Kurdish Worker Party

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A Turkish Gendarmerie Commando Squad carrying out a counter-terrorism operation.

The Kurdish Worker Party, also known as the PKK, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. This Kurdish group has been responsible for violent campaigns to push for an independent Kurdish state in Turkey. Since 1978, more then 37,000 people have been killed in the clash between the Kurdish rebels and the Turkish security forces, with both sides committing significant human rights abuses. Estimates for Turkish military deaths throughout the conflict reach nearly 7,000 soldiers with around 10,000 more suffering permanent injuries.

Fearing a split in their country the Turkish government placed significant restrictions on the rights of the Kurdish people[1], the PKK tries to use these restrictions to justify its rebellion against the government. In 1999, a unilateral truce was declared by the rebels and the Turkish government began to ease restrictions on the Kurds, this truce did not last however, when in 2004 the terrorist group claimed that the Turkish government had not done enough to meet their demands[2].

In 1999, the group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured and sentenced to death. Today, rather then seeking to create a separate Kurdish state, PKK leaders say that their goal now is to create a solution for the Kurdish identity within Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Estimates of terrorist guerrilla's in the PKK range from ten to fifteen thousand[3].Syria, Iran and Iraq, have provided external aid to the separatist.[4]

PKK Abuses

The PKK has been known for its ruthless attacks against civilians, the United States Department of State said, “PKK terrorists murdered noncombatants, targeting village officials, teachers, and other perceived representatives of the State and committed random murders in their effort to intimidate the populace. The PKK brutally murdered seven primary school teachers in predominantly Kurdish areas and often targeted civilians in an effort to prevent them from collaborating with security forces or to coerce them into assisting the insurgents.”[5] Most of the rebel attacks aim at creating panic inside the population and government. Turkish officials fear that if the PKK achieves its goals, a radical Islamic government could come to power inside the country[6].

Government Abuses

A Kurdish refugee camp near the Iraqi border

Many of the PKK’s abuses against civilians have been overshadowed by abuses carried out by Turkish government forces. Because the conflict is similar to a civil war, many of the operations by Turkish security forces have been in heavily populated areas, this has led to significant amount of civilian casualties. Estimates of civilians misplaced from military operations stand above 380,000. The Turkish government stated that losses to civilians would be reimbursed, despite this promise; many still remain homeless without reimbursement. Human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have also highlighted the government’s use of torture and extrajudicial killing during the thirteen-year-long conflict[7].

Effect on the Kurdish Population

As the Turkish fight against the PKK has progressed so has the conflict over the rights of Kurds living inside of Turkey and elsewhere. Many Kurdish people blame the government for placing heavy restrictions on the whole Kurdish populations for the abuses carried out by a small fraction of it, through the PKK. In an effort to “retain their nationality”, the government has restricted the teaching of the Kurdish language and the printing of symbols which are non-Turkish. The PKK has lost considerable support in the Kurdish population, to which it claimed as trying to “liberate.” Part of the decrease in support for the terrorist group has perhaps been due to its increasing use of force in its attempt to coerce civilians into the terrorist organization to increase their forces, the State Department wrote, “[the] PKK routinely kidnaps young men or threatens their families as part of its recruiting effort.”[8]

Iraq, Turkey Border Dispute

In the Turkish government’s efforts to stamp out the terrorist group, they have continually fought near and across the Iraq border, where the PKK has operated and trained their forces. Turkey and the United States led an effort to push PKK forces out of northern Iraq; however, this effort has had few visible effects. [9] The increase in terrorist buildup in the region has led the Turkish government to increase military forces along the Turkey/ Iraq border. This buildup of over 200,000 troops has brought tensions between Turkey and the United States, which believes Turkish intervention could distract the stabilization mission and possibly lead to the Turkish military intervention in other areas. [10]Despite the United States warnings, high ranking Turkish officials, including Turkey’s defense minister, have stated their willingness to operate across the border. [11]


  1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4690181.stm
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4690181.stm
  3. World Politics in a New Era, Steven L. Spiegel, Fred L. Wehling, secound edition, pg. 471
  4. World Politics in a New Era, Steven L. Spiegel, Fred L. Wehling, secound edition, pg. 471
  5. http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1996_hrp_report/turkey.html
  6. http://www.armeniandiaspora.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-70547.html
  7. http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/turkey/turkey_violations.htm
  8. http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1996_hrp_report/turkey.html
  9. http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/fellows/20070706.htm
  10. http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUKBUL91940220070719
  11. http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/fellows/20070706.htm