Strategist or Pragmatist: A Challenging Look at Ocalan's Retrospective Classification and Definition of PKK's Strategic Periods Between 1973 and 2012

Unal M. C.

TERRORISM AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE, vol.26, no.3, pp.419-448, 2014 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 26 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/09546553.2012.728153
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.419-448
  • Police Academy Affiliated: No


The PKK, a violent group seeking secession in southeastern Turkey through the use of terror and guerilla methods, has evolved through different strategic and pragmatic phases in pursuing its goal. Ocalan, the incarcerated leader, classified the PKK's objectives into four deliberate strategic periods and commenced the final period of Strategic Lunge in March 2010 (for establishing de-facto autonomy). To compare these periods to PKK's real evolution, this article reviewed the entire process of the PKK (1973-2012) through analysis of resolutions from PKK congresses/conferences and the characteristics of PKK violence (e. g., target status, incident type/location, form, and purpose). This study argues that as opposed to Ocalan's assessment, PKK moves-particularly after 1994-are based on emergent (ex-post) pragmatic shifts rather than predetermined (ex-ante) strategic plans, as verified by analysis of the nature/form of PKK violence. It also argues that the PKK's pragmatic moves permeated even into its ideology and declared goal. Contrary to Ocalan's four-stage strategic periods, the PKK's initial manifesto indicates a three-stage Maoist strategy for reaching its goal. However, the PKK's military attempt to reach the third stage in 1991 failed due to conditions that were not sufficient for realization of the third stage of Maoist strategy. As a result, the PKK quit pursuing military victory after acknowledging its defeat in 1994; instead, since it still possessed the ability to initiate violence, it strategically employed (and ceased) violence to supplement its campaign of political compromise and negotiation.