The PKK’s War with Turkey

The fight for an independent Kurdistan has been a political and violent conflict for almost four decades now. As there are roughly twenty-eight million Kurds, they are considered to be the world’s largest stateless population. Centralized in Europe and the Near East, large masses of Kurds live within the borders of Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Syria, and Iraq, as well as a small part of Georgia. Nearly half of the Kurdish population resides in Turkey.

There are many different factions of the Kurds who fight under the same cause. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) functions as the focal point of the Kurdish rebellion. The PKK is best known for its use of severe violence, and is qualified as an extreme-left and nationalist/separatist group. The war between the PKK and Turkey has been devastating to both sides with over 40,000 deaths since fighting began 1984. The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, has been held under Turkish custody since his capture in 1999 when the Turkish military momentarily defeated the PKK. Ocalan and his followers officially began their rebellion in 1978, but did not begin using violence until 1984 when they began conducting terrorist attacks. Ocalan and his followers seek to create a freed Kurdistan state where they can function as their own government in eastern Turkey. This goal is a response to the Turkish government’s suppression and restriction of the Kurds.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has long tried to end the PKK’s rebellion. Erdogan and the Turkish government have suppressed the basic and natural rights of the Turkish Kurds for many decades. Reaching a compromise has been extremely difficult, but there have been many ceasefires, the most recent in 2012 and lasting only three years. Remaining under Turkish custody, Ocalan continues to spearhead the PKK, and appears to call ceasefires only when the PKK are weak or in a vulnerable position. Initially, Turkey did not fight back against the PKK, but Ocalan’s destructive use of guerrilla warfare and terrorism forced Tukey to fight back. Typically, the PKK would target Turkish government officials, politicians, and militants. The PKK has used suicide bombs, kidnappings, and attacks on Turkish diplomatic offices within Europe. Currently, the PKK is using a rather defensive military strategy within Turkey itself, but has oriented its focus towards Rojava in Syria. The PKK strategically attacks the Turkish government, using hit-and-run techniques, often fleeing to the mountains of Northern Syria. It is rare, but the PKK have also been known to attack other Turkish Kurds who do not support their views.

Ocalan and Erdogan, both extremely stubborn and egoistic, refuse to compromise. Since Ocalan is still the official leader of the PKK, he has the power to stop all the violence and end the war, but because of his ego, he will never succumb until he gets what he wants. The PKK, at its core, does not wish to be completely isolated from Turkey, but wants Kurds to be treated equally to the Turkish citizens. Since Ocalan’s detention, the PKK has created a political group, attempting to reroute their strategy to fight for a freed Kurdistan. When the PKK was first established, it was hard for the group to popularize itself and gain support, but after their its use of violence, recruits began coming from all directions. Today, the Turkish government clearly has the upper hand, both in size and in military. Turkey has become accustomed to using advanced warfare and technology, which has severely diminished the size of the PKK. Turkey measures its success based on the amount of PKK deaths.

The PKK must be considered as a guerrilla group that aims to function as a freed government under an independent Kurdistan, but the group’s fight is nearing its end unless Ocalan and Erdogan can reach a compromise. Ocalan won’t be satisfied until either all of his wishes are granted, or the PKK achieves complete damnation of the Turkish government. Erdogan believes that the PKK can be defeated by military force, and he hopes to fully diminish and disband the PKK, eventually having them join Turkish militants and politically back and support Erdogan. The goals of each leader are naive and overly hopeful, and most likely impossible to reach. It is unclear if Ocalan and Erdogan will ever get over their egos and recognize the destruction they have caused.