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Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

ISSN: 1944-8953 (Print) 1944-8961 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjsb20

Statehood and the political dynamics of


insurgency: KLA and PKK in comparative
perspective
Perparim Gutaj & Serhun Al
To cite this article: Perparim Gutaj & Serhun Al (2016): Statehood and the political dynamics
of insurgency: KLA and PKK in comparative perspective, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern
Studies, DOI: 10.1080/19448953.2016.1176415
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19448953.2016.1176415

Published online: 05 Aug 2016.

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Date: 09 August 2016, At: 04:12

Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 2016


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19448953.2016.1176415

Statehood and the political dynamics of insurgency: KLA and


PKK in comparative perspective
Perparim Gutaja and Serhun Alb
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Department of Political Science, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA; bDepartment of Political Science
and International Relations, Izmir University of Economics, Izmir, Turkey

ABSTRACT

Why do some insurgencies attain their ultimate goal of statehood


while others never do? Although explanations for insurgency success
based on political will, natural resources, geography or diaspora
involvement have advanced our understanding of the conditions
under which insurgencies are likely to succeed in pursuing their
statehood agenda, they have not adequately addressed the critical
role of the major external actors (e.g. USA, UK, European Union, NATO
(North Atlantic Treaty Organization)) and how significant these actors
are in shaping the fate of many insurgencies around the world. In
an effort to develop a model that explains insurgency outcome, this
paper argues that external support or lack thereof is likely to shape
insurgency outcome. When major external actors support insurgency,
the movement is likely to succeed in pursuing its statehood agenda.
Otherwise, the movement is likely to reconsider its political agenda
if it lacks the necessary external support from major actors. This
argument is demonstrated by a comprehensive study and comparison
of two cases of insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Introduction
Under what conditions do insurgent groups achieve their goals and under what conditions
do they reconsider their political agenda, especially the will to statehood? Statehood, as a
condition or a status of being a state, is neither an infinite formation nor a political exercise
that is subject to frequent changes. Modern political history has many cases of the birth of
new states as well as the death of many others. Although state death was a more frequent
occasion before 1945, it has become very rare after 1945 since the international norm of
territorial sovereignty and anti-conquest has been enduring.1 The notion of territorial sovereignty continues to remain the most critical international norm that stabilizes the state
system.2 This is why many weak states continue to survive rather than perish.3 Under these
conditions, when would insurgency groups that seek independent statehood be successful?
When would such groups abandon their will to statehood?

CONTACT Perparim Gutaj

p.gutaj@utah.edu

2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

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P. Gutaj and S. Al

This study compares two cases of insurgency that both aimed for independent statehood
but only one of them achieved this goal. The struggle of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)
for statehood apart from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s ended with the declaration of
Kosovos independence in 2008 recognized by major external actors, including the USA, UK,
Germany, France and many other members of the United Nations.4 On the other hand, the
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey began its guerrilla insurgency in the early 1980s
with the goal of establishing an independent Kurdish state by controlling the south-east
regions of the Turkish state. Although this goal continued to remain in the political agenda
of the PKK until the mid-1990s, it later evolved into an agenda of deepening the Turkish
democracy by promoting ethnic minorities rights, especially the Kurds which the PKK has
sought to speak for.5 Today, the PKK emphasizes its respect for the territorial integrity of
the Turkish state and seeks solutions to the Kurdish question within the existing boundaries
of Turkey. The different outcomes in these two insurgency groups with similar motivations
raise an important research puzzle in the studies of modern insurgency. While many studies
on insurgency groups focus on the internal dynamics such as the organizational structure,
economic and technological strength in explaining insurgency success, this study shifts the
attention toward major external actors and the role they play in shaping insurgency political
agenda and outcome. By major external actors, we mean major powers with neo-imperial
influence, like the USA, UK and European Union (EU). Two hypotheses are analysed in
both cases:
(1)If insurgency is supported locally and nationally, and enjoys external support, it
is likely to succeed in attaining statehood.
(2)If insurgency is supported locally and nationally, but lacks external support, it is
likely to reconsider its political agenda.

Defining and contextualizing insurgency and neo-imperialism


Scholars differ immensely in how they understand and define insurgency. For example, for
Anthony James Joes, a leading scholar of asymmetric warfare, insurgency is profoundly
political. Insurgency is primarily a political skill that ultimately determines whether the
government or the insurgents prevail.6 Such understanding implies that political acts will
seriously shape the struggle sequence and eventually the conflict outcome. Sound military
operations cannot compensate for bad political practices.7 Bard ONeills understanding
of insurgency also stresses the political aspect of the insurrection. According to ONeill,
insurgency is a struggle between the non-ruling and ruling groups, where the non-ruling
group consciously uses political resources and violence to destroy or reformulate the basis
of political legitimacy of one or more aspects of politics.8 For both Joes and ONeill the use
of arms and violence is important for insurgency success but the political front is decisive.
Differing from those that highlight the political skills required for insurgency success,
James Fearon and David Laitin understand insurgency as a technology of military conflict
characterized by small, lightly armed bands practicing guerilla warfare from rural base
areas.9 To other researchers, such as Steven Metz, insurgency is a military strategy adopted by
both the weak and the strong in seeking specific military and security objectives or the transformation of the power structure.10 Recently, both the political and military explanations of
insurgency have been criticized. Robert Jones, who shifts attention to the link between the

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Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

conditions of insurgency with the quality of governance, contends that insurgency is best
understood if taken out of the context of warfare and viewed as both a condition within a
populace as well as a form of conflict.11 According to Jones, as governance becomes poorer,
the conditions for insurgency grow.12 Eventually, according to Jones, insurgency is a result
of the dynamics of the political relationship between those who govern and the governed.
Our approach to insurgency falls into this politicalmilitarygovernance conceptual triangle
as well. We define insurgency as a political armed struggle of the non-ruling group against
the constituted government or occupying power that aims to displace the legitimacy of the
government and gain control over the population, territory and resources in a specific area.
We argue that insurgency is first a political struggle that further develops into an armed
contest after all realistic hope to arrive at some political solution is believed to have been
exhausted.
Most of the comparative scholarly discussion on insurgency has taken place within the
broader civil war and irregular warfare frameworks. Within these analytical frameworks,
insurgency has been examined and explained in roughly three different terrains: ethnic/
nationalist, economic and state capacity. According to the first, insurgency is an expression
of ethnic clashes and nationalist aspiration to build a nation-state. Scholars in this line of
research argue that security dilemma, the problem of commitment, secessionism and the
homogenization process by nation-states are likely to lead to political armed struggle.13 The
second terrain stresses the link between natural resources and armed conflict. According
to this argument, larger reserves of natural resources lead to greater incentives to establish and run insurgency operations. Abundant and lucrative resources also lead to greater
moral or motive to fight the corrupted occupying power, especially among the poorest
in the non-ruling groups. The correlation between armed struggles and natural resources
has been well supported by myriad research.14 Lastly, the state capacity camp argues that
insurgency is more likely to emerge under conditions in which the state is unable to control
and administer its territory, especially the countryside. Insurgencies tend to emerge and
fight primarily in rural areas and mountainous environments and such conditions create
opportunity spaces for the insurgents to exploit the states weaknesses and increase their
chance of insurgency success.15
While the aforesaid discussion on insurgency helps us understand what insurgency is
and what different insurgency motives are, it provides limited insights on the forces that
shape the political dynamics of insurgency, especially as it relates to attaining statehood.
Thus, we turn attention to the studies that place a special focus on insurgency success. One
group of scholars that try to explain insurgency success has looked at the political will of
the insurgency. According to the pioneering work of Andrew Mack, stronger political will
(i.e. greater stake in the fight and greater willingness to sacrifice) leads the ability to wage
a total war against the enemy. To summarize Macks argument, success for the insurgents
arises not from a military victory on the ground, but rather from the progressive attrition of
their opponents political will to wage war.16 Another group of scholars look at the strategies
employed by insurgencies and try to explain insurgency success from that angle. As Ivan
Arreguin-Toft argues, The best predictor of asymmetric conflict outcomes is strategic interaction.17 While the stronger side is likely to adopt a direct approach to the fight, relying on
firepower and technology, and searching for a quick victory, the weaker side in the struggle
will adopt indirect approaches to be stealthy and able to tolerate casualties. Other scholars
look at the regime types in trying to understand under what conditions insurgent groups are

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P. Gutaj and S. Al

more likely to succeed in their political objectives. One of the premier studies that examines
regime and insurgency success is that of Gil Merom. He suggests that democracies fail to
enforce their will against weaker adversaries because a gap emerges between state policies
and popular sentiment toward the war effort.18 Moreover, others have looked at the relationship between the civilian population and insurgents and how that relationship shapes
insurgency success. Examining the relationship between these two camps in Colombia,
Iraq, Kenya, Sudan and Turkey, Claire Metelits finds that the type of relationship between
the two groups (along the spectrum from coercive or contractual) shapes the likelihood of
insurgency success.19 The more contractual the relationship between the populace and the
insurgency, the more successful the insurgency is likely to be.
Do political will, superior strategy and contractual relationship guarantee insurgency
success? These domestic forces/relationships are important for insurgency outcome, but
they seem to be only secondary to external support. The link between insurgency success
and external support has been subject to few studies. However, such studies have largely
focused on this relationship by looking at external flows from mother states and diasporas
into insurgency operations, and not necessarily external support from major powers for the
movement. The external resource flows are often credited for keeping the insurgency alive
and running, and research has shown that external state and diaspora support is correlated
with insurgency success.20 Perhaps the most powerful account of this claim is that there
are no modern examples of successful insurgency without external assistance in the form
of money, supply of arms and military advice. Jeffrey Record has argued that the presence
or the absence of external assistance might be the single most important determinant in
insurgency success.21
While we do not contest the importance of external assistance, whether in the form of
money or arms, we argue that insurgency success in terms of attaining statehood is very
likely only when it is backed by the support from major external powers. In the years leading
to the Kosovo War (1999), many Kosovo Albanians living in Western Europe and the USA
were active in financing the Homeland Calling fundthe main financial source for KLA
operations inside and outside Kosovo. When Albania, in 1997, experienced a breakdown
of its state structures and was no longer capable of controlling the monopoly of violence,
thousands of weapons became available on the black market at very affordable prices. This
was a big opportunity for the KLA men to arm themselves.22 Although these developments
contributed to numerous successful insurgency operations inside Kosovo, they were limited
in terms of helping the KLA achieve statehood. Similarly, although the PKK achieved the
creation of networks in the diaspora, especially in Europe and backed by small states such
as Greece and Syria, the Turkish states diplomatic relations with the major international
actors such as the USA, EU and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) limited the
PKKs enlargement of its support base in the international arena.
We see external support from major powers as fundamental to the insurgency outcomes
under study precisely because of the American and European (North-Atlantic) imperial
interests in the Balkans and greater Middle East.23 Different propositions may be produced
about why the North-Atlantic powers eventually supported the KLA in achieving their goal
of statehood, and why the same powers did not support the PKK, but Vassilis Fouskas and
Bulent Gokay correctly show how this is tied to American neo-imperialism24 and European
aims to extend their power, authority and influence in both the Balkans and Middle East.

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Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

While the extension of power, authority and influence may be carried out through use
of fear and violence, military and unilateralism, and with the goal to advance specific group
interests or ideology (e.g. the case of neo-conservatives in the USA), in this paper we use
external support simply as a multilateral approach to neo-imperialism; in which NorthAtlantic cultural, economic and political influences are extended in other spaces. This form
of imperialism is less explicit and destructive than classic imperialism yet has similar goals
of dominating a specific space. In the case of Kosovo, for example, North-Atlantic power
was projected based on moral and human rights values (at least during the 1990s), but the
same values could not travel to the Kurdish case precisely because of the nature of interests
imperial powers have in Turkey. Turkish territorial and administrative unity matters to the
North-Atlantic powers not only because the USA is using the Turkish air bases of Incirlik
and Diyarbakir to launch airstrikes against its enemies in the region, but also because
Turkey is central to the oil and gas pipeline projects, connecting the Caucasus with the
Mediterranean and Black Sea.25 In what follows, we illustrate how external support from
major powers for the KLA produced an outcome of statehood, and how lack of external
support for the PKK led to the movements decision to reconsider its political agenda.

From Kurdish statehood to democratic Turkey: the rise and evolution of the
PKK
Approximately constituting around 30 million people at the geographical intersection of
Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria,26 Kurds are assumed to be the largest ethnic group in the
world without their own state.27 Like in many other post-imperial cases, the formation of
modern Kurdish identity and its politicization, especially in Iraq and in Turkey, has gradually occurred in the 20th century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.28 Perhaps
Kurds were the only community that did not or could not utilize from the age of national
self-determination in order to establish their own state in the process of collapse and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. While other Ottoman communities such as Armenians,
Arabs, Greeks and Bulgarians were able to establish their own state, the establishment of an
independent Kurdish state did not occur. Rather Kurds have become the minorities in the
nation-states that they populate without the recognition of their language and ethnic identity.
The formation of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923 as the successor state of the
Ottoman Empire is one of the important cases within which the nation-building process
surrounding the monolithic Turkish national identity has gradually led to the revival of a
strong politicized Kurdish identity through the late 20th century.29 Based on the assimilation
model that rejects the recognition of ethnic diversity, Kurdish identity has been suppressed
and denied by the Turkish state.30 The most violent outcome of this denial of the Kurdish
identity has been the formation of the PKK, which became the top security and political
issue after the 1980s. This insurgency is the most violent and long running guerrilla warfare
against the Turkish state since its foundation in 1923. Between 1984 and 2010, 5089 soldiers,
405 police officers, 1384 village guards, 2245 civilians and 29,797 PKK militants were killed
in this conflict.31 The economic loss of the conflict is estimated at around US$450 billion.32
The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by the USA since 1997,33 by the UK
since 2001,34 by the EU since 200235 and the Council of Europe.36
Although there were Kurdish political activists organized within the democratic-
institutional channels before the 1980s,37 the military coup in 1980 mostly hindered all

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P. Gutaj and S. Al

democratic channels of civic and political associational life. The PKK came into being
within this transition process that promoted a political agenda of national liberation discourse through guerrilla warfare. Under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKKs
political agenda included MarxistLeninist rhetoric, a socialist Kurdish state, anti-feudal
and modernizing discourse, and anti-imperialist philosophy.38 Besides the PKKs terrorizing
attacks on Turkish soldiers and civilians, the Turkish states response to the PKK insurgency
included scorch-and-burn tactics that destroyed villages and farmlands and programs that
tortured Kurdish insurgents and massacred civilian populations.39 Through the end of the
1990s, Kurdish identity was securitized by the Turkish state and the state discourse focused
on a military solution to the insurgency rather than the political solution to the Kurdish
question.40 On the other hand, through the end of the 1990s, the PKK reconsidered its political agenda towards independent statehood and focused on the democratic transformation
of Turkey by publicizing discourses of ethnic pluralism and human rights.41

From tiny underground group to successful insurgent movement: the rise


and victory of the KLA
Like Kurds, Albanians were also under the Ottoman political and security canopy during
the final years of the Empire. Unlike other Balkan nationalities within the Empire, Albanians
did not wish the collapse of the Ottoman state at least up to 1912. The fall of the Ottoman
state, especially the tangible threats posed by other national groups (especially Serbs and
Greeks), to partition and conquer the Albanian-inhabited territories, forced the Albanians
to organize for their national safety.42 Although Albania declared independence in 1912,
almost half of the Albanian population was exempted from the boundaries of the new state.43
As Serbs subjugated Kosovo in 1912, in their struggle to take as much as possible from the
collapsing Ottoman Empire, the colonization process produced a living collective memory
and tradition of resistance that was inherited in generations after 1912. Even though some
Serbs had lived in Kosovo before 1912, the majority of the Kosovo population resisted the
conquest, and Albanian insurgents fought at different times in the intervening years to
reverse the occupation of their homeland.44 One might consider the KLA a phenomenon
of the late 1980s or early 1990s, but as the celebrated historian James Pettifer rightly argues,
the origins of the KLA insurgency lay much further back in the distant past of Kosovo.45
The insurgency tradition in Kosovo and individual/family/group resistance to the Serbian
state and its colonization policies were evident throughout the 20th century. Among many
issues that defined this tradition of insurgency and resistance during the early decades of the
conquest were land ownership and control. While for Serb policymakers and their advisors
the Albanian-inhabited lands were something that could be fairly easily depopulated and
placed under state ownership, for the Albanians it was a situation of land or death. As the
initial Serb attempts to cleanse these territories failed, the state apparatus turned to military
methods to secure the land.46 The displaced Albanians, in turn, found that only rebellion
and insurgency warfare were an adequate response to the oppression.47
The systematic ethnic discrimination of Kosovo Albanians continued in the decades
that followed.48 Anti-Albanian discriminatory policies, practices and laws became so widespread by 1989 that they encompassed all spheres of economic, political and social life.
Reacting to Milosevics forceful abolition of Kosovos self-governing status in 1989, the
majority of Kosovo Albanians organized themselves around the non-violent resistance led

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Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

by Ibrahim Rugova. While the peaceful resistance and the emergence of the Kosovo Parallel
State created strong solidarism among the Albanians,49 it did not address or advance the
long-standing request of Kosovo Albanians for independence and statehood. As the wars
in Croatia and Bosnia during the early 1990s were unfolding, Milosevic turned Kosovo into
a hub for Serb refugees who were leaving the war zones. The mass relocation of Croatian
and Bosnian Serbs into Kosovo was both an opportunity for ethnic balance creation, but
also significantly increased the ethnic tensions in Kosovo. After 1995, when Serbia was
forced to withdraw some of its military machinery from Bosnia, Kosovo became a centre
for stationing Serbian military machinery. All these developments significantly contributed
to intensify ethnic strains between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. As the situation continued
to deteriorate further, Kosovo Albanian identity became increasingly insecure and threatened, which required a coming together and organizing for safety. It is during this time that
many young Kosovo Albanian men and women came together to form the loosely organized
Kosovo Albanian insurgent groups that began to take a more active and protective role in
providing safety for their families and community. These groups came out united as the
KLA in defence of the civil Kosovo Albanian population.
If the 1980 coup in Turkey could be considered a major turning point that radicalized
the PKK leadership and its strategies, we argue that Slobodan Milosevics actions in 1989
were the tipping point for Kosovo Albanians to think alternatively of ways to resist the
systematic ethnic discrimination they were facing. Even though it took some years for the
armed resistance to emerge and mature, we argue that the situation both inside Kosovo and
in the region significantly shaped the emergence of the KLA and its insurgency response
to the Serbian oppression. While the emergence of the KLA generated high emotions and
hopes among Kosovo Albanians, many people were also aware that the KLA almost stood
no chance against Milosevics army. However, by early/mid-1999, with external support
from major powers, the KLA emerged victorious and much closer to attaining its age-old
objective of statehood.

What led to KLA success in attaining statehood while the PKK changing its
agenda?
Our analysis highlights two major political dynamics that appear to have substantial influence over when insurgency groups are likely to succeed in attaining statehood. The first
dynamic is external support for the insurgency movement. We argue that when major
external powers support the insurgencys political agenda, insurgency success is more likely.
When external powers offer no support for an insurgencys political agenda, insurgency
success is less likely. The second dynamic is the behaviour of the host statein our cases,
Serbia and Turkeyin the international arena. On the one hand, uncooperative behaviour
of the host state (i.e. its unwillingness to work collaboratively with major external powers
on concerns related to insurgency) turns out to be significant for insurgency success if
major external powers are supporting or at least not hindering the political agenda of the
insurgency. Cooperative behaviour of the host state, on the other hand, seems to decrease
the likelihood of insurgency success even if there is external support for insurgency. Our
analysis also shows that both cooperative and uncooperative behaviour of the host state is
almost irrelevant if there is lack of external support from major powers for the insurgency.
These dynamics are summarized in Figure 1.

P. Gutaj and S. Al

Uncooperative
Host State
Behaviour

More Likely

Cooperative Host
State Behaviour

Likely

Uncooperative/
Cooperative
Host State
Behaviour

Less Likely

Yes
External Support
from Major
Powers

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No

Figure 1. The dynamics of insurgency success.

While our analysis underlines the role of external support from major powers and the
behaviour of the host state in the international arena, dynamics at other levels of analysis
should not be completely ignored. To be sure, under certain conditions dynamics at the
local and national level have the power to significantly shape perceptions of external actors.
Insurgency, above all, is a political movement that requires the support of the local population and the unification of political and military leaders in order to push its political agenda.
However, although most modern insurgencies start as bottom-up movements and at times
successfully unify various political and military leaders around similar insurgency goals,
our evidence suggests that only after obtaining the necessary help from external actors can
insurgencies count on gaining statehood. As the KLA case illustrates, domestic dynamics
like the unification of the political and military leaders into a single strategic and operating
unit is likely to support the will of the major external actors to back the insurgency agenda,
even though these powers might have their own agenda. One claim we are making here is
that external support from major external powers is more likely when domestic dynamics
align with the goals of the external powers.
As important as the popular support and the unification of the military and political
forces at the national level might be, the empirical evidence from our cases suggests that
the fate of the political agenda of the modern insurgency very much rests on the standpoint of the major external actors, and the type of behaviour the home state adopts on the
international stage. The case of the PKK offers evidence that the lack of external support
for the insurgency agenda not only creates internal disgruntlement, but it is prevalent in
obscuring the elite unification of the military and the political forces of the movement. For
instance, although the PKK has gained partial support from a significant amount of Kurds
in Turkey, many Kurds have remained reluctant to support the PKKs statehood agenda. In
fact, there were rival groups such as the Kurdish Hezbollah in the 1990s, which engaged in
an almost total war with the PKK. While Kurds have never been united in support for the
PKKs statehood agenda, the PKK could not be successful in becoming the dominant force
among Kurds of Turkey. For instance, the contemporary fight of the Syrian Kurds against
the Islamic State in Syria is strongly backed by major international actors such as the USA,
EU and Russia, which can significantly open pathways to Kurdish statehood.
Equally important, the lack of external support motivates the Turkish state to become
increasingly cooperative with major international actors on the issue of Kurdish insurgency.
Turkish foreign policy has been active in convincing international actors that the PKK is a
terrorist organization and it does not represent the Kurds of Turkey. For instance, although

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Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

the Turkish state has been criticized by the EU and the Council of Europe for its treatment of
the Kurdish minority in Turkey, the Turkish state with its bid for EU membership has always
been cooperative in the discussion of the Kurdish question and been successful in framing
the PKK mobilization as a terrorist movement and a threat to Turkeys national security.
Thus, external support for the PKKs statehood agenda has been absent or very limited.
The lack of external support from major powers for the PKK insurgency agenda created
a dead end for Ocalans movement. In his writings, Ocalan himself underlines this as well.
He states that a potential Kurdish state in the leadership of the PKK will not be recognized
by neighbouring states and the leading states of the international community.50 He states
that the PKKs insistence on the national self-determination agenda has been a mistake
especially after the fall of Soviet Russia.51 For Ocalan, secessionism and an independent
Kurdish state was practically impossible due to the lack of international support on the one
hand and the decline of the national self-determination norm on the other. This is how
Ocalan concludes that an independent Kurdish state is neither possible nor necessary.52
Despite similarities, the PKK situation contrasts starkly with the KLAs insurgency outcome. In the case of the KLA, the North-Atlantic neo-imperial position was prevalent not
only in determining the KLAs struggle for statehood, but also shaping political, military and
civil conduct among Kosovar Albanians during the 1990s. At the popular level, American
and European support for Kosovos struggle went parallel with popular support for the
insurgency. Many Kosovar Albanians might have been somewhat quiet about the KLA and
its agenda, during the early 1990s, but that changed by 1998 along with international perceptions about the KLA. The military advances the KLA made played an important role in
changing US foreign policy toward Kosovo,53 and policies of other states toward the region;
that in turn led to greater popular support for the KLA and its agenda. As external support
for Kosovos struggle became more apparent to the people in Kosovo, Albanians within
Kosovo and those living abroad, mainly in Western Europe and the USA, supported the
insurgency financially, and joined KLA forces in massive numbers.54 The idea that Kosovo
will ultimately become free from Serbian rule was becoming more concrete with the greater
support from external North-Atlantic powers. When NATO started bombing Serbia, the
whole Albanian population of Kosovo looked less to UCK [KLA] than to NATO.55
At the national level, external support from major powers for the insurgency led to the
unification of the Kosovo Albanian military and political factions. As early as 1992, after the
complete fall of communism in Albania, Kosovar Albanians gradually started to organize
the roots of the KLA, what was seen as the alternative to Ibrahim Rugovas peaceful resistance to the Serbian regime.56 For almost the entire period from 1992 to the end of war in
Kosovo, these two Kosovo Albanian factions disagreed on many issues, including on the
agenda of statehood. While they both aspired freedom for Kosovar Albanians, Rugovas party
sought to achieve independence by peaceful means, whereas the KLA sought to use military
means to achieve independence. American and European political leaders worked closely
with Rugova up until 1998 but the dynamics on the ground quickly changed and external
powers gradually started to take the KLA more seriously. By near the end of the war the
two factions (Rugova and KLA) were eventually united at the Rambouillet Conference.57
The role of the USA and EU in uniting Kosovar Albanian forces was fundamental.
The readiness of the external powers to unite the Kosovar Albanian political and military
leadership, and to support Kosovos struggle for self-determination, further exasperated and
radicalized the political leadership in Belgrade. Serbian leaders not only refused to engage

10

P. Gutaj and S. Al

Table 1.KLA and PKK compared.


Level of analysis

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INTERNATIONAL LEVEL:
External support from major powers for the insurgency
INTERNATIONAL LEVEL:
Host state behaviour in the international arena
NATIONAL:
The unification of the political and military elites of the movement
LOCAL:
Popular support for the insurgency agenda

The case of KLA

The case of PKK

Yes

No

Uncooperative (Serbia)

Cooperative (Turkey)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

in constructive talks with the US and European leaders about the future of Kosovo, but also
were fully engaged in major ethnic cleansing campaign and genocidal acts against Kosovar
Albanians by early 1999. The decision of Serbia to behave uncooperatively in the international arena, concerning Kosovo, led to a war between Serbia and NATO that concluded
with a major blow for the Serb state, and a great helping hand for the KLA. Regardless of
the real ambitions attached to the support external powers offered to the KLA in the 1990s,
the majority of Kosovo Albanians, even to this day, remain one of the most pro-American
and pro-EU groups in the Balkans.58
The comparison of the KLA and PKK demonstrates that while the popular support for
the insurgency agenda at the local and elite level existed in both cases, it is the difference
at the international level and the behaviour of the host state that explains the different
outcomes in the KLA and PKK cases. The actuality of external support from major powers
for the KLA, and the uncooperative behaviour of the Serbian state, led to statehood for
Kosovo Albanians. On the other hand, the lack of external support from major powers
for the PKK, and the cooperative behaviour of the Turkish state in the international arena,
led to the PKK reconsidering their will to statehood. It is within these political dynamics
at the international level that we see the conditions under which insurgent groups achieve
their goal or reconsider their will to statehood. Table 1 compares the KLA and PKK cases.

Conclusion
Although much of the scholarly research on insurgency and statehood theorizes a strong
link between insurgency success and variables like tactics, political will or diaspora involvement, we have argued that the most important variable in explaining insurgency success or
failure is found at the international level. Without external support from major powers no
domestic insurgency turns out to be victorious, never mind the domestic support it might
enjoy. As the cases of the KLA and PKK show, external support for insurgency success is
decisive in whether the insurgency succeeds or fails. In the case of the KLA, external support
not only played a significant role in aiding the KLA emerge victorious in the Kosovo War of
1999, but it also facilitated Kosovos process to statehood. On the other hand, the absence
of external support for the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey led the PKK to reconsider their
political agenda in relation to the goal of attaining statehood.
These findings have important implications for scholarship on modern insurgency.
Current cases of insurgencies around the world, from The Shining Path in Peru, to the ETA
(Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) movement in Spain, to insurgencies in North Caucasus, might
possess some combination of local and national unification that might help them retain

Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

11

the hope for statehood, but the role of external support seems conclusive for their struggle
for statehood, especially in the era of international norms that emphasize the territorial
integrity of existing states.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

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Notes on contributors
Perparim Gutaj is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University
of Utah, USA. His research interests include violence and war, state-making and nation-building,
and insurgency. His scholarly work has been published in Political Studies Review, Nations and
Nationalism, Mediterranean Quarterly, Insight Turkey and Iliria International Review.
Serhun Al is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Political Science and International
Relations at Izmir University of Economics, Turkey. His research interests include ethnicity and
nationalism, social movements and security studies. His recent academic articles have appeared
in journals such as Nationalities Papers, Ethnopolitics, Globalizations and Studies in Ethnicity and
Nationalism.

Notes
1.T. Fazal, State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007.
2.See H. Spruyt, The origins, development, and possible decline of the state, Annual Review of
Political Science, 5(1), 2002, pp. 127149.
3.For instance, see a seminal study on Africas weak states by R. Jackson and C. Rosberg,
Why Africas weak states persist? The empirical and juridical in statehood, World Politics,
35(1), 1982, pp. 124; moreover, in a more recent study, Ann Hironaka shows the effect of
the international communitys effort to prop up these weak states on the endurance of civil
wars. See A. Hironaka, Neverending Wars: The International Community, Weak States, and
the Perpetuation of Civil War, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005.
4.As of October 2015, Kosovo was recognized by 111 UN member states and numerous
international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. See
<www.kosovothanksyou.com> (accessed on 1 October 2015).
5.See C. Gunes, The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey: From Protest to Resistance, Routledge,
London, 2012.
6.A. James Joes, Modern Guerilla Insurgency, Praeger, Westport, CT, 1992, pp. 23.
7.Ibid., p. 3; Anthony James Joes understanding of the phenomenon seems to be very much
shaped by the Cold War insurgencies, such as those in Greece, Vietnam and Afghanistan,
which at the most fundamental level were ideological confrontations between the Communist
East and the Democratic West.
8.B. ONeill, Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse, Potomac Books,
Washington, DC, 2005, p. 15.
9.J. Fearon and D. Laitin, Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war, American Political Science Review,
97(1), 2003, p. 79.
10.See S. Metz, Insurgency, in O. Jorgen Maao and K. Erik Haug (eds), Conceptualizing Modern
War: A Critical Inquiry, Hurst, London, 2011.
11.R. Jones, Understanding insurgency: the condition behind the conflict, Small Wars Journal,
7(10), 2011, pp. 110.
12.Ibid., p. 3.

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13.For major works on this terrain, see B. Posen, The security dilemma and ethnic conflict,
Survival, 35(1), 1993, pp. 2747; J. Fearon, Commitment problems and the spread of ethnic
conflict, in D. Lake and D. Rothchild (eds), The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1998; M. Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence:
Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory, Princeton University Press, Princeton,
NJ, 2003; L. Cederman and L. Girardin, Beyond fractionalization: mapping ethnicity onto
nationalist insurgencies, American Political Science Review, 101(1), 2006, pp. 173185;
A. Wimmer and B. Min, From empire to nation state: explaining wars in the modern world,
18162001, American Sociological Review, 71(6), 2006, pp. 867897.
14.See M. Ross, How do natural resources influence Civil War? Evidence from thirteen cases,
International Organization, 58(1), 2004, pp. 3567; P. Collier and A. Hoeffler, Greed and
grievance in civil war, Oxford Economic Papers, 56(4), 2004, pp. 563595; M. Humphreys,
Natural resources, conflict, and conflict resolution: uncovering the mechanisms, Journal of
Conflict Resolution, 49(4), 2005, pp. 508537.
15.See W. Brustein and M. Levi, The geography of rebellion: rulers, rebels, and regions, 1500
to1700, Theory and Society, 16(1), 1987, pp. 467495; Fearon and Laitin, op. cit., pp. 7586.
16.A. Mack, Why big nations lose small wars, World Politics, 27(2), 1975, pp. 175200.
17.I. Arreguin-Toft, How the weak win wars: a theory of asymmetric conflict, International
Security, 26(1), 2001, p. 95.
18.
G. Merom, How Democracies Lose Small Wars, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003.
19.C. Metelits, Inside Insurgency: Violence, Civilians, and Revolutionary Group Behavior,
New York University Press, New York, 2010.
20.D. Byman, P. Chalk, B. Hoffman, W. Rosenau and D. Brannan, Trends in Outside Support for
Insurgent Movements, RAND, Washington, DC, 2001; D. Byman, Deadly Connections: States
that Sponsor Terrorism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005; I. Salehyan, Rebels
Without Borders: Transnational Insurgencies in World Politics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
NY, 2009; J. Pettifer, The Kosova Liberation Army: Underground War to Balkan Insurgency,
19482001, Hurst, London, 2012.
21.J. Record, Beating Goliath: Why Insurgencies Win, Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2007,
p. 23.
22.A. Bekaj, The KLA and the Kosovo War: from intra-state conflict to independent country,
Berghof Conflict Research, 2010, p. 19.
23.See, for example, V. Fouskas, Zones of Conflict: US Foreign Policy in the Balkans and the Greater
Middle East, Pluto Press, London, 2003.
24.V. Fouskas and B. Gokay, The New American Imperialism: Bushs War on Terror and Blood for
Oil, Praeger Security International, London, 2005.
25.Ibid., pp. 5758.
26.This number is estimated. For instance, since there is no census based on ethnicity in Turkey,
the exact number of Kurds living in Turkey is not known clearly. There is also an important
amount of Kurdish diaspora in Europe and North America.
27.D. Bayir, Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law, Ashgate, Burlington, VT, 2013;
R. Brenneman, As Strong as the Mountains: A Kurdish Cultural Journey, Waveland Press,
Long Grove, IL, 2007; D. Sezgin and M. Wall, Constructing the Kurds in the Turkish press:
a case study of Hurriyet newspaper, Media, Culture & Society, 27(5), 2005, pp. 787798;
D. McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurd, I. B. Tauris, New York, 2004; K. Kirisci and
G. Winrow, The Kurdish Question and Turkey: An Example of a Trans-state Ethnic Conflict,
Psychology Press, New York, 1997.
28.H. Yavuz, Five stages of the construction of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey, Nationalism and
Ethnic Politics, 7(3), 2001, pp. 124.
29.S. Al, An anatomy of nationhood and the question of assimilation: debates on Turkishness
revisited, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 15(1), 2015, pp. 83101.
30.M. Yegen, Turkish nationalism and the Kurdish question, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(1),
2007, pp. 119151.

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31.These numbers are provided by Yalcin Akdogan, one of the chief advisers to Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, the current President of Turkey in Demokratik Acilim Surecinde Yasananlar, Meydan
Yayincilik, Istanbul, 2010.
32.Ibid.
33.See Bureau of Counterterrorism, Foreign terrorist organizations, <http://www.state.gov/j/
ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm> (accessed on 12 September 2015).
34.See British Government List, <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/
attachment_data/file/301777/ProscribedOrganisationsApril14.pdf> (accessed on 15
September 2015).
35.See 2013 European Parliaments Briefing, The implications of EU antiterrorism legislation on
post conflict political processes and on the standing of the EU as a mediator in regional conflicts,
<http://www.statewatch.org/news/2013/jul/ep-study-terrorism-mediation.pdf> and <http://
eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:346:0058:0060:EN:PDF>
(accessed on 15 September 2015).
36.Hurriyet, PKK still on terrorist list, the Council of Europe confirms, <http://www.
hurriyetdailynews.com/pkk-still-on-terrorist-list-the-council-of-europe-confirms.
aspx?pageID=238&nid=45589> (accessed on 15 September 2015).
37.C. Gunes, The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey, Routledge, New York, 2011. Despite
the arguments that emphasize the pre-conflict ethnic grievances, it is important to highlight
how the agency of the PKK and its use of violence has led to the construction of modern
Kurdish political identity and perpetuated the civil war. For this significant perspective, see
G. M. Tezcur, Violence and nationalist mobilization: the onset of the Kurdish insurgency in
Turkey, Nationalities Papers, 43(2), 2014, pp. 248266; A. Aydin and C. Emrence, Zones of
Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2015.
38.H. Barkey and G. Fuller, Turkeys Kurdish Question, Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 1998.
39.D. Natali, The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, Syracuse
University Press, New York, 2005, p. 108.
40.Sezgin and Wall, op. cit.
41.S. Al, Elite discourses, nationalism and moderation: a dialectical analysis of Turkish and
Kurdish nationalisms, Ethnopolitics, 14(1), 2015, pp. 94112.
42.See N. Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, New York University Press, New York, 1999;
G. Gawrych, The Crescent and the Eagle: Ottoman Rule, Islam and the Albanians, 18741913,
I. B. Tauris, London, 2006; N. Guy, The Birth of Albania: Ethnic Nationalism, the Great Powers
of World War I and the Emergence of Albanian Independence, I. B. Tauris, London, 2012;
. Smmer, What did the Albanians do?, in H. Yavuz and I. Blumi (eds), War & Nationalism:
The Balkan Wars, 19121913, and their Sociopolitical Implications, University of Utah Press,
Salt Lake City, 2012, pp. 729731.
43.See R. Elsie and B. Destani (eds), The Cham Albanians of Greece: A Documentary History,
I. B. Tauris, London, 2013; B. Destani, Albania & Kosovo: Political and Ethnic Boundaries
18671946, Archive edn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999.
44.See Pettifer, op. cit.
45.Ibid., p. 12.
46.Ibid.
47.Ibid.
48.Even though Kosovo was granted an autonomous status in 1963 and gained virtual selfgovernment in 1974, during the Tito era, Kosovo Albanians remained highly discriminated
by the Serbian state.
49.On the emergence of the Kosovo Parallel State, see B. Pula, The emergence of the Kosovo
Parallel State, 19881992, Nationalities Papers, 32(4), 2004, pp. 797826; and H. Clark, Civil
Resistance in Kosovo, Pluto Press, London, 2000, Chapter 5.
50.A. Ocalan, Declaration on the Democratic Solution of the Kurdish Question, Mesopotamien
Verlag, Cologne, 1999, p. 109.
51.Ibid., p. 62.

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52.Ibid., p. 32; also see S. Al, Local armed uprisings and the transnational image of claim-making:
the Kurds of Turkey and the Zapatistas of Mexico in comparative perspective, Globalizations,
12(5), 2015, pp. 677694.
53.See Pettifer, op. cit., p. 145.
54.In addition to internal recruits, Kosovar Albanians residing in Germany, Switzerland, UK
and USA were pouring into Albania. On this, see M. Koinova, Diasporas and secessionist
conflicts: the mobilization of the Armenian, Albanian and Chechen diasporas, Ethnic and
Racial Studies, 34(2), 2011, pp. 333356; Pettifer, op. cit., Chapter 7.
55.Clark, op. cit., p. 5.
56.For this division, see J. Pettifer and M. Vickers, The Albanian Question: Reshaping the Balkans,
I. B. Tauris, London, 2009; M. Weller, Contested Statehood: Kosovos Struggle for Independence,
Oxford University Press, New York, 2009.
57.See M. Weller, The Rambouillet Conference on Kosovo, International Affairs, 75(2), 1999,
pp. 211251.
58.P. Gutaj, Beyond independence: anti-Americanism and the Serb resistance in Kosova, Iliria
International Review, 1(1), 2013, pp. 183214.