Find a Security Clearance Job!


Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK)
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan [PKK]
Kurdistan Workers' Party
People's Defense Force

Turkey and its Kurdish population have taken a major step toward ending the three-decade conflict that has claimed more than 45,000 lives. On Thursday (21.03.2013), Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the banned Kurdish group PKK, called for a ceasefire and urged his armed followers to withdraw from Turkish soil. "Let guns be silenced and politics dominate," Ocalan said in his declaration, which was read by pro-Kurdish politicians to hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Kurdish New Year celebrations in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey. "A new door is being opened from the process of armed conflict to democratization and democratic politics, said Ocalan. "It's not the end. It's the start of a new era."

The first of an estimated 2,000 Kurdish militants withdrawing from Turkey arrived in Iraq on May 14, 2013 as part of a peace process aimed at ending one of the world's bloodiest insurgencies. The group crossed into the Heror area of northern Iraq. The full withdrawal was expected to take three to four months. The move was one step in a peace deal between jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish officials to end 30 years of conflict. The Iraqi government on Tuesday condemned the entry of PKK fighters into its territory, calling it "a flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and independence." Baghdad said it would file a complaint about it with the United Nations Security Council.

The Turkish government started direct talks with Ocalan in October 2012, by instructing Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to come to a peaceful settlement. In 2010, MIT made contact with PKK leaders in secret, but the so-called Oslo process failed to develop a positive outcome, leading to a new wave of violence in 2011 and 2012. But pressing developments in the region and the civil war in Syria have forced Turkey to try a second attempt. This time, the Erdogan government decided to use a more transparent process, informing the public about the dialogue's main points.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is promising broader political and cultural rights for its Kurdish citizens, together with broader authority for local administrations. While the Turkish government is optimistic for the future, Turkey's center-left and nationalist opposition parties were still expressing distrust. Some critics see Erdogan's move as an attempt to get Kurdish support for his plans to change the constitution and introduce a presidential system, which would further consolidate his power. Turkey's nationalist opposition has backed tighter security measures to eliminate the PKK threat. Nationalist opposition leader Devlet Bahceli has accused Erdogan of "treason" and of "selling out the country to a bunch of bloody bandits."

Established in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist insurgent group primarily composed of Turkish Kurds, by the late 1990s the PKK had moved beyond rural-based insurgent activities to include urban terrorism. The PKK sought to set up an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, where there is a predominantly Kurdish population. 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 PKK is estimated to have around 2,000 fighters in Turkey, with several thousand more in bases in northern Iraq.

Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Background

Since 1984 the separatist PKK waged a violent terrorist insurgency in southeast Turkey, directed against both security forces and civilians, almost all of them Kurds, whom the PKK accuses of cooperating with the State. The government of Turkey 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. In the process, both government forces and PKK terrorists committed human rights abuses against each other and noncombatants. According to the Government, from 1984 through November 1997, 26,532 PKK members, 5,185 security force members, and 5,209 civilians lost their lives in the fighting.

A state of emergency, declared in 1987, continued in six southeastern provinces facing substantial PKK terrorist violence. Parliament voted in October 1997 to lift the state of emergency in Bingol, Batman, and Bitlis provinces. A regional governor for the state of emergency has authority over the ordinary governors in the six provinces, and six adjacent ones, for security matters. The state of emergency allows him to exercise certain quasi-martial law powers, including restrictions on the press and removal from the area of persons whose activities are deemed detrimental to public order. The state of emergency decree was renewed for 4 months for all provinces in November 1997.

Primary PKK targets are Turkish Government security forces in Turkey but also has been active in Western Europe against Turkish targets. 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 has bombed tourist sites and hotels and kidnapped foreign tourists.

The PKK committed numerous abuses against civilians in northern Iraq throughout 1997. For example, on August 4, five persons were reportedly kidnaped from the village of Gunda Jour by a PKK band. Iraqi Kurds reported that on October 23, a PKK unit killed 14 civilians (10 of them children) and wounded 9 others in attacks on the villages of Korka, Chema, Dizo, and Selki. On December 13, seven Assyrian civilians reportedly were ambushed and killed near the village of Mangeesh. Many villagers in Dohuk and Irbil provinces, particularly those from isolated areas, were reported to have abandoned their homes and temporarily relocated to cities and lager towns to escape PKK attacks.

Abdullah OCALAN, was captured in Kenya in February 1999. The PKK observed a unilateral cease-fire since September 1999, although there had been occasional clashes between Turkish military units and some of the 4,000-5,000 armed PKK militants, most of whom were encamped in northern Iraq.

Human rights activists and attorneys for jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called on the Government to transfer Ocalan from his cell on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara to a mainland prison. They claimed Ocalan was being held in isolation and also said he was suffering from health problems. Relatives and attorneys were unable to visit Ocalan for 15 weeks from November 2002 to March 2003; the Government said stormy weather grounded the boat shuttling visitors to the island. The ECHR ruled in March 2003 that Ocalan's prison conditions were not unlawful.

On 12 March 2003, the ECHR ruled that jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan did not receive a fair trial in his 1999 conviction in an Ankara SSC. The ECHR determined that the SSC was not an "independent and impartial tribunal," in part because a military judge sat on the three-judge panel at the start of the trial. However, the ECHR determined that Ocalan's prison conditions and the circumstances of his arrest were not unlawful. Both the Government and the defense appealed the ruling.

Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK)
Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan
Halu Mesru Savunma Kuvveti (HSK)
Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK)
People's Congress of Kurdistan Kadek

In April 2002 at its 8th Party Congress, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) and proclaimed a commitment to nonviolent activities in support of Kurdish rights. A PKK/KADEK spokesman stated that its armed wing, The People's Defense Force, would not disband or surrender its weapons for reasons of self-defense, however. This statement by the PKK/KADEK avowing it would not lay down its arms underscores that the organization maintains its capability to carry out terrorist operations. PKK/KADEK established a new ruling council in April, its membership virtually identical to the PKK's Presidential Council.

The PKK/KADEK did not conduct a terrorist attack in 2002; however, the group periodically issues veiled threats that it will resume violence if the conditions of its imprisoned leader are not improved, and it continues its military training and planning.

In 1997 the PKK consisted of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 guerrillas and had thousands of sympathizers in Turkey and Europe. The Kurdish separatist movement began disintegrating, with many of its militant members fled into northern Iraq after Ocalan's 1999 capture. In 2002 the organization had declined to roughly 4,000 to 5,000 guerrillas.

The PKK operates in Turkey, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

The group receives safehaven and modest aid from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Damascus generally upheld its September 2000 antiterror agreement with Ankara, pledging not to support the PKK. The PKK conducts extensive fundraising in Europe.


In late 2003, the group sought to engineer another political face-lift, renaming the group Kongra-Gel (KGK) and brandishing its "peaceful" intentions, while continuing to commit attacks and refuse disarmament. The organization was said to be involved in drug trafficking and acts of terrorism in Turkey, and it frequently changes its name.

In January 2004 the US Government announced that Kurdistan Workers Party and its aliases, the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress and the Kurdistan People's Congress, were terrorist organizations that were designated as such under US law. The Coalition Provisional Authority, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces would treat the PKK/KADEK/Kongra-Gel as terrorists. When the State Department designates a group as a foreign terrorist organization, it's against the law for someone in the United States or under US jurisdiction to provide funds or other material support to the group. Representatives and certain members of the group, if they are aliens, can be denied visas or can be excluded from the United States.

Although Kongra-Gel included some former militants, the group in recent years had developed a political platform that renounced terrorism. Kongra-Gel called off the cease-fire at the start of June 2004, saying Turkish security forces had refused to respect the truce. Turkish security forces were increasingly involved in clashes with Kurdish separatist fighters. Ankara claimed that about 2,000 Kurdish fighters had crossed into Turkey from hideouts in mountainous northern Iraq in early June 2004.

Turkey's struggle against the Kongra-Gel/PKK was marked by increased violence across Turkey in 2005. In the Southeast, Turkish security forces were active in the struggle against the Kongra-Gel/PKK. There were a number of bombings and attempted bombings in resort areas in western Turkey and Istanbul, some of which resulted in civilian casualties. A Kurdish separatist group calling itself the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK), widely believed to be affiliated with the Kongra-Gel/PKK, claimed responsibility for many of these attacks.

In 2006 alone, the PKK claimed over 500 victims. In October 2006, the KGK/PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire that slowed the intensity and pace of its attacks but attacks continued in response to Turkish security forces significant counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, especially in the southeast.

In March 2006, clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces led to several deaths, many injuries, and the destruction of property in Diyarbakir, an area frequented by travelers to and from the Turkey/Iraq border. Roads to the airport were closed periodically and many businesses and schools were closed. Police and military forces responded to large crowds of people by using tear gas, high-pressure water, and firearms. Tanks and other heavily armored vehicles were brought into the area in response to the violence.

On 10 May 2006, five members of the PKK were arrested by the Turkish National police in possession of 7.5 kilograms of A-4 explosives.

Between August 25 and 28 of 2006, there were several terrorist attacks in Turkey that were attributed to the PKK. On 25 August 2006 there were two coordinated low-level blasts targetted at a bank and an office building in Adana. On 27 August 2006 there was a low-level package bomb near a school in Istanbul. On 28 August 2006, there were three coordinated attacks in Marmaris targetted at the tourist industry and another attack in Antalya targetted at a shopping center housing Turkish restaurants in a popular tourist area. From these attacks at least 40 were injured. These attacks follow several other low-level attacks that occured in August 2006.

On 22 May 2007, an explosion in Ankara occurred during rush hour near the entrance of the Anafartalar shopping center in the Ulus district across from the first Parliament building killing at least six people and injuring more than 100. The area was the busiest commercial neighborhood in Ankara, known for its tourist sites and bazaars. The device, an A-4 plastic explosive, was detonated by a suicide bomber at a bus stop near the shopping center. The blast was the second explosion in Turkey in ten days. On 12 May 2007, a bomb exploded in an open bazaar in the Izmir's Bornova district, killing at least one person and injuring nearly 14 others. While it was not entirely clear whether or not these attacks were carried out by members of the PKK, A-4 type bombs have historically been used by suspected KGK/PKK militants.

As of June 2007, these incidents led to the question of whether or not the Turkish military will cross the border into Iraq in order to track down members of the PKK responsible for terrorist attacks in Turkey. There were reports of an increase in Turkey's military presence along the Iraqi border. However, at that time the Turkish government denied any intentions of crossing into Iraq. Several thousand Turkish troops have been in Iraq since the 1990s. These troops generally stay on their base and gather information about the guerrillas' activities. Their movements are coordinated with US and Iraqi forces, and with the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq.

By mid-2007 around 3,500 PKK militants were believed to be based in Iraq. Over nearly a quarter of a century, since 1984, the conflict had claimed about 40,000 lives.

On 07 October 2007 rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party killed the 13 Turkish soldiers in an ambush in Sirnak province near the Iraqi border. Turkish troops responded by shelling areas near the Iraqi border to try to prevent the attackers from reaching their bases in northern Iraq. The Turkish government blamed rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party based in Iraq for attacks that killed some 30 soldiers and civilians in the first two weeks of October 2007.

On 17 October 2007 the Turkish government won parliamentary approval for possible military raids into northern Iraq. Hours before the vote, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt the "terrorist activities" of the PKK on Iraqi territory. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said he was relying on the US to stop the Turkish armed forces from invading. Turkish media reported that about 40,000 Turkish troops, comprising helicopter, artillery and special forces units, were ready to launch a full-scale operation against the Kurdish militants on the Iraqi border.

On 17 October 2007 Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Iraq was already dealing with what he called "at least two meddlesome neighbors," which he identified as Iran and Syria. "As we deal with those meddlesome neighbors on either side of Iraq, we do not think this is the time to open up a potential third front in which you then have military action coming over from our good friends the Turks into what is now, arguably, the most stable region of Iraq," he said. "I also do not think there is a great deal of appetite to take this next step," he added. "It would an enormous step. It would have enormous implications not just for us, but the Turks, and I don't think there is any rush to war for the Turks.

Complicating the situation was a resolution before the US Congress to brand the 1915 murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

On 21 October 2007 PKK rebels killed 12 Turkish soldiers and captured eight in fighting in Turkey's Hakkari province. The rebels blew up a bridge as a 12-vehicle military convoy was crossing it. Turkey's military said it killed 32 rebels in a counter-offensive. Turkey's leadership gathered for an emergency meeting after the deadly attack.

On 22 October 2007 some two thousand Turkish protesters rallied against the PKK in Istanbul and criticized Mr. Erdogan for not taking military action. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said that Ankara would first pursue diplomatic means to resolve the crisis. And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had asked the United States to take "speedy" action against Kurdish rebels.

On 24 October 2007 units of the Turkish army crossed the Iraqi border in a special operation against Kurdish militants. Turkish commandos supported by helicopters were chasing militants from the PKK, while F-16 Falcon fighters and artillery were delivering strikes at militant bases about 50 kilometers (30 miles) deep into Iraqi territory. In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino warned against the escalation of tensions between Turkey and Iraq. She urged the two sides to exercise restraint, saying both Iraqis and Turks agree the common enemy is the PKK.

According to the government, 49 civilians were killed and 252 were injured, 143 members of the security forces were killed and 256 were injured, and 657 terrorists were killed in armed clashes related to the struggle against the PKK during 2008. Most of the clashes occurred in the southeast. The numbers of civilian deaths and injuries significantly increased from 2007.

In April 2008 the government reduced limitations on freedom of expression by amending Article 301 of the penal code to more narrowly define the circumstances under which speech may be criminalized and prosecuted. In June 2008 the government amended the law to reduce restrictions on non-Turkish language broadcasts on state-owned television. On 25 December 2008, the government expanded Kurdish language broadcasts with the introduction of a pilot, 24-hour state television channel in the Kurdish language.

In its October 2008 report, the NGO Societal and Legal Research Foundation (TOHAV) reported an increase in torture cases during the year. Based on a study of 275 surveys from individuals who submitted credible reports of torture from 2006 through February 28, TOHAV found that 210 of the victims were ethnic Kurds, 55 ethnic Turks, and 10 ethnic Arabs. A total of 217 victims claimed that they were tortured for their political views, 36 for their sexual orientation, and 22 for criminal reasons.

According to the security forces (military, Jandarma, and the Turkish National Police (TNP), 36 civilians were killed and 115 were injured, 77 members of the security forces were killed and 385 were injured, and 105 terrorists were killed and five were injured in armed clashes related to the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) during 2009.

There were positive developments during 2009 with respect to freedom of expression and the use of Kurdish and other non-Turkish languages, including the following: a substantial decrease in the number of prosecutions and convictions based on article 301, which prohibits insults to the "Turkish state"; the formal launch of a 24-hour Kurdish-language state television station on January 1; new regulations on November 13 allowing for 24-hour private television stations to broadcast in languages other than Turkish; new prison regulations in November allowing prisoners to speak languages other than Turkish with their visitors; and approval in September of a university department to teach the Kurdish language among other "living" languages.

During 2010 police routinely detained demonstrators for a few hours at a time. Police detained more than 1,000 members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on various occasions. Police continued to detain and harass members of human rights organizations, media personnel, and human rights monitors. Police continued to detain persons on suspicion of "membership in an illegal organization" and for "promoting terrorist propaganda."

Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast, continued to face multiple administrative, civil, and criminal charges and investigations for use of the Kurdish language, spreading terrorist propaganda, and promoting terrorism. During 2011 prosecutors opened 13 new investigations or cases against Baydemir. Most of the cases involved Baydemirs expression of his political views or speaking Kurdish at public events. During 2011 he received at least two acquittals and four convictions but he remained in his position as mayor. Many cases and appeals were pending at years end. For example, in February the Ankara 10th Civil Court of First Instance ordered Baydemir to pay 30,000 lira ($16,800) in compensation to Prime Minister Erdogan for a 2009 statement that We tell the ones who divide us into hawks and doves to go to hell, which the court decided constituted an attack on Erdogans personal rights.

In August 2010, the PKK said it called its ceasefire out of respect for Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The ceasefire followed a major increase in fighting in the previous few months, which killed more than 100 Turkish solders. That escalation prompted fears the country was sliding back into full-scale conflict.

In October 2010 the government began the trial of 153 persons, including several elected mayors, political party officials, and a human rights activist in Diyarbakir. The defendants were charged in a 7,578-page indictment with disrupting the integrity of the state; being members and/or administrators of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the umbrella political organization of the PKK; and assisting and sheltering a terrorist organization, among other charges. HRW stated that the case raised concerns about the right of individuals to participate in political activities. The defendants request to defend themselves in Kurdish instead of Turkish was denied by the court, which called Kurdish an unknown language.

Reports from the security forces (military, Turkish National Police (TNP), and Jandarma) indicated that approximately 31 civilians were killed and 53 were injured in armed clashes related to the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist organization in the first 10 months of 2011. Approximately 220 members of the security forces were killed and 475 were injured, and 303 alleged terrorists were killed and five were injured in the first 10 months of 2011. Most of the clashes between terrorists and security forces occurred in the Southeast. The number of civilian deaths and injuries rose from 2010, while the number of security forces deaths and injuries more than doubled. On 28 December 2011, military aircraft killed 34 civilians near the town of Uludere in an airstrike intended to kill members of the PKK.

By 2012 there had been an upsurge of clashes between the PKK and Turkish government forces after a decade of relative calm. Turkish security forces said a large-scale military offensive has killed some 115 Kurdish rebels in the south of the country. Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said the rebels were killed as part of an air and ground offensive that began on 23 July 2012 near the town of Semdinli. A local television station said up to 2,000 troops were involved in the operation. The restrictions have been eased in the past decade - part of what the government says is an unprecedented tide of liberties and education given to Kurds. But Kurds say arrests and court cases continue and hundreds of artists had been jailed for expressions that are perceived as anti-Turkish.

Since March 2013, the PKK has largely observed a cease-fire with the Turkish state as part of a peace process with the Turkish government. The process seeks to end a three decade conflict by the PKK for greater Kurdish minority rights. By by late 2014 no concrete steps had been taken by the government to advance the so-called peace and solution process.

PKK military leaders based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan have linked the fate of the peace process to the fate of the Syrian border town of Kobani. Ankara refused to allow the delivery through its territory of a shipment of arms from Iraqi Kurds to Kurds besieged in Kobani. At least 35 people were killed in riots in October 2014 when members of Turkey's 15 million-strong Kurdish minority rose up in anger at the government for refusing to help defend Kobani from an assault by Islamic State militants.

Turkish aircraft pounded Kurdish rebel bases in Turkey on October 14, 2014 for the first time since a peace process began almost two years earlier. The attacks followed major unrest across Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast over what Kurds saw as Ankara's inaction while the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani is under siege by the Islamic State militant group. The air attacks against the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, were reported to have occurred in Hakkari province on Iraqs border. In a statement, the Turkish military said the action was in response to attacks on one of its bases.

On March 21, 2015 imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan called for an end to decades of fighting by the PKK. The call was made in a letter to Kurds celebrating Nowruz, or new year, in Turkeys predominantly Kurdish southeast. "We find it necessary for PKK to convene a congress to end the 40-year-long armed struggle against Turkish Republic and adapt itself to the spirit of new era," he said. The letter also said that they were at an historical threshold in which history and peoples demand peace.

The PKK had been fighting for greater Kurdish rights since 1984 in a struggle that had claimed over 40,000 lives. But for the past 30 months there had been a peace process with the government and a largely observed cease-fire.

The ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK collapsed in July 2015, and the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of the country had been mired in conflict since.

Turkey was hit by a series of bombing attacks as fighting escalates with the PKK following the breakdown of the ceasefire and the NATO member experiences blowback from the war in neighboring Syria. In February 2016, Kurdish militants carried out a bomb attack targeting a bus carrying military personnel, killing 29 people. The bombing was claimed by TAK, an offshoot faction of the PKK, in retaliation for ongoing military operations.

Turkish authorities on 15 March 2016 identified Seher Cagla Demir as the person responsible for an explosion that killed at least 37 people in Ankara the day before. The Interior Ministry said Demir, who was born in 1992 in eastern Turkey, had ties to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Ankara considers the group a terrorist organization. According to authorities, Demir joined the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), another terrorist organization, in 2013, and then crossed over into Syria to train with YPG.

The PKK traditionally targeted military targets. A brazen attack on civilians in the heart of the capital would signal a significant change in tactics. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) condemned the attack. The condemnation was significant because the party, which is viewed as close to the PKK, had been criticized for not speaking out against the militant Kurdish group's violence.

Join the mailing list