Last Friday the US Department of State released its 2009 Terror Report. The PKK is mentioned frequently, so I thought I’d post excerpts from the report that mention the PKK. First is their overview of the organisation (Chapter 6), then excerpts from countries in Europe and the Middle East (Chapter 2). And lastly, Chapter 5, which deals with safe havens.
Chapter 6: Terrorist Organizations
KURDISTAN WORKERS’ PARTY
aka the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress; the Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan; KADEK; Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan; the People’s Defense Force; Halu Mesru Savunma Kuvveti; Kurdistan People’s Congress; People’s Congress of Kurdistan; KONGRA-GEL
Description: The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or Kongra-Gel (KGK) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. The PKK was founded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978 as a Marxist-Leninist separatist organization. The group, composed primarily of Turkish Kurds, launched a campaign of violence in 1984. The PKK aspires to establish an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, but in recent years has spoken more often about autonomy within a Turkish state that guarantees Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights.
In the early 1990s, the PKK moved beyond rural-based insurgent activities to include urban terrorism. In the 1990s, southeastern Anatolia was the scene of significant violence; some estimates place casualties at approximately 30,000 persons. Following his capture in 1999, Ocalan announced a “peace initiative,” ordering members to refrain from violence and requesting dialogue with Ankara on Kurdish issues. Ocalan’s death-sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment; he remains the symbolic leader of the group. The group foreswore violence until June 2004, when the group’s hard-line militant wing took control and renounced the self-imposed cease-fire of the previous five years. Striking over the border from bases within Iraq, the PKK has engaged in terrorist attacks in eastern and western Turkey. The Turkish government in November 2009 announced a reform initiative aimed at giving Kurds more democratic rights in Turkey, in large part to establish a political resolution to the ongoing PKK insurgency.
Activities: Primary targets have been Turkish government security forces, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the organization in Turkey. The PKK’s reputed military wing, the People’s Defense Force, has been responsible mainly for attacks against military and paramilitary targets in the southeastern area of Turkey. The PKK’s reported urban terrorist arm, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), has attacked primarily tourist areas in Western Turkey, and in late February 2008, announced a new wave of terrorist actions against Turkey. The PKK did not claim credit for any attacks in 2009.
In an attempt to damage Turkey’s tourist industry, the PKK has bombed tourist sites and hotels and kidnapped foreign tourists. In July 2008, PKK operatives kidnapped three German tourists on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey in retaliation for Germany’s tough stance against the group. In October 2008, PKK militants killed 15 Turkish soldiers at the Aktutun outpost on the Turkish-Iraqi border, and five days later the group killed several police officers and wounded 19 in an attack in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, PKK violence killed or injured hundreds of Turks. PKK activity was lower in 2009, but was still a constant throughout the year. Despite Ankara’s recent democratic initiative, PKK militants killed seven Turkish soldiers near Tokat in north-central Turkey in December 2009.
Strength: Approximately 4,000 to 5,000, of which 3,000 to 3,500 are located in northern Iraq.
Location/Area of Operation: Operates primarily in Turkey, Iraq, Europe, and the Middle East.
External Aid: In the past, the PKK received safe haven and modest aid from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Syria ended support for the group in 1999 and since then has cooperated with Turkey against the PKK. Since 1999, Iran has also cooperated in a limited fashion with Turkey against the PKK. In 2008, Turkey and Iraq began cooperating to fight the PKK. The PKK continues to receive substantial financial support from the large Kurdish diaspora in Europe and from criminal activity there.
Chapter 2. Country Reports
European countries continued to maintain pressure on the PKK, which raised funds, often through illicit activity, to fund violence in Turkey.
There are believed to be 4,000 sympathizers of the PKK in Austria.
Belgian authorities are concerned with potential terrorist activities by domestic extremists, Islamic extremists, anarchists, and militant animal rights groups. International groups of concern to Belgium included extremists from al-Qa’ida and the Democratic People’s Party of Kurdistan (DHKP/C). The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a known presence in Belgium and has television production studios in Denderleeuw. A fine levied on the studio several years ago did not impact the production facility significantly.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has a presence in Cyprus. Its activities generally were fundraising and transit en route to third countries. Authorities on both sides believed there was little risk the group would conduct operations on the island. Cyprus maintained it was fulfilling all responsibilities with respect to the EU designation of the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Denmark cooperated closely with EU partners and institutions within the field of counter-radicalization. Roj-TV, a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated media outlet, continued to operate in Denmark.
French authorities detained and prosecuted a number of people with ties to various terrorist organizations, including Islamist terrorists (18 convictions), Corsican Nationalists (19 convictions), Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members (28 convictions), the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) (22 convictions), and Kurds with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (16 convictions).
German courts also began trials or reached verdicts in other notable counterterrorism cases:
• In July, the Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court found Hüseyin Acar, a leading member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), guilty of being the ring-leader of a criminal organization and of coordinating PKK actions in Germany. The Court sentenced Acar to three years and nine months in prison.
• On April 8, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court upheld the 2008 sentencing of Muzaffer Ayata, a Turkish citizen, to three years and six months in prison on charges of being a leader of a criminal organization (PKK).
Iraq, Turkey, and the United States continued their formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Iraqi leaders, including those from the Kurdistan Regional Government, continued to publicly state that the PKK was a terrorist organization and would not be allowed a safe haven in Iraq. The trilateral discussions and other efforts continued through the end of the year, with a ministerial in late December.
Domestic and transnational terrorist groups have targeted Turkish nationals and foreigners in Turkey, including, on occasion, U.S. government personnel, for more than 40 years. Terrorist groups that have operated in Turkey have included Kurdish groups, al-Qa’ida (AQ), Marxist-Leninist, and pro-Chechen groups. The past year may have been a watershed year for Turkey in countering the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkish terrorism law defines terrorism as attacks against Turkish citizens and the Turkish state. This definition may hamper Turkey’s ability to interdict, arrest, and prosecute those who plan and facilitate terrorist acts to be committed outside of Turkey, or acts to be committed against non-Turks within Turkey. Nonetheless, Turkish cooperation with the United States against terrorism is strong.
Most prominent among terrorist groups in Turkey is the PKK. Composed primarily of Kurds with a nationalist agenda, the PKK operated from bases in northern Iraq and directed its forces to target mainly Turkish security forces. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, PKK violence claimed hundreds of Turkish lives. PKK activity was lower in 2009, but was still a constant throughout the year.
In 2009, the Turkish government and the Turkish General Staff agreed that military action against the PKK would not be sufficient to eliminate it as a terrorist threat. The government began an initiative, now known as the National Unity Project, to address the social and economic inequalities in Turkish society that purportedly fuel Kurdish dissent and PKK recruitment. Concrete steps within the scope of the Project were clearly devised to drain the PKK’s support, by, for example, liberalizing laws governing the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting, education, and state buildings; reducing the application of counterterrorism laws to non-violent crimes; and providing legal incentives to bring members of the PKK who have not engaged in violence back into civil society.
Chapter 5: Terrorist Safe Havens and Tactics and Tools for Disrupting or Eliminating Safe Havens
Northern Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) maintained an active presence in northern Iraq, from which it coordinated attacks into Turkey, primarily against Turkish security forces, local officials and villagers who opposed the organization. In October, the Turkish Parliament overwhelmingly voted to extend the authorization for cross-border military operations against PKK encampments in northern Iraq. Iraq, Turkey, and the United States continued their formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the PKK. Iraqi leaders, including those from the Kurdistan Regional Government, continued to publicly state that the PKK was a terrorist organization that would not be tolerated in Iraq. Turkish and Iraqi leaders signed a counterterrorism agreement in October.
Countering Terrorism on the Economic Front
On February 4, the United States designated the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) for supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that has been involved in the targeting of the Turkish government for more than 20 years. PJAK was created in 2004 as a splinter group of the PKK to appeal to Iranian Kurds. Operating in the border region between Iraq and Iran, PJAK is controlled by the leadership of the PKK and receives orders and personnel from the main organization.