benefits.


Although there was a hint of anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1980s, the presence of the Kurdish diaspora within Germany did not interfere with domestic political environment until an extremist separatist faction exported its activities from Turkey onto German soil. In 1978, the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan - Kurdistan Workers Party was founded by Abdullah Öcalan. In 1984, it launched a guerilla war in Turkey and has used acts of violence against Turkish authorities and against German establishments to voice its separatist claims. The PKK’s platform consists of a mixture of communist and nationalist ideologies. Despite the ideological foundations, the immediate purpose of the organization is to fight for the establishment of a "Free Kurdistan." The PKK’s organizational structure in Germany consists of various governance levels. PKK has divided Germany into eight "regions," ca. 30 "sub-regions" and numerous "lodges" or boroughs. YEK-KOM, Federation of Kurdish Associations in Germany, is the umbrella organization that brings together the Kurdish associations that work closely with the PKK. In Germany, the PKK is "by far the most influential and has the most members."

The first act that brought the PKK into the limelight was its attack against a Turkish military post on 15 August 1984, after which the organization became classified by Turkish authorities as a "separatist terrorist organization." Not very long after that, the organization "exported" some of its activities to Germany, where it found a democratic society unwilling to clamp down on dissent and a population of some 500,000 who could potentially be mobilized. The PKK, although active in Turkey, has also flourished in Germany. One reports claims, "The PKK has developed what is perhaps the most sophisticated public relations and propaganda machine of any terrorist organization operating in Europe."

One way of explaining why the Kurdish separatist movement, specifically the PKK, has targeted Germany as a base of operations is by applying a model of group mobilization. We accept the premise that "ethnopolitical rebellion is primarily driven by grievances among an ethnic group and by how well that group is mobilized and, hence, in a position to take collective action." The situation of PKK protest activity in Germany is illuminated by understanding how the German political climate provided fertile ground in which the seeds of Kurdish separatism could be sown and developed.

The model we present rests on the premise that separatist movement mobilization are the product of three general forces, consolidated and politicized identity, operational resources and political opportunity. This process of mobilization is an extension of Doug McAdam's "political process model" used in his evaluation of the civil rights movement in the US. He presents three streams that lead to mobilization (cognitive liberation, organizational resources, and political opportunity structures). He argues that when they converge, they produce the fertile ground for the mobilization of people. We alter the model slightly by adapting the first tier of the model, cognitive liberation, to discuss the framing of Kurdish political identity.

The model first explains the formation and then the politicization of an identity group provides the foundation for ethnonationalism. Secondly, the building of resources, (including financial and organizational) is mandatory for the movement's viability. And finally, political opportunity must be present to lend both support and optimism to the movements formation and potential success. We argue that Kurdish separatist mobilization in Germany was the result of a confluence of several streams. Each current was necessary but not sufficient for ethnic group mobilization. Although the three overlap and are in many ways interrelated, we will conceptualize them as independent. Essentially the model supports the assertion by Williams that "ethnic conflicts arise from complex combinations of ethnic strength, class inequality, political opportunity, mobilization resources, interdependence, and international interventions." The following section will examine the presence of all of these components of mobilization that were present in Germany but absent in Turkey.

Kurdish Identity

One of the most significant aspects that contributed to the transnational diffusion of Kurdish separatism is the development of the collective insurgent consciousness. Because of the 70 years of cultural repression to which we alluded earlier, many Kurds have were not able to express their "Kurdishness" in the any of their traditional resident states. Of these countries, the Turkish state has been the most emphatic in denying cultural and linguistic autonomy. Kurds in Turkey, until very recently, were prohibited from teaching, publishing, and broadcasting in Kurdish. Thus, when they came to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, the barriers to the expression of their identity were lifted in the territory of a liberal democratic state. It now became possible to explore and express Kurdish cultural and linguistic identity. 

The expression of ethnic, linguistic and cultural traits then provides a foundation for developing community ties and awareness. "The opportunity to discuss the Kurdish question openly in Germany paved the way for many Turkish citizens to discover their Kurdish identity and declare it without fear." One could possibly argue that the formation of cultural associations, typical in migrant communities, further led to the consolidation of this Kurdish identity. In other words, "there have always been Kurds among the Turkish guest workers and refugees, but most of them did not discover their 'Kurdishness' until they came to Europe." As will be discussed later in the paper, the deliberate activities of the PKK and the responses of the German government to their tactics further enhanced the development of a Kurdish coalition within Germany. 

Political Opportunities for the Mobilization of the PKK in Germany

Although identity is an important aspect of this conflict, it does not explain why the PKK contention occurred when it did and to the extent that it was executed. A group with cognitive awareness of itself as politically relevant needs to perceive its attainment of political gains. In other words, a group must have hope and optimism concerning successful attainment of increased political power. Understanding the political space that needs to be present for mobilization to occur is facilitated by the idea of political opportunity. Here we again take our cue from Tarrow who asserts that "by political opportunity structure, I mean consistent – but not necessarily formal or permanent – dimensions of the political environment that provides incentives for people to undertake collective action by affecting their expectations for success or failure." Democratic institutional structures tend to benefit insurgent groups because their access is amplified. In fact, the strategic position of all challengers is enhanced (or at least appears to be) when political structures encourage debate and political dialogue. 

As mentioned above, there were multiple efforts at mobilization within Turkey. However, the procedures used to quiet this dissent became so brutal that optimism concerning success as well as fear of retaliation closed the window on most types of Kurdish political dissent. Tarrow further explains that "when institutional access opens, when alignments shift, when conflicts emerge among elites and when allies become available, will challengers find favorable opportunities."

The Federal Republic of Germany on the other hand was founded on principles of liberal democracy in which freedom of expression and association are protected. Therefore, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the PKK begins to organize within Germany, the institutional structures were very acquiescent to protest activity. What is key in this discussion is that the political institutional structures of Germany provided access to the political dialogue without the fear of extreme repression as was the case in Turkey. 

The PKK’s Organization and Resources

Although both the freedom to maneuver and a sense of Kurdish group cohesiveness needs to be present, resources, ranging from leadership to communications channels are also key to realizing protest activities and mobilizing people. Doug McAdam emphasizes this point and argues "a conducive political environment only affords a population the opportunity for successful collective action. It is the resources of the community that enable insurgent groups to exploit those opportunities." Germany afforded the PKK many structural foundations that facilitated the coordination of its resources. 

In its organizational efforts in Germany, the PKK tried to expand its sphere of influence by establishing close links with specific associations that cater to special groups such as Alewites, youth and women. It has welcomed, if not supported, the mushrooming of various NGOs that bring together journalists, writers and legal experts who support the Kurds’ struggle for independence. One of the most important objectives for the organization has been to spread awareness in Germany, as well as other places in Europe about the plight of Kurds in Turkey. To that end, the organization published a newspaper, Serxwebun (Freedom), which served as the PKK’s propaganda organ. However, Serxwebun is not the only newspaper published by PKK-friendly sources. In Germany, foreign extremist groups were publishing some 76 periodicals in 1995. 

Until 1996, the PKK also used MED TV, the organization’s official TV channel, for its political means. MED TV was shut down in 1996 after the contract to use a satellite to broadcast was terminated. The station struck a deal with a Polish company after a French company would not renew their contract. In 1996, the Polish company also cancelled MED-TV’s contract, putting an end to its broadcast. Until that time, however, it had been a venue of choice for PKK’s leader who made frequent appearances on MED TV and announced actions to be taken against the German government, a subject we will return to later.

The activities of the PKK and its related organizations are financed through the contributions of members, the sale of publications, and donations. In the words of the German Ministry of the Interior, "The PKK needs large sums of money not only to finance its propaganda work in Europe, but also to fund its terrorist activities in Turkey." The PKK has been able to collect donations in the eight digits, part of which has allegedly been procured through forced donations. In 1994, some credence could be given to this argument when 61 cases of force. In the cases involved, the PKK was found to extort money from Kurdish asylum seekers, threatening them with murder. Kurdish business owners have brought charges against individuals who have extorted money from them in the name of the PKK. Some who have refused to pay the "protection money" or "contributions" demanded by the PKK have even been assaulted. On other occasions, police have set up sting operations for PKK members who reportedly collected forcible donations for the PKK. A report of the German Ministry of the Interior argues that the organization actively encouraged some of its members to get involved in the lucrative narcotics trade.

When speaking of the PKK as an organization, it would be a grave mistake not to highlight the role of entrepreneurial leadership in the organization. Abdullah Öcalan (or Apo as his followers call him) was a student in the Political Science Department of Ankara University in the 1970s. This "odd" student, whose ideas were extreme early on, founded the PKK in 1978. Quite appropriate to his hawkish politics, Öcalan’s name means "avenger" in Turkish. After that point, Öcalan ran the PKK with an iron fist, sometimes likened to Stalin in his leadership style. He was supremely in charge of an outfit that trained some 30,000 guerillas to stage a terrorist war in what the PKK claimed to be the Kurdish homeland in Turkey. 

The Contentious Politics of the PKK

We have now established how Kurdish separatism came to Germany. Our previous discussion of diffusion provides some explanation as to why and how the Kurds emerged in Germany. Through the incorporation of an altered political process model we have laid the foundation for why Kurds were able to solidify their identity, organize efficiently and act collectively within the German State. The following section will chronicle the rise of the PKK in Germany and then explore the types and levels of PKK contention. As the PKK organized itself into a political entity in Germany in the mid-1980s, it began to make its presence felt through various activities. 

We will look at four general groups of activities that involved the PKK in Germany: First, the PKK seized every opportunity to bring the conflict in Turkey to the attention of the German public. This was done by staging various protest demonstrations decrying the Turkish military engagement in southeastern Turkey, organizing hunger strikes, holding large-scale demonstrations to promote visibility and solidarity, and engaging in highway blocks. A second set of activities that brought the PKK to the limelight was attacks against Turks, Turkish businesses and associations in Germany. A third category that was perhaps not so highly publicized, but nonetheless pointed to divisions between Kurds in Germany was intra-Kurdish violence. Later on, a new kind of protest activity became commonplace as PKK sympathizers began to protest against German actions taken against the PKK. Though PKK activities in Germany go back to the late-1980s, they gathered steam in the early 1990s. As a result of a series of events we will discuss below, the PKK was banned in Germany in 1993. Instead of stopping the protests and the violence that slowly began to be associated with them, this ban was followed by an additional three years of protests and escalating violence until mid-1996 when PKK changed its course and opted for toning down violent activities in Germany.

Late 1980s to 1993 

The PKK has been instrumental in staging large-scale demonstrations in various urban centers in Germany to protest against the political situation in Turkey. It appeared that large-scale demonstrations would be staged on anniversaries or landmark days (such as Nawroz, the Kurdish new year) or soon after heightened Turkish military attacks in southeast Turkey. These types of demonstrations initially ended without incident, even though they brought together large numbers of participants. For example, in April 1990, 10,000 Kurds assembled in front of the Gothic Cologne Cathedral in a demonstration that was supported by the PKK. They protested against the military course pursued by Turkey against its Kurdish minority and called for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. Likewise, the PKK’s thirteenth birthday was celebrated in a peaceful gathering by 8,000 in Bremen on 9 December 1991. Protesting the recent killings by the Turkish army in the southwest of Turkey, 2,000 demonstrated in front of the Turkish consulate in Hamburg on 25 August 1992. In many of these cases, either large urban centers were selected as places to gather, helping visibility, or the protests were staged in front of the various Turkish consulates in the country, focusing attention on the country that they charged with causing the plight of Kurds.

Hunger strikes have also been a frequent form of public demonstration for the PKK as well as a sign of solidarity. Staged in visible places in major German cities, these hunger strikes have been supplemented with propaganda material to mobilize Kurdish and German support for the aims of PKK. These hunger strikes have also been organized with numerous participants and are sometimes coordinated with other demonstrations in other European countries. For example, a 120-person hunger strike was begun simultaneously in Hamburg and Kiel. Furthermore, this event was coordinated with a 700-person event in Brussels, Belgium. This particular hunger strike was in protest of the forced migration of Kurds out of some 300 villages in southeastern Turkey.

In the early 1990s, blocking highways and disrupting traffic on the famed German Autobahn became a trademark tactic for Kurdish demonstrators. At times, highway blocks occurred at the Franco-German border where demonstrators crossed the border on foot and proceeded to walk towards their destination on the highway. On one occasion, some 1,500 headed from France to a cultural festival in Frankfurt. The travelers were apparently not in possession of valid visas which would, under normal circumstances, have resulted in their being turned back at the border. In the face of a crowd that went beyond the border patrol’s ability to control, they were allowed in to Germany. The festival, which brought together 45,000 in Frankfurt took place without any unrest. The highway between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart was likewise blocked on March 22, 1994 in an event that was later linked to PKK.

Beginning in 1992 and continuing with increased intensity until 1996, Turks, as well as Turkish businesses, became the targets of what was now becoming a violent struggle on the part of the PKK. On March 22, 1992, a Turkish bank and travel agency were severely vandalized in Bremen. An estimated 150 demonstrators blocked the entrance of the Bremen local government for several hours. During this event, 18 demonstrators – all of whom had PKK propaganda materials -- were arrested. In addition to acts of vandalism, arson is another common type of violence that has been associated with the PKK. During the early-1990s, Turkish cultural and sports associations as well as businesses were the common targets of such attacks. We will return to these attacks later on.

Finally, violence in Germany involving Kurds presented itself in the form of attacks that appeared to target other Kurds. As early as 1987, there were growing tensions between several competing Kurdish organizations in Germany. The most notable competing Kurdish organization is KOMKAR (The Association for Kurdish workers for Kurdistan). Tensions between the PKK and KOMKAR occasionally broke out into violence in the late-1980s and early-1990s and some PKK members were later brought before justice for the murder of several KOMKAR members. Adding fuel to the feud between the two organizations, the Serxwebun often charged KOMKAR with being a "pack of traitors and collaborators," condoning violence against them.

In addition to engaging in a turf war with challengers, the PKK has not been accommodating of dissent among its own cadres. As early as 1984, ex-PKK members who had either fallen from grace or decided to leave the organization were dealt with firmly by the PKK, often being killed execution style. In 1994, there were various incidents of intra-Kurdish violence whereby those who had in the past criticized Öcalan were attacked and, in several instances, severely injured. On other occasions, the PKK performed executions of ex-members or individuals who were trying to leave the organization.

 German Response to the Activities of the PKK

In 1985, soon after PKK began mobilizing protest movements in Germany, the Bundesverfassungsschutz (the Office of the Protection of the German Constitution) started monitoring its activities and began recording these in its annual report. As early as 1987, the German Ministry of the Interior as well as the Office of the Federal Prosecutor were concerned with the escalating PKK violence. They responded by mobilizing their law enforcement infrastructure to clamp down on violence and coupled that with bringing assailants to justice. At the time, the violence that caused headaches for German administrators was related to the turf battle between the PKK and KOMKAR, which had claimed the lives of several people and left others injured. It was during this time that German authorities first began considering banning the organization.

German authorities had a difficult time shaping the idea of a ban, partly because the federal prosecutor could not find sufficient evidence that the PKK had a military wing in Germany or whether it was individuals who were being flown in to commit the acts of terrorism. The organization was, without a doubt, the largest driving force amongst Kurds in Germany. It could easily drum up demonstrations with 50,000 individuals in a very short time, and while there was evidence that there was some chain of command in the organization, it did not have a formal structure that was easy to point to. Rather, it was organized as a thick net of Kurdish workers’ organizations, sports clubs, cultural centers, and Kurdish migrants’ organization. Each of these organizations appeared to function under the direction of governing boards which, the organizations argued, functioned in complete autonomy. When charged with PKK affiliation, they would routinely deny such allegations.

Before entertaining the idea of a ban, German authorities first tried to respond to the contention by engaging the legal system. As early as 1988, 16 Kurds were charged by Federal Prosecutor General Rebmann with the murder of three Turkish citizens with various ties to PKK and KOMKAR. Perhaps the biggest legal offensive against the PKK began in 1989. The Bundesanwaltschaft (Federal Prosecutors Office) charged 19 PKK members in what was characterized as a "mammoth court case against the PKK in Düsseldorf" and used Article 129a of the Federal German penal code which sanctions "membership in a terrorist organization." The PKK and other Kurds and Turks responded by demonstrating in front of the courthouse. The highly publicized case involved four defendants, one being charged with murder, and three being charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Because Article 129a was not applicable to foreign organizations, the prosecution chose to adopt a line that called the PKK a "terrorist organization" and not a foreign one, paving the way for the later justification of the ban that was placed exactly on the same premises. 

After beginning to monitor the PKK in 1987, German officials tried to keep close tabs on it. German police began surprise searches on PKK premises in 1987. During such a search in Cologne on July 27, 1987, officers stormed into the private quarters of PKK members, as well as the offices of Agri Publishers, a company that was in close contact with the PKK. During this search, officers seized the equivalent of 750,000 DM in cash in various European currencies as well as gold and jewelry, and officers took three into custody. These search-and-seizure operations were continued and the PKK responded with further demonstrations protesting these sting operations staged by German officials.

1993: Germany Bans the PKK

Perhaps the most severe measure that Germany took was to ban the PKK in 1993. In June 1993, several coordinated events were staged in three European countries that served as the long-awaited opportunity for Germany to implement a ban. The German ban came after Kurds occupied the Turkish Consulate in Munich and took several people hostage in a standoff that was an unlikely scenario in Germany. On June 24, 1993, several individuals who identified themselves as Kurds stormed into Turkish consulates in Munich, Marseille (France) and Bern (Switzerland) and took the personnel hostage. Almost simultaneously, many Turkish businesses – banks and travel agencies -- were attacked in almost all of the major German cities causing heavy material damage. The PKK was initially quiet on the issue. The Kurdistan-Committee, the unofficial speaker for the PKK in Europe, argued that the acts were not orchestrated and that the Kurds involved had "spontaneously" engaged in this wave of events, an explanation that did not hold much water. Others argued that the PKK was behind these actions, and that only the PKK could organize such a widespread outbreak of events that seemed to be coordinated not only in Germany but across borders.

During the altercation in Munich, eight people who were heavily armed took 19 hostages and occupied the Turkish consulate. Several hundred German police officers were dispatched to the site, streets were closed off to traffic, and sharpshooters were situated in strategic locations. The occupiers wanted Chancellor Helmut Kohl to make a public appearance on TV in which he was to ask the Turkish government to stop "the war against the Kurds" immediately. They warned police that an offensive against the consulate would cause them to detonate the bombs that they had on their persons. Interestingly, they also argued that they were not members of the PKK. The standoff ended bloodlessly after 14 hours. Meanwhile, there was unrest unfolding in other cities in Germany during the same day. After a sit-in in front of the Turkish consulate in Karlsruhe, demonstrators attempted to raid the consulate and clashed with the police.

The standoff in Munich, combined with the rest of the violence that broke out in other German cities, gave the German Ministry of Interior, the opportunity to consider banning the PKK seriously. Hostilities escalated until November 1993, when one person died and several others were seriously injured during attacks against Turkish businesses. This was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. The immediate reaction from Bonn was intensified calls for banning the PKK and its affiliated organizations. The politicians in Bonn were not necessarily clear about what the ban could achieve, or worse yet, trigger. However, they could agree that such acts could not be tolerated in Germany. Their main concern seemed to be a desire to avoid creating an "Irish situation" where banning a political organization could lead to the escalation of conflict instead of resolving it.

This wave of violence against Turkish businesses allowed the Minister of Interior, Manfred Kanther the opportunity to adopt an even harder line against the PKK, calling for the full implementation of the ban. His opponents, mainly the Greens, argued that any such act would not only not stop the attacks, but also drive a larger number of individuals – who through such acts would feel singled out and cornered – even more towards violence. By contrast, the Social democrats, the second largest party in the country, supported Kanther’s position.

In the end, the hardliners won over the skeptics. In November 1993, four months after the Munich episode and immediately after the latest hostilities, Kanther placed the PKK and 35 of its affiliated organizations in eleven Länder under a federal ban. Not surprisingly, demonstrations followed the announcement of the decision. In Frankfurt, 300 Kurds occupied a Kurdish cultural center that was closed as a result of the ban. They threatened to set themselves on fire should the police attempt to intervene. In demonstrative defiance of the announcement, in November 1993, one day after the Kurdistan Committee was banned along with PKK, 3,000 celebrated the fifteenth year anniversary of the founding of the PKK. A leading PKK figure, Kani Yilmaz who was the PKK’s spokesman in Europe, warned that 1994 would be a very dangerous year for tourists in Turkey. Another leading figure in the ranks, Beyram Aslan of the Kurdistan-Committee, argued that the real loser was the German Minister of the Interior because the German government "made itself a party to the war through its decision (to ban the PKK). We will try to now fight a political battle." Several solidarity demonstrations were staged in the subsequent days in various German urban centers, apparently unhindered by the German police who initially took a "wait and see" approach. 

The PKK after the Ban: 1993-1996

Just as the skeptics feared, taking restrictive action against the PKK initially did little to stem the violence. To the contrary, contention escalated between 1993 and 1996, during which period German officials continued to battle against the PKK. In addition to the federal ban, the individual Länder also took their own steps to outlaw certain other organizations that were suspected to be undercover operations for the PKK. The bans on these various organizations were subsequently upheld in German courts. In addition to upholding the legality of the bans placed on certain Kurdish organizations, the courts also charged assailants with various offenses such as occupation of public buildings, hostage taking. After the ban, arrests of suspected PKK members and leaders accelerated. In 1994, several individuals, who were suspected of being PKK functionaries responsible for certain regions in Germany were arrested or taken into custody. The federal attorney general litigated against 32 people in leadership positions within the PKK, charging them with membership in a terrorist organization.

After the ban on the PKK, German police had ample grounds to intervene in Kurdish demonstrations, and sometimes forcibly dispersing them, suspected of being organized by the PKK. They also refrained from issuing permits to non-PKK demonstrations for fear that they would turn violent. However, on several occasions, protesters sought to stage their demonstrations anyway, clashing with the intervening police in the process.

However, the German Ministry of the Interior was first to acknowledge that "despite a multitude of law enforcement policies that were devised and enforced, a ban that was placed on its activities, and numerous arrests of members in leadership positions, the PKK has nonetheless remained active." Its members disregarded the laws against the PKK’s demonstrations, continued to collect donations on behalf of the organization, and distributed propaganda material. Despite the ban, demonstrations were organized that decried the outlawing of the PKK. On some occasions, hostilities broke out between the police and demonstrators who were found to carry propaganda material for the PKK. On others, demonstrations as large as 70,000 people took place in relative calm. On 17 June 1995, 200,000 supporters of the PKK staged the largest demonstration up until that time in Bonn. ERNK flags and Öcalan’s posters were complemented with rally chants "Biji PKK!" (Long live the PKK!) Despite the fact that the PKK was officially banned in Germany at this time, the demonstration was attended not only by PKK members and sympathizers, but also by various left-wing organizations. Even some Members of the European Parliament attended. 

In March 1996, the last mass demonstration that broke out into violence occurred in Bonn. The Free Kurdish Women’s Association (which is associated with the PKK) staged a demonstration on International Women’s Day. The demonstration in Bonn, 1,200 people strong, broke out into hostilities during which the German police officers were attacked with bottles, cans and cobblestones. As a result, another demonstration planned for March 16 in Dortmund could not obtain the necessary permits. Despite this, some 2,000 PKK members and sympathizers gathered in Dortmund as scheduled and lashed out at the police. Streets were blockaded. Busses, which were bringing PKK sympathizers from Belgium, were stopped at the German-Belgian border. Despite this, some 1,500 PKK sympathizers crossed the border on foot. Both demonstrations were hailed as a success by the PKK. 

During 1995 and 1996, PKK’s Öcalan engaged in harsh rhetoric accusing Germany of condoning violent activities both in Germany and in Turkey. In January 1996, Öcalan forewarned that there would be massive uprisings in Europe with many casualties, particularly in Germany, if the Turkish government did not respond to the PKK cease-fire in southeastern Turkey. He then threatened to attack Turkish vacation resorts – favorite for German travelers – which would cause bloodshed, especially around Nawroz, the Kurdish New Year festivities on March 21, arguing that Kurds should protect "their democratic rights in Germany with utmost determination." His threatening tone reached its climax in March 1996 when Öcalan roared in a MED TV interview, "Germany has launched a war against the PKK. (…) Should Germany decide to stick to this policy, we can return the damage. Each and every Kurd can become a suicide bomber."

In subsequent interviews, he continued to blame Germany for being an accomplice in genocide and announced that there would be suicide bombings, particularly in the coastline of Turkey. On another occasion, he lashed out at the German government:

The PKK ban shows that the Bonn government has taken Ankara's side. The whole problem began only after the PKK had been outlawed. If a Kurd shows a picture of me during a demonstration, the police intervene. That automatically leads to an escalation of unrest. There was no violence during demonstrations prior to the PKK ban. It is wrong to believe one can separate the Kurdish body from its head, the PKK.

His harsh tone and threats abruptly came to an end in mid-1996. This marks a change in PKK strategy. Cognizant that his tone and the violence staged by the PKK was costing the organization the sympathy it had mustered over the years, Öcalan opted for a new strategy. This time, he toned down the threats and attempted to gain legitimacy as the spokesperson for all Kurds. He began to publicly denounce the violence of the past as a mistake and argue that a political dialogue needed to be launched between the PKK and Germany. 

The PKK’s About Face in 1996: A New Strategy?

Beginning in mid-1996, Öcalan began to preach moderation to his followers. It was as though the public was watching a completely new person when Öcalan claimed in a TV interview that what he in fact wanted was a political dialogue with Germany, which would lead to a political solution. "I will make sure that the violence does not repeat itself…I have often admitted that the PKK has made mistakes in Germany."

 Öcalan now repeated his plea for moderation at every opportunity and PKK members, by and large, abided by his call. In early 1997, there were increasing pleas for lifting the ban from the left as well as the right of the political spectrum. CDU officials began pushing for a lifting of the ban in early 1997. Heinrich Lummer, CDU representative from Berlin at the Bundestag: "We have had relative peace with the PKK in Germany during the last year. Should it continue to act responsibly, I don’t see why the ban should be continued." Also in 1997, two high level officials met with Öcalan in Damascus, Syria, in an effort to talk him into calling off attacks against Turks and Turkish businesses in Germany. Following this meeting, Lummer had a similar meeting with Öcalan during which he repeated the German government’s plea.

 In the face of growing public unpopularity of the PKK’s attacks in Germany, and insistent German officials, Öcalan guaranteed that such attacks would be stopped. On 13 January 1998, based on the decrease in PKK violence, Kai Nehm of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, which is responsible for prosecuting acts against the government and public order, announced that the PKK was no longer regarded as a terrorist organization but rather as a criminal organization. This meant that PKK members who were brought into court would no longer be charged with membership in a terrorist organization (Article 129a); rather, they would be charged with crimes such as extortion, manslaughter, and possession of weapons that were not registered. Shortly after this, an article appeared in Istanbul in the Turkish unofficial PKK periodical Özgür Halk, signed by the PKK's leader's pen name Ali Firat. In this article, Öcalan conceded defeat against the Turkish army in Turkey and argued that "in the twentieth year of our struggle, we find ourselves in a critical situation… We are facing defeat." In this article, he spoke of the misdeeds of PKK in Turkey and argued that the leadership – that is, Öcalan – had no knowledge of the grueling details of the hostilities. With this article, he seemed to be trying to distance himself from a war that the PKK was losing, as well as reformulate his strategy towards striving for political recognition in Europe along the lines of the PLO. The fact that the PKK functionaries, who were being tried for various criminal and terrorist activities, received very mild sentences during 1997 and 1998 seems to suggest that Germany is somewhat receptive to this about face.

For Germany, politics at the local land level, the national level and the supranational EU level are all influenced by the presence of the Kurdish diaspora in Germany. Many authorities at the state level are hesitant to expel even the most radical PKK members. Both the courts and administrative organs faced a double-edged sword. They are criticized if they extradite Kurds back to Turkey where they may be in considerable danger. On the other hand, if they do not deport the Kurds they are accused of protecting a terrorist organization.

Currently there are reports by German police who claim that the situation in the next few months may only escalate with 10,000 Iraqi Kurds leaving Turkey to go to Italy. This new wave is eventually expected to turn up in Germany. Although the land governments have the authority, they are concerned that torture, wrongful imprisonment and death may await them at home. "The idea of expelling Kurds, even the minority who have been behind the illegal demonstrations, goes against Germans’ view of their country as a modern bastion of democracy." According to Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, Germany should continue "being humane in accepting people in need." On the other hand, he proclaims that Germany can no longer "shoulder the misery of the entire world."


Thus, we have seen why and how Kurdish separatism has been exported from indigenous territories like Turkey to Western liberal democracies, particularly to those with which they have migration ties. We have found that there are several factors which contributed to the exportation of ethnic conflict. Countries with established migration links to countries of origin are more likely to be confronted with the consequences of the mobilization of ethnic nationalism. These countries, like Germany – which at one time had favorable immigration and asylum policies – unintentionally facilitated the diffusion of contention and now have established Kurdish enclaves. Early liberal immigration policies, combined with recognized access to social benefits, provided the motivation for Kurds to come to Germany. Once in Germany, the political opportunity structures provided by the German State allowed for the consolidation of political identity, the aggregation of resources and protest (within both institutional and non-institutional means). This process is then influencing the internal political circumstances in Germany as it seeks to come to terms with protests that threaten public order and internal stability. It also contributes to mounting domestic turmoil in Turkey, which has of late manifested itself in military action taken against the Kurdish separatist factions. Therefore, the internationalization of ethnic conflict in this case has significant political impact on both host and home countries.

The Utility of the Model

The model of mobilization does provide some explanation as to why the Kurds and specifically the PKK were so successful in their mobilization within Germany. Segments of Kurdish immigrants become mobilized, capitalizing on their ability for cultural and linguistic expression. In terms of the consolidation of identity, the model helps illuminate that the measures taken to outlaw the PKK and prosecute members harshly may have actually contributed to a further building of cohesiveness within the Kurdish diaspora population. One scholar describes this dynamic.

Germany is guilty of discrimination against pro-Kurdish activity. For one thing, the ban creates disillusionment and fear, secondly, it also forced the issue more. More Kurds are now forced to confront their Kurdish identity. From the point of view of the Interior Ministry, this is a negative thing, for it leads to politicization and a stronger association with the Kurdish liberation struggle.

 The concept of political opportunity explains how the PKK was able to take advantage of the freedom for dissent that is guarded by liberal democracies. Germany did outlaw radical expressions of Kurdish separatism, specifically PKK activities. However, the key is that the legal tools used by the German government to bridle PKK activities were gentle compared to the stinging measures taken in Turkey. At the same time, the concept of political opportunity in some ways may explain why the PKK and Öcalan have had their recent "about face" in terms of the tactics they employ and their rhetoric concerning the use of violence. It may have been that the windows that had been open for their pre-1993 tactics closed after 1993 and the use of terror was no longer practical for accomplishing their goals. Therefore, when Germany outlawed the PKK, it needed to find an alternative method of protest that was more suited to the current political milieu. In a September 1996 interview, Öcalan himself illustrates this point when observed that "the German democracy offer(ed) sufficient political avenues (for conflict resolution)… It would be dumb not to use these avenues." In this vein, Germany – where 500,000 Kurds live – would be the partner of choice for the PKK. Having realized this, Öcalan did an about-face in his stance vis-à-vis Germany and adopted a much softer line in the hopes of establishing respectable political currency.

Implications of PKK protest for Germany and Europe

As we have laid the foundations for this work on the fact that the Kurdish separatist movement is transnational, it is important to also briefly explore how these dynamics have been relevant for other European countries. One situation that is similar to Germany is found in France. There are an estimated 60,000 Kurds living with France. Furthermore, within France there has also been an outbreak of radical PKK violence with demonstrations, kidnapping and violence. However, the French state and its population is much less tolerant of the PKK. The lack of public sympathy combined with a strong French crackdown on the PKK has made the organization, for the most part, ineffective within France. One area of research that needs further exploration is a comparison of the Kurdish situation between France and Germany. This study may provide an elaboration of the role that distinct political opportunity structures play in providing the arena for extra-institutional social contention. 

The Kurdish presence in Germany also influences other European countries. Kurdish immigration is complicating the upcoming April 1998 Schengen goal of free movement between the borders of all 10 EU member countries. The Kurds make this objective very cumbersome because several of these countries, Italy and Greece in particular, are more lax in their border controls. The pressures of Kurdish immigration are creating subsequent tensions with Germany’s European counter parts as immigration regulations differ. In many cases Kurds first travel through the Mediterranean region because of the more relaxed border regulations and then make their way into Germany from other European countries. One scholar argues that "there must be uniform standards for measures against sea and air transportation companies, which bring immigrants into the Schengen nations illegally." The Kurdish immigration situation is very complex resulting in both interstate tensions and political pressures within European democracies. These pressures are evident in the stress that Kurdish separatism is placing on German multilateral relationships with Turkey, France, Italy and Greece.

International Political Relations

The PKK’s strategies to put and maintain the Kurdish question on the global agenda are very evident in the organizations abductions of tourists in Turkey. These tactics are aiming both to call into question Turkey’s ability to ensure the security of its visitors and to compel western European nations to focus on the Kurdish cause. Beginning in 1993, several groups of tourists, among them German nationals, were abducted before the banning of the PKK and picking up steam during the tourist season following the decision. Through such attacks, the PKK sought to call the attention of western Europe to its cause as well as hurting the Turkish economy by depriving it of one of its main sources of income, namely tourism. Despite its efforts, the abduction of German tourists has in general backfired for the PKK.

The trans-national presence of the PKK has been especially strenuous on the relationship between Germany and Turkey. The international diffusion of Kurdish separatism has significant implication on both the sending state of Turkey and on the receiving state Germany. However, this does not necessitate that Turkey and Germany are developing bilateral cooperative policies to address their symbiotic Kurdish problem. Germany is still a military ally of Turkey. Yet, to the Kurds that reside both within and outside of Germany, the old adage "the friend of my enemy is my enemy" has taken hold. This is partially in response to reports that, through their membership in NATO, Germany has provided military supplies to Turkey that are used to suppress Kurds in Turkey.

The EU and Germany have faced problems with Turkey’s applications for membership in the European Customs Union. The tension has been rooted in Turkey’s continued violation of human rights according to human rights associations like Amnesty International. The EU claims that Turkey is not complying with rule of law requirements. One observer notes, "The internal Turkish conflict has also become international: a steady stream of refugees, military assistance to Turkey from NATO countries and the presence of the PKK in European countries – this has embroiled European governments in Turkish affairs." In 1996 the European Parliament blocked $470 million in aid to Turkey in response to continued reports of Turkey’s violent of human rights policies. There have also been accusations from the Turkish government accusing the German government of protecting Kurdish terrorists and the radical PKK group. "From Europe’s point of view, the important thing is that Germany and Turkey work together to defeat the PKK."

To fully understand the international dynamics of Kurdish separatism, further research needs to be done on intra-Kurdish interactions and its ability for transnational collective action. In terms of transnational intra-Kurdish relationship, these have been sporadic at best. Turkish Kurds have, for the most part, very rocky relationships with other Kurdish populations in Iran, Iraq and Syria. There have been moments of unity when transnationally they have come together. However, there has also been an extensive amount of factionalization within the Kurdish separatist movement and many Kurds reject the tactics employed by the PKK. As discussed above, the PKK has also turned on the Kurdish population in efforts at extortion of money and lack of cooperation in their protest efforts. 

The transnational situation of the Kurds is not new. This stateless nation has been the center of estranged politics between Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and the former Soviet Union for decades. What is novel is the political presence of this separatist group in a non-resident state. The fact that there has been a deliberate effort on the part of the Kurds to find an external venue in which to register protest is fascinating and has implications for many types of ethnic conflict as well as the general politics of contention. We are very aware of the empirical phenomena of stateless nations and their struggle with states. At the same time this byproduct of the Westphalian system of nation-states presents considerable challenges when one attempts to capture these conflicts theoretically. Additional comparative case studies on other separatist movements and their relationship with countries outside of traditional homelands is also needed to establish the utility of the theoretical framework we have employed.

Works Cited





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Updated: 12 March 1998

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