PKK as Guerilla or Government? Freedom fighters or terrorists?

By Isabelle Santamauro

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fits the profile of a terrorist group in many ways. They have repeatedly attacked Turkish military and civilian targets, and used radical tactics to try to achieve the results that they seek: an independent Kurdish state. However, one could argue that their violence was the product of a) repeated shattered hopes to establish their own country and b) their long oppression by the Turkish government that would not allow their language, their culture nor the formation of a political party. One can see how the Kurds must have felt that violence would be the only means to get the Turkish, as well as the world’s attention to their desperate state of affairs. The PKK’s terrorist attacks have all been for the goal of achieving basic rights for Kurds in Turkey. Unfortunately, many countries have now categorized their tactics as terriosm. They are fighting for basic human rights, yet they are called a terrorist organization.  Ironically, it is the Turkish Government that has been oppressing the Kurdish people for almost a century and yet they are called a government. What makes one different than the other?  

While the PKK has been actively fighting in Turkey, they have also been an ally to the United States fighting a common enemy, ISIS. The fact that the Kurdish militia is an important ally to the US against a greater threat, and a much more serious terrorist group, should be an indicator that the Kurds want less violence in the future and are perfectly willing to collaborate with other foreign countries.

Since March 2013 the PKK has been trying to seek out a compromise with Turkey when they released eight Turkish hostages, and Ă–calan (the leader of the PKK), still in Turkish imprisonment since 1999, declared a cease-fire. However, the two-year cease-fire collapsed after the Turks bombed PKK positions in Iraq, in the midest of Kurdish-Islamist conflict in Syria. The Kurds responded with more violence, and in October, 2015, they had one of their deadliest attacks on Turkey. Once again, the tensions between the PKK and Turkish government were high. The next year, Erdogan, the president of Turkey, cracked down on suspected coup conspirators, arrested an estimated fifty thousand people, and increased airstrikes on PKK militants in southeastern Turkey. These events illustrate that the PKK showed real effort towards ending the violence, embracing a peaceful cease-fire, and eventually finding a compromise. However, they were again attacked and were forced to respond with retaliation.

The PKK are freedom fighters and should be treated as such. They want to be formally recognized by the Turkish government and be part of the local and statewide administration. The PKK was forced to resort to violence because violence was always used against them. It is time to give them their political rights and turn their violence into constructive negotiations. It is time for Kurds and Turks to find a way to live peacefully and respectfully with one another. It is time to leave radicalism behind and unite against the bigger threats in the region. When this can be achieved, it will be possible to bring more stability to the Middle East. 

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