When intellectuals think of next generation PKK leaders, they usually mean a leader like Abdullah Öcalan, with a strong influence on both politics and the militant organization, who could dictate his orders and who would have a social base among the people. However, we should admit the fact that once Öcalan is out of the political scene, the era of a charismatic leader who can control both the PKK and the political side of the Kurdish nationalist movement is over. After Öcalan, no leader can assume the leadership role that Öcalan has now. Instead of looking for a single potential charismatic leader amongst the members of the Kurdish nationalist movement (meaning PKK-affiliated political networks), perhaps we should try to focus on the PKK networks’ leadership committee.
In addition, just like any other debate, this might be taken as a reasonable argument to potentially facilitate dialogue, or it might be rejected on the grounds that it is tantamount to promoting terror leaders as possible peacemakers. The argument we all should be discussing at this stage, however, is who could be next generation PKK leaders? Where do they come from, when and under what condition did they join the PKK? Are they educated or not? Are they from the diaspora, Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq? Do they have religious affiliations? Are they Alevi or Sunni? Are they in legal politics or street politics? What kind of political education do they receive in PKK camps?
Examining the lifelines of the PKK’s operational capability, one can point to possible areas where the next generation PKK leaders might emerge. To examine PKK networks with this perspective one needs to look at the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) network.
There are a number of sources from which potential PKK leaders could originate to become members of the KCK leadership council. The first is the politician/lawyer source. Since the 1990s the state has committed many illegal activities in the Kurdish region, Kurdish people have become increasingly involved in legal procedures and learned a lot about law. Thus, it is a natural choice for many Kurds to send their children to study law. Those who receive a good enough education during high school and are smart enough to enter law school through the national university entrance exams prefer studying in prestigious law schools in Ankara and Istanbul. Those who cannot enter law schools in Turkey prefer attending law schools in northern Cyprus. Thus, Kurdish student populations are overrepresented in law schools or social science disciplines in Northern Cyprus universities.
In the Turkish system, once you graduate from law school you have the option of becoming a lawyer or a prosecutor or a judge. For Kurdish students who were active in Kurdish nationalist political networks, it is difficult to become a prosecutor or a judge because they need to be cleared by a background security check. Kurdish nationalist students who study law must become lawyers. Since the 1990s as an outcome of the “natural” selection process, lawyers have been dominating Kurdish nationalist political networks.
For this very reason it is very likely that some of the next generation political leaders will come from the community of legal professionals. It is likely those lawyers could lead the PKK networks in the future.
Another source that could produce the next generation PKK leaders is the militant -- the armed groups. Examining the armed wing of the PKK, many university dropouts have joined the PKK in the last 10 years. These dropouts could be possible candidates for next generation PKK leaders. Since very little information about the PKK militant wing is available, we don’t know what kind of political culture the PKK will produce.
The third source of potential PKK leaders is the diaspora. This group is the most extreme group and has no connection with the reality on the ground and the reality in Turkey. They mostly preserve their grievances concerning Turkey, which become part of their identity. Although disconnected from the changing reality of political factors in Turkey, they are the most active vein of the PKK network, and more importantly, they finance the PKK. Consequently, next generation PKK leaders are likely to emerge from the diaspora. Once they become active on the leaderships committee they could change the direction and the tone of the PKK’s way of war.