The U.S. delivered Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to Turkey in 1999 in order to gain control of the group, former Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ has claimed, stressing that this is his “personal opinion.”
Once Öcalan was driven out of Syria in 1999 and eventually delivered to Turkey, the PKK “moved out of Syria’s control and came under U.S. control,” Başbuğ told daily Hürriyet in an interview in Washington. He was in the U.S. to take part in a number of closed-door meetings with a range of think tanks in the U.S. capital.
Öcalan’s capture in 1999 came after then President Süleyman Demirel threatened the Syrian government with sending troops to Hatay, on the border with Syria, in the autumn of 1998, following an increase in PKK attacks in Turkey.
Within a week, after diplomatic efforts from the U.S., Egypt and Iran, the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad sent Öcalan away. The PKK leader was ultimately arrested by a Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) team with the cooperation of the CIA in February 1999 at Nairobi Airport.
Sentenced to life in jail, Öcalan is still being held in the İmralı island-prison, south of Istanbul.
“Öcalan went to Syria in 1979. He was there for 20 years. During this period he formed a Kurdish structure that was dependent on him in Syria. While he was living in Damascus, whose control and protection was Öcalan under? The al-Assad regime … the Syrian intelligence organization,” Başbuğ said.
“He was then removed from Syria and delivered to Turkey. The organization [PKK] subsequently moved out of Syria’s control and came under U.S. control,” he added.