Turkey Table of Contents
The Kurdish national movement dates back at least to 1925, when Atatürk ruthlessly suppressed a revolt against the new Turkish republic motivated by the regime's renunciation of Muslim religious practices. Uprisings in the 1930s and 1940s prompted by opposition to the modernizing and centralizing reforms of the Turkish government in Ankara also were put down by the Turkish army. Kurdish opposition to the government's emphasis on linguistic homogeneity was spurred in the 1960s and 1970s by agitation in neighboring Iran and Iraq on behalf of an autonomous Kurdistan, to include Kurds from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The majority of Kurds, however, continued to participate in Turkish political parties and to assimilate into Turkish society.
The best known and most radical of the Kurdish movements, the PKK, which does not represent the majority of Kurds, seeks to establish an independent Marxist state in southeastern Turkey where the Kurdish population predominates. Beginning in 1984, a resurgence of Kurdish attacks attributed to the PKK necessitated the deployment of Turkish army units and elite police forces. Fighting in the mountain terrain favored the insurgents, who could intimidate local Kurdish families and ambush regular troops. The violence has mounted since 1991, with PKK guerrillas from camps in Syria, Iran, and Iraq, as well as from inside Turkey itself, attacking Turkish military and police outposts and targeting civilian community leaders and teachers. In 1993 PKK gunmen sought military targets outside the southeastern region; they also conducted coordinated attacks in many West European cities, particularly in Germany where more than 1 million Kurds live, against Turkish diplomatic installations and Turkish businesses, often operated by Kurds. Such attacks on commercial firms can be seen as efforts at intimidation to gain contributions to PKK fundraising.
Increased numbers of security forces were mobilized in 1994 against the Kurds in a government campaign of mounting intensity. One government strategy has been the forced evacuation and in a number of instances burning some 850 Kurdish villages to prevent them from harboring PKK insurgents. Although militarily successful, the evacuations have caused great hardship to the villagers.
The government has been accused of harassment, destruction of villages, and the slaying of Kurds believed to be sympathetic to the PKK. Its tactics have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and turned thousands into refugees, who have crowded into major Turkish cities. The insurgents, in turn, have targeted villages known to be sympathetic to the government, murdering state officials, teachers, government collaborators, and paramilitary village guards. In an especially cruel incident in May 1993 that ended a two-month cease-fire announced by the PKK, a PKK unit executed thirty unarmed military recruits after ambushing several buses.
As of early 1994, about 160,000 Turkish troops and gendarmerie had been mobilized for operations against the PKK. Some 40,000 civilians formed a village guard of progovernment Kurds. A new mobile security force of about 10,000 troops was undergoing special training in antiguerrilla operations. The United States Department of State estimated that there were 10,000 to 15,000 full-time PKK guerrillas, 5,000 to 6,000 of whom were in Turkey and the others in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. There were thought to be an additional 60,000 to 75,000 part-time guerrillas.
The number of deaths since the war's outbreak in 1984 had risen beyond 12,000 by 1994. According to official figures, more than 1,500 PKK guerrillas were killed and 7,600 captured during the first eleven months of 1993. During the same period, the number of government security personnel killed came to 676. Civilian deaths totaled 1,249, more than double the 1992 total.
The PKK cause was not helped by the Kurds of Iraq, who depended on Turkey to keep their enclave protected from the forces of Iraqi president Saddam Husayn. In October 1992, Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish army carried out a joint offensive against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, forcing the surrender of more than 1,000 PKK fighters. Turkey also enlisted Syria's cooperation in closing the PKK base in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The government's flexibility in seeking a negotiated solution to the conflict was limited by the growing anger of the Turkish public over PKK terrorism and the killing of troops in the southeast and by the military's uncompromising anti-Kurdish stance.
Marxists and other groups of the extreme left have never been more than marginal factors in national politics, even during those periods when they were permitted to function as legal parties. Just before the military crackdown in 1980, four of the seven Marxist-oriented parties legally recognized at the time contested local elections but were able to gather a total of only 1 percent of the national vote. During the 1970s, the leftist movement turned increasingly to violence and terrorism; at the same time, left-wing ideologies became popular in the universities and among alienated and often unemployed urban youth.
In 1987 the leaders of the banned Turkish Workers' Party and of the Turkish Communist Party returned from exile to form a new Turkish United Communist Party. Both politicians were arrested and charged under the provision of the penal code that specifically outlawed communist organizations and the dissemination of Marxist-Leninist theories. After being decriminalized in 1991, the Turkish United Communist Party was again proscribed after the Constitutional Court upheld a ban on the grounds that it had violated Article 14 of the constitution, which prohibits "establishing the hegemony of one social class over another."
The most active of the left-wing terrorist groups is the Revolutionary Left Party (Devrimçi Sol--Dev Sol). Virulently anti-American and anti-NATO, Dev Sol was responsible for most of the attacks against United States targets and other political violence during the Persian Gulf War. In one incident, two United States civilians working for a United States defense contractor were killed. The Turkish government reacted vigorously, conducting raids against Dev Sol safe houses and enacting new antiterrorist legislation. Dev Sol is believed to have several hundred members, including several dozen armed militants. Because of police raids and internal factionalism, attacks by Dev Sol have been less numerous since 1991. Sympathizers among the foreign Turkish population in Western Europe have helped fund the organization; training support is believed to come from radical Palestinians in Lebanon.
The Turkish Workers' and Peasants' Liberation Army and the Marxist-Leninist Armed Propaganda Unit committed numerous acts of terrorism in the 1970s and early 1980s, including bank robberies and bombings of businesses, courts, and key government offices. Members of the latter group were sentenced in 1984 after convictions for eighty-seven killings, including the murders of five United States servicemen in 1979. Since 1990, however, the other extremist groups of the left have been overshadowed by Dev Sol.
Data as of January 1995
Turkey Table of Contents