Kurdistan Workers Party

   The Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK), or Kurdistan Workers Party, was formally established on 27 November 1978 by Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan, who became its leader. The PKK grew out of two separate but related sources: the older Kurdish nationalist movement that had seemingly been crushed in the 1920s and 1930s, and the new leftist, Marxist movement that had formed in Turkey during the 1960s.
   It was within this milieu that Ocalan (a Turkish Kurd and former student at Ankara University) first formed the Ankara Higher Education Association (AYOD) at a Dev Genc meeting of some 7-11 persons in 1974. Ocalan told this initial meeting that since the necessary conditions then existed for a Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, the group should break its relations with the other leftist movements that refused to recognize Kurdish national rights.
   Given Ocalan's preeminence, the group initially began to be called Apocular, or followers of Apo. Most of the Apocular came from the lowest social classes, people who felt excluded from the country's social and economic development. Ocalan himself was the only contemporary Kurdish national leader who did not come from the traditional elite classes. In time, however, many other ethnic Kurds from all classes came to support and even identify with the PKK.
   In 1975, the group departed from Ankara and began its operations in the Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey. This entailed recruitment and indoctrination activities that by the late 1970s had spilled over into violence against leftist Turkish groups termed "social chauvinists" and various Kurdish groups called "primitive nationalists." These actions helped give the group its reputation for violence.
   The PKK eventually came to consist of a number of different divisions or related organizations, themselves subdivided, which operated at various levels of command in Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, and even, on a lesser scale, other continents. Although there were at its best only several thousand hard-core members, tens of thousands and even several hundred thousand Kurds came to be associated with various PKK organizations and fronts.
   At its top, the PKK resembled the traditional model of a communist party with its undisputed leader (at various times called general secretary, chairman, or president), leadership council (in effect polit-buro), and central committee. The PKK also held several congresses and conferences where major policy decisions were announced.
   The PKK established a professional guerrilla army of some 10,000 fighters, the Kurdistan Peoples Liberation Army (ARGK). The Kurdistan National Liberation Front (ERNK) was a much larger popular front, which supposedly carried out political work but also sometimes used violence. Furthermore, there was also a variety of other suborgans for women, youth, and other groups. In addition, the PKK became adept at propaganda and journalism, publishing numerous journals and establishing the influential MED-TV (now called ROJ-TV) to broadcast throughout the Middle East, including Turkey. Finally, the PKK also established a Kurdistan Parliament in Exile, which later became the Kurdistan National Congress.
   Shortly after the PKK was formally established in 1978, Ocalan moved to Syria, from where he led the party until he was finally expelled from that country in October 1998. In the intervening 20 years, the PKK launched an increasingly virulent insurgency against Turkey that by the end of the 20th century had led to more than 37,000 deaths and the destruction of some 3,000 villages in southeastern Turkey.
   The original aims of the PKK were to establish a pan-Kurdish, Marxist state through violent revolution. Pursuing guerrilla war tactics and appealing to Kurdish nationalism, the PKK grew throughout the 1980s. For a short while in the early 1990s, it seemed that the PKK might actually achieve a certain amount of military success. In the end, however, the party overextended itself, while the Turkish military spared no excesses in containing the threat. Slowly but surely, the PKK was marginalized, and Ocalan himself was finally forced out of Syria and captured in February 1999. The PKK created a presidential council of some 10 senior figures to act for him.
   By this time, however, the PKK had so ignited a sense of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey that it would be impossible for Turkey to return to the old days in which the very Kurdish existence could be denied. In addition, the PKK's position had evolved over the years so that by the early 1990s, it was only asking for Kurdish political and cultural rights within the preexisting Turkish borders. Turkey, however, saw this change in the PKK as insincere and felt that, if it relented even slightly in its anti-Kurdish stance, the situation would lead to the eventual breakup of Turkey itself.
   Although a Turkish court condemned Ocalan to death in June 1999, his sentence was changed to life in prison in 2002 as part of Turkey's attempt to harmonize its laws with the European Union (EU). The entire Kurdish question was becoming wrapped up with Turkey's candidacy for membership in the EU. Responding to Oca-lan's call to suspend military actions and pursue a peaceful political course, the PKK's eighth Congress changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) in February 2002, then to Kongra-Gel, and finally back to the PKK. Several cease-fires failed to take hold, and low-level violence began to escalate. The PKK benefited from the weapons, equipment, and ammunition abandoned by the disintegrating Iraqi army in 2003. As of the summer of 2010, the PKK maintained some 5,000 fighters in the remote Kandil Mountains on the border of northern Iraq and Iran. They were led by Ocalan's longtime associate, Murat Karayilan. Despite receiving actionable intelligence from the United States, a major Turkish invasion in February 2008 failed to dislodge them. An undetermined amount of PKK fighters were also in southeastern Turkey, where from time to time they engaged Turkish troops in violent encounters. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), believed by many to be associated with the PKK, also on occasion carried out violent bombings in Turkey's urban areas.
   The PKK itself spun off a number of new affiliates, including the aforementioned Kongra-Gel, as well as such major legal organizations as KON-KURD, Koma Civaken Kurdistan (KCK), and the Kurdistan National Congress (KNC). The Hezen Parastina Gel (HPG) took the place of the former Kurdistan Peoples Liberation Army (ARGK) as the PKK's professional army. In Frankfurt, there was even headquartered a Union of Associations of Kurdish Employers (KARSAZ). The Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) became a closely affiliated party of Iranian Kurds willing to fight for Kurdish rights. Smaller affiliates included the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (KDSP) in Iraq, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. ROJ-TV, as well as numerous other media organizations, also proliferated. Although it maintained that it had no organic ties with the PKK, the Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP) entered the Turkish Parliament as a legal Kurdish nationalist party in 2007.
   One purpose of all these different groups would appear to be to get around the terrorist designation that plagued the PKK itself. In addition, these different organizations disguised which one was really in charge, or as an alternative, if one were shut down, the other would be in a position to assume the leadership. In truth, however, these various organizations largely reflected the fact that the PKK represented the vast majority of ethnically conscious Kurds in Turkey and their diaspora mainly located in Europe. A broad plethora of organizations was necessary to represent the many different interests of this Kurdish nationalist clientele that had been awakened by the PKK.
   Although Ocalan continued to be recognized as the leader of the PKK, his statements from prison often seemed perplexing. One such declaration called for the Kurds to live under a system of "democratic confederalism" where the Kurds somehow would rule themselves within a Turkish state with their right protected by EU-style laws. Supposedly, the proliferation of PKK affiliates discussed above reflected Ocalan's call for a confederal Middle East. Nevertheless, although more than three million Turkish Kurds signed a petition in 2006 calling for Ocalan's release, the PKK had clearly entered into a post-Ocalan era and was assuming a new, more complex persona that included democracy, women's rights, drastic social change, and ecological concerns, among others.
   As of 2010, an updated list of senior PKK leaders included Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik, Fehman Huseyin, Duran Kalkan, Mustafa Karasu, Gulizar Tural, Halil Atac, Umit Beyazdag, Hasan Atmaca, Riz Altun, Hidir Yalcin, Hidir Sarikaya, Selahattin Gun, Sukran Biner, Suleyman Kaydi, Osman Erdal, Mehmet Tunc, Kemal Mungan, Haydar Kubilay, Nurettin Yildirim, Hanefi Gunes, Menap Altindag, Inan Akyol, Sevgi Cacan, Abdurrahman Esmeray, Celal Kaydi, Fatma Adir, Sakine Cansiz, Ilknur Sen, Engin Sincer, Ferhat Abdi Sahin, Yusuf Turhalli, Gonul Tepe, Fethi Sarlatan, Ali Hay-dar Kaytan, Dursun Ali Kucuk, Sofi Nurettin, Ramazan Aybi, and Mehmet Esiyok, among others.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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