Ocalan was born in 1948 in the village of Omerli in southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. He became politically active during his university years in Ankara, where he studied political science but dropped outBy 1973 he had organized a Maoist group whose goal was a socialist revolution. He founded the PKK in 1978 as an extreme-left nationalist group that launched a war against the Turkish government to set up an independent Kurdish state along Marxist lines.
Ocalan fled Turkey before the 1980 military coup and lived in exile, mostly in the Syrian capital Damascus and in the Lebanese plains under Syrian control, where he set up his PKK headquarters and training camps. In late 1998, under intense pressure from Turkey, Syria closed the camps and expelled Ocalan, who started an odyssey through various nations in search of political asylum. In February 1999, he was nabbed in Kenya after an undercover operation and spirited back to Turkey. Ocalan, a heavily built man with a thick black mustache, propagates a Cold War brand of nationalism mixed with Marxist-Leninist doctrine.
"You must believe before everything else that the revolution must come, that there is no other choice," he is reported to have said in an address to a Kurdish youth rally last August. "You must say no to betrayal and denial. Even though I am 50 years old, I have never allowed myself to get old. I am going on with the struggle."