The Kurdish–Turkish conflict[note] is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey and various Kurdish insurgent groups, which have demanded separation from Turkey to create an independent Kurdistan, or to have autonomy and greater political and cultural rights for Kurds inside the Republic of Turkey. The main rebel group is the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan). Although insurgents have carried out attacks in many regions of Turkey, the insurgency is mainly in southeastern Turkey. The PKK's presence in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, from which it has also launched attacks, has resulted in the Turkish military carrying out frequent ground incursions and air and artillery strikes in the region. The conflict has cost the economy of Turkey an estimated US$300 to 450 billion, mostly military costs. It has also affected tourism in Turkey.
The group was founded in 1978 in the village of Fis (near Lice) by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan. The initial reason given by the PKK for this was the oppression of Kurds in Turkey. By then, the use of Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned in Kurdish-inhabited areas. In an attempt to deny their existence, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as "Mountain Turks" until 1991. The words "Kurds", "Kurdistan", or "Kurdish" were officially banned by the Turkish government. 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 Turkey's ethnic Kurds, in an effort to establish linguistic, cultural, and political rights for Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority.
The full-scale insurgency, however, did not begin until 15 August 1984, when the PKK announced a Kurdish uprising. Since the conflict began, more than 40,000 have died, most of whom were Kurdish civilians. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for thousands of human rights abuses. Many judgments are related to systematic executions of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacements, destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists, activists and politicians.
The first insurgency lasted until 1 September 1999, when the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire. The armed conflict was later resumed on 1 June 2004, when the PKK declared an end to its ceasefire. Since summer 2011, the conflict has become increasingly violent with resumption of large-scale hostilities. In 2013 the Turkish Government and the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan started talks. On 21 March 2013, Öcalan announced the "end of armed struggle" and a ceasefire with peace talks. On July 25, 2015, the PKK finally cancelled their 2013 ceasefire after a year of tension due to various events, including the Turks bombing PKK positions in Iraq, in the midst of the Kurds' battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. With the resumption of violence, hundreds of ethnic Kurdish civilians have been killed and numerous human rights violations have occurred including torture, rape and widespread destruction of property. Turkish authorities have destroyed substantial parts of many Kurdish inhabited cities including Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin, Cizre, Nusaybin, and Yüksekova. Following mainly secret negotiations, a largely successful ceasefire was put in place by AKP and PKK. The ceasefire broke in summer 2015 due to political tensions.
Kurdish rebellions against the Ottoman Empire go back two centuries, but the modern conflict dates back to the Turkish War of Independence, which established a Turkish nationalist state which has consistently repressed the human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey. Major historical events include the Koçgiri Rebellion (1920), Sheikh Said rebellion (1925), Ararat rebellion (1930), and the Dersim Rebellion (1938).
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded in 1974 by Abdullah Öcalan. Initially a Marxist–Leninist organization, it abandoned orthodox communism and adopted a program of greater political rights and cultural autonomy for Kurds. Between 1978 and 1980, the PKK engaged in limited urban warfare with the Turkish state to these aims. The organization restructured itself and moved the organization structure to Syria between 1980 and 1984, just after the 1980 Turkish coup d'état.
The rural-based insurgency lasted between 1984 and 1992. The PKK shifted its activities to include urban warfare between 1993 and 1995 and between 1996 and 1999. The leader of the party was captured in Kenya in early 1999, with the support of CIA. After a unilaterally declared peace initiative in 1999, the PKK resumed the conflict due to a Turkish military offensive in 2004. Since 1974 it had been able to evolve, adapt, and go through a metamorphosis, which became the main factor in its survival. It had gradually grown from a handful of political students to a dynamic organization.
In the aftermath of the failed 1991 uprisings in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the UN established no-fly zones over Kurdish areas of Iraq, giving those areas de facto independence. The PKK was forced to retreat from Lebanon and Syria as a part of an agreement between Turkey and the United States. The PKK moved their training camps to the Qandil Mountains and as a result Turkey responded with Operation Steel (1995) and Operation Hammer (1997) in a failed attempt to crush the PKK.
In 1992 Colonel Kemal Yilmaz declared that the Special Warfare Department (the seat of the Counter-Guerrilla) was still active in the conflict against the PKK. The U.S. State Department echoed concerns of Counter-Guerrilla involvement in its 1994 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Turkey. The Counter-Guerrilla units were involved in serious human rights violations.
Öcalan was captured in Kenya on 15 February 1999, allegedly involving CIA agents with Greek Embassy cooperation, resulting in his transfer to the Turkish authorities. After a trial he was sentenced to death, but this sentence was commuted to lifelong aggravated imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished in Turkey in August 2002.
With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, much of the arms of the Iraqi Army fell into the hands of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga militias. The Peshmerga became the de facto army of Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkish sources claim many of its weapons found their way into the hands of other Kurdish groups such as the PKK and the PJAK (a PKK offshoot which operates in Iranian Kurdistan). This has been the pretext for numerous Turkish attacks on the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
In June 2007, Turkey estimated there to be over 3,000 PKK fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In 1973 a small group under Öcalan's leadership released a declaration on Kurdish identity in Turkey. The group, which called itself the Revolutionaries of Kurdistan also included Ali Haydar Kaytan, Cemil Bayik, Haki Karer and Kemal Pir. The group decided in 1974 to start a campaign for Kurdish rights. Cemil Bayik was sent to Urfa, Kemal Pir to Mus, Hakki Karer to Batman, and Ali Haydar Kaytan to Tunceli. They then started student organisations which talked to local workers and farmers about Kurdish rights.
In 1977, an assembly was held to evaluate the political activities. The assembly included 100 people, from different backgrounds and several representatives from other leftist organisations. In spring 1977, Abdullah Öcalan travelled to Mount Ararat, Erzurum, Tunceli, Elazig, Antep, and other cities to make the public aware of the Kurdish issue. This was followed by a Turkish government crackdown against the organisation. On 18 March 1977, Haki Karer was assassinated in Antep. During this period, the group was also targeted by the Turkish ultranationalist organization, the Nationalist Movement Party's Grey Wolves. Some wealthy Kurdish landowners targeted the group as well, killing Halil Çavgun on 18 May 1978, which resulted in large Kurdish meetings in Erzurum, Dersim, Elazig, and Antep.
The founding Congress of the PKK was held on 27 November 1978 in Fis, a village near the city of Lice. During this congress the 25 people present decided to found the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The Turkish state, Turkish rightist groups, and some Kurdish landowners continued their attacks on the group. In response, the PKK employed armed members to protect itself, which got involved in the fighting between leftist and rightist groups in Turkey (1978–1980) at the side of the leftists, during which the right-wing Grey Wolves militia killed 109 and injured 176 Alevi Kurds in the town of Kahramanmaraş on 25 December 1978 in what would become known as the Maraş Massacre. In Summer 1979, Öcalan travelled to Syria and Lebanon where he made contacts with Syrian and Palestinian leaders. After the Turkish coup d'état on 12 September 1980 and a crackdown which was launched on all political organisations, during which at least 191 people were killed and half a million were imprisoned,[note] most of the PKK withdrew into Syria and Lebanon. Öcalan himself went to Syria in September 1980 with Kemal Pir, Mahsum Korkmaz, and Delil Dogan being sent to set up an organisation in Lebanon. Some PKK fighters allegedly took part in the 1982 Lebanon War on the Syrian side.
The Second PKK Party Congress was then held in Daraa, Syria, from 20 to 25 August 1982. Here it was decided that the organisation would return to Turkey to start an armed guerilla war there for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile, they prepared guerilla forces in Syria and Lebanon to go to war. Many PKK leaders however were arrested in Turkey and sent to Diyarbakir Prison. The prison became the site of much political protest. (See also Torture in Turkey#Deaths in custody.)
In Diyarbakır Prison, PKK member Mazlum Doğan burned himself to death on 21 March 1982 in protest at the treatment in prison. Ferhat Kurtay, Necmi Önen, Mahmut Zengin and Eşref Anyık followed his example on 17 May 1982. On 14 July 1982, PKK members Kemal Pir, M. Hayri Durmuş, Ali Çiçek and Akif Yılmaz started a hunger strike in Diyarbakır Prison. Kemal Pir died on 7 September 1982, M. Hayri Durmuş on 12 September 1982, Akif Yılmaz on 15 September 1982, and Ali Çiçek on 17 September 1982. On 13 April 1984, a 75-day hunger-strike started in Istanbul. As a result, four prisoners—Abdullah Meral, Haydar Başbağ, Fatih Ökütülmüş, and Hasan Telci—died.
The PKK launched its armed insurgency on 15 August 1984 with armed attacks on Eruh and Semdinli. During these attacks 1 gendarmerie soldier was killed, 7 soldiers, 2 policemen and 3 civilians were injured. It was followed by a PKK raid on a police station in Siirt, two days later.
In the early 1990s, President Turgut Özal agreed to negotiations with the PKK, the events of the 1991 Gulf War having changed some of the geopolitical dynamics in the region. Apart from Özal, himself half-Kurdish, few Turkish politicians were interested in a peace process, nor was more than a part of the PKK itself. In 1993 Özal was working on the peace plans with the former finance minister Adnan Kahveci and the General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie, Eşref Bitlis. Negotiations led to a cease-fire declaration by the PKK on 20 March 1993. With the PKK's ceasefire declaration in hand, Özal was planning to propose a major pro-Kurdish reform package at the next meeting of the National Security Council. The president's death on 17 April led to the postponement of that meeting, and the plans were never presented. A month later a PKK ambush on 24 May 1993 ensured the end of the peace process. The former PKK commander Şemdin Sakık maintains the attack was part of the Doğu Çalışma Grubu's coup plans. Under the new Presidency of Süleyman Demirel and Premiership of Tansu Çiller, the Castle Plan (to use any and all means to solve the Kurdish question using violence), which Özal had opposed, was enacted, and the peace process abandoned. Some journalists and politicians maintain that Özal's death (allegedly by poison) along with the assassination of a number of political and military figures supporting his peace efforts, was part of a covert military coup in 1993 aimed at stopping the peace plans.
To counter the growing force of the PKK the Turkish military started new counter-insurgency strategies between 1992 and 1995. To deprive the rebels of a logistical base of operations and allegedly punishing local people supporting the PKK the military carried out de-forestation of the countryside and destroyed over 3,000 Kurdish villages, causing at least 2 million refugees. Most of these villages were evacuated, but other villages were burned, bombed, or shelled by government forces, and several entire villages were obliterated from the air. While some villages were destroyed or evacuated, many villages were brought to the side of the Turkish government, which offered salaries to local farmers and shepherds to join the Village Guards, which would prevent the PKK from operating in these villages, while villages which refused were evacuated by the military. These tactics managed to drive the rebels from the cities and villages into the mountains, although they still often launched reprisals on pro-government villages, which included attacks on civilians.
However, the turning point in the conflict came in 1998, when, after political pressure and military threats from Turkey, the PKK's leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was forced to leave Syria, where he had been in exile since September 1980. He first went to Russia, then to Italy and Greece. He was eventually brought to the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was arrested on 15 February 1999 at the airport in a joint MİT-CIA operation and brought to Turkey, which resulted in major protests by Kurds worldwide. Three Kurdish protestors were shot dead when trying to enter the Israeli consulate in Berlin to protest alleged Israeli involvement in the capture of Abdullah Öcalan. Although the capture of Öcalan ended a third cease-fire which Öcalan had declared on 1 August 1998, on 1 September 1999 the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire which would last until 2004.
After the unilateral cease-fire the PKK declared in September 1999, their forces fully withdrew from the Republic of Turkey and set up new bases in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq and in February 2000 they declared the formal end of the war. After this, the PKK said it would switch its strategy to using peaceful methods to achieve their objectives. In April 2002 the PKK changed its name to KADEK (Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress), claiming the PKK had fulfilled its mission and would now move on as purely political organisation. In October 2003 the KADEK announced its dissolution and declared the creation of a new organisation: KONGRA-GEL (Kurdistan Peoples Congress).
Offers by the PKK for negotiations were ignored by the Turkish government, which claimed, the KONGRA-GEL continued to carry out armed attacks in the 1999–2004 period, although not on the same scale as before September 1999. They also blame the KONGRA-GEL for Kurdish riots which happened during the period. The PKK argues that they only defended themselves as they claim the Turkish military launched some 700 raids against their bases militants, including in Northern Iraq. Also, despite the KONGRA-GEL cease-fire, other groups continued their armed activities, the PŞK for instance, tried to use the cease-fire to attract PKK fighters to join their organisation. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) were formed during this period by radical KONGRA-GEL commanders, dissatisfied with the cease-fire. The period after the capture of Öcalan was used by the Turkish government to launch major crackdown operations against the Turkish Hezbollah (Kurdish Hezbollah), arresting 3,300 Hizbullah members in 2000, compared to 130 in 1998, and killing the group's leader Hüseyin Velioğlu on 13 January 2000. During this phase of the war at least 145 people were killed during fighting between the PKK and security forces.
From 2003 to 2004 there was a power struggle inside the KONGRA-GEL between a reformist wing which wanted the organisation to disarm completely and a traditionalist wing which wanted the organisation to resume its armed insurgency once again. The conservative wing of the organisation won this power struggle forcing reformist leaders such as Kani Yilmaz, Nizamettin Tas and Abdullah Öcalan's younger brother Osman Öcalan to leave the organisation. The three major traditionalist leaders, Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Fehman Huseyin formed the new leadership committee of the organisation. The new administration decided to restart the insurgency, because they claimed that without guerillas the PKK's political activities would remain unsuccessful. This came as the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) was banned by the Turkish Supreme Court on 13 March 2003 and its leader Murat Bolzak was imprisoned.
In April 2005, KONGRA-GEL reverted its name back to PKK. Because not all of the KONGRA-GEL's elements reverted, the organisation has also been referred to as the New PKK. The KONGRA-GEL has since become the Legislative Assembly of the Koma Civakên Kurdistan, an umbrella organisation which includes the PKK and is used as the group's urban and political wing. Ex-DEP member Zübeyir Aydar is the President of the KONGRA-GEL.
Through the cease-fire years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, some 711 people were killed according to the Turkish government. The Uppsala Conflict Data Program put casualties during these years at 368 to 467 killed.
On 1 June 2004, the PKK resumed its armed activities because they claimed Turkish government was ignoring their calls for negotiations and was still attacking their forces. The government claimed that in that same month some 2,000 Kurdish guerrillas entered Turkey via Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK, lacking a state sponsor or the kind of manpower they had in the 90s, was however forced to take up new tactics. As result, the PKK reduced the size of its field units from 15–20 militants to 6–8 militants. It also avoided direct confrontations and relied more on the use of mines, snipers and small ambushes, using hit and run tactics. Another change in PKK-tactics was that the organisation no longer attempted to control any territory, not even after dark. Nonetheless, violence increased throughout both 2004 and 2005 during which the PKK was said to be responsible for dozens of bombings in Western Turkey throughout 2005. Most notably the 2005 Kuşadası minibus bombing, which killed 5 and injured 14 people, although the PKK denied responsibility.
In March 2006 heavy fighting broke out around Diyarbakir between the PKK and Turkish security forces, as well as large riots by PKK supporters, as result the army had to temporary close the roads to Diyarbakır Airport and many schools and businesses had to be shut down. In August, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), which vowed to "turn Turkey into hell", launched a major bombing campaign. On 25 August two coordinated low-level blasts targeted a bank in Adana, on 27 August a school in Istanbul was targeted by a bombing, on 28 August there were three coordinated attacks in Marmaris and one in Antalya targeting the tourist industry and on 30 August there was a TAK bombing in Mersin. These bombings were condemned by the PKK, which declared its fifth cease-fire on 1 October 2006, which slowed down the intensity of the conflict. Minor clashes, however, continued in the South East due to Turkish counter-insurgency operations. In total, the conflict claimed over 500 lives in 2006. 2006 also saw the PKK assassinate one of their former commanders, Kani Yilmaz, in February, in Iraq.
In May 2007, there was a bombing in Ankara that killed 6 and injured 121 people. The Turkish government alleged the PKK was responsible for the bombing. On 4 June, a PKK suicide bombing in Tunceli killed seven soldiers and wounded six at a military base. Tensions across the Iraqi border also started playing up as Turkish forces entered Iraq several times in pursuit of PKK fighting and In June, as 4 soldiers were killed by landmines, large areas of Iraqi Kurdistan were shelled which damaged 9 villages and forced residents to flee. On 7 October 2007, 40–50 PKK fighters ambushed an 18-man Turkish commando unit in the Gabar mountains, killing 15 commandos and injuring three, which made it the deadliest PKK attack since the 1990s. In response a law was passed allowing the Turkish military to take action inside Iraqi territory. Than on 21 October 2007, 150–200 militants attacked an outpost, in Dağlıca, Yüksekova, manned by a 50-strong infantry battalion. The outpost was overrun and the PKK killed 12, wounded 17 and captured 8 Turkish soldiers. They then withdrew into Iraqi Kurdistan, taking the 8 captive soldiers with them. The Turkish military claimed to have killed 32 PKK fighters in hot pursuit operations, after the attack, however this was denied by the PKK and no corpses of PKK militants were produced by the Turkish military. The Turkish military responded by bombing PKK bases on 24 October and started preparing for a major cross-border military operation.
This major cross-border offensive, dubbed Operation Sun, started on 21 February 2008 and was preceded by an aerial offensive against PKK camps in northern Iraq, which began on 16 December 2007. Between 3,000 and 10,000 Turkish forces took part in the offensive. According to the Turkish military around 230 PKK fighters were killed in the ground offensive, while 27 Turkish forces were killed. According to the PKK, over 125 Turkish forces were killed, while PKK casualties were in the tens. Smaller scale Turkish operations against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan continued afterwards. On 27 July 2008, Turkey blamed the PKK for an Istanbul double-bombing which killed 17 and injured 154 people. The PKK however denied any involvement. On 4 October, the most violent clashes since the October 2007 clashes in Hakkari erupted as the PKK attacked the Aktutun border post in Şemdinli in the Hakkâri Province, at night. 15 Turkish soldiers were killed and 20 were injured, meanwhile 23 PKK fighters were said to be killed during the fighting. On 10 November, the Iranian Kurdish insurgent group PJAK declared it would be halting operations inside Iran to start fighting the Turkish military. Turkey counts cost of conflict as Kurdish militant battle rages on
At the start of 2009 Turkey opened its first Kurdish-language TV-channel, TRT 6, and on 19 March 2009 local elections were held in Turkey in which the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) won majority of the vote in the South East. Soon after, on 13 April 2009, the PKK declared its sixth ceasefire, after Abdullah Öcalan called on them to end military operations and prepare for peace. In September Turkey's Erdoğan-government launched the Kurdish initiative, which included plans to rename Kurdish villages that had been given Turkish names, expand the scope of the freedom of expression, restore Turkish citizenship to Kurdish refugees, strengthen local governments, and extend a partial amnesty for PK fighters. The plans for the Kurdish initiative where however heavily hurt after the DTP was banned by the Turkish constitutional court on 11 December 2009 and its leaders were subsequently put on trial for terrorism. A total of 1,400 DTP members were arrested and 900 detained in the government crackdown against the party. This caused major riots by Kurds all over Turkey and resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and security forces as well as pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in several injuries and fatalities. On 7 December the PKK launched an ambush in Reşadiye which killed seven and injured three Turkish soldiers, which became the deadliest PKK attack in that region since the 1990s.
On 1 May 2010 the PKK declared an end to its cease-fire, launching an attack in Tunceli that killed four and injured seven soldiers. On 31 May, Abdullah Öcalan declared an end to his attempts at re-approachment and establishing dialogue with the Turkish government, leaving PKK top commanders in charge of the conflict. The PKK then stepped up its armed activities, starting with a missile attack on a navy base in İskenderun, killing 7 and wounding 6 soldiers. On 18 and 19 June, heavy fighting broke out that resulted in the death of 12 PKK fighters, 12 Turkish soldiers and injury of 17 Turkish soldiers, as the PKK launched three separate attacks in Hakkari and Elazig provinces.
Another major attack in Hakkari occurred on 20 July 2010, killing six and wounding seventeen Turkish soldiers, with one PKK fighter being killed. The next day, Murat Karayilan, the leader of the PKK, announced that the PKK would lay down its arms if the Kurdish issue would be resolved through dialogue and threatened to declare independence if this demand was not met. Turkish authorities claimed they had killed 187 and captured 160 PKK fighters by 14 July. By 27 July, Turkish news sources reported the deaths of over 100 security forces, which exceeded the entire 2009 toll. On 12 August, however, a ramadan cease-fire was declared by the PKK. In November the cease-fire was extended until the Turkish general election on 12 June 2011, despite alleging that Turkey had launched over 80 military operations against them during this period. Despite the truce, the PKK responded to these military operations by launching retaliatory attacks in Siirt and Hakkari provinces, killing 12 Turkish soldiers.
The cease-fire was however revoked early, on 28 February 2011. Soon afterwards three PKK fighters were killed while trying to get into Turkey through northern Iraq. In May, counter-insurgency operations left 12 PKK fighters and 5 soldiers dead. This then resulted in major Kurdish protests across Turkey as part of a civil disobedience campaign launched by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), during these protests 2 people were killed, 308 injured and 2,506 arrested by Turkish authorities. The 12 June elections saw a historical performance for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which won 36 seats in the South-East, which was more than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won only 30 seats in Kurdish areas. However, six of the 36 elected BDP deputies remain in Turkish jails as of June 2011. One of the six jailed deputies, Hatip Dicle, was then stripped of his elected position by the constitutional court, after which the 30 free MPs declared a boycott of Turkish parliament. The PKK intensified its campaign again, in July killing 20 Turkish soldiers in two weeks, during which at least 10 PKK fighters were killed. On 17 August 2011, the Turkish Armed Forces launched multiple raids against Kurdish rebels, striking 132 targets. Turkish military bombed PKK targets in northern Iraq in six days of air raids, according to General Staff, where 90–100 PKK Soldiers were killed, and at least 80 injured. From July to September Iran carried out an offensive against the PJAK in Northern Iraq, which resulted in a cease-fire on 29 September. After the cease-fire the PJAK withdrew its forces from Iran and joined with the PKK to fight Turkey. Turkish counter-terrorism operations reported a sharp increase of Iranian citizens among the insurgents killed in October and November, such as the six PJAK fighters killed in Çukurca on 28 October. On 19 October, twenty-six Turkish soldiers were killed and 18 injured in 8 simultaneous PKK attacks in Cukurca and Yuksekova, in Hakkari provieen 10,000 and 15,000 full-time, which is the highest it has ever been.
In summer 2012, the conflict with the PKK took a violent curve, in parallel with the Syrian civil war as President Bashar al-Assad ceded control of several Kurdish cities in Syria to the PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, and Turkey armed ISIS and other Islamic groups against Kurds. Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused the Assad government of arming the group. In June and August there were heavy clashes in Hakkari province, described as the most violent in years. as the PKK attempted to seize control of Şemdinli and engage the Turkish army in a "frontal battle" by blocking the roads leading to the town from Iran and Iraq and setting up DShK heavy machine guns and rocket launchers on high ground to ambush Turkish motorized units that would be sent to re-take the town. However the Turkish army avoided the trap by destroying the heavy weapons from the air and using long range artillery to root out the PKK. The Turkish military declared operation was ended successfully on 11 August, claiming to have killed 115 guerrillas and lost only six soldiers and two village guards. On 20 August, eight people were killed and 66 wounded by a deadly bombing in Gaziantep. According to the KCK 400 incidents of shelling, air bombardment and armed clashes occurred in August. On 24 September, Turkish General Necdet Özel claimed that 110 Turkish soldiers and 475 PKK militants had been killed since the start of 2012.
On the eve of the 2012 year (28 December), in a television interview upon a question of whether the government had a project to solve the issue, Erdoğan said that the government was conducting negotiations with jailed rebel leader Öcalan. Negotiations initially named as Solution Process (Çözüm Süreci) in public. While negotiations were going on, there were numerous events that were regarded as sabotage to derail the talks: Assassination of three Kurdish PKK administrators in Paris (one of them is Sakine Cansız), revealing Öcalan's talks with Kurdish party to public via the Milliyet newspaper and finally, the bombings of the Justice Ministry of Turkey and Erdoğan's office at the Ak Party headquarters in Ankara. However, both parties vehemently condemned all three events as they occurred and stated that they were determined anyway. Finally on 21 March 2013, after months of negotiations with the Turkish Government, Abdullah Ocalan's letter to people was read both in Turkish and Kurdish during Nowruz celebrations in Diyarbakır. The letter called a cease-fire that included disarmament and withdrawal from Turkish soil and calling an end to armed struggle. PKK announced that they would obey, stating that the year of 2013 is the year of solution either through war or through peace. Erdoğan welcomed the letter stating that concrete steps will follow PKK's withdrawal.
On 25 April 2013, PKK announced that it would be withdrawing all its forces within Turkey to Northern Iraq. According to the Turkish government and the Kurds and most of the press, this move marks the end of 30-year-old conflict. Second phase which includes constitutional and legal changes towards the recognition of human rights of the Kurds starts simultaneously with withdrawal.
On 6 and 7 October 2014, riots erupted in various cities in Turkey for protesting the Siege of Kobane. The Kurds accused the Turkish government of supporting ISIS and not letting people send support for Kobane Kurds. Protesters were met with tear gas and water cannons. 37 people were killed in protests. During these protests, there were deadly clashes between PKK and Hizbullah sympathizers. 3 soldiers were killed by PKK in January 2015, as a sign of rising tensions in the country.
In June 2015, the main Syrian Kurdish militia, YPG, and the Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, accused Turkey of allowing Islamic State (ISIL) soldiers to cross its border and attack the Kurdish city of Kobanî in Syria. The conflict between Turkey and PKK escalated following the 2015 Suruç bombing attack on progressive activists, which was blamed on a Turkish ISIL-affiliated group. During the Operation Martyr Yalçın, Turkey bombed alleged PKK bases in Iraq and PYD bases in Syria's Kurdish region Rojava, effectively ending the cease-fire (after many months of increasing tensions) and the killing of two policeman in the town of Ceylanpınar (which the PKK denied carrying out). Turkish warplanes also bombed YPG bases in Syria.
Violence soon spread throughout Turkey. Many Kurdish businesses were destroyed by mobs. The headquarters and branches of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were also attacked. There are reports of civilians being killed in several Kurdish-populated towns and villages. The Council of Europe raised their concerns over the attacks on civilians and the blockade of Cizre. The number of casualties since July 23 was claimed by Turkish government to be 150 Turkish officers and over 2,000 Kurdish rebels killed (by September). In December 2015, Turkish military operations in the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey had killed hundreds of civilians, displaced hundreds of thousands and caused massive destruction in residential areas. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "Local human rights groups have recorded well over 100 civilian deaths and multiple injuries."
In January 2018, the Turkish military and its Free Syrian Army and Sham Legion allies began a cross-border operation in the Kurdish-majority Afrin Canton in Northern Syria, against the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD) and the U.S.-supported YPG Kurdish militia. In March 2018, Turkey launched military operations to eliminate the Kurdish PKK fighters in northern Iraq.
The Serhildan, or people's uprising, started on 14 March 1990, Nusaybin during the funeral of 20-year-old PKK fighter Kamuran Dundar, who along with 13 other fighters was killed by the Turkish military after crossing into Turkey via Syria several days earlier. Dundar came from a Kurdish nationalist family which claimed his body and held a funeral for him in Nusaybin in which he was brought to the city's main mosque and 5000 people which held a march. On the way back the march turned violent and protesters clashed with the police, during which both sides fired upon each other and many people were injured. A curfew was then placed in Nusaybin, tanks and special forces were brought in and some 700 people were arrested. Riots spread to nearby towns and in Cizre over 15,000 people, constituting about half the town's population took part in riots in which five people were killed, 80 injured and 155 arrested. Widespread riots took place throughout the Southeast on Nowruz, the Kurdish new-year celebrations, which at the time were banned. Protests slowed down over the next two weeks as many started to stay home and Turkish forces were ordered not to intervene unless absolutely necessarily but factory sit-ins, go-slows, work boycotts and "unauthorized" strikes were still held although in protest of the state.
Protests are often held on 21 March, or Nowruz. Most notably in 1992, when thousands of protesters clashed with security forces all over the country and where the army allegedly disobeyed an order from President Suleyman Demirel not to attack the protest. In the heavy violence that ensued during that year's Nowroz protest some 55 people were killed, mainly in Şırnak (26 killed), Cirze (29 killed) and Nusaybin (14 killed) and it included a police officer and a soldier. Over 200 people were injured and another 200 were arrested. According to Governor of Şırnak, Mustafa Malay, the violence was caused by 500 to 1,500 armed rebels which he alleged, entered the town during the festival. However, he conceded that "the security forces did not establish their targets properly and caused great damage to civilian houses."
|People's Labor Party||HEP||Ahmet Fehmi Işıklar||1990–1993|
|Democracy Party||DEP||Yaşar Kaya||1993–1994|
|People's Democracy Party||HADEP||Murat Bozlak||1994–2003|
|Democratic People's Party||DEHAP||Tuncer Bakırhan||1997–2005|
|Democratic Society Movement||DTH||Leyla Zana||2005|
|Democratic Society Party||DTP||Ahmet Türk||2005–2009|
|Peace and Democracy Party||BDP||Gültan Kışanak, Selahattin Demirtaş||2008–2014|
|Democratic Regions Party||DBP||Emine Ayna, Kamûran Yüksek||2014–present|
|Peoples' Democratic Party||HDP||Figen Yüksekdağ, Selahattin Demirtaş||2012–present|
On 7 June 1990, seven members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey who were expelled from the Social Democratic People's Party (SHP), together formed the People's Labor Party (HEP) and were led by Ahmet Fehmi Işıklar. The Party was banned in July 1993 by the Constitutional Court of Turkey for promoting separatism. The party was succeeded by the Democracy Party, which was founded in May 1993. The Democracy Party, was however banned on 16 June 1994 for promoting Kurdish nationalism and four of the party's members: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak were sentenced to 14 years in prison. Zana was the first Kurdish woman to be elected into parliament,. However, she sparked a major controversy by saying "I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people," during her inauguration into parliament. In June 2004, after spending 10 years in jail, a Turkish court ordered the release of all four prisoners In May 1994, Kurdish lawyer Murat Bozlak formed the People's Democracy Party (HADEP), which won 1,171,623 votes, or 4.17% of the national vote during the general elections on 24 December 1995 and 1,482,196 votes or 4.75% in the elections on 18 April 1999, however it failed to win any seats due to the 10% threshold. During local elections in 1999 they won control over 37 municipalities and gained representation in 47 cities and hundreds of districts. In 2002 the party became a member of Socialist International. After surviving a closure case in 1999, HADEP was finally banned on 13 March 2003 on the grounds that it had become a "centre of illegal activities which included aiding and abetting the PKK." The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that the ban violated article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of association. The Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) was formed on 24 October 1997 and succeeded HADEP. DEHAP won 1,955,298 votes or 6,23% during the November 3, 2002 general election,. However, it performed disappointingly during the March 28, 2004 local elections, where their coalition with the SHP and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) only managed to win 5.1% of the vote, only winning in Batman, Hakkâri, Diyarbakır and Şırnak Provinces, the majority of Kurdish voters voting for the AKP. After being released in 2004 Leyla Zana formed the Democratic Society Movement (DTH), which merged with the DEHAP into the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2005 under the leadership of Ahmet Türk.
The Democratic Society Party decided to run their candidates as independent candidates during the June 22, 2007 general elections, to get around the 10% threshold rule. Independents won 1,822,253 votes or 5.2% during the elections, resulting in a total of 27 seats, 23 of which went to the DTP. The party performed well during the March 29, 2009 local elections, however, winning 2,116,684 votes or 5.41% an doubling the number of governors from four to eight and increasing the number of mayors from 32 to 51. For the first time they won a majority in the southeast and, aside from the Batman, Hakkâri, Diyarbakır and Şırnak provinces which DEHAP had won in 2004, the DTP managed to win Van, Siirt and Iğdır Provinces from the AKP. On 11 December 2009, the Constitutional Court of Turkey voted to ban the DTP, ruling that the party had links to the PKK just like in case of previous closed Kurdish parties and authorities claimed that it is seen as guilty of spreading "terrorist propaganda." Chairman Ahmet Türk and legislator Aysel Tuğluk were expelled from Parliament, and they and 35 other party members were banned from joining any political party for five years. The European Union released a statement, expressing concern over the court's ruling and urging Turkey to change its policies towards political parties. Major protests erupted throughout Kurdish communities in Turkey, in response to the ban. The DTP was succeeded by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), under the leadership of Selahattin Demirtaş. The BDP called on its supporters to boycott the Turkish constitutional referendum on 12 September 2010 because the constitutional change did not meet minority demands. Gültan Kışanak, the BDP co-chair, released a statement saying that "we will not vote against the amendment and prolong the life of the current fascist constitution. Nor will we vote in favour of the amendments and support a new fascist constitution." Due to the boycott Hakkâri (9.05%), Şırnak (22.5%), Diyarbakır (34.8%), Batman (40.62%), Mardin (43.0%), Van (43.61), Siirt (50.88%), Iğdır (51.09%), Muş (54.09%), Ağrı (56.42%), Tunceli (67.22%), Şanlıurfa (68.43%), Kars (68.55%) and Bitlis Province (70.01%) had the lowest turnouts in the country, compared to a 73.71% national average. Tunceli, however was the only Kurdish majority province where a majority of the population voted "no" during the referendum. During the June 12, 2011 national elections the BDP nominated 61 independent candidates, winning 2,819,917 votes or 6.57% and increasing its number of seats from 20 to 36. The BDP won the most support in Şırnak (72.87%), Hakkâri (70.87%), Diyarbakır (62.08%) and Mardin (62.08%) Provinces.
According to figures released by the Anadolu Agency, citing a Turkish security source, from 1984 to August 2015, there were 36,345 deaths in the conflict. This included 6,741 civilians, 7,230 security forces (5,347 soldiers, 1,466 village guards and 283 policemen) and 22,374 PKK fighters by August 2015. Among the civilian casualties, till 2012, were 157 teachers. From August 1984 to June 2007, a total of 13,327 soldiers and 7,620 civilians were said to have been wounded. About 2,500 people were said to have been killed between 1984 and 1991, while over 17,500 were killed between 1991 and 1995. The number of murders committed by Village Guards from 1985 to 1996 is put at 296 by official estimates.
Contrary to the newest estimate, earlier figures by the Turkish military put the number of PKK casualties much higher, with 26,128 PKK dead by June 2007, and 29,704 by March 2009. Between the start of the second insurgency in 2004, and March 2009, 2,462 PKK militants were claimed killed. However, later figures provided by the military for the 1984–2012 period, revised down the number of killed PKK members to 21,800.
Both the PKK and Turkish military have accused each other of civilian deaths. Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses against Kurdish people. The judgments are related to systematic executions of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacements, thousands of destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists, politicians and activists. Turkey has been also condemned for killing Kurdish civilians and blaming the PKK in the ECHR (Kuskonar massacre).
According to human rights organisations since the beginning of the uprising 4,000 villages have been destroyed, in which between 380,000 and 1,000,000 Kurdish villagers have been forcibly evacuated from their homes, mainly by the Turkish military. Some 5,000 Turks and 35,000 Kurds, have been killed, 17,000 Kurds have disappeared and 119,000 Kurds have been imprisoned by Turkish authorities. According to the Humanitarian Law Project, 2,400 Kurdish villages were destroyed and 18,000 Kurds were executed, by the Turkish government. In total up to 3,000,000 people (mainly Kurds) have been displaced by the conflict, an estimated 1,000,000 of which are still internally displaced as of 2009. The Assyrian Minority was heavily affected as well, as now most (50–60 thousand/70,000) of its population is in refuge in Europe.
The Uppsala Conflict Data Program recorded 25,825–30,639 casualties to date, 22,729–25,984 of which having died during the first insurgency, 368–467 during the cease-fire and 2,728–4,188 during the second insurgency. Casualties from 1989 to 2011, according to the UCDP are as following:
|Year||Low Estimate||High Estimate|
The conflict's casualties between 1984 and March 2009 according to the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey, Turkish Gendarmerie, General Directorate of Security and since then until June 2010 according to Milliyet's analysis of the data of the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey and Turkish Gendarmerie were as following:
The Turkification of predominantly Kurdish areas in country's East and South-East were also bound in the early ideas and policies of the modern Turkish nationalism, going back to as early as 1918 (the manifesto of Turkish nationalist Ziya Gokalp "Turkification, Islamization and Modernization"). The evolving Young Turk conscience adopted a specific interpretation of progressism, a trend of though which emphasizes the human ability to make, improve and reshape human society, relying of science, technology and experimentation. This notion of social evolution was used to support and justify policies of population control – not unlike European colonialism. The paradigm of Kemalism rationalized the deportation-and-settlement program, reinforced with opinions of senior Young Turks that "In this country only the Turkish nation has the right to claim ethnic and racial rights. Nobody else has such a right". The Kurdish rebellions provided a comfortable pretext for Turkish Kemalists to implement such ideas, and in 1926 the Settlement Law was issued. It created a complex pattern of interaction between state of society, in which the regime favored its people in a distant geography, populated by locals marked as hostile (in this regard, according to Prof. Caroline Elkins, the policy of governing a distant land to send settlers in order to reshape demographics there to resemble homeland is named 'settler colonialism').
During the 1990s, a predominantly Kurdish-dominated Eastern and South-Eastern Turkey (Kurdistan) was depopulated due to the Turkey-PKK conflict. Turkey depopulated and destroyed rural settlements on a large scale, resulting in massive resettlement of a rural Kurdish population in urban areas and leading to development and re-design of population settlement schemes across the countryside. According to Dr. Joost Jongerden, Turkish settlement and re-settlement policies during the 1990s period were influenced by two different forces – the desire to expand administration to rural areas and an alternative view of urbanization, allegedly producing "Turkishness".
According to the Ministry of Justice, in addition to the 35,000 people killed in military campaigns, 17,500 were assassinated between 1984, when the conflict began, and 1998. An additional 1,000 people were reportedly assassinated in the first nine months of 1999. According to the Turkish press, the authors of these crimes, none of whom have been arrested, belong to groups of mercenaries working either directly or indirectly for the security agencies.
Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses against Kurdish people. The judgments are related to systematic executions of Kurdish civilians, forced recruitments, torturing, forced displacements, thousands of destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists. The latest judgments are from 2014.
The Turkish government is held responsible by Turkish human rights organizations for 3,438 civilian deaths in the conflict between 1987 and 2000.
In 1993, Mehmet Ogut, his pregnant wife and 7 children were burned to death by Turkish special forces soldiers. The Turkish authorities blamed the PKK and refused to investigate it. After 20 years, the investigations were started and they eventually came to an end in late 2014 with sentences of life imprisonment for three gendarme officers, a member of the special forces and nine soldiers.
On 26 March 1994 the Turkish military planes (F-16's) and a helicopter circled two villages and bombed them, killing 38 Kurdish civilians. The Turkish authorities blamed the PKK and took pictures of the dead children and spread in the press. The European Court of Human rights condemned Turkey to pay 2,3 million euros to the families of victims. The event is known as the Kuşkonar massacre.
In 1995, Human Rights Watch reported that it was common practice for Turkish soldiers to kill Kurdish civilians and take pictures of their corpses with the weapons, they carried only for staging the events. Killed civilians were shown to press as PKK "terrorists".
In 1995, The European newspaper published in its front page pictures of Turkish soldiers who posed for camera with the decapitated heads of the Kurdish PKK fighters. Kurdish fighters were beheaded by Turkish special forces soldiers.
In 1997, Amnesty International (AI) reported that, "'Disappearances' and extrajudicial executions have emerged as new and disturbing patterns of human rights violations" by the Turkish state.
In August 2015, Amnesty International reported that the Turkish government airstrikes killed eight residents and injured at least eight others – including a child – in a flagrantly unlawful attack on the village of Zergele, in the Kandil Mountains in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Human Rights Watch notes that:
Turkish–Kurdish human right activists in Germany accused Turkey of Using Chemical Weapons against PKK. Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries investigated the authenticity of the photos and claimed that the photos were authentic. A forensics report released by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the allegations. Claudia Roth from Germany's Green Party demanded an explanation from the Turkish government. The Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal commented on the issue. He said that he did not need to emphasize that the accusations were groundless. He added that Turkey signed to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, and Turkey did not possess chemical weapons. Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction since 1997, and has passed all inspections required by such convention.
In response to the activities of the PKK, the Turkish government placed Southeastern Anatolia, where citizens of Kurdish descent are in the majority, under military rule. The Turkish Army and the Kurdish village guards loyal to it have abused Kurdish civilians, resulting in mass migrations to cities. The Government claimed that the displacement policy aimed to remove the shelter and support of the local population and consequently, the population of cities such as Diyarbakır and Cizre more than doubled. However martial law and military rule was lifted in the last provinces in 2002.
The PKK was responsible for a number of civilian deaths, even though this number is lower than those perpetrated by the government. The number of total civilian deaths perpetrated by the PKK between 1989 and 1999 was determined as 1,205 by the independent Uppsala One-Sided Violence Dataset. This violence targeted members of the families of village guards. In the Pınarcık massacre of 1987, claimed by the PKK in its publication Serxwebûn, 30 villagers were killed. PKK attacks on civilians persisted until the organization realised that these were damaging their international prestige.
In the early 1990s, the PKK executed bakers that delivered bread to army bases, burnt down and killed the owners of fuel stations that served the authorities in the areas they were active in. They forbid the distribution of Turkish newspapers and the watching of Turkish television channels, forcing the inhabitants to remove their antennae. The inhabitants were banned from joining any Turkish political party and were forced to get the approval of the PKK if they were to run for local offices. The PKK attacked schools as they were seen as "emblems of Turkish imperialism" that belonged to the "colonial assimilation system"; 47 teachers were killed in 1993 alone. A justification for the killing of teachers was that they taught Turkish to Kurdish children. According to Amnesty International reports in 1997, the PKK has tortured and killed Kurdish peasants and its own members that were against them in the 1980s. Dozens of Kurdish civilians have been abducted and killed because they were suspected of being collaborators or informers. According to a 1996 report by Amnesty International, "in January 1996 the [Turkish] government announced that the PKK had massacred 11 men near the remote village of Güçlükonak. Seven of the victims were members of the local village guard forces".
The Turkish establishment considered the Kurds' demand for the recognition of their identity a threat to the territorial integrity of the state, the more so because the PKK was supported by countries hostile to Turkey: Soviet Union, Greece, Cyprus, Iran and especially Syria. Syria hosted the organization and its leader for twenty years, and it provided training facilities in the Beka'a Valley of Syrian-controlled northern Lebanon.
The USSR, and then Russia, also supported the PKK for many years.
The PKK was originally established as a Marxist party, with ties to the Soviet Union
Iran's Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) trained the PKK in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley. Iran supported the PKK despite Turkey's strict neutrality during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988).
With the explicit supports of some Arab countries for the PKK such as Syria...
PKK has had substantial operations in northern Iraq, with the support of Iran and Syria.
Saddam has aided...the Kurdistan Workers' Party (known by its Turkish initials, PKK), a separatist group fighting the Turkish government.
Other groups that have received Libyan support include the Turkish PKK...
Cairo allegedly gave the PKK delegation funds and weapons after the second meeting, the report adds.
The Turkish military responded with a ferocious counterinsurgency campaign that led to the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, most of them Turkish Kurdish civilians, and the displacement of more than three million Kurds from southeastern Turkey.
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Some of the most extensively damaged sites are Nusaybin, Derik and Dargeçit (Mardin); Sur, Bismil and Dicle (Diyarbakır); and Cizre and Silopi (Şırnak).
Human rights groups reported the widespread and credible belief that a counterguerrilla group associated with the security forces had carried out at least some 'mystery killings.'