Kurdistan Workers' Party
|Leaders||Abdullah Öcalan (POW) |
|Paramilitary wings|| People's Defence Forces (HPG)|
Free Women's Units (YJA-STAR)
Civil Defense Units (YPS)
|National affiliation||Peoples' United Revolutionary Movement (HBDH)|
|International affiliation||Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK)|
|Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)|
|Active regions||Throughout Greater Kurdistan (Kurdish-majority regions in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.)|
|Size||5,000 (estimate)[note 1]|
|Battles and wars||Kurdish-Turkish conflict|
Iraqi Kurdish Civil War
Syrian Civil War
2017 Iraqi-Kurdish conflict
1982 Lebanon War
The Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK (Kurmanji Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê)[a] is a Kurdish militant political organization and armed guerrilla movement, which has historically operated throughout Greater Kurdistan, but is now primarily based in the mountainous Kurdish-majority regions of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Since 1984, the PKK has utilized asymmetric warfare in the Kurdish–Turkish conflict (with ceasefires between 1999–2004 and 2013–2015). Although the PKK once sought an independent Kurdish state, in the 1990s its aims shifted toward autonomy and increased rights for Kurds within Turkey.
The PKK was founded in November 1978 in the village of Fis (near Lice), by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan was elected the General Secretary and Kemal Pir, Cemîl Bayik, and Mazlum Doğan were part of the Central Committee. It announced its existence the following year. The PKK's ideology was originally a fusion of revolutionary socialism and Marxism-Leninism with Kurdish nationalism, seeking the foundation of an independent communist Kurdistan. The initial reasons given by the PKK for this were the oppression of Kurds in Turkey and under capitalism. At this time, the use of the Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned by the Turkish state, including the words "Kurds" and "Kurdistan". Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited in public and private life. Many who spoke, published, or sang in Kurdish were arrested and imprisoned. The PKK was formed as part of a growing discontent over the suppression of Turkey's Kurds, in an effort to establish linguistic, cultural, and political rights for the Kurdish minority.
The PKK has been involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces since its foundation, but the full-scale insurgency did not begin until 15 August 1984, when the PKK announced a Kurdish uprising. Since the conflict began, more than 40,000 people have died, most of whom were Kurdish civilians. In 1999, PKK leader Öcalan was captured and imprisoned. In May 2007, serving and former members of the PKK set up the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organisation of Kurdish organisations in Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian, and Syrian Kurdistan. In 2013, the PKK declared a ceasefire and began slowly withdrawing its fighters to Iraqi Kurdistan as part of a peace process with the Turkish state. The ceasefire broke down in July 2015. In March 2016, the PKK joined the Peoples' United Revolutionary Movement, an alliance with the aim of overthrowing the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Both the PKK and the Turkish state have been accused of engaging in terror tactics and targeting civilians. The PKK has historically bombed city centres, while Turkey has depopulated and burned down thousands of Kurdish villages and massacred Kurds in an attempt to root out PKK militants. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, the EU, Japan, Australia, and other countries; however, the labeling of the PKK as a terrorist organization is controversial, as many analysts and organizations contend that the PKK does not engage in organized terrorist activities, or systemically target civilians. Although the EU Court of Justice ruled in 2008 and 2018 that the PKK was classified as a terror organization with a lack of due process, the EU still classifies the PKK as a terror organization. In 2020, the supreme court of Belgium ruled that the PKK was not a terrorist organization, instead labeling the group as an actor in an internal armed conflict.
In the early 1970s, the organization's core group was made up largely of students led by Abdullah Öcalan ("Apo") in Ankara. At this time, expressions of Kurdish culture, including the use of the Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names, were banned in Turkey. In an attempt to deny their separate existence from Turkish people, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as "Mountain Turks" until 1991. Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited in public and private life. Many who spoke, published, or sang in Kurdish were arrested and imprisoned. The PKK was then formed, as part of a growing discontent over the suppression of Kurds in Turkey, in an effort to establish linguistic, cultural, and political rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority. The new group focused on the large oppressed Kurdish population in Turkish Kurdistan. Espousing a Marxist ideology, the group engaged in violent conflicts with right-wing Turkish nationalist groups during the political violence of the 1970s.
Following several years of preparation, the Kurdistan Workers Party was established during a foundation congress on 26 and 27 November 1978 in a rural village called Fis in Kurdish and Ziyaret in Turkish. On 27 November 1978, a central committee consisting of seven people was elected, with Abdullah Öcalan as its head. Other members were: Şahin Dönmez, Mazlûm Dogan, Baki Karer, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Mehmet Karasungur, Cemil Bayık. Initially the PKK concealed its existence and to the general public only announced its existence in a propaganda stunt as they attempted to assassinate a politician of the Justice Party, Mehmet Celal Bucak, in July 1979. Bucak was a Kurdish tribal leader accused by the PKK of exploiting peasants and collaborating with the Turkish state to oppress Kurds.
During the 1970s, the PKK was involved in urban warfare. PKK tactics were based on ambush, sabotage, riots, protests, and demonstrations against the Turkish government. During these years, the PKK also fought a turf war against Kurdish and Turkish radical Islamist organisations in Turkey. Turkish newspapers said that the PKK effectively used the prison force to appeal to the general population, which the PKK has denied. In Turkey, this period was characterized by violent clashes that culminated in the 1980 military coup.
The 1980 Turkish coup d'état saw the PKK to another stage, with members being executed, doing jail time, or fleeing to Syria, where they were allowed to establish bases by Hafez al-Assad. On 10 November 1980, the PKK bombed the Turkish consulate in Strasbourg, France, in a joint operation with the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, which they described as the beginning of a "fruitful collaboration" in a statement claiming responsibility. Besides, Öcalan managed to compel Qais Abd al Karim, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), to support the military training of PKK militants in Lebanon. In the early 1980s, some 300 PKK militants were provided with education in Guerilla warfare. With time, similar agreements were met with the Fatah of Yassir Arafat or the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) of Samir Ghawshah. An alliance was also reached with Masoud Barzani's KDP, who permitted the PKK to operate in the valleys of the Lolan region in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the borders to Iran and Turkey.
From 1984, the PKK became a paramilitary group with training at camps in Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon and France. The PKK received significant support from the Syrian government, which allowed it to maintain headquarters in Damascus, as well as some support from the governments of Iran, Iraq, and Libya. It began to launch attacks and bombings against Turkish governmental installations, the military, and various institutions of the state. The organization focused on attacks against Turkish military targets, although civilian targets were also hit.
In the second phase, which followed the return of civilian rule in 1983, escalating attacks were made on the government's military and vital institutions all over the country. The objective was to destabilize the Turkish authority through a long, low-intensity confrontation. The establishment of the Kurdistan Liberation Force (Hêzên Rizgariya Kurdistan - HRK) was announced on 15 August 1984. In addition to skirmishing with Turkish military, police forces and local village guards, the PKK has conducted bomb attacks on government and police installations. Kidnapping and assassination against government and military officials and Kurdish tribal leaders who were named as puppets of the state were performed as well. Widespread sabotages were continued from the first stage. Turkish sources had also stated that the PKK carried out kidnappings of tourists, primarily in Istanbul, but also at different resorts. However, the PKK had in its history arrested 4 tourists and released them all after warning them to not enter the war zone. The vast majority of PKK's actions have taken place mainly in Turkey against the Turkish military, although it has on occasions co-operated with other Kurdish nationalist paramilitary groups in neighboring states, such as Iraq and Iran. The PKK has also attacked Turkish diplomatic and commercial facilities across Western Europe in the late 1980s. In effect, the Turkish state has led a series of counter-insurgency operations against the PKK, accompanied by political measures, starting with an explicit denunciation of separatism in the 1982 Constitution, and including proclamation of the state of emergency in various PKK-controlled territories starting in 1983 (when the military relinquished political control to the civilians). This series of administrative reforms against terrorism included in 1985 the creation of village guard system by the then prime minister Turgut Özal.
At the Third Party Congress in October 1986, the Peoples Liberation Army of Kurdistan (Artêşa Rizgariye Gelê Kurdistan -ARGK) was founded and succeeded the HRK.
From the mid-1990s, the organization began to lose the upper hand in its operations as a consequence of a change of tactics by Turkey and Syria's steady abandonment of support for the group. The group also had lost its support from Saddam Hussein. As during the international operation Poised Hammer the collaboration between Barzani and Turkey embittered, the situation for the PKK became even more difficult, with Barzani condemning terrorist attacks by the PKK during a Newroz festival. At the same time, the Turkish government started to use more violent methods to counter Kurdish militants. From 1996 to 1999, the organization began to use suicide bombers, VBIED, and ambush attacks against military and police bases. The role of suicide bombers, especially female ones were encouraged and mythologised by giving them the status of a "goddess of freedom", and shown as role models for other women after their death. On 30 July 1996, Zeynep Kınacı, a female PKK fighter, carried out the organization's first suicide attack, killing 8 soldiers and injuring 29 others. The attacks against the civilians, especially the Kurdish citizens who refused to cooperate with them were also reported at the same years. On 20 January 1999, a report published by HRW, stated that the PKK was reported to have been responsible for more than 768 executions. The organization had also reportedly committed 25 massacres, killing more than 300 people. More than a hundred victims were children and women.
In March 1993 Öcalan, in presence of PUK leader Jalal Talabani declared a unilateral ceasefire for a month in order to facilitate peace negotiations with Turkey. At an other press conference which took place on 16 April 1993 in Bar Elias, Lebanon, the ceasefire was prolonged indefinitely. To this event, the Kurdish politicians Jamal Talabani, Ahmet Türk from the People's Labor Party (HEP) and also Kemal Burkay also attended and declared their support for the ceasefire. The ceasefire ended after the Turkish army killed 13 PKK members in Kulp, Diyarbakir province in May 1993.
The fighting and violence augmented significantly following the presidential elections of June 1993 after which Tansu Çiller was elected prime minister. In December 1995 the PKK announced another unilateral ceasefire to give a new Government an opportunity to articulate a more peaceful approach towards the conflict. The government elected in December 1995 did not initiate negotiations and kept on evacuating Kurdish populated villages. Despite the violent approach of the Government to the ceasefire, it was upheld by the PKK until August 1996. Turkey was involved in serious human rights violations during the 1990s. The ECHR has condemned Turkey for executions of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacements and massive arrests.
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 and Turkish civilians who were against them, focusing instead on government and military targets. In its campaign, the organization has been criticized 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. Similar actions of the Turkish state have also been criticized by these same groups. In 1998 Turkey increased the pressure on Syria and ended its support for the PKK. The leader of the organization, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured, prosecuted and sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life imprisonment as part of the government's seeking European Union membership.
The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for human rights abuses during the conflict. Some judgements are related to executions of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacements, destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists, activists and politicians. As a result of increasing Kurdish population and activism, the Turkish parliament began a controlled process of dismantling some anti-Kurdish legislation, using the term "normalization" or "rapprochement," depending on the sides of the issue. It partially relaxed the bans on broadcasting and publishing in the Kurdish language, although significant barriers remain. At the same time, the PKK was blacklisted in many countries. On 2 April 2004, the Council of the European Union added the PKK to its list of terrorist organizations. Later that year, the US Treasury moved to freeze assets of branches of the organization. The PKK went through a series of changes, and in 2003 it ended the unilateral truce declared when Öcalan was captured.
Cease fire 1999–2004
The third phase (1999–2012), after the capture of Öcalan, PKK reorganized itself and new leaders were chosen by its members. The organization made radical changes to survive, such as changing its ideology and setting new goals. During the 7th Party congress in January 2000, the former military wing the Peoples Liberation Army of Kurdistan (Arteşa Rizgariya Gêle Kurdistan -ARGK) was succeeded by the People's Defense Forces (Hezen Parastine Gêl - HPG) and also declared that it wanted to aim for a democratic solution for the conflict. At the same time, the PKK continued to recruit new members and sustain its fighting force.
According to Paul White, in April 2002, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) and proclaimed a commitment to nonviolent activities. A PKK/KADEK spokesman stated that its armed wing, the HPG, would not disband or surrender its weapons for reasons of self-defense. This statement by the PKK/KADEK avowing it would not lay down its arms underscores that the organization maintained its capability to carry out armed operations. PKK/KADEK established a new ruling council in April, its membership virtually identical to the PKK's Presidential Council. The PKK/KADEK did not conduct an armed attack in 2002; however, the group periodically issued veiled threats that it will resume violence if the conditions of its imprisoned leader are not improved and its forces are attacked by Turkish military, and it continued its military training like before.
In November 2003, another congress was held which lead to renaming itself as the People's Congress of Kurdistan or Kongra-Gel (KGK). The stated purpose of the organizational change was to leave behind nationalistic and state-building goals, in favor of creating a political structure to work within the existing nation-states. Through further internal conflict during this period, it is reported that 1500 militants left the organization, along with many of the leading reformists, including Nizamettin Taş and Abdullah Öcalan's younger brother Osman Öcalan.
Second insurgency 2004–2006
Kongra-Gel called off the cease-fire at the start of June 2004, saying Turkish security forces had refused to respect the truce. Turkish security forces were increasingly involved in clashes with Kurdish separatist fighters. Ankara stated that about 2,000 Kurdish fighters had crossed into Turkey from hideouts in mountainous northern Iraq in early June 2004.
While the fight against the Turkish security forces between 2004 and 2010 continued, the PKK and its ancillary organizations continued to enjoy substantial support among the Kurds of Turkey. In 2005, the original name of the organization PKK was restored, while the Kongra-Gel became the legislature of the Koma Komalên Kurdistan. Turkey's struggle against the Kongra-Gel/PKK was marked by increased clashes across Turkey in 2005. In the Southeast, Turkish security forces were active in the struggle against the Kongra-Gel/PKK. There were bombings and attempted bombings in resort areas in western Turkey and Istanbul, some of which resulted in civilian casualties. A radical Kurdish separatist group calling itself the Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for many of these attacks. The TAK is a rival to PKK that since 2006 repeatedly damaged the PKK's efforts to negotiate cease-fires and unlike the PKK, is seeking to establish independent Kurdistan. In 2006 alone, the PKK claimed over 500 victims. On 1 October 2006, the PKK reportedly declared a unilateral cease-fire that slowed the intensity and pace of its attacks, but attacks continued in response to Turkish security forces significant counterinsurgency operations, especially in the southeast.
Cease-fire and renewed conflict
On 13 April 2009, the PKK declared a cease fire after the DTP won 99 municipalities and negotiations were spoken about. The AKP first spoke of the "Kurdish Opening", then it was renamed in the "Democratic Opening" to appease nationalist interests and then the "National Unity Project."
2012 was the most violent year in the armed conflict between the Turkish State and PKK since 1999. At least 541 individuals lost their lives as a result of the clashes including 316 militants and 282 soldiers. In contrast, 152 individuals lost their lives in 2009 until the Turkish government initiated negotiations with the PKK leadership. The failure of this negotiations contributed to violence that were particularly intensified in 2012. The PKK encouraged by the rising power of the Syrian Kurds increased its attacks in the same year.
During the Syrian Civil War, the Kurds in Syria have established control over their own region with the help of the PKK as well as with support from the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, under President Masoud Barzani.
2013–15 Peace process
In late 2012, the Turkish government began secret talks with Öcalan for a ceasefire. To facilitate talks, government officials transmitted letters between Öcalan in jail to PKK leaders in northern Iraq. On 21 March 2013, a ceasefire was announced. On 25 April, it was announced that the PKK would leave Turkey. Commander Murat Karayılan remarked "As part of ongoing preparations, the withdrawal will begin on May 8, 2013. Our forces will use their right to retaliate in the event of an attack, operation or bombing against our withdrawing guerrilla forces and the withdrawal will immediately stop." The semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq welcomed the idea of refugees from its northern neighbor. The BDP held meetings across the region to state the pending withdrawal to concerned citizens. "The 8th of May is a day we both anticipate and fear," said party leader Pinar Yilmaz. "We don't trust the government at all. Many people here are afraid that once the guerrillas are gone, the Turkish military will crack down on us again."
The withdrawal began as planned with groups of fighters crossing the border from southeastern Turkey to northern Iraq. Iraqi leadership in Baghdad, however, declared that it would not accept armed groups into its territory. "The Iraqi government welcomes any political and peaceful settlement", read an official statement. "[But] it does not accept the entry of armed groups to its territories that can be used to harm Iraq's security and stability." The prospect of armed Kurdish forces in northern Iraq threatens to increase tensions between the region and Baghdad who are already at odds over certain oil producing territory. PKK spokesman Ahmet Deniz sought to ease concerns stating the plan would boost democracy. "The [peace] process is not aimed against anyone," he said "and there is no need for concerns that the struggle will take on another format and pose a threat to others."
It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 PKK fighters resided in Turkey at the time. The withdrawal process was expected to take several months even if Iraq does not intervene to try to stop it. On 14 May 2013, the first groups of 13 male and female fighters entered Iraq's Heror area near the Metina mountain after leaving Turkey. They carried with them Kalashnikov assault rifles, light machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers before a welcoming ceremony.
On 29 July 2013, the PKK issued an ultimatum in saying that the peace deal would fail if reforms were not begun to be implemented within a month. In October, Cemil Bayik warned that unless Turkey resumed the peace process, the PKK would resume operations to defend itself against it. He also criticized Turkey of waging a proxy war against Kurds during the Syrian Civil War by supporting other extremist rebels who were fighting them.
Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani backed the initiative saying, alongside Erdogan: "This is a historic visit for me ... We all know it would have been impossible to speak here 15 or 20 years ago. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken a very brave step towards peace. I want my Kurdish and Turkish brothers to support the peace process."
2014 action against Islamic State and renewed tensions in Turkey
The PKK engaged the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces in Syria in mid-July 2014 as part of the Syrian Civil War. In August the PKK engaged IS in Northern Iraq and pressured the Government of Turkey to take a stand against IS. PKK forces helped tens of thousands of Yazidis escape an encircled Mount Sinjar. In September 2014, during the Siege of Kobanî, some PKK fighters engaged with Islamic State forces in Syria who were attacking Kurdish city Kobane, which resulted in conflicts with Turks on the border and an end to a cease-fire that had been in place over a year. The PKK said Turkey was supporting ISIS. The PKK participated in many offensives against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
A number of Turkish Kurds rallied in large-scale street protests, demanding that the government in Ankara take more forceful action to combat IS and to enable Kurdish militants already engaged against IS to more freely move and resupply. These protests included a PKK call for its supporters to turn out. Clashes between police and protesters killed at least 31 people. The Turkish government continued to restrict PKK-associated fighters' movement across its borders, arresting 260 People's Protection Units fighters who were moving back into Turkey. On 14 October, Turkish Air Force fighter-bombers attacked PKK positions in the vicinity of Daglica, Hakkari Province.
Turkish military statements stated that the bombings were in response to PKK attacks on a Turkish military outpost in the area. The Firat news agency, which Al Jazeera describes as "close to the PKK", stated that Turkish forces had been shelling the PKK positions for days beforehand and that the PKK action had itself been retaliation for those artillery strikes. The PKK had already reported several Turkish attacks against their troops months before Turkish bombing started.
July 2015–present: Third insurgency
This section needs to be updated.(January 2021)
In the months before the parliamentary election of 2015, as the "Kurdish-focused" HDP's likelihood of crossing the 10% threshold for entry into the government seemed more likely, Erdogan gave speeches and made comments that repudiated the settlement process and the existence of a Kurdish problem and refusing to recognize the HDP as having any role to play despite their long participation as intermediaries. These announcements increased distrust of the government's good faith among Kurdish leaders. In July 2015, Turkey finally became involved in the war against ISIL. While they were doing so, they decided to bomb PKK targets in Iraq. The bombings came a few days after PKK was suspected of assassinating two Turkish police officers in Ceylanpınar, Şanlıurfa, criticized by the PKK of having links with ISIS after the 2015 Suruç bombing. The PKK has blamed Turkey for breaking the truce by bombing the PKK in 2014 and 2015 continuously.
In August 2015, the PKK announced that they would accept another ceasefire with Turkey only under US guarantees. PKK announced a one-sided ceasefire in October 2015 near election time, but the government refused. The leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan has condemned the Turkish airstrikes in its autonomous region in the north of Iraq.
The number of casualties since 23 July was stated by Turkish government to be 150 Turkish officers and over 2,000 Kurdish rebels killed (by September). In December 2015, Turkish military operation in southeastern Turkey has killed hundreds of civilians, displaced hundreds of thousands and caused massive destruction in residential areas.
In March 2016, the PKK helped to launch the Peoples' United Revolutionary Movement with nine other Kurdish and Turkish revolutionary leftist, socialist and communist groups (including the TKP/ML, THKP-C/MLSPB, MKP, TKEP/L, TİKB, DKP, DK and MLKP) with the aim of overthrowing the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The organization originated in the 1970s from the radical left and drew its membership from other existing leftist groups, mainly Dev-Genç.: 127 During the 1980s, the movement included and cooperated with other ethnic groups, including ethnic Turks, who were following the radical left.: 127 : 129 The organization initially presented itself as part of the worldwide communist revolution. Its aims and objectives have evolved over time towards the goal of national autonomy, and democratic confederalism.
Around 1995, the PKK ostensibly changed its aim from independence to a demand for equal rights and Kurdish autonomy within the Turkish state, though all the while hardly suspending their military attacks on the Turkish state except for ceasefires in 1999–2004 and 2013–2015. In 1995, Öcalan said: "We are not insisting on a separate state under any condition. What we are calling for very openly is a state model where a people's basic economic, cultural, social, and political rights are guaranteed".
Whilst this shift in the mid-nineties has been interpreted as one from a call for independence to an autonomous republic, some scholars have concluded that the PKK still maintains independence as the ultimate goal, but through society-building rather than state-building.
The organization has adapted the new Democratic confederalist views of its arrested leader, which aim to replace the United Nations, Capitalism and Nation State with the Democratic Confederalism which is described as a system of popularly elected administrative councils, allowing local communities to exercise autonomous control over their assets while linking to other communities via a network of confederal councils. Followers of Öcalan and members of the PKK are known, after his honorary name, as Apocu (Apo-ites) under his movement, Apoculuk (Apoism).
The PKK has multiple heads in various countries, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, and West European countries. However, Abdullah Öcalan was the unchallenged leader of the organization. After the capture of Öcalan, authorities induced him to publicly plead for a ceasefire. Though serving life imprisonment, Öcalan is still considered the honorary leader and figurehead of the organization.
Murat Karayılan led the organization from 1999 to 2013. In 2013 Cemil Bayik and Besê Hozat assumed as the first joint leadership. Cemil Bayik, beside Abdullah Öcalan, Kesire Yildirim Öcalan and Haki Karer was one of the core leaders. 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 solidarity among Kurds from all parts of Kurdistan.
In 1985, the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (Kurdish: Eniye Rizgariye Navata Kurdistan, ERNK) was established by the PKK as its popular front wing, with the role of both creating propaganda for the party, and as an umbrella organization for PKK organizations in different segments of the Kurdish population, such as the peasantry, workers, youth, and women. It was dissolved in 1999, after the capture of Abdullah Öcalan.
The PKK has an armed wing, originally formed in 1984 as the Kurdistan Freedom Brigades (Kurmanji Kurdish: Hêzên Rizgariya Kurdistan, HRK), renamed to the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (Kurmanji Kurdish: Arteşa Rizgariya Gelî Kurdistan, ARGK) in 1986, and again renamed to the People's Defense Forces (Kurmanji Kurdish: Hêzên Parastina Gel, HPG) in 1999.
Women's armed wing
The Free Women's Units of Star (Kurmanji Kurdish: Yekîneyên Jinên Azad ên Star, YJA-STAR) was established in 2004 as the women's armed wing of the PKK, emphasizing the issue of women's liberation.
The Civil Protections Units (YPS) is the successor of the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the youth wing of the PKK. In February 2016 ANF reported the establishment of the women's branch of the YPS, the YPS-Jin.
The first training camps were established in 1982 in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and also in Beqaa Valley with the support of the Syrian government. After the Iran-Iraq war and the Kurdish civil war, the PKK moved all its camps to Northern Iraq in 1998. The PKK had also completely moved to Qandil Mountains from Beqaa Valley, under intensive pressure, after Syria expelled Öcalan and shut down all camps established in the region. At the time, Northern Iraq was experiencing a vacuum of control after the Gulf War-related Operation Provide Comfort. Instead of a single training camp that could be easily destroyed, the organization created many small camps. During this period the organization set up a fully functioning enclave with training camps, storage facilities, and reconnaissance and communications centers.
In 2007, the organization was reported to have camps strung out through the mountains that straddle the border between Turkey and Iraq, including in Sinaht, Haftanin, Kanimasi and Zap. The organization developed two types of camps. The mountain camps, located in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, are used as forward bases from which militants carry out attacks against Turkish military bases. The units deployed there are highly mobile and the camps have only minimal infrastructure. The other permanent camps, in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq, have more developed infrastructure—including a field hospital, electricity generators and a large proportion of the PKK's lethal and non-lethal supplies. The organization is also using the Qandil mountain camps for its political activities.
It was reported in 2004 that there was another political training camp in Belgium, evidence that the organization had used training camps in Europe for political and ideological training.
In 1983, the Association of Artists (Hunerkom) was established in Germany under the lead of the Music group Koma Berxwedan. Its activities spread over Kurdish community centers in France, Germany and the Netherlands. In 1994 the Hunerkom was renamed into the Kurdish Academy of Culture and Arts'. Koma Berxwedans songs, which often were about the PKK resistance, were forbidden in Turkey and had to be smuggled over the border.
At the beginning the movement distributed propaganda in the region and tried to gain the support of the Kurdish population for the PKK. PKK tactics were based on ambush, sabotage, riots, protests, and demonstrations against the Turkish government. During these years, the PKK also fought a turf war against other radical Islamist Kurdish and Turkish organisations in Turkey. Turkish newspapers said that the PKK effectively used the prison force to gain appeal among the population which PKK has denied. In the whole Turkey, this period was characterized by violent clashes which culminated in the 1980 military coup.
The organization had sympathizer parties in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey beginning in the early 1990s. The establishment of direct links to the organization has been a question. In sequence HEP/DEP/HADEP/DEHAP/DTP and the BDP, which later changed its name to Democratic Regions Party (DBP) on 11 July 2014, as well as the HDP have been criticized of sympathizing with the PKK, since they have refused to brand it as a terrorist group.
Political organizations established in Turkey are banned from propagating or supporting separatism. Several political parties supporting Kurdish rights have been reportedly banned on this pretext. The constitutional court stated to find direct links between the HEP/DEP/HADEP and the PKK. In 2008 the DTP-party was prosecuted by the constitutional court. It is reported that Turkey has used the PKK as an excuse to close Kurdish political parties.
Turkish-Kurdish politician and conspiracist Abdülmelik Fırat had stated the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was founded by the PKK, and that 80 percent of Kurds do not vote for this party. Senior DTP leaders maintain that they support a unified Turkey within a democratic framework. In May 2007, the co-president of DTP Aysel Tuğluk, published an article in Radikal in support of this policy.
Several parliamentarians and other elected representatives have been jailed for speaking in Kurdish, carrying Kurdish colors or otherwise allegedly "promoting separatism", most famous among them being Leyla Zana. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for arresting and executing Kurdish writers, journalists and politicians in numerous occasions. Between 1990 and 2006 Turkey was condemned to pay 33 million euros in damages in 567 cases. The majority of the cases were related to events that took place in southeastern Anatolia In Iraq the political party Tevgera Azadî is said to have close to the PKK.
Şamil Tayyar, author and member of the ruling AK Party, said that Öcalan was released in 1972 after just three months' detention on the initiative of the National Intelligence Organization (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT), and that his 1979 escape to Syria was aided by elements in MİT. Öcalan has admitted making use of money given by the MIT to the PKK, which he says was provided as part of MIT efforts to control him.
Former police special forces member Ayhan Çarkın said that the state, using the clandestine Ergenekon network, colluded with militant groups such as the PKK, Dev-Sol and Turkish Hezbollah, with the goal of profiting from the war.
According to official figures, it was stated that nearly 2000 PKK members became itirafçı ("confessors") after their arrest. Some were persuaded or coerced to play an active role in the conflict, particularly under the direction of the Turkish Gendarmerie's unofficial JİTEM unit.
Status in Turkey
In Turkey, anything which could be perceived as a support of the PKK is deemed unsuitable to be shown to the public. In January 2016, the Academics for Peace who signed a declaration in support of peace in the Kurdish Turkish conflict were labbelled and prosecuted for "spreading terrorist propaganda" on behalf of the PKK. In November 2020, a playground for children in Istanbul was dismantled after the municipality decided its design was too much resembling the symbol of the PKK. Politicians of pro-Kurdish like the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) or the HDP were often prosecuted and sentenced to prison term for their alleged support of the PKK. The possession of Devran, a book authored by the political prisoner Selahattin Demirtaş, was viewed as an evidence for a membership in a terrorist organization in 2019 because according to the prosecution it described events involving the PKK.
During this time, the organization said that its violent actions against the government forces were used by "the need to defend Kurds in the context of what it calls 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".
The areas in which the group operates are generally mountainous rural areas and dense urban areas. The mountainous terrain offers an advantage to members of the PKK by allowing them to hide in a network of caves.
The PKK has faced condemnation by some countries and human rights organizations for the killing of teachers and civil servants, using suicide bombers, and recruiting child soldiers. According to the TEPAV, an Ankara-based think tank, a survey conducted using data from 1,362 PKK fighters who lost their lives between 2001 and 2011 estimated that 42% of the militants were recruited under 18, with roughly 9% under 15 at the time of recruitment. The PKK claims that it has complied with Geneva Conventions since 1995 and stated in 2013 that it would end recruitment of children under 16 as well as keep 16-18 year olds away from combat. However, Human Rights Watch stated they have documented 29 cases of children being recruited into the HPG (the PKK's armed wing) and the YBŞ since 2013. Some children were recruited under the age of 15, constituting a war crime according to international law.
Since its foundation, the PKK has recruited new fighters mainly from Turkey, but also from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Western countries using various recruitment methods, such as using nationalist propaganda and its gender equality ideology. At its establishment, it included a small number of female fighters but over time the number increased significantly and by the early 1990s, 30 percent of its 17,000 armed fighting forces were women. By 2020, 40% of the fighting force were women. In much of rural Turkey, where male-dominated tribal structures, and conservative Muslim norms were commonplace, the organization increased its number of members through the recruitment of women from different social structures and environments, also from families that migrated to several European countries after 1960 as guest workers. It was reported by a Turkish university that 88% of the subjects initially reported that equality was a key objective, and that they joined the organization based on this statement. In 2007, approximately 1,100 of 4,500–5,000 total members were women.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, the PKK shall have recruited young women by abducting them. While in 1989 the PKKs armed wing issued a so-called "Compulsory Military Service Law", the PKK had to temporarily suspend recruitment several times since the early 1990s, as the PKK had difficulties to provide training to the large number of volunteers, which wanted to join their ranks.
In July 2007, the weapons captured between 1984 and 2007 from the PKK operatives and their origins published by the Turkish General Staff indicates that the operatives erased some of the serial numbers from their weapons. The total number of weapons and the origins for traceable ones were:
|The choice and 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[note 2]||5,713 (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.|
|Pistols||2,885 (2,208 traceable)||21.9% from Czechoslovakia, 20.2% from Spain, 19.8% from Italy|
|Grenades||3,490 (136 traceable)||72% from Russia, 19.8% from United States, 8% from Germany,|
|Land mines||11,568 (8,015 traceable)||60.8% from Italy, 28.3% from Russia, 6.2% from Germany|
Turkish authorities stated that four members of the organization, who handed themselves over to authorities after escaping from camps in northern Iraq, said they had seen two U.S. armored vehicles deliver weapons, which was widely reported and further stoked suspicions about U.S. policy in Iraq. The US envoy denied these statements. The arms were said to be part of the Blackwater Worldwide arms smuggling reports. The probe of organization's weapons and the investigation of Blackwater employees were connected. The PKK also denied these statements.
Parties and concerts are organized by branch groups. Additionally, it is reported that the PKK earns money through the sale of various publications, as well as receiving revenues from legitimate businesses owned by the organization, and from Kurdish-owned businesses in Turkey, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Western Europe. Besides affiliate organizations, it is stated that there are sympathizer organizations such as the Confederation of Kurdish Associations in Europe and the International Kurdish Businessmen Union which constantly exchanges information and perform legitimate commercial activities and donations.
According to the European Police Office (EUROPOL), the organization collects money from its members, using labels like ‘donations’ and ‘membership fees’ which are seen as a fact extortion and illegal taxation by the authorities. There are also indications that the organization is actively involving in money laundering, illicit drugs and human trafficking, as well as illegal immigration inside and outside the EU for funding and running its activities.
Alleged involvement in drug trafficking
PKK's involvement in drug trafficking has been documented since the 1990s. A report by Interpol published in 1992 states that the PKK, along with nearly 178 Kurdish organizations were suspected of illegal drug trade involvement. The British National Criminal Intelligence Service determined that the PKK obtained $75 million from drug smuggling in Europe in 1993 alone. Members of the PKK have been designated narcotics traffickers by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic security agency, echoed this report in its 2011 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution, stating that despite the U.S Department of Treasury designation, there was "no evidence that the organizational structures of the PKK are directly involved in drug trafficking".
On 14 October 2009, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) targeted the senior leadership of the PKK, designating Murat Karayılan, the head of the PKK, and high-ranking members Ali Riza Altun and Zübeyir Aydar as foreign narcotics traffickers at the request of Turkey. On 20 April 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of PKK founders Cemîl Bayik and Duran Kalkan and other high-ranking members as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers (SDNT) pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act). Pursuant to the Kingpin Act, the designation freezes any assets the designees may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these individuals. On 1 January 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the designation of Moldovan-based individuals Zeyneddin Geleri, Cerkez Akbulut, and Omer Boztepe as specially designated narcotics traffickers for drug trafficking on behalf of the PKK in Europe. According to the OFAC, Zeynedding Geleri was identified as a high-ranking member of the PKK while two others were activists. The OFAC stated that the drug trafficking is still one of the organization's criminal activities it uses to obtain weapons and materials.
According to research conducted by journalist Aliza Marcus, the PKK accepted the support of smugglers in the region. Aliza Marcus stated that some of those Kurdish smugglers who were involved in the drug trade, either because they truly believed in the PKK—or because they thought it a good business practice (avoid conflicts)—frequently donated money to the PKK rebels. However, according to Aliza Marcus, it does not seem that the PKK, as an organization, directly produced or traded in narcotics.
In 2008, according to information provided by the Intelligence Resource Program of the Federation of American Scientists the strength of the organization in terms of human resources consists of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 militants of whom 3,000 to 3,500 are located in northern Iraq. With the new wave of fighting from 2015 onwards, observers said that active support for the PKK had become a "mass phenomenon" in majority ethnic Kurdish cities in the Southeast of the Republic of Turkey, with large numbers of local youth joining PKK-affiliated local militant groups.
At the height of its campaign, it is alleged that the organization received support from a range of countries. According to Turkey, those countries the PKK previously or currently received support from include: Greece, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria. The level of support given has changed throughout this period. Official Turkish sources also report cooperation between the PKK and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA).
- According to Ali Külebi, president of an Ankara-based nationalist think tank TUSAM, "It is obvious that the PKK is supported by Greece, considering the PKK's historical development with major support from Greece." Külebi said in 2007 that PKK militants received training at a base in Lavrion, near Athens. Retired Greek L.T. General Dimitris Matafias and retired Greek Navy Admiral Antonis Naxakis had visited the organization's Mahsun Korkmaz base camp in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley in October 1988 along with parliamentarians from the center-left PASOK. At the time it was reported that the general had assumed responsibility for training. Greeks also dispatched arms through the Republic of Cyprus. In December 1993, Greek foreign affairs minister Theodoros Pangalos was quoted as saying "we must be supportive of the Kurdish people to be free". Greece declined to join Germany and France and the eleven other members at the EU to ban the organization. During his trial, Öcalan admitted, as quoted in Hürriyet, that "Greece has for years supported the PKK movement. They even gave us arms and rockets. Greek officers gave guerrilla training and explosives training to our militants" at a camp in Lavrion, Greece.
- From early 1979 to 1999, Syria had provided valuable safe havens to PKK in the region of Beqaa Valley. However, after the undeclared war between Turkey and Syria, Syria placed restrictions on PKK activity on its soil such as not allowing the PKK to establish camps and other facilities for training and shelter or to have commercial activities on its territory. Syria recognized the PKK as a terrorist organization in 1998. Turkey was 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.
- Republic of Cyprus
- Support of the Republic of Cyprus was stated when Abdullah Öcalan was caught with a Cypriot passport under the name of Mavros Lazaros, a nationalist reporter.
- In the 1990s Abdullah Öcalan appreciated the support for the "Kurdish Cause" by Muammar Gaddafi.
- Soviet Union and Russia
- Former KGB-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko said that PKK's leader Abdullah Öcalan was trained by KGB-FSB. As of 2008, Russia is still not among the states that list PKK as a terrorist group despite intense Turkish pressure.
- United Kingdom
- MED TV broadcast for five years in the UK, until its license was revoked by the regulators the Independent Television Commission (ITC) in 1999. The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization since 29 March 2001. In 2008, the United Kingdom detained members of the PKK and seized the assets of the PKK's representative in Britain, Selman Bozkur, alias "Dr. Hüseyin". His assets remain frozen.
- Support of various European states
- The Dutch police had reportedly raided the 'PKK paramilitary camp' in the Dutch village of Liempde and arrested 29 people in November 2004, but all were soon released. Denmark allows Kurdish satellite television stations (such as ROJ-TV), which Turkey says 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 achieved by strong ties with influential persons. Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the former President of France François Mitterrand, had active connections during the 1990s with elements of the organization's leadership that forced a downgrade in relationships between the two states. After harboring him for some time, Austria arranged a flight to Iraq for Ali Rıza Altun, a suspected key figure with an Interpol arrest warrant on his name. Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gül summoned the Austrian ambassador and condemned Austria's action. On 30 September 1995, while Öcalan was in Syria, Damascus initiated 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, and EU made 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 activities."
- Sedat Laçiner, of the Turkish think tank ISRO, says that US support of the PKK undermines the US War on Terror. Seymour Hersh said that the U.S. and Israel supported PEJAK, the Iranian branch of the PKK. The head of the PKK's militant arm, Murat Karayılan, said that Iran attempted to recruit the PKK to attack coalition forces, adding that Kurdish guerrillas had launched a clandestine war in north-western Iran, ambushing Iranian troops.
Designation as a terrorist group
The PKK has been placed on Turkey's terrorist list, as well as a number of allied governments and organizations. It is often referred as "Separatist terrorist organization" (Turkish: Bölücü terör örgütü) by the Turkish authorities.
In the 1980s, the PKK was labeled as a terror organization by the Swedish government of Olof Palme. After Palme was murdered in 1986, the PKK was considered a potential suspect - however, in September 2020, the Swedish Government announced it believed that the murderer was Stig Engström, an employee of the nearby Skandia company; one of the first witnesses in the investigation on the murder.
In 1994, Germany prohibited the activities of the PKK.
The PKK has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department since 1997. In 2016, Vice President Joe Biden called the PKK a terrorist group "plain and simple" and compared it to the Islamic State. In 2018, the United States also offered a $12 million reward for information on three PKK leaders.
First designated as a terror organization by the European Union in 2002, the PKK was ordered to be removed from the EU terror list on 3 April 2008 by the European Court of First Instance on the grounds that the EU had failed to give a proper justification for listing it in the first place. However, EU officials dismissed the ruling, stating that the PKK would remain on the list regardless of the legal decision. The EU in 2011 renewed its official listing of the PKK as group or entity subject to "specific [EU] measures to combat terrorism" under its Common Foreign and Security Policy. In 2018, Prakken d'Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers reported that the PKK won another case against its listing as a terror organization by the EU, but the EU kept the PKK on the list as the ruling only concerned the years from 2014 until 2017.
The PKK is also a Proscribed Organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000; the former British Prime Minister Theresa May used the phrase "Kurdish terrorism" in 2018, in a certain context.[which?]
France prosecutes Kurdish-French activists and bans organizations connected to the PKK on terrorism-related charges, having listed the group as a terrorist organization since 1993. However, French courts often refuse to extradite captured individuals criticized of PKK connections to Turkey due to technicalities in French law, frustrating Turkish authorities[failed verification].
The following other countries and organizations have listed or otherwise labelled the PKK in an official capacity as a terrorist organization:
Refusal to designate PKK as a terrorist group
Russia has long ignored Turkish pressure to ban the PKK and also the government of Switzerland has rejected Turkish demands to blacklist the PKK. Switzerland does not have a list of terrorist organizations, however it has taken its own measures to monitor and restrict the group's activities on Swiss soil, including banning the collection of funds for the group in November 2008. In March 2020, a Belgian court ruled that the PKK is not to be seen as a terrorist organization. Following this, the Belgian Government announced that the ruling would not affect the current designation of the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Flags of wings
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Related and/or associated organizations
- Civil Protection Units, Turkey
- Communist Labour Party of Turkey/Leninist
- Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist
- Dawronoye - secular, leftist, nationalist movement among the Assyrian people
- Democratic Union Party, Syria
- Devrimci Karargâh, former far-left organization in Turkey
- Êzîdxan Protection Force, Yazidi militia in Syria
- Êzîdxan Women's Units, Yazidi women's militia in Syria
- International Freedom Battalion
- Kurdistan Communities Union
- Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party
- Kurdistan Free Life Party
- Kurdistan Freedom Hawks
- Maoist Communist Party
- Marxist–Leninist Armed Propaganda Unit
- Marxist–Leninist Communist Party
- Marxist-Leninist Party (Communist Reconstruction)
- People's Protection Units
- Peoples' United Revolutionary Movement
- Revolutionary Party of Kurdistan
- Revolutionary People's Party
- Sinjar Alliance
- Sinjar Resistance Units
- United Freedom Forces
- Women's Protection Units
- YPG International
- It is also rendered as Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan such as on the group's official website
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