Turkey–PKK conflict

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Turkey-PKK conflict
Part of the Kurdish rebellions
Thematic map, general view over the Turkey – PKK conflict
Date c. 1984–present
Location Turkey (mostly the South-East), spillovers in Iraqi Kurdistan

Low level ongoing:


Turkey Turkish government

Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

Commanders and leaders

Commanders at the time of the cease-fire
Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu
Turkey Necdet Özel

Commanders at the time of the cease-fire
Murat Karayılan
Bahoz Erdal
Cemil Bayık
Mustafa Karasu
Duran Kalkan
Ali Haydar Kaytan (tr)
Zübeyir Aydar
Haji Ahmadi[40]
Muhammad Mustafa

Turkish Armed Forces: 514,850[41]
Gendarmerie: 148,700[42]
Police: 225.000
Village Guards: 60,000[43]
Turkey Total: 948,550
(not all directly involved in the conflict)
PKK: 4,000[44]–10,000[45]
PJAK: 1,000[46]–3,000[47]
TAK: A few dozen[48]
Total: ~10,000
Casualties and losses
6,653 killed 29,704 killed

Total killed: 45,000[49]

Civilian Casualties:
5,687 killed (Turkish claim)[50]
18,000 killed (independent estimate)[51]
Additional 20,000 killed by unknown assailants[52]
Additional 18,000 executed (independent estimate)[53] 7,620 wounded (Turkish claim)[52]
17,000 missing[54][55]

3,000,000+ displaced[56]
Kurdish Hezbollah is a Kurdish Islamist political group which fought against Turkish government in the early 2000s.[57] They have, however, also fought against the PKK in the 1990s and past links with the Turkish government have been alleged. They have currently halted armed activities in what they see as a "peaceful phase".[58][59][60][57][58][61][62]

The Turkey–PKK conflict[note] is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey and various Kurdish insurgent groups,[63] which have demanded separation from Turkey to create an independent Kurdistan,[48][64] or to have autonomy[65][66] and greater political and cultural rights for Kurds inside the Republic of Turkey.[67] The main rebel group is the Kurdistan Workers' Party[68] or PKK (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States,[69] and NATO.[70][71] The European Union Court of First Instance has reviewed and removed its status as terrorist organisation on 3. April 2008.[72] Although insurgents have carried out attacks in many regions of Turkey,[73] the insurgency is mainly in southeastern Turkey.[74] The PKK's military presence in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, from which it launches attacks on Turkey, has resulted in the Turkish military carrying out frequent ground incursions and air and artillery strikes in the region,[75] because the Kurdistan Regional Government claims it does not have sufficient military forces to prevent the PKK from operating.[76] The conflict has particularly affected Turkey's tourism industry[77] and has cost the Economy of Turkey an estimated 300 to 450 billion dollars.[78]

Since the PKK was founded on 27 November 1978[79] it has been involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces. The full-scale insurgency, however, did not begin until 15 August 1984, when the PKK announced a Kurdish uprising.[44] The first insurgency lasted until 1 September 1999,[64][80] when the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire. The armed conflict was later resumed on 1 June 2004, when the PKK declared an end to its cease-fire.[81][82] Since summer 2011, the conflict has become increasingly violent with resumption of large-scale hostilities.[78] In 2013 the Turkish Government and the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan started a new process regarding the Kurdish question. On 21 March 2013, Öcalan announced the end of armed struggle and a ceasefire with peace talks.[36][83]

In 1994 the PKK was estimated to have between 10,000 and 15,000 fighters, 5,000 to 6,000 of which inside Turkey (the rest in neighbouring countries) as well as 60,000 to 70,000 part-time guerillas.[84] In 2004 the Turkish government estimated the amount of PKK fighters at approximately 4,000 to 5,000, of whom 3,000 to 3,500 were located in northern Iraq.[44] By 2007 the number was said to have increased to more than 7,000.[85] The PKK's leader, Murat Karayılan, claimed the group had between 7,000 and 8,000 fighters, 30 to 40% were in Iraq, and the rest in Turkey, where they were backed by an additional 20,000 part-time guerillas.[86] High estimates put the number of active PKK fighters at 10,000.[45]

The PKK's recent campaign against ISIS has caused many politicians to reconsider the PKK's position as a terrorist organisation.


Kurdish rebellions against the Ottoman Empire have been reported for over two centuries, but the modern conflict dates back to the Turkish War of Independence, which established a Turkish nationalist state which has repressed the human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey. Major historical events include the Koçgiri Rebellion (1920), Sheikh Said rebellion (1925), Ararat rebellion (1930), and the Dersim Rebellion (1938).

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded in 1974 by Abdullah Öcalan. Initially a Marxist-Leninist organization, it abandoned orthodox communism and adopted a program of greater political rights and cultural autonomy for Kurds. Between 1978 and 1980, the PKK engaged in limited urban warfare with the Turkish state to these aims. The organization restructured itself and moved the organization structure to Syria between 1980 and 1984, just after the 1980 Turkish coup d'état.

The rural-based insurgency lasted between 1984 and 1992. The PKK shifted its activities to include urban warfare between 1993 and 1995 and between 1996 and 1999. The leader of the party was captured in Kenya in early 1999, following an international campaign by the United States, Israel, Greece, the United Kingdom and Italy. After a unilaterally declared peace initiative in 1999, the PKK was forced to resume the conflict due to a Turkish military offensive in 2004.[44] Since 1974 it had been able to evolve, adapt and go through a metamorphosis,[87] which became the main factor in its survival. It had gradually grown from a handful of political students to a dynamic organization, and became part of the target on the War on Terrorism.

With the aftermath of the failed 1991 uprisings in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the UN established no-fly zones in Kurdish areas of Iraq giving those areas de facto independence.[88] The PKK soon found a safe haven from which they could launch attacks against Turkey, which responded with Operation Steel (1995) and Operation Hammer (1997) in an attempt to crush the PKK.[89]

In 1992 General Kemal Yilmaz declared that the Special Warfare Department (the seat of the Counter-Guerrilla) was still active in the conflict against the PKK.[90] The U.S. State Department echoed concerns of Counter-Guerrilla involvement in its 1994 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Turkey.[91]

Öcalan was captured by CIA agents in Kenya on 15 February 1999, who turned him over to the Turkish authorities.[citation needed] After a trial he was sentenced to death, but this sentence was commuted to lifelong aggravated imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished in Turkey in August 2002.

With the invasion of Iraq in 2003 much of the arms of the former Iraqi army fell into the hands of the Kurdish Peshmerga militias.[92] The Peshmerga became the de facto army of northern Iraq and Turkish sources claim many of its weapons found their way into the hands of other Kurdish groups such as the PKK and the PJAK (a PKK offshoot which operates against Iran).[93] This has been the pretext for numerous Turkish attacks on the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

In June 2007, Turkey estimated there to be over 3,000 PKK fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan.[94]

The conflict[edit]

1974–1984: Start of the conflict[edit]

In 1973 a small group under leadership of Abdullah Öcalan released a declaration on Kurdish identity in Turkey. The group, which called itself the Revolutionaries of Kurdistan also included Ali Haydar Kaytan (tr), Cemil Bayik, Haki Karer and Kemal Pir.[95] The group decided in 1974[64] to start a campaign for Kurdish rights. Cemil Bayik was sent to Urfa, Kemal Pir to Mus, Hakki Karer to Batman and Ali Haydar Kaytan to Tunceli. They then started student organisations which talked to local workers and farmers about Kurdish rights.[95]

In 1977, an assembly was held to evaluate the political activities. The assembly included 100 people, from different backgrounds and several representatives from other Leftist organisations. In spring 1977, Abdullah Öcalan travelled to Mount Ararat, Erzurum, Tunceli, Elazig, Antep and other cities to make the public aware of the Kurdish issue. This was followed by a Turkish government crackdown against the organisation. On 18 March 1977, Haki Karer was assassinated in Antep. During this period, the group was also targeted by the MHP's Grey Wolves. They were also targeted by Kurdish landowners, who on 18 May 1978 killed Halil Çavgun, which resulted in large Kurdish meetings in Erzurum, Dersim, Elazig and Antep.[95]

The founding Congress of the PKK was held on 27 November 1978 in Fis, a village near the city of Lice. During this congress the 25 people present decided to found the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The Turkish state, rightist groups and Kurdish landowners, continued their attacks on the group. In response the PKK employed armed members to protect itself which got involved in the fighting between leftist and rightist groups in Turkey (1978–1980) at the side of the leftists,[95] during which the right-wing Grey Wolves militia killed 109 and injured 176 Alevi Kurds in the town of Kahramanmaraş on 25 December 1978 in what would become known as the Maraş Massacre.[96] In Summer 1979, Öcalan travelled to Syria and Lebanon where he made contacts with Syrian and Palestinian leaders.[95] After the Turkish coup d'état on 12 September 1980 and a crackdown which was launched on all political organisations,[97] during which at least 191 people were killed,[98] half a million were imprisoned,[99][note] most of the PKK withdrew into Syria and Lebanon. Öcalan himself going to Syria in September 1980, Kemal Pir, Mahsum Korkmaz and Delil Dogan being sent to set up an organisation in Lebanon. PKK fighters took part in the 1982 Lebanon War at the Syrian side.[95]

The Second PKK Party Congress was then held in Daraa, Syria, from 20 to 25 August 1982. Here it was decided that the organisation would return to Turkey to start an armed guerilla war there for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile they prepared guerilla forces in Syria and Lebanon to go to war. Many PKK leaders however were arrested in Turkey and sent to Diyarbakir Prison. The prison became the site of much political protest.[95]

In Diyarbakır Prison the PKK member Mazlum Doğan burned himself to death on 21 March 1982 in protest at the treatment in prison. Ferhat Kurtay, Necmi Önen, Mahmut Zengin and Eşref Anyık followed his example on 17 May 1982. On 14 July 1982 the PKK members Kemal Pir, M. Hayri Durmuş, Ali Çiçek and Akif Yılmaz started a hunger strike in Diyarbakır Prison.[100] Kemal Pir died on 7 September 1982, M. Hayri Durmuş on 12 September 1982, Akif Yılmaz on 15 September 1982 and Ali Çiçek on 17 September 1982. On 13 April 1984 a 75-day hunger-strike started in Istanbul. As a result four prisoners – Abdullah Meral, Haydar Başbağ, Fatih Ökütülmüş and Hasan Telci – died.[101]

1984–1999: First Fight[edit]


OHAL region—defining areas in Turkey under a state of emergency—in red with neighbouring provinces in orange, 1987–2002

The PKK launched its armed insurgency on 15 August 1984[95][102] with armed attacks on Eruh and Semdinli. During these attacks 1 gendarmerie soldier was killed, 7 soldiers, 2 policemen and 3 civilians were injured. It was followed by a PKK raid on a police station in Siirt, two days later.[103]

In the early 1990s, President Turgut Özal agreed to negotiations with the PKK, the events of the 1991 Gulf War having changed some of the geopolitical dynamics in the region. Apart from Özal, himself half-Kurdish, few Turkish politicians were interested in a peace process, nor was more than a part of the PKK itself.[104] In 1993 Özal was working on the peace plans with the former finance minister Adnan Kahveci and the General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie, Eşref Bitlis.[105] Negotiations led to a cease-fire declaration by the PKK on 20 March 1993. With the PKK's ceasefire declaration in hand, Özal was planning to propose a major pro-Kurdish reform package at the next meeting of the National Security Council. The president's death on 17 April led to the postponement of that meeting, and the plans were never presented.[106] A month later a PKK ambush on 24 May 1993 ensured the end of the peace process. The former PKK commander Şemdin Sakık maintains the attack was part of the Doğu Çalışma Grubu's coup plans.[107] Under the new Presidency of Süleyman Demirel and Premiership of Tansu Çiller, the Castle Plan (to use any and all means to solve the Kurdish question using violence), which Özal had opposed, was enacted, and the peace process abandoned.[108] Some journalists and politicians maintain that Özal's death (allegedly by poison) along with the assassination of a number of political and military figures supporting his peace efforts, was part of a covert military coup in 1993 aimed at stopping the peace plans.


To counter the growing force of the PKK the Turkish military started new counter-insurgency strategies between 1992 and 1995. To deprive the rebels of a logistical base of operations the military carried out de-forestation of the countryside and destroyed over 3,000 Kurdish villages, causing at least 2 million refugees. Most of these villages were evacuated, but other villages were burned, bombed, or shelled by government forces, and several entire villages were obliterated from the air. While some villages were destroyed or evacuated, many villages were brought to the side of the Turkish government, which offered salaries to local farmers and shepherds to join the Village Guards, which would prevent the PKK from operating in these villages, while villages which refused were evacuated by the military. These tactics managed to drive the rebels from the cities and villages into the mountains, although they still often launched reprisals on pro-government villages, which included attacks on civilians.[109]

However, the turning point in the conflict[110] came in 1998, when, after political pressure and military threats[111] from Turkey, the PKK's leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was forced to leave Syria, where he had been in exile since September 1980. He first went to Russia, then to Italy and Greece. He was eventually brought to the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was arrested on 15 February 1999 at the airport in a joint MİT-CIA operation and brought to Turkey,[112] which resulted in major protests by Kurds world-wide.[111] Three Kurdish protestors were shot dead when trying to enter the Israeli consulate in Berlin to protest alleged Israeli involvement in the capture of Abdullah Öcalan.[113] Although the capture of Öcalan ended a third cease-fire which Öcalan had declared on 1 August 1998, on 1 September 1999[80] the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire which would last until 2004.[64]

1999–2004: Unilateral ceasefire[edit]

KADEK flag

After the unilateral cease-fire the PKK declared in September 1999, their forces fully withdrew from the Republic of Turkey and set up new bases in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq[103] and in February 2000 they declared the formal end of the war.[111] After this, the PKK said it would switch its strategy to using peaceful methods to achieve their objectives. In April 2002 the PKK changed its name to KADEK (Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress), claiming the PKK had fulfilled its mission and would now move on as purely political organisation.[82] In October 2003 the KADEK announced its dissolution and declared the cration of a new organisation: KONGRA-GEL (Kurdistan Peoples Congress).[114]

Offers by the PKK for negotiations were ignored by the Turkish government,[82] which claimed, the KONGRA-GEL continued to carry out armed attacks in the 1999–2004 period, although not on the same scale as before September 1999. They also blame the KONGRA-GEL for Kurdish riots which happened during the period.[103] The PKK argues that they only defended themselves as they claim the Turkish military launched some 700 raids against their bases militants, including in Northern Iraq.[102] Also, despite the KONGRA-GEL cease-fire, other groups continued their armed activities, the PŞK for instance, tried to use the cease-fire to attract PKK fighters to join their organisation.[115] The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) were formed during this period by radical KONGRA-GEL commanders, dissatisfied with the cease-fire.[116] The period after the capture of Öcalan was used by the Turkish government to launch major crackdown operations against the Kurdish Hizbullah, arresting 3,300 Hizbullah members in 2000, compared to 130 in 1998, and killing the group's leader Hüseyin Velioğlu on 13 January 2000.[117][118][119] During this phase of the war at least 145 people were killed during fighting between the PKK and security forces.[120]

After AK Party came to power in 2002, the Turkish state started to ease restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture.[121]

From 2003 to 2004 there was a power struggle inside the KONGRA-GEL between a reformist wing which wanted the organisation to disarm completely and a traditionalist wing which wanted the organisation to resume its armed insurgency once again.[103][122] The conservative wing of the organisation won this power struggle[103] forcing reformist leaders such as Kani Yilmaz, Nizamettin Tas and Abdullah Öcalan's younger brother Osman Öcalan to leave the organisation.[122] The three major traditionalist leaders, Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Fehman Huseyin formed the new leadership committee of the organisation.[123] The new administration decided to restart the insurgency, because they claimed that without guerillas the PKK's political activities would remain unsuccessful.[82][103] This came as the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) was banned by the Turkish Supreme Court on 13 March 2003[124] and its leader Murat Bolzak was imprisoned.[125]

In April 2005, KONGRA-GEL reverted its name back to PKK.[114] Because not all of the KONGRA-GEL's elements reverted, the organisation has also been referred to as the New PKK.[126] The KONGRA-GEL has since become the Legislative Assembly of the Koma Civakên Kurdistan, an umbrella organisation which includes the PKK and is used as the group's urban and political wing. Ex-DEP member Zübeyir Aydar is the President of the KONGRA-GEL.[127]

Through the cease-fire years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, some 711 people were killed according to the Turkish government.[50] The Uppsala Conflict Data Program put casualties during these years at 368 to 467 killed.[128]

2004–2012: Renewed insurgency[edit]

Kurdistan Workers Party supporters in London, April 2003
A demonstration against the PKK in Kadıköy, İstanbul on 22 October 2007

On 1 June 2004, the PKK resumed its armed activities because they claimed Turkish government was ignoring their calls for negotiations and was still attacking their forces.[82][103] The government claimed that in that same month some 2,000 Kurdish guerrillas entered Turkey via Iraqi Kurdistan.[64] The PKK, lacking a state sponsor or the kind of manpower they had in the 90s, was however forced to take up new tactics. As result, the PKK reduced the size of its field units from 15–20 militants to 6–8 militants. It also avoided direct confrontations and relied more on the use of mines, snipers and small ambushes, using hit and run tactics.[129] Another change in PKK-tactics was that the organisation no longer attempted to control any territory, not even after dark.[130] Nonetheless, violence increased throughout both 2004 and 2005[64] during which the PKK was said to be responsible for dozens of bombings in Western Turkey throughout 2005.[44] Most notably the 2005 Kuşadası minibus bombing, which killed 5 and injured 14 people,[131] although the PKK denied responsibility.[132]

In March 2006 heavy fighting broke out around Diyarbakir between the PKK and Turkish security forces, as well as large riots by PKK supporters, as result the army had to temporary close the roads to Diyarbakır Airport and many schools and businesses had to be shut down.[64] In August, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), which vowed to "turn Turkey into hell,"[133] launched a major bombing campaign. On 25 August two coordinated low-level blasts targeted a bank in Adana, on 27 August a school in Istanbul was targeted by a bombing, on 28 August there were three coordinated attacks in Marmaris and one in Antalya targeting the tourist industry[64] and on 30 August there was a TAK bombing in Mersin.[134] These bomnings were condemned by the PKK,[48] which declared its fifth cease-fire on 1 October 2006,[80] which slowed down the intensity of the conflict. Minor clashes, however, continued in the South East due to Turkish counter-insurgency operations. In total, the conflict claimed over 500 lives in 2006.[64] 2006 also saw the PKK assassinate one of their former commanders, Kani Yilmaz, in February, in Iraq.[103]

In May 2007, there was a bombing in Ankara that killed 6[135][136][137][138] and injured 121 people.[135] The Turkish government alleged the PKK was responsible for the bombing.[139] On 4 June, a PKK suicide bombing in Tunceli killed seven soldiers and wounded six at a military base.[140] Tensions across the Iraqi border also started playing up as Turkish forces entered Iraq several times in pursuit of PKK fighting and In June, as 4 soldiers were killed by landmines, large areas of Iraqi Kurdistan were shelled which damaged 9 villages and forced residents to flee.[141] On 7 October 2007, 40–50 PKK fighters[129] ambushed an 18-man Turkish commando unit in the Gabar mountains, killing 15 commandos and injuring three,[142] which made it the deadliest PKK attack since the 1990s.[129] In response a law was passed allowing the Turkish military to take action inside Iraqi territory.[143] Than on 21 October 2007, 150–200 militants attacked an outpost, in Dağlıca, Yüksekova, manned by a 50-strong infantry battalion. The outpost was overrun and the PKK killed 12, wounded 17 and captured 8 Turkish soldiers. They then withdrew into Iraqi Kurdistan, taking the 8 captive soldiers with them. The Turkish military claimed to have killed 32 PKK fighters in hot pursuit operations, after the attack, however this was denied by the PKK and no corpses of PKK militants were produced by the Turkish military.[129] The Turkish military responded by bombing PKK bases on 24 October[144] and started preparing for a major cross-border military operation.[142]

A PKK militant in the mountains, December 2008

This major cross-border offensive, dubbed Operation Sun, started on 21 February 2008[145] and was preceded by an aerial offensive against PKK camps in northern Iraq, which began on 16 December 2007.[146][147] Between 3,000 and 10,000 Turkish forces took part in the offensive.[145] According to the Turkish military around 230 PKK fighters were killed in the ground offensive, while 27 Turkish forces were killed. According to the PKK, over 125 Turkish forces were killed, while PKK casualties were in the tens.[148] Smaller scale Turkish operations against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan continued afterwards.[149] On 27 July 2008, Turkey blamed the PKK for an Istanbul double-bombing which killed 17 and injured 154 people. The PKK however denied any involvement.[150] On 4 October, the most violent clashes since the October 2007 clashes in Hakkari erupted as the PKK attacked the Aktutun border post in Şemdinli in the Hakkâri Province, at night. 15 Turkish soldiers were killed and 20 were injured, meanwhile 23 PKK fighters were said to be killed during the fighting.[151] On 10 November, the Iranian Kurdish insurgent group PJAK declared it would be halting operations inside Iran to start fighting the Turkish military.[152]

At the start of 2009 Turkey opened its first Kurdish-language TV-channel, TRT 6,[153] and on 19 March 2009 local elections were held in Turkey in which the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) won majority of the vote in the South East. Soon after, on 13 April 2009, the PKK declared its sixth ceasefire, after Abdullah Öcalan called on them to end military operations and prepare for peace.[80] In September Turkey's Erdoğan-government launched the Kurdish initiative, which included plans to rename Kurdish villages that had been given Turkish names, expand the scope of the freedom of expression, restore Turkish citizenship to Kurdish refugees, strengthen local governments, and extend a partial amnesty for PK fighters.[154] The plans for the Kurdish initiative where however heavily hurt after the DTP was banned by the Turkish constitutional court[155] on 11 December 2009 and its leaders were subsequently put on trial for terrorism.[156] A total of 1,400 DTP members were arrested and 900 detained in the government crackdown against the party.[157] This caused major riots by Kurds all over Turkey and resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and security forces as well as pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in several injuries and fatalities.[155] On 7 December the PKK launched an ambush in Reşadiye which killed seven and injured three Turkish soldiers, which became the deadliest PKK attack in that region since the 1990s.[158][159]

On 1 May 2010 the PKK declared an end to its cease-fire,[160] launching an attack in Tunceli that killed four and injured seven soldiers.[161] On 31 May, Abdullah Öcalan declared an end to his attempts at re-approachment and establishing dialogue with the Turkish government, leaving PKK top commanders in charge of the conflict. The PKK then stepped up its armed activities,[162] starting with a missile attack on a navy base in İskenderun, killing 7 and wounding 6 soldiers.[163] On 18 and 19 June, heavy fighting broke out that resulted in the death of 12 PKK fighters, 12 Turkish soldiers and injury of 17 Turkish soldiers, as the PKK launched three separate attacks in Hakkari and Elazig provinces.[164][164][165]

Another major attack in Hakkari occurred on 20 July 2010, killing six and wounding seventeen Turkish soldiers, with one PKK fighter being killed.[166] The next day, Murat Karayilan, the leader of the PKK, announced that the PKK would lay down its arms if the Kurdish issue would be resolved through dialogue and threatened to declare independence if this demand was not met.[167][168] Turkish authorities claimed they had killed 187 and captured 160 PKK fighters by 14 July.[169] By 27 July, Turkish news sources reported the deaths of over 100 security forces, which exceeded the entire 2009 toll.[170] On 12 August, however, a ramadan cease-fire was declared by the PKK. In November the cease-fire was extended until the Turkish general election on 12 June 2011, despite alleging that that Turkey had launched over 80 military operations against them during this period.[80] Despite the truce, the PKK responded to these military operations by launching retaliatory attacks in Siirt and Hakkari provinces, killing 12 Turkish soldiers.[171]

The cease-fire was however revoked early, on 28 February 2011.[172] Soon afterwards three PKK fighters were killed while trying to get into Turkey through northern Iraq.[173] In May, counter-insurgency operations left 12 PKK fighters and 5 soldiers dead. This then resulted in major Kurdish protests across Turkey as part of a civil disobedience campaign launched by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP),[174] during these protests 2 people were killed, 308 injured and 2,506 arrested by Turkish authorities.[175] The 12 June elections saw a historical performance for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which won 36 seats in the South-East, which was more than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won only 30 seats in Kurdish areas.[176] However, six of the 36 elected BDP deputies remain in Turkish jails as of June 2011.[177] One of the six jailed deputies, Hatip Dicle, was then stripped of his elected position by the constitutional court, after which the 30 free MPs declared a boycott of Turkish parliament.[178] The PKK intensified its campaign again, in July killing 20 Turkish soldiers in two weeks, during which at least 10 PKK fighters were killed.[179] On 17 August 2011, the Turkish Armed Forces launched multiple raids against Kurdish rebels, striking 132 targets.[180] Turkish military bombed PKK targets in northern Iraq in six days of air raids, according to General Staff, where 90–100 PKK Soldiers were killed, and at least 80 injured.[181] From July to September Iran carried out an offensive against the PJAK in Northern Iraq, which resulted in a cease-fire on 29 September. After the cease-fire the PJAK withdrew its forces from Iran and joined with the PKK to fight Turkey. Turkish counter-terrorism operations reported a sharp increase of Iranian citizens among the insurgents killed in October and November, such as the six PJAK fighters killed in Çukurca on 28 October.[182] On 19 October, twenty-six Turkish soldiers were killed[183] and 18 injured[184] in 8 simultaneous PKK attacks in Cukurca and Yuksekova, in Hakkari provieen 10,000 and 15,000 full-time and 60,000 to 75,000 part-time guerrillas, which is the highest it has ever been.[185]

Turkish-Kurdish human right activists in Germany accused Turkey of Using Chemical Weapons against PKK. Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries investigated the authenticity of the photos and claimed that the photos were authentic. A forensics report released by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the allegations. Claudia Roth from Germany's Green Party demanded an explanation from the Turkish government.[186] According to analysts 2011 showed a sharp increase in violence and was one of the bloodiest years in recent history of the Kurdish–Turkish conflict.[187]

On summer 2012, the conflict with the PKK took a violent curve, in parallel with the Syrian civil war[188] as President Bashar al-Assad ceded control of several Kurdish cities in Syria to the PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the PKK,[189] and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused the Assad government of arming the group.[190] In June and August there were heavy clashes in Hakkari province, described as the most violent in years.[191] as the PKK attempted to seize control of Şemdinli and engage the Turkish army in a "frontal battle" by blocking the roads leading to the town from Iran and Iraq and setting up DShK heavy machine guns and rocket launchers on high ground to ambush Turkish motorized units that would be sent to re-take the town. However the Turkish army avoided the trap by destroying the heavy weapons from the air and using long range artillery to root out the PKK. The Turkish military declared operation was ended successfully on 11 August, claiming to have killed 115 guerrillas and lost only six soldiers and two village guards.[192] On 20 August, eight people were killed and 66 wounded by a deadly bombing in Gaziantep.[193] According to the KCK 400 incidents of shelling, air bombardment and armed clashes occurred in August.[78] On 24 September, Turkish General Necdet Özel claimed that 110 Turkish soldiers and 475 PKK militants had been killed since the start of 2012.[194]

2013–present: Solution Process[edit]

Main article: Solution process

On the eve of the 2012 year (28 December), in a television interview upon a question of whether the government had a project to solve the issue, Erdoğan said that the government was conducting negotiations with jailed rebel leader Öcalan.[195] Negotiations initially named as Solution Process (Çözüm Süreci) in public. While negotiations were going on, there were numerous events that were regarded as sabotage to derail the talks: Assassination of three Kurdish PKK administrators in Paris (one of them is Sakine Cansız),[196] revealing Öcalan's talks with Kurdish party to public via Milliyet gazzette[197] and finally, the bombings of the Justice Ministry of Turkey and Erdoğan's office at the Ak Party headquarters in Ankara.[198] However, both parties vehemently condemned all three events as they occurred and stated that they were determined anyways. Finally on 21 March 2013, after months of negotiations with the Turkish Government, Abdullah Ocalan's letter to people was read both in Turkish and Kurdish during Nowruz celebrations in Diyarbakır. The letter called a cease-fire that included disarmament and withdrawal from Turkish soil and calling an end to armed struggle. PKK announced that they would obey, stating that the year of 2013 is the year of solution either through war or through peace. Erdoğan welcomed the letter stating that concrete steps will follow PKK's withdrawal.[83]

On 25 April 2013, PKK announced that it would be withdrawing all its forces within Turkey to Northern Iraq.[199] According to government[200] and to The Kurds[201] and to the most of the press,[202] this move marks the end of 30 year old conflict. Second phase which includes constitutional and legal changes towards the recognition of human rights of the Kurds starts simultaneously with withdrawal.

Escalation (2014)[edit]

On 6 and 7 October 2014, riots erupted in various cities in Turkey for protesting the Siege of Kobane. Protesters were met with tear gas and water cannons. 37 people were killed in protests.[203] During these protests, there were deadly clashes between PKK and Hizbullah sympathizers.[204] 3 soldiers were killed by PKK.[205]


Main article: Serhildan

The Serhildan, or people's uprising,[206] started on 14 March, Nusaybin during the funeral of[207] 20-year old PKK fighter Kamuran Dundar, who along with 13 other fighters was killed by the Turkish military after crossing into Turkey via Syria several days earlier. Dundar came from a Kurdish nationalist family which claimed his body and held a funeral for him in Nusaybin in which he was brought to the city's main mosque and 5000 people which held a march. On the way back the march turned violent and protesters clashed with the police, during which both sides fired upon each other and many people were injured. A curfew was then placed in Nusaybin, tanks and special forces were brought in and[206] some 700 people were arrested.[207] Riots spread to nearby towns[206] and in Cizre over 15,000 people, constituting about half the town's population took place in riots in which five people were killed, 80 injured and 155 arrested.[207] Widespread riots took place throughout the Southeast on Nowruz, the Kurdish new-year celebrations, which at the time were banned.[207] Protests slowed down over the next two weeks as many started to stay home and Turkish forces were ordered not to intervene unless absolutely necessarily[206] but factory sit-ins, go-slows, work boycotts and "unauthorized" strikes were still held although in protest of the state.[207]

Protests are often held on 21 March, or Nowruz.[208] Most notably in 1992, when thousands of protesters clashed with security forces all over the country and where the army allegedly disobeyed an order from President Suleyman Demirel not to attack the protest.[207] In the heavy violence that ensued during that year's Nowroz protest some 55[207] to 102[209] people were killed, mainly in Şırnak (26 killed), Cirze (29 killed) and Nusaybin (14 killed) and it included a police officer and a soldier. Over 200 people were injured[210] and another 200 were arrested.[207] According to Governor of Şırnak, Mustafa Malay, the violence was caused by 500 to 1,500 armed rebels which he alleged, entered the town during the festival. However, he conceded that "the security forces did not establish their targets properly and caused great damage to civilian houses."[211]

Since Abdullah Öcalan's capture on 15 February 1998, protests are also held every year on that date.[208]

Kurdish political movement[edit]

Name Short Leader Active
People's Labor Party HEP Ahmet Fehmi Işıklar 1990–1993
Democracy Party DEP Yaşar Kaya 1993–1994
People's Democracy Party HADEP Murat Bozlak 1994–2003
Democratic People's Party DEHAP Tuncer Bakırhan 1997–2005
Democratic Society Movement DTH Leyla Zana 2005
Democratic Society Party DTP Ahmet Türk 2005–2009
Peace and Democracy Party BDP Selahattin Demirtaş 2008–present

On 7 June 1990, seven members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey that were expelled from the Social Democratic People's Party (SHP), together formed the People's Labor Party (HEP) and were led by Ahmet Fehmi Işıklar. The Party was banned in July 1993 by the Constitutional Court of Turkey for promoting separatism.[212] The party was succeeded by the Democracy Party, which was founded in May 1993. The Democracy Party, was however banned on 16 June 1994 for promoting Kurdish nationalism[212] and four of the party's members: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak were sentenced to 14 years in prison. Zana was the first Kurdish woman to be elected into parliament,[213] however sparked major controversy by saying "I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people," during her inauguration into parliament. In June 2004, after spending 10 years in jail, a Turkish court ordered the release of all four prisoners[214] In May 1994, Kurdish lawyer Murat Bozlak forrmed the People's Democracy Party (HADEP),[212] which won 1,171,623 votes, or 4.17% of the national vote during the general elections on 24 December 1995[215] and 1,482,196 votes or 4.75% in the elections on 18 April 1999, however it failed to win any seats due to the 10% threshold.[216] During local elections in 1999 they won control over 37 municipalities and gained representation in 47 cities and hundreds of districts. In 2002 the party became a member of Socialist International. After surviving a closure case in 1999, HADEP was finally banned on 13 March 2003 on grounds that it had become a "centre of illegal activities which included aiding and abetting the PKK." The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that the ban violated article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of association.[217] The Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) was formed on 24 October 1997 and succeeded HADEP.[218] DEHAP won 1,955,298 votes or 6,23% during the November 3, 2002 general election,[219] however performed disappointingly during the March 28, 2004 local elections, where their coalition with the SHP and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) only managed to win 5.1% of the vote, only winning in Batman, Hakkâri, Diyarbakır and Şırnak Provinces, majority of Kurdish voters voting for the AKP.[220] After being released in 2004 Leyla Zana formed the Democratic Society Movement (DTH), which merged with the DEHAP into the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2005[206] under the leadership of Ahmet Türk.[221]

The Democratic Society Party decided to run their candidates as independent candidates during the June 22, 2007 general eleections, to get around the 10% threshold rule. Independents won 1,822,253 votes or 5.2% during the elections, resulting in a total of 27 seats, 23 of which went to the DTP.[222] The party however performed well during the March 29, 2009 local elections, winning 2,116,684 votes or 5.41% and doubling its amount of governors from four to eight, increasing its amount of mayors from 32 to 51.[223] For the first time they won a majority in the southeast and aside from the Batman, Hakkâri, Diyarbakır and Şırnak provinces which DEHAP had won in 2004, the DTP managed to win Van, Siirt and Iğdır Provinces from the AKP.[224] On 11 December 2009, the Constitutional Court of Turkey voted to ban the DTP, ruling that the party had links to the PKK[225] and was guilty of spreading "terrorist propaganda."[226] Chairman Ahmet Türk and legislator Aysel Tuğluk were expelled from Parliament, and they and 35 other party members were banned from joining any political party for five years.[227] The European Union released a statement, expressing concern over the court's ruling and urging Turkey to change its policies towards political parties.[228] Major protests erupted throughout Kurdish communities in Turkey, in response to the ban.[225] The DTP was succeeded by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), under leadership of Selahattin Demirtaş. The BDP called on its supporters to boycott the Turkish constitutional referendum on 12 September 2010 because the constitutional change did not meet their demands. According to BDP co-chair Gültan Kışanak released a statement saying that "we will not vote against the amendment and prolong the life of the current fascist constitution. Nor will we vote in favor of the amendments and support a new fascist constitution."[229] Due to the boycott Hakkâri (9.05%), Şırnak (22.5%), Diyarbakır (34.8%), Batman (40.62%), Mardin (43.0%), Van (43.61), Siirt (50.88%), Iğdır (51.09%), Muş (54.09%), Ağrı (56.42%), Tunceli (67.22%), Şanlıurfa (68.43%), Kars (68.55%) and Bitlis Province (70.01%) had the lowest turnouts in the country, compared to a 73.71% national average. Tunceli, however was the only Kurdish majority province were a majority of the population voted "no" during the referendum.[230] During the June 12, 2011 national elections the BDP nominated 61 independent candidates, winning 2,819,917 votes or 6.57% and increasing its amount of seats from 20 to 36. The BDP won the most support in Şırnak (72.87%), Hakkâri (70.87%), Diyarbakır (62.08%) and Mardin (62.08%) Provinces.[226]


According to official figures released by the Turkish military for the 1984–2008 period, the conflict has resulted in the capture of 14,000 PKK members, and the death of 32,000 PKK members, 6,482 soldiers, and 5,560 civilians,[231] among which 157 are teachers.[232] From August 1984 to June 2007, the Turkish government put the total casualties at 37,979. The Turkish military was said to be responsible for the deaths of 26,128 PKK fighters and the PKK was said to be responsible for the other 11,851 people deaths. A total of 13,327 soldiers and 7,620 civilians are said to have been wounded and an additional 20,000 civilians killed by unknown assailants.[52] Only 2,500 people were said to have been killed between 1984 and 1991, while over 17,500 were killed between 1991 and 1995.[233] The number of murders committed by Village Guards from 1985–1996 is put at 296 by official estimates.[234] The Turkish government claims that the total casualties from 2003 to 2009 is around 2,300, which includes 172 civilians, 556 security forces and 1380 rebels.[235] In June 2010 new casualty figures were released that showed the Turkish government claimed 6,653 security forces including 4,015 soldiers, 217 police officers and 1,335 village guards had been killed. They claimed to have killed 29,704 PKK fighters by 2009. According to these figures the amount of casualties since the second insurgency in 2004 started is 2,462.[50]

According to human rights organisations since the beginning of the uprising 4,000 villages have been destroyed,[54] in which between 380,000 and 1,000,000 Kurdish villagers have been forcibly evacuated from their homes.[236] Some 5,000 Turks and 35,000 Kurds,[54] including 18,000 civilians[51] have been killed, 17,000 Kurds have disappeared and 119,000 Kurds have been imprisoned by Turkish authorities.[53][54] According to the Humanitarian Law Project, 2,400 Kurdish villages were destroyed and 18,000 Kurds were executed, by the Turkish government.[236] Other estimates have put the number of destroyed Kurdish villages at over 4,000.[76] In total up to 3,000,000 people (mainly Kurds) have been displaced by the conflict,[56] an estimated 1,000,000 of which are still internally displaced as of 2009.[237] The Assyrian Minority was heavily affected as well, as now most (50-60 thousand/70,000) of its population is in refuge in Europe.

According to pro-PKK sources, the real casualties from August 1984 to August 1994, were that 11,750 Turkish security, 6,443 PKK fighters and 3,330 civilians had been killed.[207] Sebahat Tuncel, an elected MP from the BDP put the PKK's casualties at 18,000 as of July 2011.[238]

According to the International Crisis Group, the conflict's confirmed casualties for the last 4 years of the conflict were as following:[239]

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program recorded 25,825–30,639 casualties to date, 22,729–25,984 of which having died during the first insurgency, 368–467 during the cease-fire and 2,728–4,188 during the second insurgency. Casualties from 1989 to 2011, according to the UCDP are as following:[128]

The conflict's casualties between 1984 and March 2009 according to the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey, Turkish Gendarmerie, General Directorate of Security and since then until June 2010 according to Milliyet's analysis of the data of the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey and Turkish Gendarmerie were as following:[50]

Human rights abuses[edit]

Both Turkey and the PKK have committed numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. Former French ambassador to Turkey Eric Rouleau states:[240]

According to the Ministry of Justice, in addition to the 35,000 people killed in military campaigns, 17,500 were assassinated between 1984, when the conflict began, and 1998. An additional 1,000 people were reportedly assassinated in the first nine months of 1999. According to the Turkish press, the authors of these crimes, none of whom have been arrested, belong to groups of mercenaries working either directly or indirectly for the security agencies.

Abuses by the PKK[edit]

Human Rights Watch has stated the following about the tactics of the PKK:

  • Consequently, all economic, political, military, social and cultural organizations, institutions, formations—and those who serve in them—have become targets. The entire country has become a battlefield.
  • The PKK also promised to "liquidate" or "eliminate" political parties, "imperialist" cultural and educational institutions, legislative and representative bodies, and "all local collaborators and agents working for the Republic of Turkey."[241]
  • Many who died were unarmed civilians, caught in the middle between the PKK and security forces, targeted for attacks by inevitably, PKK suicide bombers.[242]

According to Amnesty International, the PKK killed and tortured Kurdish peasants and its own members in the 1980s. A number of Kurds have been abducted and killed because they were suspected of being "collaborators" or "informers" and it was a common practice for the PKK to kill their whole families.[243]

According to a 1996 report by Amnesty International, "in January 1996 the [Turkish] government announced that the PKK had massacred 11 men near the remote village of Güçlükonak. Seven of the victims were members of the local village guard force".[244]

Abuses by the Turkish side[edit]

In response to the activities of the PKK, the Turkish government placed Southeastern Anatolia, where citizens of Kurdish descent are in the majority, under military rule. The Turkish Army and the Kurdish village guards loyal to it have abused Kurdish civilians, resulting in mass migrations to cities.[245] However martial law and military rule was lifted in the last provinces in 2002.

In 2006 it was stated by the former ambassador Rouleau that the continuing human rights abuses of ethnic Kurds is one of the main obstacles to Turkish membership of the E.U.[246]

Human Rights Watch notes that:

  • As Human Rights Watch has often reported and condemned, Turkish government forces have, during the conflict with the PKK, also committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and indiscriminate fire. We continue to demand that the Turkish government investigate and hold accountable those members of its security forces responsible for these violations. Nonetheless, under international law, the government abuses cannot under any circumstances be seen to justify or excuse those committed by Ocalan's PKK.[241]
  • The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a separatist group that espouses the use of violence for political ends, continues to wage guerrilla warfare in the southeast, frequently in violation of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. Instead of attempting to capture, question and indict people suspected of illegal activity, Turkish security forces killed suspects in house raids, thus acting as investigator, judge, jury and executioner. Police routinely asserted that such deaths occurred in shoot-outs between police and "terrorists." In many cases, eyewitnesses reported that no firing came from the attacked house or apartment. Reliable reports indicated that while the occupants of raided premises were shot and killed, no police were killed or wounded during the raids. This discrepancy suggests that the killings were summary, extrajudicial executions, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.[242]

According to an article printed in the November 2002 issue of the International Socialist, the monthly paper of the International Socialists, during the conflict the Turkish army killed and "disappeared" members of the PKK.[247]

In 1997, Amnesty International (AI) reported that, "'Disappearances' and extrajudicial executions have emerged as new and disturbing patterns of human rights violations ..." by the Turkish state.[248]

Turkish-Kurdish human right activists in Germany accused Turkey of Using Chemical Weapons against PKK. Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries investigated the authenticity of the photos and claimed that the photos were authentic. A forensics report released by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the allegations. Claudia Roth from Germany's Green Party demanded an explanation from the Turkish government.[186] The Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal commented on the issue. He said that he did not need to emphasize that the accusations were groundless. He added that Turkey signed to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, and Turkey did not possess chemical weapons.[249] Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction since 1997, and has passed all inspections required by such convention.[250]

See also[edit]


  • ^note The Turkey–PKK conflict is also known as the Kurdish conflict,[251][252][253][254][255][256] the Kurdish question,[257] the Kurdish insurgency,[258][259][260][261][262][263] the Kurdish rebellion,[264][265][266][267][268] the Kurdish–Turkish conflict,[269] or PKK-terrorism[64][270][271] as well as the latest Kurdish uprising[245] or as a civil war.[272][273][274][275][276]
  • ^note According to official figures, in the period during and after the coup, military agencies collected files on over 2 million people, 650,000 of which were detained, 230,000 of which were put on trial under martial law. Prosecutors demanded the death penalty against over 7 thousand of them, of which 517 were sentenced to death and fifty were actually hanged. Some 400,000 people were denied passports and 30,000 lost their jobs after the new regime classified them as dangerous. 14,000 people were stripped of their Turkish citizenship and 30,000 fled the country as asylum seekers after the coup. Aside from the fifty people that were hanged, some 366 people died under suspicious circumstances (classified as accidents at the time), 171 were tortured to death in prison, 43 were claimed to have committed suicide in prison and 16 were shot for attempting to escape.[277]
  • ^note According to an article published in Defence and Peace Economics by Prof. Mete Feridun of University of Greenwich titled "FIGHTING TERRORISM: ARE MILITARY MEASURES EFFECTIVE? EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE FROM TURKEY", military anti-terrorism measures alone are not sufficient to prevent PKK terrorism in Turkey [278]
  • ^note A recent article published in Applied Research in Quality of Life by Prof. Mete Feridun of University of Greenwich investigates the impact of education and poverty on terrorism in Turkey using econometric techniques.[279]


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