The PKK has fairly wide support among the Kurdish population in Turkey, and limited support in other parts of Kurdistan. It is listed as a terrorist organization internationally by a number of states and organizations, including the United States, NATO and the European Union. The organisation is listed as one of the 12 active terrorist organisation in Turkey as of 2007 according to the Counter-Terrorism and Operations Department of Directorate General for Security (Turkish police). Turkey labeled the organization as an ethnic secessionist organization that uses terrorism and the threat of force against both civilian and military targets for the purpose of achieving its political goal.
The group is commonly referred as the PKK despite the organization's self-declared name changes, names used by its branches, front groups established, and names used by vassal structures established. For convenience, we refer to the group as "the organization" hereafter.
The organization introduced to the intelligence community as "Apocus" in the late 1979 more than a year after its establishment in 1978 from ex-members of existing leftist groups.
During more than three decades of existence, organization declared name changes without changing its organizational structure, such as Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK); Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan (Kongreya Azadî û Demokrasiya Kurdistanê, KADEK); Halu Meşru Savunma Kuvveti (HSK). Organization established front groups, including the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (Kürdistan Özgürlük Şahinleri), (Teyrêbazên Azadiya Kurdistan, TAK), which claim responsibility for attacks against civilians, but in reality, the organization directs the operations of the fronts. Organization adapted a decentralized structure which branches adapted different names for effectiveness. The armed wing active in south-east Turkey, the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (Arteshen Rizgariya Gelli Kurdistan, ARGK), used the People's Defence Forces (Hêzên Parastina Gel, HPG). The organization held especially by a vassal or tenant to the major control over established structures such as the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress, the Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK), and the People's Congress of Kurdistan. As of 30 April 2007, all the social arrangements, all the activities declared, using the listed names are classified as originating from the same organization (commonly known as the PKK) by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of USA as published in Country Reports on Terrorism.
Also the Youth Council of Kurdistan (YCK), an establishment of the organization initially created on 25 October 1987, aims to organize and recruit the youth more systematically, extended to branches; Free Youth Movement of Kurdistan (Tevgera Cîwanên Azad a Kurdistan, TECAK), The Independent Youth Movement in Turkey (Bağımsız Gençlik Hareketi, BAGEH), Democratic Youth Movement in Iran, Independent Youth Movement in Iraq (TCM), Free Youth Movement in Syria (TCA), The Free Youth Movement (ÖGH) in Europe and in the Commonwealth of Independent State.
In the early 1970s, the organization's core was called the Ankara Democratic Patriotic Association of Higher Education or Apocular ("Apoists"), which was made up largely of students, led by Abdullah Öcalan (nicknamed "Apo") in Ankara. The group soon moved its focus to large Kurdish population in south-east Turkey.
On 27 October, 1978, the group adapted the name Kurdistan Workers Party with the official release of the "Proclamation of Independence of PKK." The organization soon found itself in conflict with right-wing entities with its largely communist ideology. In 1979, organization attempted to assassinate Kurdish tribal leader Mehmet Celal Bucak as a propaganda-of-the-deed claiming "exploiting the peasants," and "collaborating with Turkey." This marked a period of intense urban warfare between radical political elements. The military coup largely ended this period, with members of the organization being subject to capital punishment, going to prison, or fleeing to Syria. On November 10, 1980, the Turkish Consulate in Strasbourg, France was bombed resulting a significant material damage but no injuries and operation claimed jointly by the ASALA and the organization, which they claimed to be the start of a "fruitful collaboration."
Starting in 1984, using the training camps located in Syria, the organization transformed itself into a paramilitary organisation and launched conventional attacks as well as continuing with the bombings against governmental installations, military and civilian targets, many of whom were connected to the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a multi-sector integrated regional development project based on the concept of sustainable development for more than nine million people living in the southeastern Anatolia region. During 1990s, the organization moved to a less centralized form, taking up operations in a variety of European and Middle Eastern countries and became a trans-nationalized organization. Following the collapse of the USSR, the PKK largely abandoned its Communist roots, attempting to better accommodate nationalistic views and Islamic beliefs. In the mid 1990s, it also began to shift from conventional bombing to suicide bombing, launching 15 such attacks between 1995 and 1999. Eleven of the fifteen suicide bombers were women.
In the late 1990s, the Turkish army began to gain the upper hand in its ground war with the organization and post-Cold War shifts in international politics resulted in the group losing much of its support among other states. In 1999, Öcalan was captured, prosecuted and sentenced to death. Turkey abolished the death penalty on 3 August 2002 as part of a raft of reforms aimed at preparing the country for European Union membership, and Öcalan was commuted to life imprisonment. Öcalan took his case to the European Court of Human Rights which conclusion held that there had been violation of Article 6 (right to fair trial), as there was one military judge among six judges trying Abdullah Öcalan, there was no violation of Article 2 (right to life). With downgraded security concerns, the Turkish parliament began a controlled process of dismantling the legal control, using the term "normalization" or "rapprochement" depending on the sides of the issue. A ban on publishing using Kurdish language (1983) was dropped in 1991, with more thorough reforms, such as the lifting of the ban on broadcasting in Kurdish, adopted in the 2000s with the decrease in PKK's activities.
Following a call by the captured Öcalan for a peaceful solution, the PKK found itself blacklisted in many countries. Consequently, the PKK went through a series of changes and implemented a unilateral truce, which ended in 2003. On April 2, 2004, the Council of the European Union added the PKK to its list of terrorist organisations. Later that year, the US Treasury moved to freeze assets of branches of the PKK.
Since Post-invasion Iraq, 2003–present, according to Turkey, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, and US forces have not done enough to combat with the organization and secure the Iraqi-Turkish border, causing tensions between the Iraqi and Turkish governments. On the 17 October 2007, the Turkish parliament approved a military incursion into Iraq to pursue the PKK fighters. The vote for incursion won with an overwhelming 507 to 19. Action was delayed on request by the US government on the condition that "swift steps" were taken to deal with the militants. On December 16th, 2007, after the October 2007 clashes in Hakkari the Turkish Armed Forces started preparations for 2008 Turkish incursion into northern Iraq.
On 29 February, 2008 the Turkish military announced that the incursion was finished and pulled out of northern Iraq, claiming that they had achieved their objectives. The military claimed 240 PKK rebels killed and for the loss of 27 Turkish soldiers.
The organization originated in the 1970s from the radical left and drew its leaders, members from other existing leftish groups, mainly Dev-Genç. The organization initially presented itself as part of the communist revolution. The organization's aims and objectives have evolved over time.
During 1980's, the organization was a secular insurgent political movement. During 1980's the organization included and cooperated with other ethnic groups (including ethnic Turks) who were following the radical left. Following the collapse of the USSR, the PKK largely abandoned its communist roots, attempting to better accommodate nationalistic views and Islamic beliefs.
The organization emerged from the Workers Party of "Kurdistan" heritage. Initially the group aimed to establish a Kurdish nation separate from Turkey. Later this goal extended to Syria, Iraq and Iran. Organization fundamentally transformed from a party of Kurdistan to a party of Turkey with the time. The profound shift implied a recognition of national sovereignty of "Republic of Turkey," within which the claim is made for regional autonomy, rather than a fight for national independence. This positional change was criticized as a method change rather than a real ideological change.
In 1999, following the capture of Ocalan, organization announced a "peace initiative," and spoken more often about cultural or linguistic rights. The group's hard-line militant wing took control and renounced the self-imposed cease-fire with the turn of 2004. Besides the activities towards Turkey, on 17 July 2005, one of the chief executive of the PKK, Hasan Özen who wanted to leave the organization, was murdered in Austria. In Diyarbakir, on 6 July 2005, the organization killed Hikmet Fidan the former founder of the People’s Democratic Party (HADEP), a legal branch of the PKK, after he split from the PKK and formed an alternative organization called PWD with Osman Ocalan.
The PKK has multiple heads in various West European countries. And like an octopus, it has tentacles in the form of fronts. However, Abdullah Öcalan (1984-1999) was unchallenged leader of the organization. After the capture of Öcalan, authorities induced him to publicly plead for a ceasefire and for his own life at the court, which diminished his stature and credibility. Though serving life imprisonment, Öcalan is still considered the honorary leader and figure-head of the organization. He directs the PKK from his prison cell, through his lawyer.
Murat Karayilan have the control of the organization in practice, although undergone numerous conflicts between Cemil Bayik. Cemil Bayik beside Abdullah Ocalan, Kesire Yildirim Ocalan, and Hakki Karaer was one of the core leaders. Cemil Bayik’s military skills and leadership were criticized by Abdullah Ocalan during his 1999 trial. The organization appointed "Doctor Bahoz," the nom de guerre of Fehman Huseyin, a Syrian Kurd, in charge of the movement's military operations signifying the long-standing alliance between the organization and Damascus.
During it's highest point in the early 1990s the militant membership was around 17000. After the capture of Ocelan this number drastically decreased. The membership increased from 3,000 to more than 7,000 since 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2008, the membership was 4,500-5,000 at the organization's camps in northern Iraq.
In 2007 organization believed to have a number of camps strung out through the mountains that straddle the border between Turkey and Iraq, including in Sinaht, Haftanin, Kanimasi and Zap. The organization has two types of camps, the boarder camps that were used as forward bases from which militants infiltrate into Turkey. The units deployed there are highly mobile and the camps have only the minimum infrastructure. The camps in the Qandil Mountains have a more developed infrastructure—including a field hospital, electricity generators and a large proportion of the PKK's lethal and non-lethal supplies.
There are also training camps in other countries, the organization's training camp which was deep in the woods and indiscernible was dismantled near Eindhoven in the Netherlands and following raids resulted arrests and seize of materials in The Hague, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Capelle aan den IJssel. There was another training camp at Belgium, which the organization uses training camps in Europe for political and ideological training.
The political organizations established in Turkey are banned to both propagate and support violence. As of 2008, there is calling for legal action against the DTP by the constitutional court. The constitution court found direct link with the HEP/DEP/HADEP with the organization and closed these parties. There are also sympathizer figures, members of these parties, which their material connection or propagation of violence has been questioned and some served time, such as Leyla Zana.
|Activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party by Region|
During this time, the organization argued that its violent actions were justified by the need to defend Kurds in the context of what it considered as the massive cultural suppression of Kurdish identity (including the 1983 Turkish Language Act Ban) and cultural rights carried out by other governments of the region.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in an effort to win increased support from the Kurdish peasantry, the PKK altered its leftist secular ideology to better accommodate and accept Islamic beliefs. The group also abandoned its previous strategy of attacking Kurdish civilians, focusing instead on government and tourist targets. In its campaign, the organization has been accused of carrying out atrocities against both Turkish and Kurdish civilians and its actions have been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Actions of the Turkish state in the past have also been criticised by these same groups.
Since the 1999, the organization begin to use improvised explosive devices rather than direct confrontation.
The organization used children within its militant force. 86% percent of who had joined the organization was to bolster their families incomes following offers that it would provide for their families in return. All of the new recruites reported that these offers were not fulfilled. 80% of those surveyed also reported that they had actively stopped other family members—usually younger brothers—from joining the organization too. 60% of those surveyed had an education level below high school level.
When asked why they stayed in the organization, two thirds stated that they were afraid of being caught as reprisals are not just limited to physical harm towards the militant; their families would be at risk as well. Five percent said that it was from fear of punishment by the Republic of Turkey.
In July 2007, the weapons captured between 1984-2007 from the PKK operatives and their origins published by the Turkish General Staff indicates that the operatives delete some of the serial numbers from their weapons. The total number of weapons and the origins for traceable ones were:
|The choice & origin of the traceable weapons (July 2007)|
|AK-47 Kalashnikovs||4,500||71.6% from the USSR, 14.7% from China, 3.6% from Hungary, 3.6% from Bulgaria|
|Rifles||5,713 of (959 traceable)||45.2% from Russia, 13.2% from United Kingdom, and 9.4% from United States.|
|rocket launchers||1,610 (313 traceable)||85% from Russia, 5.4% from Iraq, and 2.5% from China in origin.|
|pistol||2,885 (2,208 traceable)||21.9% from Czechoslovakia, 20.2% from Spain, 19.8% from Italy|
|grenade||3,490 (136 traceable)||72% from Russia, 19.8% from United States, 8% from Germany,|
|mines||11,568 (8,015 traceable)||60.8% from Italy, 28.3% from Russia, 6.2% from Germany|
Four members of the organization, who handed themselves over to authorities after escaping from camps in northern Iraq, claimed they had seen two U.S. armored vehicles deliver weapons, which was widely reported and further stoked suspicions about U.S. policy in Iraq. US envoy denied these claims. The arms were claimed to be part of Blackwater Worldwide arms smuggling allegations. The probe of organization's weapons and the investigation of Blackwater employees were connected.
The organization has been using mines. Use of these mines has led to civilian deaths, in part due to accidental triggering by civilian trucks and buses rather than the intended military armoured vehicles.
The PKK receives a proportion of its funding in the form of private donations, from both organisations and individuals from around the world. Some of these supporters are Kurdish businessmen in south-eastern Turkey, sympathisers in Syria and Iran, and Europe. Parties and concerts are organized by branch groups. Additionally, it is believed that the PKK earns money through the sale of various publications, as well as receiving revenues from legitimate businesses owned by the organization. Besides affliate organizations, there are sympathizer organizations such as the Confederation of Kurdish Associations in Europe (KON-KURD, headquartered in Brussels) and the International Kurdish Businessmen Union (KAR-SAZ, in Rotterdam) which constatntly exchanges information and perform legitimate or semi-legitimate commercial activities and donations.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) also has been financing its separatist movement by extorting narcotics traffickers and engaging in the trade themselves. The PKK is heavily involved in the European drug trade, especially in Germany and France. French law enforcement estimates that the PKK smuggles 80% of the heroin in Paris. The British Foreign Office has made a similar estimate for Britain.
A study carried out by the Counter-Terrorism and Operations Department of Directorate General for Security over a sample of files about people convicted of being a terrorist under Turkish laws including 262 militants from the organization has found that 54% of the members are aged 14 to 25, 34% 26 to 37 and 12% 38 to 58. University graduates make up 11 % of the members, high school graduates 16 %, secondary school graduates 13 %, primary school graduates 39%, literate non-graduates 12% and illiterates 9%.
Support of Syria, From early 1979 to 1999 Syria had provided valuable safe havens to PKK in the region of Beqaa Valley. After the undeclared war between Turkey and Syria, Syria placed restrictions on PKK activity on its soil. Turkey is expecting positive developments in its cooperation with Syria in the long term, but even during the course of 2005, there were PKK operatives of Syrian nationality operating in Turkey.
Support of Iran; Iran listed PKK as a terrorist organization after Iran's supply of resources to the PKK began to be used on its own soil. Iran provided PKK with supplies in the form of weapons and funds.
Support of Greece; retired Greek L.T. General Dimitris Matafias and retired Greek Navy Admiral Antonis Neksasis had visisted organization's Mahsun Korkmaz base camp in Bakaa valley in October 1988 along with parliamentarians from the panhellenic Socialist movement (PASOK). At the time it was reported that the general has assumed responsibility for training. Greeks also dispatched arms through Greek Cypriot administration. In December 1993, Greek European affairs minister Theodore Pangaios was quoted saying "we must supportive of the Kurdish people to be free". Greece declained to join Germany and France including other eleven memebers at the EU to ban the organization. During the 1990s, Greece supplied the rebels.
The support of paramilitary groups; The organization developed links with paramilitary groups among other ethnic groups which has harboured historic grievances against Turkey such as the ethnic Armenian ASALA, as well as groups which shared its left-wing nationalist ideology such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation, ETA, and, to a lesser degree, the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Through the large Kurdish immigration in Germany, it has also formed close contacts with violent left-wing political groups in that country.
Support of the Soviet Union; According to the former KGB-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated in 2006, PKK's leader Abdullah Ocalan was among the terrorists trained by KGB-FSB. As of 2008, Russia still is not among the states that list PKK as a terrorist group.
Support of UK; TV broadcast for five years in UK, until its licence was revoked by the regulators Independent Television Commission (ITC) in 1999 due to a breach of ITC guidelines and perceived pro-PKK bias.
Support of various Europe states; Despite Brussels designation of the organization as a terrorist organization, the EU continues to permit the broadcasting of organization's networks on the Hot Bird 3 satellite owned by the French company Eutelsat. MEDYA TV started transmissions from studios in Belgium via a satellite uplink from France. MEDYA TV's licence was revoked by the French authorities. A few weeks later Roj TV began transmissions from Denmark. It has also been argued that the Netherlands and Belgium have supported the PKK by allowing its training camps to function in their respective territories. On November 22 1998, Hanover's criminal police reported that three children had been trained by the PKK for guerrilla warfare in camps in the Netherlands and Belgium. After the death of Theo van Gogh, with increasing attention on domestic security concerns, the Dutch police raided the 'PKK paramilitary camp' in the Dutch town of Liempde and arrested 29 people in November 2004. Denmark allows Kurdish satellite television stations (such as ROJ-TV), which Turkey claims has links with the PKK, to operate in Denmark and broadcast into Turkey.
Various PKK leaders, including Hidir Yalcin, Riza Altun, Zubeyir Aydar, and Ali Haydar Kaytan all lived in Europe and moved freely. The free movement was archived by the strong ties with influential persons. Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the former President of France, had active connections during the 90s with elements of the organization's leadership that force a down graded relationships between these states. Ali Rıza Altun, a suspected key figure with an Interpol arrest warrant in his name, after harboring him for some time Austria arranged a flight to Iraq.. Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gül summoned the Austrian ambassador and condemned Austria's action. On September 30 1995, While Öcalan was at Syria, Damascus opened contact with high ranking German CDU MP Heinrich Lummer and German intelligence officials.
The Chief of the Turkish General Staff during 2007, General Yaşar Büyükanıt, stated that even though the international struggle had been discussed on every platform and even though organizations such as the UN, NATO, EU make statements of serious commitment, to this day the necessary measures had not been taken. According to Büyükanıt; "this conduct on one side has encouraged the terrorists, on the other side it assisted in widening their [the terrorists] activities. The most distressful part of it is that many of the European countries being a member of NATO, an organization that had announced that terrorism was the greatest threat to itself." Sedat Laciner, of the Turkish think tank ISRO, says that US support of the PKK undermines the US war on terrorism. Seymour Hersh claimed that the U.S. supported PEJAK, the Iranian branch of the PKK. The head of the PKK's militant arm, Murat Karayilan, claimed that Iran attempted to recruit the PKK to attack coalition forces, adding that Kurdish guerrillas have launched a clandestine war in north-western Iran, ambushing Iranian troops.
As a self-styled revolutionary left-wing organization, the PKK has cited "mass violence by the Turkish state on the Kurd identity" to justify its activities. The main goal of its activities was to alienate the people from the state by pushing security forces into more and more overt and repressive counter-measures. The Political-Justice section extends the results of this ideology and methods of the democratic processes and the justice system in Turkey. In a democratic system, an ideology that questions the state's legitimacy, will of its population and its security apparatus was difficult to be accepted as a political view, which was shaped under HEP/DEP/HADEP story. Turkish government authorities did not negotiate with the organization, so regional NGOs there were no communication channels between the sides. The ill-formed language ban of 1983 and Terrorism Act of 1991 were significant events. Also, amnesties were interesting events during the conflict time, as each amnesty gave more human resources to the organization. The prison as a rehabilitation concept was a failure. The people who were jailed for non-violent activities were becoming militants during their jail time. Government's military operations against the prisons were the highest point in this failure.
As a revolutionary left-wing organization, the PKK perceived Turkish society as one that was deformed by capitalism and imperialism. The PKK unleashed its aggression on enemies spanning all classes (farmers, business, etc.) and those that it considered puppets of the state. The cost of the PKK's actions are significant. PKK had drastic effects on regional economy, as targeted infrastructure of the region. Regions' inability to join the economical activities were associated with the work force, costs (insurance premiums, facility costs, loss of trained personnel etc.), and productivity (loss of work time, travel restrictions, inability to move rapidly etc). The region has had a very high historical tourism potential and it has been dormant because of the terrorism threat for many years.
The integration into social and economical activities are developed within the education system. Educational activities were targeted by the PKK. Because the majority of the people are very resilient to the effects of political violence, young people form a high risk group because of their undeveloped personalities. The effects of political violence on the newer generations is an important issue because, at the moment, the new generation in areas affected by the conflict have no experience living under what would be considered normal conditions.
According to official figures released by the Turkish military for the 1984-2008 period:
According to a July 1998 article in Le Monde diplomatique, the conflict has weighed heavily on the Turkish state's budget. In 1993, a sum of $70m was allocated from the prime minister’s secret funds. According to government inspector Kutlu Savaş, this sum was used mainly for procuring weapons and anti-terrorist equipment from Israel and for external operations. Irregular units in the conflictual zones have had to find ways to finance themselves, including racketeering and secret funding. Sedat Bucak has been alleged by the French newspaper to have under his orders 20,000 men, while the village guards pro-government Kurdish militias created in the mid-1980s would number to a total of 64,000.