ATbar Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK)

Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK)

01/01/2003 | by ICT Staff  

Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Worker's Party was born out of the leftist student organizations in Turkey in the 1960s. It's main goal is the setting up of an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. In keeping with its Marxist ideology, the PKK initially saw itself as part of the world-wide Marxist revolution. It's founding and ideological base was primarily the work of one man, Abdullah Ocalan. It was he who established the group and laid down its goals, strategy, and structure.

Although the PKK was born in Turkey, it operated out of the Bek'a valley in Lebanon under Syrian control from 1980. Today the majority of its activities are carried out from the Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq. This came about in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi Kurds established a de facto state in northern Iraq. This allowed the Turkish Kurdish rebels to set up semi-permanent bases there.


The Turkish Left began organizing legally as of the early 1960s by taking advantage of the liberal 1961 constitution. Followers of the radical journal Yon were elected as leaders of debate clubs that sprang up in the major universities, and by 1965 these clubs formed a national confederation. In 1970, the Federation of Debate Clubs was reorganized as the Revolutionary Youth Federation (Dev-Genc) under radical leadership. Out of Dev-Genc grew a number of groups that, while differing in their strategy, all followed the Marxist-Leninist or Maoist line.

One of these groups, the Turkish People's Liberation Army (TPLA), led by young men of Kurdish origin, wanted to stage a revolution in the countryside. According to their strategy, if southeastern Turkey could become a liberated zone, supportive foreign countries would be invited to join the struggle.

It was in this atmosphere of methodological debate and leftist agitation that Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish student at the Ankara University's Political Science Faculty, joined the Revolutionary Youth Organization. The leftist extremists did not consider the "liberation of Kurds" separately from that of the entire country. Therefore, having decided that liberating the Kurds was his first priority, Ocalan began to build an organization for this task.

Between 1974 and 1978 Ocalan spent his time studying theories of revolutionary activity and organizing a party. On 27 November 1978, PKK was formally but clandestinely established in the district of Diyarbakir. Its strategy was to stage a communist revolution by guerrilla warfare and establish a separate Kurdish state. However, at that time PKK lacked arms as well as militants. In order to finance its activities, it turned to robbing jewelers' stores and got involved in drug trafficking.(a)

Ideology & Strategy

In the earlier PKK documents throughout the 1980s it is stated that the main aim of the movement is to achieve freedom for the Kurdish people, because the Kurds are oppressed, victims of colonialism and have the right to self determination.

PKK's strategy, laid down in the early 1980s, saw its battle as having three stages: strategic defense, strategic balance and strategic offense. Hence the concept of "revolutionary terror" was based on conducting armed propaganda, creating a guerilla army and developing this army into a true military force.

Although the PKK, under a completely different name and structure, was forced underground in the late 1970s and was involved, like many of Turkey's student-based urban groups in limited armed activities until 1980, most fell under the scope of "criminal terrorism". Most activities were locally supported peasant-based attacks on tribal chiefs in the Urfa province and contained to that specific region.

In 1980, on the eve of the September 12 military coup, PKK leaders left Turkey for the Syrian-controlled Beka`a valley. Either they foresaw that a coup was in the making or they were in search of a safe haven abroad.

The takeover in Turkey prompted the PKK's militants first to train with Palestinian fighters in the Middle East region and later to fight alongside them during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This cooperation then led to various regional movements opening their territories to the PKK, where it trained and prepared for warfare. It had also managed to spread among Turkey's Kurdish community abroad, specifically in Libya.

In 1982, with initial financial assistance from Kurdish businessmen and workers in Libya, some political backing from the Iraqi Kurds, and training grounds in Lebanon and Syria, the PKK was set to begin activities. Its first forces infiltrated into Turkey to deal with logistic problems for the strategic defense stage.

One of the major differences the PKK had in comparison to other existing Kurdish groups was that it recruited lower class Kurds such as the peasants who form the majority of the population and - from the very beginning - set out to fight traditional Kurdish tribal leaders as well as the Turkish authorities.

Unlike Turkish left-wing organizations, it never organized around a fixed publication. And unlike traditional communist parties, it never had a politburo until 1995. Its Central Committee has always been made up mainly of commanders in the field and has changed in number according to conditions. However, it has always been under the control of its leader Abdullah Ocalan and has invariably planned its moves timely.(b)

Between 1980 and 1984, Ocalan consolidated the party structure and established himself as the undisputed leader of the organization, often by brutal methods against dissenters. This caused splits in the PKK, and some who managed to escape from Lebanon established their own organizations in Europe and/or joined others such as TEVGER (Kurdistan Liberation Movement), a united platform composed of Kurdish movements outside PKK.(a)

The strategic defense period was one in which the opposing forces were very strong and the "revolutionary forces" were very weak. In this stage, selected political violence would draw up new recruits from among the people. Thus, the people would be politicized, forced either to side with the guerillas or be branded as state "collaborators". (b)

By implementing this strategy, the PKK established in 1984 a popular front, the Kurdistan National Liberation Front, (Eniya Rizgariya Netewa Kurdistan - ERNK). The ERNK fell short of the desired impact because its hit-and-run missions lacked regional support. As a result, Ocalan decided in March 1985 to set up the Kurdistan Popular Liberation Army (Arteshen Rizgariya Gelli Kurdistan - ARGK). The ARGK was supposed to gather the non-Marxist and often religious Kurdish masses under one roof, to organize these masses into guerilla units which would be the nucleus of a people's army.(a)

It was after these changes that the PKK truly set out to fight its war and increased hit-and-run operations in Turkish territory.

After the PKK's first attacks in 1984, a decision taken by Turkey to organize and arm Kurdish tribes known to be close to the state was a vital turning point in the conflict. The Motherland Party (ANAP) administration under the prime ministry Turgut Ozal, created the "temporary village guards" in areas where activities of violence required a state of emergency and in order to prevent aggression against the property or lives of the villagers.

The creation of the village guards system was the first in a series of decisions which would turn the Kurdish problem into a major, bloody conflict in the following years. Turkey had managed both to draw on local support in the region and to create discord among the Kurds who were now fighting each other.

As soon as the village guards system was established, the PKK turned its full attention to these para-military forces with the goal of preventing recruitment to them. As of 1985, more and more attacks were thus recorded against "civilians". Those killed, including Kurdish infants and women, were related to the village guards. The message was that any family "who dealt with the state" would be destroyed.

By 1987, the PKK had managed to get better organized and had recruited thousands of sympathizers. It had created a popular front, which gathered and organized non-Marxist Kurdish peasants and a so-called peoples' army, which trained full-time fighters or the movement's "mountain units". That year the PKK attacked many Kurdish villages in the Southeast declaring them as "state collaborators".

In 1988 and 1989 the situation was similar. Militants of the PKK, then in its growing period, raided one village after another, killing women and children and explaining these attacks as offensives against village guards. Many hundreds of civilians were killed in this campaign, which frustrated state officials and security forces. More important, it led to a Turkish national reaction to Kurdish demands in general. Intimidation, obviously, was the main theme of such activities and this period of the expansion of the PKK closely resembled the blood-ridden days of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.

In the mid-1990's Turkey had approximately 70,000 village guards, who were paid an attractive salary. The sector is the most profitable investment in the troubled region but also one which depends completely on the continuation of the conflict.(b)

By 1992, the number of PKK militants and supporters was reputed to be about 10,000. The last, but perhaps most important reason that by 1992 PKK had become the major problem for Turkey was the attitude of the Turkish leadership. Between 1983 and 1989, Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's evaluation of the PKK was that they were only a bunch of bandits. Underestimating PKK caused the loss of valuable time. Resources and proper equipment and training were not provided to fight against guerrilla warfare.

PKK began to change the balance in regard to its own support between 1987 and 1990. As terrorist attacks forced the government to take a tougher stance, people of the region were forced to take a neutral position. They observed that "normal civilians" were not PKK's targets but that those who had ties with the state were. Hence neutrality (self-survival) amounted to tacit support.(a)

The turning point for the Kurdish issue was in March 1989, when the National Security Council decided to launch a major military and psychological crackdown on Kurdish separatists.

However, the PKK, already strengthened after establishing its grip in various areas, performed major changes in its own policy towards village guards. Until then, the organization was blamed for terrorizing the region with raids on villages and civilians. But in a 1990 party congress it decided to cease all activities that could lead to civilian casualties and to concentrate more on military targets and political struggle. It also declared a general amnesty for all village guards, valid for an entire year, for anyone who turned in their guns and refused to collaborate with the state.(b)

In 1990, there were clear signs of change in PKK policies. Until then the PKK had only employed what it termed "armed propaganda." Now the time was ripe to assume a political identity along with armed struggle. Ocalan decided to redirect human rights violations away from PKK toward the Turkish State. Thus began a propaganda and disinformation campaign in Europe through cultural associations of Kurdish guest workers and political/cultural associations set up by Kurdish activists in exile.

By 1990 it had became obvious that the Marxist-Leninist (hence atheist) PKK was unable to draw the mass support it needed from a society in which religious sentiment was very strong. Ocalan recognized the importance of religion as another support mechanism. Also, ties were forming between the Iranian Islamic Republic and PKK. As of 1989 PKK propaganda leaflets and brochures began and ended with prayers. Islam was being lauded as a revolutionary force in itself.

At its second National Congress in May 1990, the PKK decided to establish friendly relations with religious movements that were considered to truly fight against the regime. It also decided "to exist within a legal socialist party with our mass forces . . ., to pull the Turkish popular masses and the left-wing forces into the struggle against the special warfare put into practice in Kurdistan, and to propagate for the brotherhood of the two people in order to activate this". These policies were to be carried out simultaneously with acts of sabotage. PKK began to turn its guns increasingly toward public servants and security forces.(a)

In southeast Turkey, Islamic radicalism emerged in poor towns and villages with a large Kurdish population (Dyarbakir, Silvan, Cizre, Kiziltepe and others), especially among the young and unemployed. Their activity became more visible at the beginning of the 1990s, as, influenced more and more by Khomeini`s teachings, they were identified by the local public as "Hizballah".

One of the most controversial terrorist activities of the Turkish Hizballah in southeast Turkey was the liquidation of dozens of pro-PKK activists, journalists, intellectuals and politicians beginning in the fall of 1991 and throughout 1992 and 1993. It has been widely assumed that this was the work of some splinter group from the main Hizballah organization. The amount of immunity it enjoyed from the security authorities due to its anti-PKK nature earned it the name "Hezbol-contra."

It must be stressed that its members were mostly of Kurdish origin. The Hizballah regarded the PKK as Islam's enemy and has accused it of trying to create an atheist community, supporting the communist system, trying to divide the people through racist activities, and putting pressure on the Muslim people.

However, in March 1993 the PKK signed a "cooperation protocol" with the "Hizballah Kurdish Revolutionary Party" aimed at ending the conflict and finding "methods for a joint struggle against the Turkish state." The agreement was achieved after Hizballah recognized that "the colonialists" had exploited it and that the clashes in no way benefited the cause of Islam.(c)

Between 1990 and 1993, PKK benefited from the lack of a coherent policy on the part of the Turkish state, whose leadership consistently underestimated the issues involved - the power vacuum in northern Iraq following the Gulf War of 1990-1991; the escalating risk environment around Turkey's borders; and overt and covert propaganda against Turkey, playing on the human rights aspect. This is not to deny that there have been violations of human rights, but to point out that cases of individual abuse were turned into gross generalizations of violations of human rights by the PKK propaganda machine.(a)

In 1993 there were several attacks on tourism targets, abduction of tourists and a three-month cease-fire, which Ankara wished later to ignore.

Since 1994, the PKK has repeatedly been calling for a cease-fire to be followed by dialogue to find a lasting, peaceful solution to the conflict within the boundaries of a sovereign Turkey. Ocalan has even sent personal letters to various western leaders in this respect, pointing out that his organization is willing to drop all armed activities if a dialogue can be achieved.

At the end of 1994, the PKK took its diplomatic efforts a step further and issued a formal "Declaration of Intent" to abide by the humanitarian law and rules of war set forth in the original Geneva Convention and additional protocols.

In this Declaration it specifically said that it regards the following groups as legitimate targets of attacks: members of the Turkish armed forces and the Gendarmerie; members of the Turkish contra-guerilla forces; members of the Turkish intelligence services; and persons designated as village guards by Turkish authorities.

It also attempted to make a presentation in this line at the United Nations. Moreover, on April 12, 1995, representatives of Turkish Kurds, not allowed to voice their aspirations in parliament, set up a Kurdish Parliament in exile to further efforts for a peaceful solution. Kurdish MPs persecuted by Turkey as well as representatives of the ERNK are members of this Parliament, currently based in Brussels and working on a major Kurdish National Congress Meeting.(b)

The 5th Congress of the PKK, which was held between January 8-27, 1995, marked the beginning of a new and massive restructuring of the organization and its policies in line with the changing world order. One of the most importantresolutions adopted there was to abandon the traditional Cold War symbols of the hammer and sickle and drop them completely from the PKK's party flag and emblem, which were promptly renewed. The Party decided that the hammer and sickle represented a peasant-workers alliance and had become too traditional to represent current real socialism.

At that same conference, PKK delegates voted to reject the concept of Soviet socialism and other dogmatic policies, emphasizing once again that it had to keep up with changes in world history. The PKK leadership thus denounced Soviet socialism as "the most primitive and violent era of socialism". In accordance with these changes, PKK Party Regulation program was also completely re-written.

The Congress decisions included a major reference to the importance of political and diplomatic activities to be carried out alongside guerilla warfare, emphasizing that armed struggle was only instrumental in the conflict and not a goal in itself. Diplomacy in this period was thus accepted as important as the Kurdish fight for freedom and self-determination, and its significance was stressed in related decisions to boost the PKK's diplomatic and political activities throughout the world. A dramatic decline in attacks and activities directed at non-combatants was noted.

Organizational Structure

Central structure:

The Party structure consists of the Chairman, Abdullah Ocalan, a Chairmanship Council, a Central Committee and a Central Disciplinary Board. Elections for chairmanship and all of the related council and committees are held every four years with the participation of several hundred delegates. Each congress, council and committee is entrusted with different functions.

The Party Congress is the highest level authority within the PKK and is the only body open to mass participation. It meets every four years or (a) when called for an emergency meeting by the Chairman or (b) when two-thirds of the Central Committee vote for such a meeting. Delegates from all party organizations participate in Congress meetings yet the number of participants from each organization depends on the strength of these organizations and their membership level. The Chairman, members of the Central Committee and members of the Central Disciplinary Board are natural members of the Congress. The Party Congress also has the authority to evaluate and amend the party program and to draw the plans for a four-year policy.

The Party Conference more or less resembles the Party Congress but is a contingency committee that meets during emergencies when the Congress cannot be called up. The Party Conference can be held on an appeal by the Chairman and its main duty is to evaluate current policies and pass policy decisions. However, unlike the Congress, it does not have authority to change the Party program.

Between two congresses, or in the four-year gap between the delegate meetings, the party Chairmanship is entrusted with carrying out the role of leading both the party and its other related organizations. The Chairman works together with the Chairmanship Council and can be elected only with a two-third-majority vote in Party Congresses. The Chairman also has to submit a full report of his activities before the Congress and his duties include the creation of new fields of operations in the sciences, arts and other areas of social interest.

The Chairmanship Council assists the Chairman in his work and controls all ideological, political, organizational, military and front activities.

The Party's main decision-making and executive organ is the Central Committee. The Central Committee elects the Chairmanship Council from among its members for a period of four years and is responsible mainly for organizing overall activities. It is thus regarded as "the highest level tactical leadership structure" within the PKK and is in charge of organizing and controlling all other party organizations and committees. It meets every year but emergency meetings may be called by the Chairman or on a two-third-majority vote. The Central Committee does take policy decisions but all must be based on an absolute majority; failure to reach such a majority could lead to replacements from among reserve members.

The PKK's Central Disciplinary Board (CDP) is in charge of inspecting party discipline and functions for four years between Congresses. It is attached to the Chairman and has the authority to investigate all abuses of discipline and Party regulations and inform the Central Committee (CC) of its findings.

The Provincial structure: 

All party organizations within the Kurdish areas, including committees and representation offices together form the Party Provincial Organization (Parti Eyalet Orgutu - PEO). The "Eyalet Kongresi" or Provincial Congress is the highest level authority in charge of the PYOs. The Provincial Congress meets every two years and dates of its meetings are set either by the Chairman or Central Committee. During these meetings, all committees and organizations in the subject province are represented according to their strength, membership level, activities and importance. The Provincial Co(PCs) are responsible for evaluating all local party activities, and for determining local policies and tactics. Although the PCs have the authority to make decisions, these are only valid after approval of the Central Committee and Chairman.

The Party Provincial Committees (PPC) are the highest level local authorities in the two years between Provincial Congresses and members are elected at the party congress meeting. These bodies have the responsibility of organizing and overseeing all party activities in their own regions. The PPCs are required to distribute authority between its members depending on fields of interest (i.e. front, army, political activities) and hold their meetings every four months.

The Provincial Disciplinary Boards are the third most important body in the regional PKK structure, with its members being elected during the Provincial Congress meetings. These Boards work in cooperation with the Central Disciplinary Board and under its control.

Following these bodies on the provincial level come similar Regional structures. These are run by provincial organizations and are the Regional Congresses, Regional Committees and the Regional Organization. Under the regional framework are Local Committees that are known as the "Parti Yerel Komiteleri" and they function, again, in the disciplinary form of Local Congresses, Local Committees and Local Organizations. This chain finally leads to the smallest nucleus group within the PKK identified as Party Cells.

The popular structure: 

Aside from the Party there are the ERNK and ARGK which are both run by executive councils and committees similar to the PKK.

PKK's Subordinate Military Committee established under the name of Liberation Units of Kurdistan (Hazen Rizgariya Kurdistan - HRK) was dissolved and replaced by the Kurdistan Peoples Liberation Army (Arteshen Rizgariya Gelli Kurdistan- ARGK) after the Third Congress of the PKK held in Damascus-Syria in October 1986.

ARGK fighters, allegedly numbering (by mid-1990) around 15,000 in the whole region (including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria) are trained in central camps, constituting units from platoons to regiments and are well equipped. They are easy to identify since, although they do not wear ranks, all are in uniform and operate under a tight military discipline. They constitute the main core of the PKK's armed activities that are carried out according to a central committee order supervised by the ARGK Military Council.

ARGK Units consist of Military Units, Local Units and Peoples' Defense Units. Structurally, the ARGK functions under the Central Military Council, which is in charge of the Field Commands, Provincial Military Councils, Regional Command Offices and Local Stations. These military forces operate out of three forms of bases, which are identified as (1) Supportive base (2) Main Base and (3) Operations Base. Their main activities consist of ambush, raids, sabotage, assassinations and planting mines. As of 1995 there have been reports that a voluntary Childrens' Battalion has also been established with the aim of training younger generation Kurds until they are recruited into the army.

The external center of the PKK operates through the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (Eniya Rizgariya Netewa Kurdistan - ERNK) established on March 21, 1985. The ERNK started to operate after 1989 when the European countries opened their doors and allowed it to flourish in their territories.

The ERNK, which at one stage was also involved in outlawed and sometimes armed activities, has now been trusted with a diplomatic peace-time mission and appears to be actively involved in international diplomacy, meeting with foreign governments and officials, in search of a solution, through dialogue, to the ongoing conflict. It too consists of various member organizations, including youth, labor, women's, religious, peasant, intellectual and student groups. ERNK members have been charged in Europe with participation in violent demonstrations and local clashes with extreme right-wing militants.

Aside from the structures listed above, the PKK also has an Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence organization, various forms of peoples' resistance committees in the cities and rural areas of Turkey and the so-called "Metropolitan Revenge Teams" which have claimed responsibility for many of acts of violence.

The PKK describes the duties of the ERNK in Europe under ten headings, on a document titled "The Mass Character of our Party and the Front", dated 1988. In this document, special emphasis is given to these four issues:(d) 

  1. Mass activities (Press meetings, raids, occupations, etc.)
  2. Activities targeting Turkey:
    1. Determining cadres and sending them to become fighters,
    2. Carrying out combat training,
    3. Sending fighting forces to Turkey,
    4. Providing logistic support,
    5. Organizing links between those in Europe and in Syria.
    6. Maintaining contacts with other armed groups.
    7. Maintaining contacts with groups in prisons.
    8. Working on intelligence and party security activities
    9. Creating financial resources for the movement

The PKK has established front organizations in order to bolster its propaganda and operational capabilities. Various front organizations, disguised as socio-cultural associations (Kurdistan Committees) and so-called "information centers" are manipulated and guided by the PKK's facade branch - ERNK. These organizations provide the political, moral and substantial financial support indispensable for PKK's survival.

The prohibition of PKK and its front organizations in Germany and France at the end of 1993 has partially reduced the financial and moral support this terror organization was receiving. As a result, PKK is presently channeling its activities to other European countries where the organization can operate freely.


Some of the financial sources of the PKK can be cited as follows:

  1. Revenues obtained from the "special nights" organized by branch organizations in Europe.
  2. Aid campaigns periodically organized by the party.
  3. Grants and subscriptions.
  4. Sales of publications.
  5. Revenues obtained from commercial establishments belonging to the organization.
  6. Money collected through robbery
  7. Money collected through drug trafficking and arms-smuggling.
  8. Extortion
  9. "Aid" received through intimidation from constructors and merchants running business in the region.
  10. Smuggling of illegal workers.
  11. Transfer of money to the organization from the people entitled to payments in European countries, under refugee status.
PKK routinely extorts money from people who start new businesses, and benefits from bids on government contracts. Moreover, in order to finance the purchase of more sophisticated weaponry such as Stinger rockets (a number of which were discovered in mountain depots raided by the security forces in the spring of 1994), the PKK has begun to "tax" rich businessmen of Kurdish origin nationwide. Other professionals--doctors, contractors, builders, farmers, and teachers reportedly are not immune to extortion either.(a)

Although the largest portion of PKK's income is derived from drug smuggling, its annual budget is estimated to be TL 863 billion (U.S. $86 million). This includes income from extortion in both Turkey and abroad, especially from Kurdish and Turkish workers, most of who reside in Germany.(a)

The British National Service of Criminal Intelligence - NSIC) reported that in 1993 PKK extorted 2.5 million pounds sterling from immigrants and businesses. According to the same source, PKK obtained 56 million DM from drug smuggling in Europe in 1993.22 In addition, only those businessmen of whom PKK approves entered bids for government contracts in the southeast, in return for a "commission" to the organization. Likewise, temporary workers in the southeast who were paid a monthly net salary of TL 12 million (U.S. $1,000) were forced to give up TL 8 million (U.S. $700) of this sum to the PKK.(a)

International Connections(a) 

Since PKK attacked Turkish villages from northern Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, the Turkish Air Force raided PKK camps innorthern Iraq in 1986-1987, with the approval of the Iraqi government. This did not please Iran because it was not in a position to discriminate between PKK and Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas, or so it claimed.

Beginning with 1993, Turkey has been exposed to PKK attacks from Iranian soil. Iran may not have had any qualms about PKK's existence on its territory because it did not fear that PKK would serve as a model for Iranian Kurds.

Syria is yet another neighbor that has opted to support PKK, among other international revolutionary factions. There was nothing unusual about this as long as Syria served Soviet interests in the region. However, after the demise of the Soviet Union, Syrian leadership not only continued to accommodate PKK's leader in Damascus but also stepped up its involvement with PKK.

The Southeastern Anatolia Development Project (GAP) and subsequently the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers became an issue of power politics between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Turkey, since 1987, has been trying to reassure its neighbors about the release of the downstream water. By the early 1990s president Hafez Assad therefore chose to force Turkey into releasing more water by increasing his support for PKK. The declarations of PKK's leader, Ocalan, about his objection to the building of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River is indicative of the general symptom in the Middle East of using the Kurds for one's own ends.

Syria has incessantly assured Turkey that it is not supporting PKK. But in light of Turkey's ongoing development projects as of 1987, Syria escalated its involvement with PKK and at the same time refused to cooperate on the management of water flow, despite a number of protocols signed for that purpose.

Terrorist Activities

In mid-1997 it was announced that 20,822 terrorists have been killed by the security forces in the 13 years since the PKK launched its operations. Some 4,239 security officers have also been killed and 9,277 injured in that same period. The terrorists murdered 4,276 and injured 5,083 citizens. Together with the death of nearly 2,500 people in terrorist acts caused by the PKK prior to 12 September [1980 coup], the organization has been responsible for the deaths of 31,837 people in all.(1)

The other side effects of terrorism for the same period were as follows: Some 3,223 schools, attended by 166,000 students in 22 districts of two provinces, remained shut in 1996, and 156 teachers have been killed so far. According to June 1995 findings of the State Ministry for Human Rights Affairs, 809 villages and 1,612 hamlets have been evacuated in 19 provinces. Whereas, the State of Emergency Region Governorate announced that 753 villages and 1,535 hamlets were completely evacuated, and 235 villages and 141 hamlets partially evacuated.(2)

In order to make the organization's voice heard in the western regions of Turkey, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan signed a protocol of cooperation with the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front] organization at the end of 1996.(3)

The PKK operations significantly lessened when the PKK lost logistic support with the evacuation of the villages and hamlets. At this time, the terror organization started using Palestinian Hamas-style suicide bombings. It organized suicide operations, waged mainly by women terrorists, in Tunceli, Adana, and Sivas.(4)

In consequence, the security forces stepped up their activities in the tourist areas where the organization might launch such suicide attacks and efforts were made to capture the suicide bombers that the organization infiltrated into the country.(5)

Two large operations, one at the end of 1992 and another in March 1995, were launched against the PKK, which had fully entrenched itself in northern Iraq after the Gulf War. The PKK suffered heavy losses during both operations. Enlistment in the organization dwindled as effective operations were conducted in the cities as well. Some 1,912 PKK members died and 132 were captured alive during the ground actions of the Steel Operation carried out by the Turkish army in northern Iraq in May 1997. Some 965 PKK members died during the air raids. A total of 113 Turkish officers and soldiers were killed and 325 injured during this operation.(6)

The PKK tried to spread its operations to the Black Sea and Inner Anatolia. It started undertaking actions in Black Sea cities like Ordu and Giresun following the difficult situation it was forced into in the southeast Anatolia region. The PKK's subsequent actions in Antalya, such as stopping vehicles and setting them on fire and engaging in clashes with security forces, have demonstrated the dimensions of the threat.(7)

The PKK began also in the 1990s to abduct tourists who visited Turkey. It was noted that at a time when the PKK was on the verge of being eradicated, they also set fire to hectares of forests in the Mediterranean region, actions that are noticeable and potentially damaging to Turkish tourism.(8)

Over the year 1997, the Turkish army dealt severe blows to the logistical support system of the organization by neutralizing 3,302 terrorists in various operations including those in northern Iraq. Over the past one year 484 terrorists were captured alive, 415 surrendered, and 303 PKK members were arrested. During the same period, security forces lost 192 soldiers and 95 others were wounded; in addition, 49 village guards were killed and 14 wounded.(9)


a. Section based on the article by Nur Bilge Criss, 'The Nature of PKK Terrorism in Turkey', Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 8 (1995) pp. 17-37.

b. Section based on the article by Ismet G. Imset, 'The PKK: Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?' (7 Dec.1995) as published by the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN).

c. Section based on the article by Ely Karmon, 'Radical Islamic Groups in Turkey', MERIA Journal 4 (December 1997).

d. Section based on material published by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

1. See Hurriyet, 13 Aug. 1997. 
2. Ibid. 
3. Ibid. 
4. Ibid. 
5. Ibid. 
6. Ibid. 
7. See Yeni Gunaydin, 18 Aug. 1997. 
8. Ibid. 
9. See Zaman, 19 Oct. 1997.