The Turkish abductions

Effects of the Turkish-PKK conflict

''This article is about the effects of the Turkish-PKK conflict; for the main article, see Turkish-PKK conflict.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is an armed militant group founded in the 1970s and led, until his capture in 1999, by Abdullah Öcalan. The PKK's ideology was founded on revolutionary Marxism-Leninism and Kurdish nationalism. The PKK's goal has been to create an independent socialist Kurdish state in a territory which it claims as Kurdistan, an area that comprises parts of south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Iraq, north-eastern Syria and north-western Iran. It is an ethnic secessionist organization that uses force and the threat of force against both civilian and military targets for the purpose of achieving its political goal.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization internationally by a number of states and organizations, including the USA, NATO and the EU.


Total cost

Human Monetary
Newspapers Government Newspapers
Dead Wounded Dead Wounded Fully Partially
Junior Officer 420 1027 Public Machinery/Transportation 262 238
Soldier 3024 6999 Outpost Buildings 9 80
Officer 220 527 Bridges 5 21
Total 3664 8553 4027 8676 School Buildings 114 127
Village Guard 1177 1823 1265 1725 Private Machinery/Transportation 278 346
Police 199 661 254 986 Public health clinics 6 8
Guardian 1 2 Derailing (Train) 45 40
Total Security 4041 5546 Post Office/Power Station/Mosque 112 193
Medical Doctor 2 4
Nurse 12 32
Prosecutor 2
Judge 1
Governor 119 90
Teacher 45 96 155
Imam 2
Muftu 1
Civil Servant 11 70
Engineer 4
Mayor 9 2
Child 508 660
Male 3439 4011
Female 519 803
Total 4466 5474 4561 5860
PKK(D/W) 18958 706
Grand Total 29065 17953

According to the Turkish Government, 26,532 PKK members, 5,185 security force members, and 5,209 civilians lost their lives in the fighting between 1984 and November 1997. Another study which was performed through analysis of articles in national newspapers between 19 July 1987 and 31 May 2001.

The damage to infrastructure and the money spent to end the conflict is claimed by the Turkish government to stand at US$ 200 billion. Total cost numbers are higher because systematic analysis of the case did not develop until the 1990s. From the government's perspective, this was related to budget issues as a correct breakdown could only be formulated with the development of administrative branches specifically dealing with terrorism. Otherwise, costs were distributed in unrelated departments. There are no statistics on how many investigation hours have been spent on PKK's first assassination, as it is listed under a general item that cannot be broken down, and added to the total cost summaries.

The total of US$ 200 billion is also questionable as the breakdowns per victim and the aggregates for different sections of society are missing. A law was needed to pay back victims (the terrorism insurance), so that public damages could be accounted for. Turkey passed "decree 5233" on 17 July 2004 and "return to home" (199?) in response to this issue. However, because of their nature, the laws are not effective for measuring loss due to claims of disability, long term aggravation of existing conditions, fear of crime, reduced activity and unseen losses of local businesses. Pushing for a "general insurance" policy in Turkey has been recommended in order to deal with the situation. The private sector would be able to define the effects case by case, summarize the outcomes, and try to collect the liability in the name of victims. In collecting the losses, the private sector could receive liability from the perpetrator, which would be an addition to the victims' government compensation. Only with general insurance can correct statistics be aggregated easily and correctly.

Any data regarding this conflict should be accepted with caution as it is easy to measure the direct costs (imposed by PKK) but hard to measure how much society paid for preventive measures (deterrence, rehabilitation, etc). How much the PKK used to inflict the terrorism (cost of activity) is also a factor, as is the total Turkey spent on the PKK for punishment of its crimes.

Regional economy

From the perspective of regional economy, PKK's actions were targeted to stop the Southeastern Anatolia Project (G.A.P). It is important to recognize not just what has been destroyed in terms of rail roads, communication centers, etc. but also what could have been achieved if the destruction had not happened. There is another section, Transboundry Freshwater Disputes, that covers the international dimensions of this topic.

The region's income is derived from agriculture. In 1981 (Köy Envanter Edütleri), 8% of the families controlled 50% of the land. Thirty-eight percent of the region's population did not own any land. Forty-one percent of the population had no more than 5 hectares to farm. Direct farming subsidies were paid to the landlords that controlle 41% of the land. Land reforms during the 1930s and 1950s did not reach this region. Turkey dealt with the poverty problem by other means. It was dubbed as "Poverty Reduction Through Water Development". Initial stages of the project were developed after the 1960s coup. At that time, it had been named the Southeastern Anatolia Development Project. Under the economic structure of the 1960s, the government subsidised small scale businesses, such as the poultry industry. The idea was to enable other economic paths to become available to the region. The current form of the project was developed during the 1970s Süleyman Demirel government. It was visualized as a large scale hydro-electric and irrigation system. This sought to solve the land problem by turning the land fertile by irrigation. The plan also included improving the output of the land using cheap energy coming from the dams. During the 1980s, Turgut Özal extended the economic and social dimensions of the project. Before the structural change of 1987, the project did not include significant local discussions. Even though during the 1990s there was a special T.V. channel assigned to the region, most of the reaction was because of misinformation that was shaped along tribal lines. As a last point; after Harran Ovası was opened to irrigation in 1995, large land owners controlled 5%, medium size land owners controlled 25%, small size land owners controlled 58%, and the amount that farmers who rented land controlled was 12%. These ratios are a significant change when compared to 1981 values.

The G.A.P was seen by the PKK as harmful to Kurds and their villages. PKK perceived G.A.P as a method to eliminate its social base by increasing the income of the region. Higher income would have improved the support of impoverished people for the government. Irrigation was transforming the geography of the area, and these changes were obstructing PKK's free movement and destroying villages. PKK claimed that some of the dams in the system were designed to flood their pathways. Generally such development projects tend to move mountain people into planned urban areas, and PKK was using this group as camouflage. Turgut Özal's legacy of telecommunication was seen by PKK as an elimination of its propaganda methods, and a way to inform the military about their movements. New industries and farms would give young and bright people of the region a future besides guerilla warfare. Most importantly, Turkey was building an infrastructure which would utilise a capitalist system to change the social structure. This was totally at odds with PKK's communist ideology. The government was trying to modernise and westernise the region. These activities were perceived as part of long-standing determination to crush all expression of Kurdish identity. The PKK had targeted GAP with sabotages and abductions of engineers, because without the infrastructure (power lines, transportation, communication, irrigation channels, etc.) development stops.

Way of life

The activities of PKK focused on generating fear to force changes in the behavior of the population. Even though PKK activities seem to be "random attacks", its perpetrators were highly selective in their choice of place and people. The intention of taking victims by surprise and demoralizing the larger public was apparent. By disturbing the movement of goods, PKK attacked the public way of life, under the claim of attacking government property.

PKK claims that its views are absolute. Under the image of Ocalan it constructed an ethnic identity. Those who belong to the ethnic community are considered members of community of law. Foreigners or renegades from the PKK, on the other hand, are seen as a threat to the fundamental identity of the community. The very existence of these "enemies" and their actions is portrayed as an acute threat to fundamental interests of the group, and this definitional inversion turns the group into victims of aggression.

In making their own violence, as it were, merely a counter-violence in self-defense, the Kurd to Kurd inflicted violence in the region, and difficulties of Kurds to generate alternative positions is attributed to this policy. The groups in Beqaa valley share this absoluteness in their world views.

Social structure

To understand the effects of PKK on the social level to the region, it is important to understand the dynamics of the region. It is no surprise that PKK in the late 1970s chose the communist-socialist ideology with the rise in urban population in the region, particularly among the young people of the region that had to leave traditional culture to fit to the newly developing industrial urban life.

Year Population Total Region
20,947,000 18.50 15.00
27,755,000 25.90 16.00
35,605,000 33.20 19.00
44,737,000 45.40 ~29.80
56,473,000 56.20 ~58.80
Source: State Statistical Institute

As can be seen from the table, during the 1980s the region's urbanization reaches national levels. This change generates the dissolution of social relationships and social control among Kurds, as it did to other groups. Tribal control in the region was strong, but the 1980s generated another social strata that culturally belonged to the tribe, but economically was not bound to the land. Immigrant groups in the region were under great pressure to conform to the new conditions. This leads to difficulties in orientation. PKK used these new circumstances by adding cultural hatred to its fliers. The reasons behind the Kurds difficulty was because "Turkey hates Kurds". The Kurds, who had just escaped from tribal control to ghettos (gecekondu) of the cities, found themselves under control of political, police and economic institutions. It was easy to believe the fliers as these institutions did not exist in their original conditions.

An effective educational system, judicial system and financial support are the main ingredients to social ethics, as is an ability to communicate, ability to trust, and ability to plan for the future. Turkey, from the onset, implemented mandatory education and health programs. New professionals in education, health, policing and judicial system cannot work under government institutions if they do not work specified periods in these locations. During 1990, these mandatory services became very controversial. Even though the Government paid three to four times more salary in compensation, the families did not want to send their children where they would be targeted by the PKK. Even the graduates of the region did not want to work in their birth place. There were Kurdish dentists working in Istanbul, but no one could find a dentist in the region.


There is a direct relationship between literacy level and civil liberties. People are a good judge of their conditions, given the correct and unbiased access to information. From 1926 Turkey has given high priority to literacy. In the 1980s, however, the south east literacy level was lagging behind.

PKK's revolutionary program depended on people following their activities without any secondary voice. There is a relationship between Maoist peoples war and literacy levels. A peoples war is very effective in the regions where there is no other voice. The 1980 coup recognized this fact and opened another campaign to increase the literacy levels and grant improved access to telecommunications and mass media. A strategic goal for the PKK was to keep this condition as it was.

Year Total F M South-East Aegean Black Sea Central Marmara Mediterranean
1970 43.8 58.2 29.7
1975 36.3 49.5 23.8
1980 32.5 45.3 20.0
1985 22.6 31.8 13.5 44.0 18.6 24.7 18.3 14.2 22.1
1990 19.5 28.0 11.2
1995 12.7 19.4 6.1
Breakdown table of Illiterates % to population.

By looking at the number of teachers killed and schools destroyed in can be determined that PKK’s second target in the region was education. PKK sees it as indoctrination. The use of the Turkish language in state schools is mandatory.

It can be seen from the distribution of activities concerning teachers that PKK aimed to keep the educational system in the region under threat. The threat of losing a child during a conflict inside or around a school created a dilemma between the state and the public. Primary education is mandatory and families who do not send their children to school are punished with jail time. It was impossible for the security system to negotiate with a parent under these conditions and jail time to a parent would be prosecuting the parent for the failures of the state. Even if students were forced to go to the institutions, they could not be forced to get involved with educational activities.

Year Total Mardin Batman Erzurum Tunceli Diyarbakır Bitlis Bingöl Şanlıurfa Siirt Mus Van Elaziğ Şırnak Ağrı Tokat
1988 19 4 3 12
1989 4
1990 10 4
1991 4 2 2
1992 24
1993 51 1 12 24 5 4 2 1 1 1
1994 31 4 4 4 10 5 1 1 1 1
1995 7 2 1 2 1 1
1996 8
Total 158 Breakdown table of teachers murdered with respected to provinces.

Another interesting point from this table is the situation in Tunceli. This province had the highest casualties. There are two apparent reasons for being a target. First, Tunceli has the highest education rate in that region, as most the Kurds in that region are Alevi. Second, this province has the smallest population, under the correct conditions that could be easily turned into a province that can be claimed.


A system with future social expectations, such as a secure place for next generations, or an ability to solve social conflicts without violence, has to develop social, medical and criminal mechanisms to control the extent of unwanted behavior. A good example from Turkey is driving points. If a member of society constantly drives badly, the system suspends their license for a given time. In this respect the concept of an agent "leaving violent behavior" is very simplistic. A person who had lived in training camps and had been involved in raids cannot say, "I'm off", and became a law abiding, socially reliable person. The expectation of victimization ending with the cessation of crime is unrealistic.

  • It is estimated by a veteran organisation that during the conflict Turkish Military used two million soldiers for operations against the PKK. This number does not specify active engagements and it is only a rough estimate that also includes logistics and other functions. There is no specific number for the clinically diagnosed and treated patients for Post-traumatic stress disorder, both from the Turkish Military, the PKK and Kurdish civilians.
  • We assume, or build our own concept of a normal person who refrains from engaging in behaviour that violates international values of human rights. PKK members are not crazed fanatics or psychopaths. When we look at them, they have developed a justification and rationalization toward their actions. PKK used training programs to teach moral disengagement to its followers. In the Turkish medical system, there is no rehabilitation program for moral disengagement. It is reported that people who engage in violent activities have a hard time regaining their ability to empathise with others.
  • PKK agents, which number in thousands, given training are not simply criminals. The rehabilitation of these people cannot be performed in isolation from society, but they are a high risk group. Turkey's experience has shown that these agents turn back to crime. In the criminal system, there is a law that demands government guidance for these agents. However, the opposite side of the equation is missing. There is no system that informs common people about the risk levels. There are no Uniform Crime Reports that inform the common people about their neighborhood status. A form of reporting system that assesses and classifies the nature and extent of the roles played by individual agents is needed. This should be developed as a preventive measure.
  • PKK generated regions in Turkey that have high rates of the population involved with crime. In stable and peaceful societies, joining a violent group should be seen as a dramatic, alien and highly deviant action. There are programs to economically improve these regions, but there are no programs to produce hope and curb despair. This should be covered as a preventive measure.

Fear of weapons of mass destruction

There were two cases that radically shifted the attitude of the public, as they involved non-conventional methods.

  • March 28, 1992 (no arrest): A lethal dose (50 mg/l) of cyanide was added to three water tanks in Istanbul that were mainly used by the Air Force.
  • August 27, 1996 (Emin Ekinci): 20 containers of mustard gas and a container of sarin were found in Istanbul.


According to the PKK, its methods are unilateral self-help from covertly inflicted mass violence by the Turkish state on the Kurd identity. The PKK presented its methods as a form of social control on their life (Kurd identity) to achieve a life (in Kurdistan) that is beyond the deviant behaviors of the Turkish State (it added Iraq, then Iran, then Syria to this equation). PKK perceived that the deviant behaviors of the Turkish state was the result of its political and judicial system.

From the onset in 1924, the Turkish political system believed that democracy could not survive in the face of “ethnic divisions”. The government should be built on Milliyetcilik the spirit of which being that everyone should be treated the same. Aligned with that idea, the Turkish State gave high priority to representation. The ratio of candidates originating from their own constituency, accepted as the sign of regional representation, is very high from the onset of the state. This ratio fell between 1935-1951, which was attributed to World War II and the Milli Şef period. The Turkish parliament has never lacked parliamentarians with Kurdish origins.

Representation is only one side of democracy, the other side being group affiliation. After four decades, the 1961 constitution marked a separation between “ethnic divisions” and “ethnic groups”. The 1961 constitution created more space for political parties showing religious and ethnic colours. During the 1960s the New Turkey Party (1960), YTP, received 30% of the votes coming from the region and 14% from the country, and the majority of them are of Kurdish origin. It was formed mainly by local landlords from southeastern Turkey. The Workers Party of Turkey (1961), or TIP was a left wing organisation and it was interested in the newly generated section of the Kurdish society; the workers. In its 1970 congress, TIP openly talked about the southeast regional problems. The TIP first named this the “Kurd problem”. As defined by TIP and recognised by the governments of the 1970s, the “Kurd problem” was the question of living standards and expression of self.


During the 1970s, a look at the urbanization values show that it was apparent that there was a need for new formations in Turkey's political representation. Under social changes, the government systems could only do limited planned activities. The real driving factor originates from political processes concerning the needs of the region through social participation. They were shaping the region in the late 1960s. During the 1970s they were aligned with the region's transformation from its tribal structure to a more urban one. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s it was shaped by the PKK and their fights against other Kurdish organizations (see Urban War). PKK claimed "no other Kurdish organization can play a significant role, or have a different view" on regional issues. By the late 1990s, aligned with the PKK's termination of activities against the regional people, PKK become undisputed.

The importance of HEP/DEP/HADEP can be explained with what happened after 1980. It was with the PKK that the “Kurd problem” was defined as an ethnicity problem associated with communist separationist ideology. It brought the “ethnic division” issues over Kurdish ethnicity. The 1982 constitution wrote specific articles to protect the state under the perceived separationist movement. These laws have received much criticism. The Turkish security system at that period perceived any terminology associated with “Kurd problem” as the manifestation of separationist ideology, and rejected even using the phrase. In the 1990s Turgut Özal's presidency tried to divide the ethnic separationist problem and the ethnic problem. The famous “I recognise the Kurdish Reality” was stated under these conditions. However the existence of a regional political party, that is tied to a territory, embracing only part of the state, with goals of mobilising ethnic support, would end up promoting the right to secede. The problem that the Turkish political establishment had in the 1990s was trying to bring Kurdish expression to the parliament (as an ethnic group) without the suggestion of secession or regional autonomy. The movement of HEP/DEP/HADEP is shaped under interaction of these issues.

The path that enabled HEP/DEP/HADEP was passed through the concept of civil society. Civil society has a life of its own, different from the state and lies beyond the boundaries of the family, clan and locality. By referring to activities during the 1970s, the 1982 constitution had emphasized the state factor. However, civil society lies short of state, but not as close as the constitution was demanding. The end of the 1980s showed the problems with civil society were getting apparent. The region was falling behind the developments in the country. The politics originating from the region and the economics of the region were deformed. The SHP report on July 1990 demanded suspension of military measures and a limited decentralization of administration and reinforcement of the communication between government and people. The report pointed out that the government, in its pursuit for establishment of security, should not force people to take sides. The spirit of the report was without the civil society there and there could not be any healthy discussion or realistic conclusions. The report was followed with the 1991 terrorism law, and Turgut Özal's support behind this law was significant. Another interesting development after these discussions was the increase in the numbers of NGOs.

On the political front, to find a solution within Turkey's parliament failed. The political party associated with the PKK, the Democracy Party, was banned from operating as a political institution. Some members, most prominently Leyla Zana, were arrested and charged with treason and membership in the PKK but were released 10 years later in 2004.

Non Governmental Organisations (NGO)

The Turkish government, in theory, should be transparent to cultures. The Turkish system depends on NGOs to perform cultural and social functions.

However, there are groups of NGOs that played a large part in communication between the state, the public and PKK. These organizations generally have names relating to human rights or freedoms. They are organized by province, and their organizational structure and goals reflect those of their western counterparts.

Liberalism in the Turkish system implies a voluntarist framework for social organization. The organization should be biased only toward its goals. Also, human rights and freedoms demand that Ankara should protect the rights of prisoners performing hunger strikes. However, after 22 years of the act, if an NGO gives a press release "saluting the martyr of ... hunger strike", it bring questions regarding the purpose of the NGO. Any NGO distances itself from others who are also in need by taking a political side. Turkish human rights organizations are becoming interested in issues related to a wider base. Crimes against females were brought to public attention through NGOs. This change might be a sign that leadership of these organizations is moving away from communitarian (Marxist) and ethnic concepts of the nation, to a human-centered concept with a goal to improve living conditions.

It is only fair to say NGOs had, and still have, a significant effect in the extension of state activity in the region. In a violent situation, NGOs helped the system sort out cases and performed a checking function.

Another issue related to NGOs in Turkey was the limitations imposed on them by the 1982 constitution.

Language Act Ban

Terrorism Law (1991)

During the 1980s, the social polarization between the government and the PKK was not conductive to social control through law, especially when the PKK turned itself into an international entity. Inability to deal with terrorism through criminal law was apparent even before 1980, and this was stated among the reasons of the coup. In the 1970s and 1980s defending its existence as a nation state through Turkish law had produced results on terrorists and their supporters that were very hard. PKK’s terrorism is not merely a form of crime, so trying to define it through criminal justice was unrealistic.

The primary aim of the 1991 law was to bring coherence to a set of laws that had been used to deal with terrorism (primarily by the PKK) under criminal law. This terrorism law was passed to define the structure and organise the response of the government, in addition to specifying rules of punishment. This law defined an organised crime section that was handled before within the individual sections of the criminal law that deals with the crime itself.

This law is significant as the Turkish government claimed that it would not deal with terrorism through military coups, though it accepted the idea that terrorism would be part of life in Turkey for a while. The terrorism law created a specific set of regulations and powers to deal with terrorists and their actions. Turkish parliament, with the knowledge of the inability to combat the sources of the terrorism through coups, brought extra measures from previous coups in its laws.


Turkey, as explained in this text, classified the PKK's activities as another category other than ordinary crimes. As elaborated in article on Syria, criminal trials were very hard to explain, with the mothers of the accused outside crying whilst members had their own rhetoric inside. This separation opened a way to treat them differently from ordinary criminals. Ordinary criminals were punished for failing to respect the right of the members of society, but the terrorism law recognizes that they fail to respect the state. This opened a reconciliatory approach which is amnesty.


One of the administrative decisions was to implement village guards against the PKK insurgency. The goal was twofold; the villages that were in hard to reach areas would not be left without protection and it showed the size of the resistance against the PKK insurgency. At one point the amount of guards reached 150,000.


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