In about 1978, influenced by Mao Zedong’s revolutionary theory, Ocalan decided
to leave the cities and establish the PKK in rural areas. He fled Turkey before the
1980 military coup and lived in exile, mostly in Damascus and in the Lebanese
plains under Syrian control, where he set up his PKK headquarters and training
camps. In 1983 he recruited and trained at least 100 field commandos in the
Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, where the PKK maintains its Masoum Korkmaz guerrilla
training base and headquarters. The PKK’s army, the People’s Liberation Army of
Kurdistan (ARGK), began operating in August 1984. The PKK created the National
Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK) in 1985 to bolster its recruitment,
intelligence, and propaganda activities.
The PKK’s early radical agenda, including its antireligious rhetoric and violence,
alienated the PKK from much of the Kurdish peasantry. Citing various sources,
Kurdish specialist Martin van Bruinessen reports that although the PKK had won
little popular sympathy by the early 1990s with its brutally violent actions, “It
gradually came to enjoy the grudging admiration of many Kurds, both for the
prowess and recklessness of its guerrilla fighters and for the courage with which
its arrested partisans stood up in court and in prison.
... By the end of 1990, it
enjoyed unprecedented popularity in eastern Turkey, although few seemed to
actively support it.” Ocalan is reportedly regarded by many Kurds as a heroic
freedom fighter. However, the “silent majority” of Kurds living in Turkey
reportedly oppose the PKK and revile Ocalan.
The charismatic Ocalan was unquestioningly accepted by devoted PKK members,
and the PKK reportedly lacked dissenting factions, at least until the early 1990s.
The PKK’s Leninist structure constrained any internal debate. However, in March
1991 Ocalan admitted at a press conference that he was facing a challenge from
a faction within the PKK that wanted him to work for autonomy within Turkey
instead of a separate Kurdish state and recognition of the PKK as a political force.
When Ocalan, who is said to speak very little Kurdish, agreed to this position and
announced a cease-fire in March 1993, the decision was not unanimous, and
there was dissension within the PKK leadership over it.