The 1970s saw Kurdish nationalism branching off into Marxist political ideology which influenced a new generation of Kurdish nationalists. A group of radical Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan in Turkey formed the militant separatist group called Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK), or Kurdistan Workers’ Party in English.
The PKK’s ideology was originally a fusion of revolutionary socialism and Kurdish nationalism which was intended to be used as the foundation of an independent, Marxist–Leninist state known as Kurdistan. The PKK fought an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey.
Early PKK History
In it’s early days (1978–1984), the PKK tried to gain the support of the Kurdish population in Turkey by attacking the machinery of Turkish government and distributing propaganda in the region. PKK tactics were based on ambush, sabotage, riots, protests, and demonstrations against the Turkish government.
During these early years, the PKK fought a turf war against other predominantly Kurdish organisations in Turkey. In all of Turkey, this period was characterized by violent clashes that resulted in de-stabilizing the Turkish Government. The PKK has continued their guerrilla-type militant offensive for over thirty years.
The PKK, also known as KADEK and Kongra-Gel, is internationally listed as a terrorist organization by several states and organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the United States, and the European Union (EU).
Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was staging raids into Turkey from Syria. In response, the Turkish Government launched an intensive counterinsurgency offensive and forced Syria to stop letting Öcalan use Syria as a base of operations.
When Öcalan was forced to leave Syria, he was arrested in Kenya and extradited to Turkey for prosecution. Although he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999, the Turkish Government converted the sentence to life, as it was concurrently applying for membership in the EU, where capital punishment was banned.
PKK Peace Talks and Democratic Confederalism
In March, 2013, after several false starts in establishing peace between the Turkish Government and the PKK, Kurdish officials read a statement from Öcalan that he issued from prison stating “We are at a point today when the guns will fall silent and ideas will speak. It is time for armed fighters to move outside [Turkey’s] borders. This is not an ending, but a new beginning.”
So far the ceasefire has held, Öcalan made calls for peace, and has followed up with his idea for a sustainable peace that he calls “Democratic Confederalism.” The philosophy behind this idea is that since Kurdistan has little or no chance to achieve independence in having its own State or any significant degree of autonomy. Consequently, “democratic confederalism” promotes democracy of people without a state, and enables people to gain power on a local level and achieve self-sufficiency within the framework of a Federated State.