Kurdistan Workers Party

The Kurds live mainly in Turkey, Iran and Iraq and probably number about 25-35 million worldwide. They are the most important ethnic group without a state of their own. They are mostly Sunni Muslims and have their own languages. About 15 million Kurds live in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, 5 million in Iraq and up to 1.5 million in Syria. Fewer Kurds live in former Soviet republics and in Lebanon.

What is Kurdistan?

  • Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural region comprising parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), north-western Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds.
  • Out of them, only Iraqi Kurdistan province is autonomous.
  • Some Kurdish organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries.

What is Kurdistan Workers’ Party?

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Parti Karkerani Kurdistan) or PKK is a Kurdish militant organization which has since 1984 been fighting an armed struggle against Turkey for an autonomous Kurdistan and greater cultural and political rights for the Kurds in Turkey.

  • The group was founded in 1978 and was led by Abdullah Öcalan. Current leader is Murat Karayilan.

Recently, the Kurdish militants killed 24 Turkish soldiers and wounded at least 16 near the border with Iraq in one of the deadliest attacks since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the Turkish state three decades ago. Here are some important facts:

  • Abdullah Ocalan founded the group in 1974 and in 1978 named it the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)
  • PKK is a Marxist-Leninist insurgency group fighting for an independent Kurdish state.
  • The PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in the southeast. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since then.
  • The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
  • Ocalan was captured and sentenced to death by a Turkish court in 1999, but the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in October 2002 after Turkey abolished the death penalty.
  • PKK fighters are based in the mountains of neighbouring northern Iraq, from where they have launched attacks on Turkish targets.

Earlier, Ocalan emphasised the importance of winning rights for the Kurds through a political rather than an armed struggle after he was captured. In 2010, Ocalan made a statement that he had agreed with Turkish officials to set up a “peace council” aimed at ending the conflict.

This was before victory of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in last elections. The Government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had lifted some restrictions on Kurdish cultural and political rights to try to end the conflict. But, the mass arrests of Kurdish people continued and since July, 2011, the PKK has stepped up its attacks inside Turkey, killing some 80 Turkish security personnel. In August, 2011, Turkey launched retaliatory air strikes and artillery raids on suspected PKK hideouts in the mountains of northern Iraq. Recently, Ocalan reportedly said that resuming peace talks depended on Turkey if they “open the door”.

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