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Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)



Kurdistan Worker' Party (Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan).

The PKK has assumed a number of names since its founding, but resumed using the name PKK in April, 2005. When, in 2003, the group changed its name to Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), the U.S.accused it of trying to avoid charges of terrorism, especially for activities in post-Hussein Iraq.

Other names have included the Kongra-Gel (KGK) (Kurdistan People's Congress) and the Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK).

Founded In:

The group was formed in 1974, but was formally established as the PKK in 1978.

Home Base:

Turkey, where Kurds, a distinct ethnic group, make up about 18% of the population. The PKK has also had a long-standing presence in Kurdish-majority northern Iraq. (Kurds make up about 23% of Iraq's total population.)

Backing & Affiliations:

The PKK has received aid from Syria, Iraq and Iran. This support has tended to be politically expedient rather than an expression of real commitment to the group's separatist aims.

Syria is a case in point. In 1980, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan fled Turkey for Syria. In subsequent years, Syria used support for the PKK to leverage its territorial and other disputes with Turkey. The PKK was offered safe haven, arms and training in Syria and parts of Syria- controlled Lebanon.

Syria pressured Syrian Kurds to join the PKK and take part in its anti-Turkish activities, despite hostility toward them at home. In 1998, Syria signed an accord with Turkey agreeing to relinquish PKK support, and expelled Ocalan.

The PKK also established relations with other militant groups, and has found sympathy, raised funds and established offices and media outlets in a number of European countries. PKK cells have been operative in France, Germany, Greece and elsewhere.


The PKK has always been committed to the creation of an independent home for the Kurds. Their earliest objective, in the 1970s, was to achieve this through Marxist revolution in Turkey.

They later abandoned this tactic to seek the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. It has been proposed that part of the reason for abandoning a secular Marxist stance was so the group could better court support among Turkey's primarily Sunni Muslim Kurds.


The PKK was founded by Abdullah Ocalan, also known as Apo. Ocalan was put on trial after his capture in Kenya in 1999 and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

The group maintains cells and organizations in a number of countries, and activities range from producing propaganda to training camps instructing sabotage methods, explosives use and ideology.

Notable Attacks:

  • An armed wing of the PKK reportedly took responsibility for a September 2006 landmine explosion in Igdir, Turkey that injured 17 people. Landmines are a characteristic PKK tactic, although the group committed to an antipersonnel mine ban in July 2006.
  • The PKK is suspected of setting off three bombs that injured 21 Turkish locals and British tourists on August 28th, 2006.
  • Beginning in 1984 and continuing through the end of the decade, the PKK launched a number of lethal attacks on Kurdish villages in southeast Turkey, killing korucu](village protectors) armed by the Turkish government and considered collaborators. In a 1987 attack on Pinarcik, 31 korucu were killed.

Historical Context:

The Kurds are a distinct Middle Eastern ethnic group with their own language; most are Sunni Muslims. Kurdish nationalist sentiments developed in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Treaty of Sevres concluded by the Allies following World War I promised the Kurds an area of "local autonomy" which never materialized. In result, there are significant Kurdish minorities in southeastern Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Turkey's emphatic focus on Turkish identity has helped fuel the growth of nationalist groups (of which there are many; some have used violent tactics, while others are purely political). The Kurds, who are not Turkish, found themselves, their language and their culture marginalized or forcefully suppressed following Turkey's establishment in 1924. As the largest minority in Turkey, they also posed a potentially serious threat to the state's stability.

Like other groups founded in the 1970s, and as its name (the worker's party) suggests, the PKK first viewed national liberation through a socialist lens. In its early vision, a wholesale revolution would bring about a more equal society in which all of the state's citizens would be recognized. Although the degree to which the PKK genuinely left their communist sentiments behind has been questioned, their focus by the 1980s had narrowed to national liberation and the establishment of an independent, democratic Kurdistan.

The group did not engage in any violent activities until 1984, when they began guerrilla activities that included kidnapping foreign tourists and attacking Turkish interests in Turkey and Europe. It has been claimed that up to 37,000 lives have been lost as a result.

The PKK has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. In September, 2006, Iraq added its name to the list, and appointed a special coordinator to combat the PKK, which became especially active in Kurdish northern Iraq following the toppling of the Hussein regime.

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