Kurdistan is a region that has existed in turmoil and is the “never was- country. The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group of the Middle East, numbering between 20 and 25 million. Approximately 15 million live in the regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, an area they called Kurdistan, yet they do not have a country of their own. Formal attempts to establish such a state were crushed by the larger and more powerful countries in the region after both world wars. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, the Kurds were promised their own independent nation under the Treaty of Sevres. In 1923 however, the treaty was broken allowing Turkey to maintain its status and not allowing the Kurdish people to have a nation to call their own. The end of the Gulf war, Iran-Iraq war, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the cold war has reinvigorated a Kurdish Nationalist movement.
The movement is a powder keg ready to explode. With the majority of Kurds living within its boundaries, no country faces this threat more than Turkey. Because of Turkey’s concept of unified, cohesive nationhood-in which the existence of minorities are not acknowledged- these tensions in Turkey are more difficult to handle than else where. In southeastern Turkey, extreme fighting and guerilla tactics are used by the Kurds in support of their political parties. The Turkish military is actively stationed in this area now.
There are several political parties that represent the needs of the Kurdish people. They are the Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) who represent the needs of Turkish Kurds and are the most violent terrorist like group, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) who is active politically but not militarily, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) composed of Iraqi Kurds, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who is also representing the Iraqi Kurds.
The PKK was created in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist insurgent group primarily composed of Turkish Kurds searching for an independence movement. Its first and only leader, Abdullah Ocalan, or Apo as he came to be called, was at that time a student of political science at Ankara University.
From the late 1970s, Ocalan worked closely with both the then Soviet Union and with Syria, whose governments were attempting to generate a political breakdown in Turkey.
In 1977, the PKK published a series of “communiqués” demanding the separation of Kurdistan from Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. These communiqués condemned the Turkish government for engaging in repressive “exploitation” of the Kurds and “denial” of their educational and cultural heritage. Apo claims his main goal is the creation of a country for the world’s 20 to 25 million Kurds, more than half of whom live in Turkey, the rest in Iraq, Iran and other neighboring countries. Roughly, a million are in Europe, in exile or as migrants, the bulk of whom are in Germany. He stated also that he wanted to put an end to Turkish colonialism and all forms of imperialist domination over Kurdistan.
Turkey has been a key player against the PKK. Geography, politics and history have conspired to render 30 million Kurds the largest stateless people in the Middle East. The Government of Turkey has long denied the Kurdish population, located largely in the southeast, basic political, cultural, and linguistic rights. The government of Turkey has in turn waged an intense campaign to suppress PKK terrorism, targeting active PKK units as well as persons they believe support or sympathize with the PKK. As part of its fight against the PKK, the Government forcibly displaced noncombatants, failed to resolve extra judicial killings, tortured civilians, and abridged freedom of expression. The Turkish government has also managed to burn over 4,000 villages forcing Kurds to flee from their homeland. Finally, the Turkish government estimates that the conflict with the PKK has exacted a high financial drain on the national treasury. The government estimates that battling the PKK costs about $10 billion per year.
Turkey does support Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Both parties are composed of Iraqi Kurds. Turkey sought to protect and in effect promote the Iraqi Kurds for a variety of reasons. If the Iraqi Kurds were dependant on Turkish goodwill, Turkey might be able to influence the parties from establishing an independent nation that would lead to the PKK (Turkish Kurds) trying to establish their own. This would prevent the PUK and KDP from aiding the PKK. Turkish belief also stated that by helping the Iraqi Kurds it might influence them to become pro-Turkish and be able to aid against the PKK warfare.
Throughout the 1990’s, the conflict has escalated. The PKK’s enemies include not only the Turkish authorities but also, ironically, the two leading ethnic Kurdish groups in Iraq, namely, Masud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The PKK was also now involved in conflict with KDP who was aiding the Turkish fight against the PKK. In May of 1991, the KDP and PUK announced their attentions to combat the PKK.
On April 25, 1999, the PKK 5th congress released this message to the Turkish government and the world. – Our party will intensify its war of resistance against the war of liquidation by Turkey. It will respond to this war of annihilation against our leadership and our people by strengthening the war of liberation. Through a war of guerrillas, mass uprisings, and a war waged by the ‘fedai’ [someone who sacrifices themself to achieve their goal – ed.], it will do all that is necessary to preempt the policies leading to a fratricidal war between the Kurds and the Turks. While intensifying our liberation war on these foundations, it must be known that Turkish plans for annihilation of our people and our leader will receive the harshest response. Our party, too, is going to deny the right to life for those who deny the right to life for our people. Peace for peace, war for war, violence for violence – mass response will be our unwavering line [of struggle]. We are warning the Turkish Republic to revise for the better all of its policies and practices directed against our people and against our leader.”” (http://burn.ucsd.edu/~ats/PKK/pkk_99-04-25.html) This message clearly states the intent of the PKK undermining Turkey and creating an independent nation.
Turkey has been the target of the PKK since the group’s formation in the 70’s. In August of 1984, Ocalan’s terrorist groups began attacking Turkish police stations and similar targets in Turkey’s southeast provinces. Since then, the PKK has been waging a vicious terrorist campaign against Turkey in order to carve out an independent Kurdish state from southeastern Turkey. Primary targets have been Turkish Government security forces in Turkey. The PKK has conducted attacks on Turkish diplomatic and commercial facilities in dozens of West European cities in 1993 and again in spring 1995. In an attempt to damage Turkey’s tourist industry, the PKK bombed tourist sites and hotels and kidnapped foreign tourists in the early-to-mid-1990s. The PKK has also committed murders, kidnappings and mutilations. These activities have resulted, to date, in the death of thousands of innocent individuals, most of whom are civilians, including women, babies, children, the elderly, civil servants, and school teachers. Another PKK target has been the entire population of all the villages that resisted it in southeast Turkey.
The PKK has been supported and sheltered by some of Turkey’s neighbors, as well as by some others outside the region. Syria and Greece are the principal countries that have been supporting the PKK for years. In 1980, Ocalan actually moved to Syria and used Syrian facilities as well as training grounds in the Bekaa Valley to drill terrorist groups for cross-border attacks against targets in Turkey. Greece, a NATO ally, backs the PKK and its affiliates by every means at its disposal.
The PKK is a very malicious and radical group in their search for their independence. They believe that their human rights are being oppressed by The Turkish peoples and that they deserve what land is theirs, no matter the cost. The only forces that stand in their way are Turkey, the PUK, and the KDP. If these organizations fail to stop the PKK, a new nation will be formed in the name of Marxism. And other countries may soon follow, changing what we know as the Middle East.
The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in the 1990’s ; Robert Olsen, editor; The University Press of Kentucky, 1996.