The story behind Abdullah Öcalan’s high-profile exit from Syria

publisher: Al Majalla

AUTHOR: ابراهيم حميدي

Publishing date: 2023-03-20


Twenty-five years ago, Syrian authorities asked Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, to leave the country. Turkey was mobilising troops at the border, sending a clear ultimatum to Damascus: either to kick Öcalan out, or face war.

It was not the first clash between the two nations. Relations between Syria and Turkey have been volatile ever since the end of the Ottoman Empire, with tensions frequently reaching the verge of conflict. But it was one of the most dramatic, and it included some of the biggest political names in the region.

The exact circumstances have never been clear — until now. Here, Al Majalla reveals the full story of why Syria stopped sheltering the leading Turkish separatist on its soil.

History of competition

The stand-off was first shaped by the forces of history. Both countries have long competed for leverage over each other with military, political, and economic alliances.

Turkey’s status as the geographic gateway to the Arab world, and its dominance of the waters of Euphrates and Tigris, gives it strategic sway. Syria sought to seek an advantage via relations with the PKK and its leader until its hosting of Öcalan took the countries to the brink of war.

In the mid-1970s, Turkey complained to Damascus about Kurdish separatists being trained inside Palestinian-run camps in Syria and asked for them to be kicked out. Then, in 1985, Öcalan sought refuge in Syria where he was warmly welcomed in expatriate Turkish circles — particularly those with refugee status in Syria.

Öcalan was soon organising and training allies in Palestinian camps in Syria and in Lebanon, which were once controlled by Syria.


Getty ImagesGetty Images
Abdullah Ocalan, Turkey Chairman of the PKK 1978-2002. The General Secretary of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) inspects his armed guerrillas in September 1991.


Damascus turned a blind eye to his activity because it was more focused on the Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood (MB) threat rather than Öcalan’s propaganda and efforts to organise separatist groups to infiltrate Turkey via its borders with Syria or Iraq.

Damascus did not consider Öcalan an ally, but was using him for political leverage — paving the way for a bargain that could discourage Turkey from supporting the MB and lead to the countries’ sharing of the Euphrates River.

Damascus did not consider Öcalan an ally, but was using him for political leverage — paving the way for a bargain that could discourage Turkey from supporting the MB and lead to the countries’ sharing of the Euphrates River.



At this time, Öcalan was in contact with Syria’s Foreign Branch of the State Security Apparatus (General Intelligence). Soon after, his surveillance and handling were transferred to the Political Security Directorate.

He was first received by a political official in 1992 when he met then vice president, Abdulhalim Khaddam. Several meetings followed in a bid to convince Öcalan to agree on political terms with Turkey at a time when there was contact between Damascus and Ankara. At times, tension with Öcalan meant he was asked to leave Syria.

1998 ultimatum

Matters came to a head in 1998.  Ankara was so concerned about the PKK and its attacks in Turkey led by Öcalan, that the Turkish government decided to mobilise its army along the Syrian border and clearly demand that Syrian President Hafez al-Assad oust Öcalan or face war.

In October 1998, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, mediated between al-Assad and his Turkish counterpart, Suleiman Demirel. It led to al-Assad reaching the tough decision to expel Öcalan, who left for Europe, Asia, and then Africa, until he was finally abducted and imprisoned by Turkish intelligence in early 1999.

The exact nature of the decision to expel Öcalan remained unclear for decades and questions remained over how and when it was made, and what his last words were before leaving.

Until now.

Al Majalla has obtained the official minutes of the last meeting between Öcalan and then Syrian vice president, Abdulhalim Khaddam. It took place in the office of the director of Political Security Directorate, Gen. Adnan Badr (Suleiman) al-Hassan.

The publication also obtained other files documenting relations between Damascus and Öcalan and the latter’s final days and hours in the Syrian capital.

They make for a fascinating and illuminating read on a key moment in international relations in one of the most strategically important parts of the region.

Story begins with an exchanged note

The story begins with a note exchanged between top-level officials at a moment of great peril for their country.


Getty Images
Syrian politician, close to president Hafez El Assad, Abdel Halim Khaddam


On 1 October 1998, Syria’s president, Hafez al-Assad, met with his vice president, Abdulhalim Khaddam, in Latakia:

“While we (Assad and Khaddam) were talking about Lebanon, the warden came in and handed over an envelope with a statement by then Turkish president, Suleiman Demirel.”

“It was a threat of military action against Syria if it fails to extradite Öcalan, as Turkey has grown utterly impatient with Syria’s support of Kurdish terrorism that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens,” Khaddam wrote.

The former Syrian vice president took these documents to Paris in 2005 shortly before declaring his dissent against Bashar al-Assad.

The discussion between the president and his deputy led Khaddam to conclude that the threats were “cooked up in agreement with Israel and the United states, being inseparable from the pressures being exercised on Syria to reach a settlement with Israel as part of the new regional alliance.”

United Arab front sought

He added: “I suggested going for an Arab and international campaign to face up to Turkish pressures. The president opined that no hasty actions should be taken to ward off the notion that Syria is caving into the threats. I told the president that ‘tomorrow you are going to receive a call from the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, as he is offering to mediate in the matter.”

That call came as expected and a visit to Damascus by Mubarak was set up for 4 October 1998. The meeting put the crisis with Turkey and the potential regional ramifications at the top of its agenda.


That call came as expected and a visit to Damascus by Mubarak was set up for 4 October 1998. The meeting put the crisis with Turkey and the potential regional ramifications at the top of its agenda.



Mubarak questioned the objectives of the Turkish policy “that would bring destruction to the region”.

Meanwhile, al-Assad talked about the crisis and the Turkish-Israeli alliance and explained relations and earlier communications with Turkey, highlighting the fact that Turkey “is evading solutions to any present troubles, most important of which is the water issue and the measures taken years ago against Öcalan’s organisation.”

He stressed “the lack of any Syrian assistance to the Kurdish-Turk PKK and border infiltration via the Syrian border particularly as the Turkish army and security are deployed along the joint borders.”

Al-Assad and Mubarak asked for a meeting between Khaddam and then Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers, Amr Mousa and Farouq Ashara’a, respectively, and relevant advisors to discuss the matter.

According to Khaddam: “In our meeting, we have revisited the reasons of the crisis and its relation to the Turkish-Israeli alliance, as well as to the internal Turkish crisis. We concluded that:

1. There must be a Syria-supporting Arab stance when approaching Turkey, with President Mubarak’s visit taken to mean just that.

President Mubarak would address the Turks as saying that your clash with Syria would align all Arabs with Syria, in which case you are going to throw yourselves and the whole region into an unprovoked crisis, knowing that Arabs will not leave Syria alone.

2. He would also convey to the Turks: What is your problem? The PKK is found across Europe, why then do you wage such a campaign against Syria?! More importantly, Syria does not use the PKK against you.

A calm cooperation between the two countries is possible in this regard. Syria has nothing to do with the PKK. Threats must be withdrawn, and the situation must be calmed, only then a serious dialogue can be conducted.

3. In the Arab view, you are charged with working for Israel. It is a charge that leaves you in a confrontation with Arabs and Muslims.”

These talking points were agreed by the two presidents. Another meeting was suggested should the Turks fail to respond to Mubarak’s mediation.

Turkey ups pressure

Shortly before the Syrian-Egyptian summit, a Syrian official statement came out.

It read: “The official Turkish statements on Syria are quite strange. In fact, Syria is the party insisting on diplomatic dialogue as the irreplaceable means of solving problems.”

“Syria is the party using reconciliatory and moderate language in all official statements as well as the draft statements which it contributed in Arab and Islamic conferences. Stressing once again its outright rejection of confrontational, escalatory, and threatening policies no matter where they come from; Syria still stresses its keenness on good neighbourliness with Turkey.”

“Syria is also willing and ready to address mutual maters of concern through diplomatic channels amid an atmosphere of mutual trust and in a way that best serves the joint interests of both countries and boosts Arab-Turkish relations.”

The Syrian ministry of foreign affairs summoned the Turkish ambassador to Damascus to hand him a copy of the statement, to which the ambassor said, as written in Khaddam’s papers: “Please, hand over Abdullah Öcalan or kick him out of Syria and Turkey will take it from there.”

“Some people in Turkey say that Öcalan’s stay in Syria guarantees him two advantages: (1) closeness to and handling of his operatives; and (2) Syrian protection for him.”

“If he was in Iraq, we would have managed to silence him, one way or another. Do not tell us that he is not in Syria. The British parliamentary member, Volker, met him in Damascus during the Arab-European Parliamentary Dialogue Conference on July 11 and 12, 1998.”

“Further, he met a British Lord on a visit to Damascus on August 15, 1998; and Mr. Pedro Marci, a member of the Escoredo Unitto’s parliamentary delegation, during a visit to Damascus on August 25, 1998.”

“A communist Italian delegation of Mr. Monte Bani and Mr. De Cesaris also met Öcalan during the delegation’s visit to Damascus on September 13 and 14, 1998. It was that very party that organised the Rome-based Kurdish Parliament meeting later.”


Please, hand over Abdullah Öcalan or kick him out of Syria and Turkey will take it from there.



On October 5 and 6, the US and British embassies handed in two statements to “warn us of how serious the matter is.”

Undoubtedly, the British stance was by far more objective than the US’s, which fully aligned with Turkey’s. This reveals how close and supportive the US is to the Turkish policies.”

Egypt delivers message

Mubarak then headed for Turkey where he met Demirel, then returned to Damascus on 6 October 1998 where he held a closed-door meeting with al-Assad.

Mubarak’s remarks to al-Assad during the meeting can be summarised as follows:

1. Mubarak told the Turks how grave their stance was, and that Arabs will side with the Syrians, resulting in uncompromising animosity between Arabs and Turkey and destroying Turkish interests across the Arab World. Besides, the domestic situation in Turkey will be too shaken to tolerate such a conflict.

2. Syria is ready to have a dialogue about all matters, including the PKK. The Syrians say Öcalan is not in Syria in the first place, nor have they offered any assistance to the PKK.

3. Such matters can be straightened out only by dialogue, not escalation.

Mubarak told al-Assad that the Turkish stance was “adamant and refused Mubarak’s suggestion to hold a meeting between the foreign ministers. Following a long discussion, President Demirel said that Syria must take a step that sends a message to the Turkish army so Ankara can take a decision to back down. This holds particularly true after the already finalised mobilisation.

The following was agreed to:

1. Syria shall issue a statement that condemns terrorism and the acts of the PKK and declare Syria’s respect to the integrity and stability of Turkey.

2. The Security Committee shall meet, discuss, and agree on the course of action regarding security issues.

3. The foreign ministers shall meet to discuss pending issues.”

Mubarak quoted Demirel as saying: “Issuing a Syrian official statement with such a message would help us a lot with the army.”

Al-Assad refused to issue a statement on the PKK and terrorism. But he agreed to a visit by the Syrian foreign minister to Cairo, where a press conference would be held “for the foreign minister to answer a question about the PKK and stress that Syria is willing to look into all matters of concern to both countries, while prioritising the security concerns of Turkey.”

Nonetheless, the Turkish threats continued, alongside its political and media campaign.

On 5 October 1998, Ashara’a called Khaddam and asked him for a home visit to discuss a matter relating to Turkey.

Khaddam recalled: “I met him at 8 pm and discussed the potential developments of the crisis with Turkey. We discussed Öcalan’s stay in Syria and the demanding of his departure. My point of view was to ask him to leave Syria.”

“As I said earlier, I met him in the end of July 1996 and convinced him to leave Syria, but he did not honour that agreement. Following a dialogue with the Turkish prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, and coming close to solving this matter, we did not follow it through.”

“We had to take that decision because in no way were we ready to jeopardise the whole country for any single person or party.”

“Öcalan’s cause is not ours, after all. We would take the risks of military confrontation, if at all necessary, for our own central causes. But running war risks for Öcalan’s sake or anybody’s sake made no sense. A sense of bitterness and pain engulfed us on humanitarian and moral grounds, however, for having to take that decision.”

Khaddam and Ashara’a were called for a meeting by then director of Political Security Directorate, Gen. Adnan Badr (Suleiman) al-Hassan, to discuss how to break the news to Öcalan.

Khaddam recalled: “I knew that al-Assad prefers that I take the heat when breaking the news considering my knowledge of the man. We agreed with the general to arrange an undisclosed meeting with Öcalan at the general’s office the next day (6 October 1998) at 6 pm.”

Khaddam arrived at the general’s office on time. He continued: “When I stepped in, Mr. Abdullah Öcalan rushed to me trying to kiss my hand. I raised him up and hugged him.”

“This was when I felt a knife cutting through my heart. I saw fear, apprehension, and worry in his eyes, as if asking for mercy and compassion. I pulled my sorrowful, painful, and sore self together like a surgeon who is about to use a scalpel for the first time in his career.”


This was when I felt a knife cutting through my heart. I saw fear, apprehension, and worry in his eyes, as if asking for mercy and compassion.



“I inquired after him to break the ice and create an atmosphere that is conducive to a reasonable and rational discussion.”

Following the exchange of courtesies, Khaddam asked about what information Öcalan might have.

The following are excerpts of their discussion:

Öcalan: “We have received news about the meeting of the Turkish National Security Council and the resulting decisions, one of which is to pursue a military or political-diplomatic policy against Syria for long periods.

This decision has been reached in agreement with Israel. Actually, Turkey is becoming a military tool under Israeli control, while Israel is the political and economic umbrella for that.

A close look at domestic affairs in Turkey yields that everything taking place in Turkey is sheerly an Israeli decision.

These Turkish policies in coordination with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are an attempt to calm things down at the international level to while away the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal, which, along with air strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan, belong to the same scenario.

The latest agreement between Barzani and Talabani in Washington is another chapter of the same narrative. This role is now at our doors.”

Khaddam: “How do you think this situation should be handled? Your understanding is right – it is a Turkish-Israeli operation in which Turkey is just a regional tool that is meant to be used for a war on Syria as part of the Israeli vision to impose the Israeli-viewed peace and to ensure US interests.

This means that Turkey is to go to war with Syria, occupy new swathes in Syria to serve as an Israeli security belt, and to wipe out economic installations in Syria. This is nearly confirmed information to us.

What do you think of handling their recurring pretext – the PKK? In your opinion, how should this situation be handled? I ask you this as a political leader, a struggler, and a man of a cause? How to approach and assess the situation? And what line of action must be adopted?”

Öcalan: “Your assessment is 100 per cent right. We are the pretext. This is a clear fact. There are certain ways out that I would like to put on the table.

It is true that 10,000 soldiers are deployed to the north of Iraq. They are conducting their last phase of searching along the Syrian borders. If they intend to occupy parts of, or start skirmishes with Syria, that area to the furthest northeastern points in Derik (al-Malikiyah) on the Syrian borders would be their perfect choice. It has joint borders with Iraqi Zakho.”

Khaddam: “These are oil and natural resources areas in al-Jazira Governorate. We do not have troops on the Syrian-Turkish borders. Our troops are on the front facing Israel.”

Öcalan: “They believe they have finalised things on the Iraqi front. They seek to complete the ring being imposed around Syria. The only thing that holds them back is us — our resistance.

If our resistance is broken or if they deal a heavy blows to us, they will feel that it is high time to tighten the cornering of Syria and drive it into action. Having 10,000 soldiers in northern Iraq is just the vanguard of more troops that would be deployed to occupy northern Iraq, which will end up with a third Israel in the region.

It will serve as a strong launchpad for them. This is the agreement they have reached. In the following phase, they will exercise more pressure on Syria and will not stop there — I mean the cornering ring. It is rather just the beginning.

Gradually, they will scale up pressure on Syria. The psychological warfare being waged by the Turkish press and media affirm this understanding.

“There is a new piece of news today. Erbakan’s successor to the Virtue (Fazilet) Party has strict statements on Syria, saying that the Syrian regime is sectarian, dictatorial, and a disgrace to the sect. Even the currents that once prized themselves as opponents to Israeli policies among the Turks now accept that argument and opinion.

They are setting the stage for the public opinion in Turkey by arguing that the Syrian regime does not represent even 10 per cent of the Syrian people and that 90 per cent of Sunni Syrians would back us up.

Namely, penetrating through Syria would cause no problem because most Syrians would be on our side. The Turks keep organising events to insult the sect of the Syrian ruling regime.

In so doing, they air sleazy insults and propaganda against that sect to the extent that they stage public demonstrations in which they hand over the floor to certain persons to talk about President al-Assad.

They usually start with insulting words that fail to observe any morals or humane behaviour. What they are after is to ready the Turkish public opinion to be in line with their already finalised plan.

Eventually, they want to change the Syrian ruling regime. They even consider the decision to wage a war against Syria to be similar to that of 28 February against Erbakan. When the Turkish Security Council met, they considered this decision to be important to drive the Islamic current back and reclaim the tenures of power.

I think they are in agreement to escalating military pressures on Syria until a regime change is affected in Syria. This is just an Israeli decision as much as the one against Erbakan has been.

I believe they insist on putting their decision into force and escalating the military situation. They are seriously taking things in that direction.

Let us get back to the main point: Why do they take the PKK for a pretext? We used to foil their plots. To me, they have been focusing on me since 1988. They are vehemently pursuing this course now. Israel is behind all that.

In 1988, we faced an Israeli conspiracy. They dispatched many spies and agents around us and tried to bring into focus some figures who were against me, including a lawyer who stood against me.

The suggestion they had in 1988 was that the Austrian Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, give us a promise to receive me in Austria. But if I decided to stay in Syria or in Beqaa then they would liquidate me.

There were attempts to drive me off this arena by sending me to Europe. The same scenario recurred three months ago, telling me that if you do not leave Syria as soon as possible, that will be your death warrant.

There are attempts to drive me out, mounting now to an intense campaign. They need me to be extradited or driven off this area. They know that once I am out of Syria I will be under their absolute control and complete surveillance.

I have a news item for you, but no one should ever know that I disclosed it to you. Barham Salih, the representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Washington, told me that US circles believe that as long as Öcalan is in Syria, he remains in jeopardy as a terrorist in the international arena.

But if he leaves Syria, he will have many doors open and will no longer be labelled terrorist. Passing this belief was a kind of enticement. It reflects the plot they have for me specifically.

I will not take much of your time. There are some ways out we have talked about. We need to have a Plan B to face up to what is being cooked up against us. In all cases, we are ready and at the president’s disposal. Anything he requests us to do will be done accordingly.”

Khaddam: “What are the ways out? You have summarised the situation realistically. There is an Israeli-Turkish-US plot to bring down the Syrian regime and occupy swathes of lands in Syria under the pretext of Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK.

How can we take away that pretext because that would help us secure Arab pressure on the one hand and international pressure on the other, to foil that plot?”

Öcalan: “This is a very serious situation, I can tell. Whether I am here or not, whether I leave this field or not; there is a difficulty taking a decision because I am under immense pressure also. But we can help each other in this regard. I feel hesitant.”

Khaddam: “We are all convinced that Öcalan and the PKK are mere excuses. Still, some Arab and international circles say that the Syrians have to look into that matter. Should we eliminate that pretext and prevent the evil plot from happening? Or should we keep the pretext and allow the plot to unfold?

In this case, Syria and the Kurdish resistance will sustain enormous damage. The back base of the Kurdish movement will fall down whether in Syria or elsewhere. They will pick a fight with Syria and Iraq because the Barzani-Talabani reconciliation is part of their plot.

So, if Öcalan wants to reconsider the situation, discuss a way out, or take some time till tomorrow; there will be no problem.”

According to another paper, Khaddam said: “This was when the general stepped in to say, ‘I talked to brother Abdullah in details about this matter; I mean his departure, three months ago, for another country (northern Iraq where he is to hold a press conference to stress the notion he is out of Syria). The key point here is to defuse the situation. His departure will give us credibility. Balances may change in a while.”


We are all convinced that Öcalan and the PKK are mere excuses. Still, some Arab and international circles say that the Syrians have to look into that matter.



Their discussion continued as follows.

Öcalan: “I do not have a problem with leaving the country. Yet, some security details should be taken into account to avoid any problems.”

Khaddam: “Where do you think you can head for?”

Öcalan: “There are options. Cyprus is just one. Another is Greece. Maybe we can establish communication with the Iraqi regime because Iraq has a camp for the Kurdish and Turkish rebels near Mosul. I can hold a press conference in some square.”

Khaddam: “We do not have political contact with Iraq. No mutual trust exists. How about Armenia?”

Öcalan: “Armenia is also a possibility.”

Khaddam: “We have to maneuver due to the bad regional and international positions. There will be time when this situation changes. Anyway, when you leave the country, you must hold a press conference and vanish.”

Öcalan: “Such a maneuver is useful. I request Syria’s help to pursue my departure via political relations.”

Khaddam: “We simply cannot because we keep announcing that you are not in Syria. If we take the initiative, we will lose our credibility. You can have this straightened out through your friends.”

Öcalan: “I can have it straightened out through my comrades in Greece or elsewhere. I will proceed with making some calls. It might take a while to have it well organised.”

Khaddam: “How much time would it take?”

Öcalan: “It all depends on the next destinations.”

Khaddam: “The problem is that time is an important factor. We have to act fast to ward off the conspiracy.”

At this point General al-Hassan, Syria’s political security chief, interjected: “We have agreed that it is in your and our interest to defuse the situation with Turkey. There is a rush, much escalation.

We know nothing about our enemies’ plans and whether they are about to strike today or tomorrow. We are calling for political dialogue, but they are picking up a fight. They must have a plan and a timing.”

Khaddam: “Brother Abdullah talked about the Turkish military plan and the areas targeted where wheat and oil exist. If oil installations are hit, Syria will be paralysed. If the wheat farms are hit, people will go hungry.

The next phase will be against the regime and sectarian mobilisation. This is the reason why we are working to avoid this explosion. We are not ready to go to war with Turkey because our focus is on Israel – to the south, not to the north.”

Öcalan: “Some parties called me saying that if you declare a ceasefire with Turkey, it may have a sound echo. Since 1 September, a ceasefire is ongoing. There are pressures on Syria to call for a political dialogue between the PKK and Turkey as once happened in Erbakan’s era.”

Al-Hasan: “I do not remember. Things are not that way.”

Khaddam: “No. This understanding is incorrect. In the earlier dialogue, you offered concessions that were surprising to us. Erbakan took them forward and presented this to the chief of staff of the army, but he declined this. It is a US-Israeli-Turkish operation.

Turkey has an interest in dealing blows to the PKK, not to mention their greed for Syrian resources. Turkey wants to redraw the borders and force a Syrian concession regarding the Sanjak of Alexandretta.

The war plan, rather than a political dialogue, is with the Turks already. Two hours before President Mubarak’s arrival in Turkey, Mesut Yılmaz, the Turkish prime minister, said that Mubarak’s visit is of no benefit; as if they were sending a message to him to not come to Turkey.

A US statement was made to the effect that the US understands the Turkish stance to deliver strikes against Syria. Interestingly, the ceasefire took effect since September and no operations were carried out ever since.

The ceasefire did not appease Turkey. Instead, Turkey’s desire for war amplified. Clearly, the PKK was a pretext. Yet, there were other targets that we had to take care of, including their campaign against the Syrian president and attempts to exacerrbate sectarian rifts.

These moves have nothing to do with negotiations with your PKK. You said in your analysis that the target is to bring the Syrian regime down. It is all about finding an excuse for war. Negotiations with your PKK are inconsequential.”

Öcalan: “I will be calling our friends in Greece to make the necessary arrangements.”

Khaddam: “Time is not on our side. It is entirely different now from what we faced a year ago when we first looked into the matter.”

Öcalan: “I will be making my arrangements shortly.”

Here, the meeting came to an end.

Khaddam recalled: “I saw him off with his eyes welled up in tears. Meanwhile, the pain was killing me because it is not at all easy to tell someone to go and face death.

I was quite sure that it was the last meeting with him. It was equally difficult on the leadership. But more difficult was to ensure the safety, interests, and security of the country. If a sacrifice had ever to be offered, those interests cannot be the choice.”

Öcalan left Syria for Greece on Thursday, 8 October. Greece was about to arrest him, but his organisation arranged for his departure to Russia where he stayed for two weeks. He then moved to Italy, following US pressure on Moscow despite the Duma’s decision to grant him the status of a political refugee.

He remained in Italy for a while. But as a result of US and Turkish pressures, and in coordination with Greece, Öcalan left for Kenya.

In the capital, Nairobi, he was kidnapped by Turkey’s intelligence service in February 1999, and taken back to the country, where he was put on trial.


Ocalan in a glass cage during a court appearance.


He was sentenced in the middle of 1999 and has been in Turkish prison since then.

In 1999, Ocalan was kidnapped in Nairobi by Turkey’s intelligence service and taken back to Turkey where he has been in prison since then.

A reset for relations

President Mubarak called President Demirel and briefed him on the Syrian stance. Both presidents agreed to a visit by the Egyptian foreign minister on Monday, 11 October. In a press conference, the Syrian foreign minister was asked about the stance that may be taken by Syria.

He replied: “We are ready to discuss Turkey’s security concerns.”

Afterwards, the Syrian minister handed a paper on his country’s relations with Turkey to the Egyptian President. It amounted to a modified Turkish agenda.

On 12 October, the Egyptian foreign minister, Amr Mousa, paid a visit to Ankara and met the Turkish president and his foreign minister, İsmail Cem. Amid a positive atmosphere, Mousa briefed the Turkish side on the Syrian response.

He listed the following agreements:

1. Holding a security meeting at the Syrian-Turkish borders within days.

2.  The security meeting would be followed by a meeting by the foreign ministers to look into all the pending problems between the two countries, including security and water, to foster a positive and cooperative climate for bilateral relations.

Amr Mousa called on Damascus and briefed the Syria foreign minister on these points. On 13 October, the Turkish ambassador briefed the ministry of foreign affairs on some items, including:

•  Both countries have agreed to hold a covert meeting in an undisclosed location in Turkey near the Syrian border.

•  Security will be the only agenda item as already conveyed to Amr Mousa and Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi. Any attempt to add items to the discussion will be disregarded.

The Turkish ambassador was notified of the meeting date, 19 October, either in Aleppo or Latakia. Following discussions between the two sides, the date was agreed to, and the location became Adana.

The Adana Agreement

The meeting between Syria and Turkey took place on 19 October, but got off to an inauspicious start. Its first session lacked any semblance of courtesy. As the Syrian delegation entered the meeting room, the Turkish delegation all remained seated, other than the representative of the ministry of foreign affairs.

The second day proved better in terms of following protocol and good manners. It concluded in the Adana Agreement between Syria and Turkey, covering the removal of the PKK from Syria.

The key points were that Öcalan would never be allowed back into Syria. And neither would any other elements of the PKK, which Syria agreed to designate as an “outlawed organisation.”

There is a full transcript of the agreement at the end of this article.

On 23 February 1999, the Syrian and Turkish security delegations held a meeting in Damascus. The Turkish side expressed its satisfaction with how the accord had been implemented.

The Adana agreement was a success. However, it also raised several issues, covering the location of missiles, camps run by Kurds and monitoring activity in Syria:

•   Whether it is true that US FIM-92 Stingers were stashed aways by PKK elements in Qamishli.

•  Whether there truly existed a Latakia-based camp for a Kurdish group known as Aglion.

• The raising of some PKK operative names and their activities in Syria.

According to the Syrian official minutes, general al-Hassan replied: “No FIM-92 Stingers can be found in Syria. Aglion is a bunch of outlaws who are being hunted down for trial.”

Al-Hassan went on to deny the existence of Turkish elements in the Iraqi refugee al-Hoor Camp.

It was an amicable meeting. Both parties expressed their satisfaction with cooperation. The Security Committee had several meetings. Dr. Selim Yassin, then deputy prime minister, was extended an invitation to visit Turkey. The visit was held at the end of March 1999. Commercial and economic cooperation between the two countries was discussed, although no mention was made of the water issue.

And so, the two nations had moved from the brink of conflict into a period of successful high-level meetings.

In the following years, relations between Damascus and Ankara went through a long honeymoon, until the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011.

At that time, tension returned between the two countries. Damascus supported the Syrian wing of the “PKK” and Ankara supported the Syrian opposition factions.

Over the last few years, Syria has become divided into three spheres of influence, and five armies — the American, the Russian, the Turkish, the Iranian and the Israeli — are involved in Syria.

What’s interesting is that Russia is pushing Damascus and Ankara to work together against the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) supported by the US which includes the Syrian wing of the PKK.

Even more interesting is Moscow’s proposal to develop the Adana Agreement to coordinate between the Syrian and Turkish security services against the SDF and PKK.

The Adana Agreement in full

Following the bilateral two-day discussions, the following agreement was reached and signed on 20 October by Gen. Adnan Badr (Suleiman) al-Hassan; the director of Political Security Directorate and head of the Syrian delegation, and ambassador Uğur Ziyal, deputy secretary general of the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs:

“In light of the initiative by President Mubarak, the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and President Mohammad Khatami, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as conveyed by Mr. Kamal Kharazi, the Foreign Minister of Iran; and in light of the Syrian proposals conveyed by Mr. Amr Mousa, the Foreign Minister of Egypt.

The delegations of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Turkey have met on 19 and 20 October  to discuss security cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the field of combating terrorism.

In said meeting, the Turkish side presented the Turkish position and the ways it deems necessary to ease the recent tensions between the two countries as briefed to the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and as highlighted by the Turkish delegation to the meeting.

Further, the Turkish side has presented the responses received from Syria through the Egyptian mediation. Those responses are inclusive of the following pledges:

1. Öcalan is not in Syria now and shall never be admitted entry into Syria.

2. PKK elements abroad shall never be admitted entry into Syria.

3.  PKK elements shall not be allowed to establish camps in Syria, nor shall they be allowed to exercise any activity on Syrian soil.

4.  A large number of PKK elements have been arrested and are now under trial. The Syrian side has presented lists of their names.

The Syrian side upholds what has been mentioned above. Furthermore, both sides share the same view in respect of the following:

1. Activities launched from Syria against Turkey shall not be allowed. This is to be pursued as per the principle of reciprocity. Syria shall not allow the PKK to secure financial assistance, weaponry, logistic aids, and propaganda on Syrian soil.

2.  Syria shall designate the PKK as an outlawed organisation and shall prohibit the activities of all other terrorist organisations and all PKK offshoots in Syria.

3.  Syria shall not allow the creation of PKK and PKK-offshoot training and accommodation camps, nor shall Syria allow the exercising of commercial activities by the PKK and PKK offshoots.

4.  Syria shall not be used as a transit country to any third country by the PKK.

5. Syria, hereby, decides to take all the necessary measures at border crossings to ward off potential entry by the terrorist PKK leader into Syria.

In addition, the two parties hereby decide to come up with a joint cooperation mechanism to effectively and clearly put into force the measures highlighted hereinabove in accordance with the following:

a.  Establishing a direct hotline between senior security officials in both countries.

b.  The two parties hereby agree to nominate two ad-hoc employees within the diplomatic mission of both countries. Those employees shall be clearly identified by the heads of the diplomatic missions.

c. The Turkish side proposes to establish a follow-up mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the counter terrorism measures taken by both parties.

In response, the Syrian side, hereby, pledges to convey this proposal to the Syrian authorities concerned and shall notify the Turkish side of the result as practically soon as possible.

d.   The two parties, hereby, decide to look into the issue of terrorism, including the PKK, within a tripartite framework consisting, upon securing Lebanon’s agreement, of Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey.

e.  The Syrian side, hereby, pledges to put into force the measures necessary to honour the representations and pledges stated herein.

The present minutes is, hereby, concluded in Adana in two counterparts in the Arabic and Turkish languages. It is hereby signed on 20 October.

-Turkish delegation head, Uğur Ziyal, Deputy Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

-Syrian delegation head, Gen. Adnan Suleiman al-Hassan, Director of Political Security Directorate