White argues that the Kurdish national movement in Turkey had progressed during the past century from primitive rebels (Eric Hobsbawm's term) to revolutionary modernizers. But he also notes that the "cloying religious devotion" given to Abdullah Öcalan, the Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK)'s leader, suggests something quite different was under way - either Max Weber's concept of "charismatic authority" or Graham Little's Weberian-derived "narcissistic leadership" type. The capture and imprisonment of Öcalan in 1999 "raises the distinct possibility of a political ‘de-evolution' on the part of the PKK, back towards practices of social banditry." In other words, the advances are now in danger of being lost as the PKK reverts to a more primitive format.
Such abstractions notwithstanding, White maintains that both "the dominant and ultimately determinant factors are . . . economic in nature." He argues that despite Turkey's successes under Turgut Özal's leadership during the 1980s, "Kurds since 1980 have arguably felt more ‘left out,' less like participants in the Turkish economy and society than ever before." White also sees doom and gloom when he analyzes how the economic crisis of 1994 caused the Turkish lira (TL) to plunge "from TL 11,000 to the U.S. dollar in June 1993 . . . to TL 38,000 in early April 1994." He speculates that "a programme of strong, ongoing, economic reforms . . . would require a further period of direct military rule, and the suspension of Turkey's fragile parliamentary democracy." What might he say about the new economic disaster in February 2001 that has led to a collapse of the Turkish currency from TL 668,000 to the U.S. dollar in December 2000 to more than TL 1,393,000 by January 2002? There is, in other words, no necessary connection between Turkey's economy and the war against the PKK.
Given the PKK's military defeat and Öcalan's imprisonment, it is clear that White's present analysis can only help us understand how the Kurdish issue developed in the past. A new chapter in which the Kurdish problem has partially receded and has now become part of Turkey's candidacy for membership in the European Union (since December 1999) is now upon us.