Kurdistan Freedom Falcons
|Kurdistan Freedom Falcons|
|Teyrêbazên Azadiya Kurdistan
Participant in the Kurdish–Turkish conflict
Flag of the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK)
|Active||29 July 2004 – present|
|Area of operations||Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran|
|Strength||A few dozen active members (2006)|
|Split from||PKK (claimed)|
|Battles and wars||Kurdish–Turkish conflict|
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (Kurdish: Teyrêbazên Azadiya Kurdistan, TAK, Turkish: Kürdistan Özgürlük Şahinleri) also known as the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks and the Kurdistan Liberation Hawks, is a Kurdish nationalist militant group in Turkey seeking an independent Kurdish state in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
The group presents itself as a break-away faction of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in open dissent with the PKK's readiness to compromise with the Turkish state. Analysts disagree on whether or not the two groups are in reality still linked.
The group first appeared in August 2004, just weeks after the PKK called off the 1999 truce, assuming responsibility for two hotel bombings in Istanbul which claimed two victims. Since then, TAK has followed a strategy of escalation, committing numerous violent bomb attacks throughout Turkey, with a focus on western and central Turkey, including tourist areas in Istanbul, Ankara, and southern Mediterranean resorts. TAK also claimed responsibility for the February 2016 Ankara bombing, which killed at least 28 people and the March 2016 Ankara bombing in the same city that killed another 37 people.
The TAK are seeking an independent Kurdish state that includes eastern and southeastern Turkey. The group has been violently opposed to the Turkish government’s policies towards its Kurdish people.
TAK first appeared in 2004. There is substantial debate on the origin, composition, and affiliations of the group. Some Turkish analysts claim that the group is either a small splinter of or an alias for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the most active Kurdish militant group. Others, however, suggest that the group may be totally independent of the PKK, or only loosely connected to it. PKK leaders deny having any control over the TAK. There are some indications that the TAK was founded by disgruntled or former members of the PKK. Though the TAK has not articulated a specific platform beyond enmity with the Turkish regime, it is likely the group at least supports the PKK's former goal of an independent Kurdistan.
Little is known about the internal structure of the TAK, and apparently not even the Turkish secret service MİT succeeded in elucidating the organization. An employee of the later banned Kurdish German news agency MHA told Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2005 that representatives of the TAK would always remain anonymous and short-spoken. The Freedom Falcons recruited a new generation of "frustrated young Kurds", raised in the slums of Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, after their parents had to flee their Kurdish villages in the 1990s. Other Kurdish observers saw the Freedom Falcons as a socially disrooted youth, a new urban guerilla born out of despair.
Relationship with the PKK
According to the Jamestown Foundation, TAK has been a rival to the PKK since 2006. From then on, the group's operations have been repeatedly at odds with Murat Karayılan's and other PKK leaders' repeated calls for a ceasefire followed by negotiations. However, Vera Eccarius-Kelly, a scholar of political science, has noted that there are no clear signs that indicate a struggle between the two groups, in contrast to previous murders of threats to the authority of PKK leadership by the PKK. According to her, whilst TAK repeatedly damaged the PKK's efforts to negotiate cease-fires with "unapproved" bombings, in a way that has been compared to the Real IRA in the Northern Ireland conflict, the fact that there is no such struggle may have two explanations: TAK may be operating outside the PKK's command structure, or it may be used by the PKK for "specific missions". TAK's origins however remain controversial. Some Turkish security analysts alleged that Bahoz Erdal may be the leader of TAK. Other analysts believe that the group was initially formed by PKK leaders in 2003, when it engaged in illegal demonstrations, roadblocks and occasional Molotov cocktails. TAK has since claimed to have split from the PKK, accusing it of being "passive". Since then, the PKK claimed none of TAK's actions most recently in December 2015, they criticized the PKK's "humanist character" as inept in the face of "the methods used by the existing Turkish state fascism."
Some experts say that TAK is financed and trained by the PKK; according to France24's correspondent in Turkey, "most" analysts share this view and whilst TAK is affiliated to the PKK, it enjoys some operational autonomy. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, an academic research centre specialising on terrorism, considers TAK the "special urban terrorism wing" of the PKK. According to the Guardian, "Turkish officials as well as some security analysts say TAK still acts as a militant front of the PKK". Business Insider has reported that "experts who follow Kurdish militants say the groups retain ties". Independent security analyst Metin Gürcan, writing for al-Monitor, described TAK as "a semi-autonomous, armed outfit that carries out attacks under the PKK umbrella", saying that while the PKK ideologically and financially supports TAK, it allows it to decide on the nature and timing of its attacks. Gürcan further wrote that the PKK uses proxies to carry out attacks in western Turkey so that its reputation for fighting ISIS is not tarnished. Aliza Marcus, an expert on the PKK, also expressed her skepticism of the claims of separation by saying "It would be the first time in the history of the PKK that they allow the existence of any other group representing the Kurds than themselves. In the 1990s, the PKK fought with rival Kurdish groups in Europe, it has killed dissidents within its own ranks. I see no reason why they would allow another group on the stage now." Newsweek and Al-Arabiya have also written that the group is linked to PKK.
Designation as a terrorist organisation
U.S. government considers the group a terrorist organization. as did the United Kingdom. However, the United Nations, China, India and Russia do not list the TAK as a terrorist organization.
Turkey regards the group as part of PKK and doesn't list it separately. The organization is not listed among the 12 active terrorist organizations in Turkey according to Counter-Terrorism and Operations Department of Directorate General for Security (Turkish police).
TAK has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks against businesses and government and legal institutions since 2004. Its earliest attacks were small, non-lethal bombings in public places which the group described as "warning actions." These warnings, however, had become deadly by the summer of 2005.
- 20 people were injured when a bomb exploded at Çeşme, a coastal resort town on July 10, 2005.
- Less than one week later, five people were killed and more than a dozen wounded when a bus was blown up in the seaside town of Kuşadası. This type of attack against a tourist target is perhaps the signature tactic of TAK. The group has targeted civilians to discourage tourism in Turkey by attacking targets such as hotels and ATMs. TAK claims to have no desire to kill foreigners, only that it wishes to cut off a key source of revenue for the Turkish government.
- In 2006 the groups attacks continued, including a failed plot to attack a bus carrying legal officials on April 12, 2006. Five of the group's members were arrested when the plot was broken up.
- The group also claimed responsibility for an April 5, 2006 attack on a district office of the Justice and Development Party in Istanbul.
- In March, one person was killed and thirteen injured when TAK detonated a bomb near a bus station in Istanbul.
- On August 28, 2006, The Kurdish Freedom Falcons attacked the resort area of Marmaris with three explosions, at least two of which bombs were hidden in garbage cans. In the resort city of Antalya, 20 were injured when another explosion went off and 3 were killed. A final bomb detonated in Turkey's largest city of Istanbul where more than 20 people were injured. A separate attack is claimed to have been stopped in the port city of İzmir when a raid turned up plastic explosives. The groups website states the rash of attacks are revenge for the imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, the figurehead for the armed Kurdish nationalist movement.
- On August 30, 2006, the town of Mersin was attacked via a bomb planted in a rubbish container on Inonu street, one person was injured. The bombing is believed to be linked to the recent attacks by TAK, however they have not claimed responsibility.
- In the July 2008 bombings, the deadliest attack against civilians in Turkey since 2003, two bombs hit a shopping mile in Güngören district of Istanbul.
- In June 2010, they blew up a military bus in Istanbul, killing four people including 3 soldiers and a 17-year-old girl. This was received by observers as a "resumption of guerrilla warfare" which "brings to a final end an unofficial truce between the PKK and the government, which last year launched an initiative giving Kurds greater civil rights."
- On October 31, 2010, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb on Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, killing the perpetrator and resulting in 32 injuries, 15 of whom were police officers. The bombing is believed to be linked to TAK, however they have not claimed responsibility.
- September 20, 2011 3 people died and 34 people were injured in a bomb attack in Ankara. Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed the attack.
- On December 23, 2015 Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen International Airport was hit by mortar fire from the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons.
- On February 17, 2016, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons attacked military buses in Ankara killing 28 Turkish military personnel and 1 civilian. The group claimed responsibility two days later, on 19 of February.
- On March 13, 2016, a car bombing in the Kizilay district of Ankara killed 37 and injured more than 120 others. TAK claimed responsibility for the attack on March 17.
- On April 27, 2016, a suicide bomber blew herself up in the northwestern city of Bursa leaving thirteen people wounded. TAK claimed responsibility for the Bursa attack on May 1, 2016.
- On June 7, 2016, a bomb targeting a police bus in Istanbul detonated, killing seven police officers and four civilians. TAK claimed responsibility for the bomb, warning tourists that Turkey wouldn't be a safe destination any longer.
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