Terrorism’s Deadly Dance: The Political Dynamics Behind the PKK’s Use of Violence

Inside the twisted corner of our interconnected world, where the lines between friend and foe blur, terrorism emerges as a specter that attracts the attention of the global stage on a large scale.

Inside the twisted corner of our interconnected world, where the lines between friend and foe blur, terrorism emerges as a specter that attracts the attention of the global stage on a large scale. Terrorism weaves a tapestry of violence, ideology and political maneuvers. Leaving a trail of devastation and uncertainty. Yet, in the midst of the chaos that befell the world, it reveals itself as a mirror that reflects itself as a form of complexities of our very social construct within the global system, one of which discovered emerging from the late 1970s, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been a thorn in the side of Turkey for decades, using violence to pursue its separatist agenda and wreak havoc on the country’s social and economic fabric. Between roughly 2015 and 2017 the violence devastated communities in some urban centers of Türkiye’s majority-Kurdish southeast and – at times – struck into the heart of the country’s largest metropolitan centers (Crisis Group, 2024).

The PKK was first formed in 1978 by a group of Kurdish leftists in Turkey, led by Abdullah Ocalan, who began violent attacks in the late 1970s seeking to build an independent Turkish state or, possibly, full Kurdish autonomy. The PKK’s initial aim was only to fight for Kurdish rights, but its actions made the Turkish government wary, as Turkey has sought to eliminate Kurds and assimilate Kurds into the “Turkification” agenda. Where Turkey has banned the use of Kurdish culture in order to portray it as a threat to the unity of the state. This is also a strong reason for the PKK’s use of violence in the complex web of political dynamics that drives it.

The Kurds have been and still are one of the largest stateless peoples in the world, and their entire history as indigenous people of the Middle East with a distinct culture and ideologies formed the basis of Kurdish nationalism as an emergent form of their independence movement. During their oppression, it can be seen through constructivism that the role of the long history of oppression, marginalization, and close to ethnic cleansing by the declared martial law  in 1934, became a manifestation of Turkey to make all cultures into a unified form. Throughout its political status, The PKK was still not allowed to operate fully even when the military coup took control of several organizations that tried to demonstrate and return against it, some were arrested and sentenced to death, in Abdullah Ocalan. One of the surviving activists would later become the founding father of the PKK. Abdullah believes that armed struggle and resistance of an aggressive nature are necessary to achieve their goals (Marcus, 2007, p. 36). They think they have to carry out this agenda to strengthen their position in the eyes of their rivals. In carrying out their missions, it is necessary to understand that they carry their code of action using violence to serve organizational interests with the emancipation of seeking Kurdish liberation.

Understanding the means of PKK’s liberation agenda interplays with how groups perceive their realities and act within them through the very shared ideas, beliefs, and values requiring the lens of constructivism, posits that the social world is constructed through deeper motivations behind their action, for PKK, the perception of the systemic justice and oppression experienced are central to  their rationale for their armed  aggression-based  missions.  Ocalan’s  method  is  a form  of leadership recognized by his circle, he stands on his very principles and trusts no one but his judgment to operate the PKK. Even though in the end violence was not the most composed means causing several factions to split, they still carried the same message to rise against the Turkish state (Nur Bilge Criss, 2008). The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as an organization, runs with an operational strategy that is based on the same ideology, namely their ideology to create a United Kurdish National identity and liberalize the Kurdish, their form of operations in carrying out their agenda is usually carried out in branching their exploitation of trained and armed soldiers, that’s what makes their tactics of self-governing concept under their democratic confederacies run smoothly, while still denying ties to the terrorist group.

PKK’s leader as has been mentioned Abdullah Ocalan, where central leadership brought an expansion of umbrella organization under its command, some of which could be mentioned, such as the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) in countries with the Kurdish population, Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) in Iran, Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (PCDK) in Iraq (Ross Dayton,2013).  In Turkey, primarily the TAK poses as the PKK affiliates that conducted the mass attacks within Turkish cities believed to be taking orders from the central PKK, and TAK became their shield to avoid accusations for the attacks, PKK proxies succeeded in disguising much of their organization linked to the central leadership, to enable better territory control, recruit new fighters and, secure allies. An example of a group that succeeded in holding two countries in their grasp was the PYD, which played an integral role in the US-led fight against Syria, affiliating its organization with international ties, but also the security assistance needed and acting as a buffer against, Turkey (Ross Dayton, 2013). With that reoccurring method, the use of violence by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even after being affiliated with international prospects, which promised their powerful stance and achieving a position of political respect and establishment, was not with the expected outcome (Kamal Chomani, 2023), constructivism viewed that the entailment of the PKK’s action whose intention was to present the Kurdish people and their efforts in defending their rights and they sort of almost steered off from their former ways of even starting this very movement.

Adding to the turmoil of actors, state and non-state actors intervening indirectly causing many unnecessary manipulation that ultimately exploits the usage of the Kurdish population and ultimately makes it difficult for them to properly establish the status quo, then some groups of people who did associate themselves as Kurdish began to question and feel that this the use of violence has not helped them entirely succeed in achieving the goal of liberating Kurdistan from Turkey, and Turkey continues to carry out their efforts of maintaining them to be unable to have full inclusion within their institutions (Hinnebusch and Ehteshami, 1997).  PKK’s identity is centered on the narrative that, violence was their sole way to attain the attention of other external parties, the excessive oppression put upon them not only was human rights abuse but instead caused significant effects on Turkish authorities who are more concerned with the fragmentation of Turkish state, the ultimate goal of asserting their kemalism principle, and therefore is portraying the act of PKK holding their narrative in the social construct pinning them as violent in their agenda of wanting a Kurdistan community, while the talk of peace and resolution seems to be thwarted by the Turkish Government.

Khalisa Rakhsana
Khalisa Rakhsana
An academic driven student at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. Pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in International Relations. I dream of furthering my studies in the field of peace and security in the hope of promoting Indonesian youth diplomacy. Through my academic studies and writing, I want to contribute to a deeper understanding of international affairs and advocate for better change.