“This problem is not one that can be solved purely by security measures. It requires all political parties, NGOs and all sections of society to act responsibly together in harmony.“
– Cemil Cicek, Speaker of the Parliament of Turkey
The Kurds are a group of stateless people, united by race, living in the Middle East between numerous countries, with most of the population residing in Turkey. Kurdistan, the proposed Kurdish state, inhabited by the Kurdish people, runs across the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. Kurdistan has long been a nationless state, united ethnically but disjointed by international borders. Numerous Kurds in Turkey have been demanding autonomy and political and cultural recognition. The vision of the Kurds is to have an independent state to legitimize their identity as a nation. The Kurds demand for autonomy presents itself as a threat to the Turkish government, causing a rise of Kurdish insurgent groups as well as the growth of the Turkish armed forces to defend themselves. The Kurds enjoy autonomy in Iraq but seek autonomy within the entire region through the proposed independent state of Kurdistan.
- Turkey hosts the largest Kurdish population of all the middle eastern countries with 25% of the population being Kurdish (estimated at 14 to 20million). Turkey in 1934 tried to rid its population of Kurds. Ever since, Kurds have been marginalized and the PKK was formed in opposition of the populations marginalization. Turkey has conducted numerous military operations, with the help of the US and the EU in order to defeat the PKK.
- Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – Primary Kurdish rebel group that have carried out numerous acts in Turkey. Is listed as a terrorist group by the US and EU.
- People’s Protection Units (YPG) – Primarily Kurdish Militia based in Syria that was formed to defend parts of Kurdistan that lie in Syria. YPG fought against al-Qaeda and ISIS along with the Free Syrian Army to keep Syrian Kurds safe.
- The European Union and The United States strongly oppose the PKK, labelling them as a terrorist organisation. The US sent troops to repel the PKK during the second insurgency.
- Iraq – Northern Iraq was where most of the PKK moved in 2006-2007 to flee from the threat of Turkish forces. In northern Iraq the PKK grew. In 2016, the Iraqi government pledged to help Turkey through cracking down on the PKK and PKK affiliated groups.
- Iran – Despite Iran and Turkey’s adversarial relationship, they have collaborated in tightening borders as well as halting the violent actions of Kurdish insurgent groups, especially the PKK.
- Syria – Syria has shown monetary and military support for the YPG. Turkey and Syria have a complicated relationship, in which Turkey has funded rebels in the past to fight Syrian forces. Syria also hosts numerous PKK members in city of Deraa.
- Israel – PKK had fought Israel in the past in the first Lebanon war. Israel vehemently opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization. However, Netanyahu supposedly is for a Kurdish state.
- Palestine – The PKK has always supported Palestine in their conflict with Israel. Palestine and the PKK joined forces in the 80’s to fight against Israel.
- ISIS – A common threat to both Turkey and Kurdish rebels. Decided to work together in 2014-2015 to end the threat of ISIS. This effort was unsuccessful and led to a third insurgency.
- Armenia – Armenia was also a host to numerous Kurds. In 1980, the Armenian Secret army collaborated with the PKK in order to bomb a Turkish embassy in Paris.
- 1934 – Turkey was established and began ethnically cleansing the population of Kurds.
- 1978 – The PKK was officially formed by Abdullah Ocalan and started to spread a Marxist ideology. This group engaged in violent clashes with the Turkish National Forces
- 1980 – General Kenan Everen stages a coup and throws the Turkish leader Suleyman Demirel out of power. As a result of this coup, The PKK starts to slowly lose their dominance and control in Turkey and start to move into the borders of Syria.
- 10 November, 1980 – Turkey’s embassy in Paris was attacked which turned out to be a collaboration between the PKK and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia.
- 6 June, 1982 – The start of the Lebanon war. PKK helps fight Israel with Syria and Palestine.
- 15 August, 1984 – PKK attempts to regain dominance in Turkey by brewing a violent rebellion against the police.
- 19 July, 1987 – The Turkish government declared a state of emergency due to the Kurdish insurgency in Southwest Turkey.
- 5 February, 1990 – In the Turkish city Diyarbakir, 500 Iraqi Kurds protested leading to a violent exchange with Turkish police forces. Over 90 people were arrested.
- 1990 – The People’s Labor Party (HEP), Turkey’s first Kurdish political party was formed. This party was made up of ex-Kurdish populist party members.
- 18-21 August, 1992 – The 3 day battle, known as the battle of Sirnak, takes place in town of Sirnak between Kurdish rebels and Turkish forces.
- 15 September, 1993 – Turkey and Iran sign an agreement in order to tighten border control and prevent Kurdish rebels from illegally roaming across borders.
- 1993 – The HEP is banned by the constitutional court of Turkey, limiting Kurdish representation. The court claimed that the HEP conducted actions that was against the Turkish constitution,
- 1994-1995 – A plot known as the Winter Campaign was carried out by Turkish forces in order to cut the PKK’s winter food supply.
- 1995 – Another operation known as Operation Steel was carried out by Turkish forces to rid Northern Iraq of the PKK. This operation was unsuccessful.
- 1998 – Leader of the PKK, Ocalan is asked to leave Syria and finds refuge in Moscow.
- 1999-2004 – Turkey was largely violence free for 5 years. Pro-Kurdish party, HADEP, is able to win a sizeable amount of seats in the Turkish government.
- 2000 – PKK goes on to pursue political representation within the Turkish government. Death toll for this first insurgency is around 37,000.
- 2002 – Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) was formed, which largely included members of the PKK. The PKK had been briefly disbanded.
- 2005 – 6 people were killed on a train that was bombed by Kurdish Guerrillas in Turkey.
- 22 May, 2007 – The PKK stage a suicide bombing in Ankara killing 8 and injuring over 100. Turkish government decided to take military action upon knowing this. Much of The PKK is now in Iraq after fleeing from conflict in Turkey.
- 21 Feb, 2008 – Turkey launches Operation Sun to destroy PKK’s presence in northern Iraq.
- 2007-2012 – Numerous attacks take place in different parts of Turkey and Iraq. Some attacks were conducted by Kurdish rebels, others conducted by Turkish forces in order to purge rebels.
- 2012 – Two Kurdish political parties, the Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council form the YPG in order to protect Kurds in Syria
- 2013 – YPG defend Syrian Kurdistan from Al-Qaeda
- 2014 – YPG joins forces with the Free Syrian Army in order to battle ISIS
- 2015 – YPG engaged in further offensive attacks on ISIS with the monetary and military support of the United States
- 28 February, 2015 – Ocalan, leader of PKK, claimed that PKK will no longer be a threat to Turkey and will join forces in defeating ISIS.
- End of 2015- present – The beginning of the third Kurdish insurgency. Numerous attacks exchanged between Turkish forces and PKK loyalists.
- 2018 – Operation Olive Branch was carried out by the Turkish military in order to rid Syria, specifically the city of Afrin, of the Kurdish Democratic Union party which was armed with the YPG militia. Estimated death toll: 500.
How You Can Help:
Due to the plethora of displaced Kurds, organizations like the Centre for Kurdish Progress and the Kurdish Human Rights watch have been cardinal in helping provide resources to Kurdish refugees. The former helps advocate for Kurds in various countries, helping legitimize their struggles, while the latter assists in providing economic assistance to displaced Kurds.