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Armenian Terrorism

The primary objective of Armenian terrorists during the 1970s and 1980s was to inflict revenge for the massacres of Armenians during World War I. Armenians regard these killings as systematic genocide, but Turks claim they were the unfortunate outgrowth of deportations intended to prevent Armenians from assisting the invading Russian armies. Terrorist groups also demanded that Turkey admit its guilt for crimes committed against Armenians and provide reparations in the form of money and territory for an Armenian homeland.

Most of the violence by Armenian terrorists has been inflicted on Turkish agencies and representatives outside Turkey. The best known of these groups, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), apparently was formed in 1975 among leftist Armenians living in Beirut, Lebanon, with the help of sympathetic Palestinians. In reaction, rightists from the Armenian community in Lebanon formed the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG). A number of other groups claimed responsibility for terrorist acts, but ASALA and JCAG were judged to be the two main groups. It was not clear whether lawful Armenian political blocs in Lebanon sponsored these terrorist units, but they did not openly condone the terrorist acts of their offshoots.

Among the Armenian diaspora, numbering more than 6 million worldwide, probably fewer than 1,000 persons belong to terrorist factions. Members generally are young, recent immigrants to their countries of residence, or reside in places such as Lebanon where political violence is common. Assassination and bombing are the principal techniques used by the two main terrorist organizations. However, JCAG has limited its attacks to Turkish embassy officials in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, refraining from indiscriminate violence to avoid alienating Western public opinion. Since 1983 responsibility for most of the attacks has been claimed by a group called the Armenian Revolutionary Army, possibly a cover name for JCAG.

ASALA has carried out a number of bombings of ticket offices and airport counters of United States airlines in Western Europe. Following the bombing of a Turkish airline counter at Orly Airport in Paris in 1983, which resulted in several deaths and injuries, a split developed within ASALA over the rationale of indiscriminate terrorism in advancing the Armenian cause. An offshoot, the ASALA Revolutionary Movement (ASALA-RM), regarded indiscriminate terrorism as counterproductive, while ASALA-Militant (ASALA-M) continued to favor unrestricted violence against both Turkish and "imperialist" targets. After the split, the ASALA membership appeared to become preoccupied with its internal differences and has since been relatively inactive.


A legal, nonviolent Islamic political movement exists in Turkey. Its main locus is the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi--RP; also seen as Prosperity Party), which obtained the votes of 16.9 percent of the electorate in the 1991 general elections and captured 19 percent in the municipal elections of 1994. The Welfare Party also won mayoral contests in Ankara, Istanbul, and twenty-seven other large cities. The party stresses economic goals; to cast its appeal in religious terms would bring it into conflict with the constitutional ban on the organization of parties on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or political ideas considered authoritarian.

Turkey's political system is more open than those of most Middle Eastern states, and to a large extent it has been able to accommodate Muslim political expression while marginalizing its radical elements. Nevertheless, radical Muslim groups are considered a threat to the secular political establishment. Although a link with the Iranian government has not been proven, Iranian mullahs are believed to give support and encouragement to extremist Muslims.

Radical Islamic activism--sometimes described as fundamentalism--has been the source of some terrorism, in particular the murders of journalists, politicians, and academics who were outspoken defenders of Turkish secularism. Several Islamic groups have claimed responsibility for these deaths, among them the Islamic Movement Organization, about which little is known. Another obscure group, composed of local Islamists linked to the Iranian government, has targeted external enemies of Iran. One of the worst incidents of religious violence occurred in the city of Sivas in 1993 when religious fanatics set fire to a hotel where a well-known author and translator of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was staying. The author escaped, but thirty-seven people perished and 100 were injured. Anxious to avoid unnecessary tension in relations with Iran, Turkish officials have avoided placing blame directly on the Tehran government for sponsoring terrorist activity. Evidence, however, has been presented to Iran implicating extremists within the revolutionary power structure, if not the Iranian government itself.

Since 1991 a shadowy group known as Hizballah-Contra has sprung up in Kurdish areas, carrying out a campaign of assassination and terrorism against the PKK and its sympathizers. The organization is not connected to Hizballah (Party of God, also known as Islamic Jihad), a Shia terrorist movement dedicated to establishing an Iranian-style government in Lebanon. Although the Turkish government denies any link to Hizballah-Contra, the group's hit squads are believed to be tolerated by the police and gendarmerie, along with other Kurdish groups violently hostile to the PKK.

The leadership of Turkey's armed forces is highly sensitive to the possibility of soldiers becoming exposed to extremist Islamic influences. Orders issued in 1991 instructed troops to avoid "illegal, destructive, separatist trends, either from the right or left, which threaten the military's discipline." Commanders were urged to be especially careful with regard to staff members living outside military compounds in large cities where they could come into contact with Islamist groups. They were ordered to take stern measures--in some cases, expulsion--against officers and NCOs who adopted strong religious views, who refrained from certain social activities on religious grounds, or whose spouses wore Islamic garb.

Data as of January 1995

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