The Kurdish-Turkish war is known to be the largest civil war in the middle east, taking away the lives of more than 40,000 people, a majority of them being Kurds. After lasting almost three decades, it finally ended in 2013 when both the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, also known as the PKK, announced a “bilateral cease-fire” to bring necessary peace within the region.
Here are nine facts that will give you a better understanding of the historic conflict:
- Tensions leading to the conflict between the Kurds and the Turks began after a nationalist Turkish force, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established the Republic of Turkey in 1934 with the aim of “Turkifying” the entire state. This decision forced millions of Kurds to live in a state that only approved of Turks, and denied the existence of the Kurdish ethnicity. It led to extreme censorship for the Kurds, as their language was banned from the media, forcing Kurdish children to learn only Turkish in school. That is how a strong Kurdish resistance, the PKK, was born, with the main goal of creating a Kurdish state.
- The Kurdistan Worker’s Party was founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan, with an ideology focused on Marxism. The PKK sought to create an independent Kurdish state in order to regain their autonomy from the Turkish government. The party had between 5,000 and 10,000 armed fighters who initiated violent attacks toward Turkish government officials.
- After several attacks, the Turkish government attempted to ease tensions with the Kurds by giving them “cultural concessions” in 1991 and limited autonomy in 1993. But, the resistance intensified as the interdiction of creating Kurdish political parties was maintained and, more importantly, direct military control was imposed in Kurdish areas under martial law. This led to a civil war involving approximately 200,000 security forces, in which an estimated 15,000 people were killed and dozens of villages were destroyed between 1982 and 1995.
- In response to Turkey’s militarization of the Kurdish region, the PKK launched an armed struggle within the Turkish territory which resulted in a counter military attack and, later on, a major crackdown from the Turkish government. In fact, Ankara established a state of emergency in 1987 and the Anti-Terror Law in 1991, which led to the killing of thousands of Kurdish civilians and the arrest of anyone who seemed to be associated with the PKK, or any other leftist groups.
- Following the implementation of these anti-terror laws, the Kurds strengthened their resistance towards the Turkish state, who, in response, resorted to even more violence and repression. This was the start of a “vicious cycle” for the Kurdish-Turkish war, as the Turkish government’s sole mission to end this struggle was to capture Öcalan and sentence him to death.
- After Öcalan was captured in 1999 with the help of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, the Turkish government began to reform its democracy, which led to significant changes for the Kurds. Those changes included the right for Kurds to learn their language in private courses and broadcast in their own language. Other reforms were the abolition of the death penalty and the elimination of the state of emergency.
- In the 2000s, while Turkey was experiencing a major democratic crisis, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) implemented a Kurdish peace process, which ultimately failed due to lack of cohesion between the different parties in Turkey.
- As democracy began slowly deteriorating, many Kurdish groups requested a peace deal with the Turkish President Erdogan, instead of consolidating democracy. However, in the mid-2000s, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a new Kurdish political party, surfaced and demanded democratic reform, which ended this peace process. The HDP is now represented in the Parliament, having won 10 percent of the vote in June 2015.
- As of today, President Erdogan’s power has grown stronger, facing much weaker opposition. Many reforms have changed the Kurds’ lives in a significant way after the Kurdish-Turkish war, such as the right to illustrate the Kurdish identity in the media and the right to establish Kurdish political parties.
One might ask if this means the Kurdish-Turkish war has been resolved. But, despite the evolution of the Turkish state and the representation of the leftist ideologies in the assembly, many critics argue that the situation could lead to potential uprisings in the future if the Turkish government keeps denying all the human rights abuses committed toward the Kurds. Acknowledgment of the Kurdish struggle for freedom is necessary in order to move forward with a more democratic nation.
– Sarah Soutoul