ATbar Kurdish Separatism in Turkey: The PKK's Changing Strategy
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Kurdish Separatism in Turkey: The PKK's Changing Strategy

15/04/2013 | by Walsh, David  

The capture of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan in Kenya in 1999 was considered by many in Turkey to be a serious blow to the organization. Since the early 1980s the PKK had engaged the Turkish state in a bloody conflict. Over the years the conflict has led to the deaths of more than 30,000 people: PKK militants, Turkish security forces personnel and civilians. A General Election took place shortly following the operation in 1999 and brought parties of both the left and the right into power. A coalition government was formed and a platform which focused on European Union accession and reform was adopted. Over the next few years this government would take moves to abolish the death penalty, allow by law for the first time broadcasts in ‘mother tongue’ languages such as Kurdish and begin to crack down on torture within the security services – something which had been a stain on EU aspirant Turkey’s record. Many may have thought that Turkey was turning a corner in its long running battle against terrorism and the EU perspective gave reason to believe that the Kurdish issue could be solved through legal and political reforms. The lifting of a state of emergency – known by its Turkish acronym OHAL (Olağanüstü Hâl) – was seen as a watershed moment on the path to normalization. There was a heightened sense of international support for counter-terrorism measures following 9/11 and a rapprochement with Syria which had backed the PKK prior to Öcalan's capture also gave rise to hopes that the PKK could finally be defeated.

According to Turkish Armed Forces sources, 13 years later the number of PKK militants is roughly the same as it was in the 1990s . A PKK ceasefire, declared in 1999 was portrayed as a sign of weakness by the Turkish government and the PKK itself attempted to rebrand itself as an organization seeking autonomy and cultural rights as opposed to its previous goal of full independence. The declaration of the ceasefire, the announcement of the formation of the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) and Kongra-Gel were rejected by the Turkish government which saw such steps as propaganda. Since 2005, the organization under its original name of the PKK, has become increasingly active in the field through a heightened frequency of attacks – particularly on security targets. At the same time, the PKK is involved in politics through the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has circumvented an electoral barrage to become the fourth largest party in the Grand National Assembly. In the 14 months before August 2012, 700 people have died, making the latest spate of violence the most intense in the past 13 years. The organization has also returned to a number of tactics from the 1990s including abductions. In August PKK members abducted a Kurdish deputy from the Republican People's Party (CHP) in the province of Tunceli. Abductions of teachers, normally for a number of hours for propaganda purposes, have also occurred.

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