Archived conflict (updated: March 2003)

Turkey was removed from the active list of armed conflicts because, despite some skirmishes between government and rebel forces, reported conflict-related deaths for 2002 totalled fewer than 25 for the second consecutive year. In its bid to join the European Union, the government also initiated a number of reforms in 2002 to grant Turkish Kurds more rights and freedoms.

 

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Background
Arms Sources

Summary:

2001 A major Turkish military operation in January was one of only a few incidents of violence reported for the year. There was a corresponding decline in the death toll for the year to an estimated 20.

2000 Dismissing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ceasefire as a terrorist ploy, Turkish forces pursued PKK rebels deeper into northern Iraq. Although at least 100 people were killed, this was a sharp decline from estimated conflict deaths in 1999.

1999 Armed clashes between government forces and Kurdish rebels continued in the southeast and northern Iraq, though the intensity of the fighting decreased. About 1,300 people, including civilians, were killed in 1999, a decline from the 1998 figure of 2,100.

1998 Clashes in southeastern Turkey between government forces and Kurdish guerrillas and government offensives against rebel bases in northern Iraq extended the conflict through 1998.
Type of Conflict:

State formation
Parties to the Conflict:

1) Government:

(a) Turkish Armed Forces, ostensibly under Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit;

(b) Turkish National Police, responsible for urban areas;

(c) Jandarma (gendarmerie), responsible for rural areas;

Plus,

(d) A paramilitary grouping of anti -PKK Kurds who act as village guards;

“Across southeastern Turkey, between 46,000 and 90,000 local men are still nominally on duty. Recruited, armed and paid by the state, they agreed to form the first line of defense against the guerrillas.” [washingtonpost.com, October 31, 2002]

(e) In Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani;

(f) In 2000, there were reports of clashes between the PKK and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), another Iraqi Kurdish faction, led by Jalal Talabani.

2) Rebels:

Partia Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK) led by imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan. In April 2002, the PKK changed its name to Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK).

“The Turkish National Police (TNP) have primary responsibility for security in urban areas, while the Jandarma (gendarmerie) carry out this function in the countryside. The armed forces, in support of the police and particularly the Jandarma, carry out operations against the PKK in the state of emergency region, thereby serving an internal security function. These operations declined in number as the terrorist threat ebbed. Although civilian and military authorities remain publicly committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights, members of the security forces, including police ‘special teams,’ other TNP personnel, village guards, and Jandarma committed serious human rights abuses.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Turkey, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, February 25, 2000]

“For 15 years, militants fought the Turkish security forces, demanding autonomy for the ethnic Kurdish minority. Most guerillas laid down their arms in 1999 following the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK. Except for perhaps 300 rebels said to be hiding inside Turkey in remote mountains, the rest moved across the border to northern Iraq, where Turkish troops pursue a few thousand diehards.” [washingtonpost.com, October 31, 2002]

Status of Fighting:

2002 The Turkish military and Kurdish rebels engaged in a number of skirmishes on Turkish and Iraqi soil. The KADEK deployed man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on Turkey’s border with Iraq in anticipation of a possible Turkish invasion in northern Iraq triggered by a US-led war in Iraq. The ‘village guards’ armed by the state against Kurdish rebel incursions were accused of raping, attacking and, in some cases, murdering villagers returning to their land through a resettlement program initiated by the government. Even so, in December the government lifted its state of emergency in the southeast.

“Turkey lifted a 15-year state of emergency in the southeast of the country on the weekend, ending an era which saw security forces wield sweeping powers against Kurdish separatists…” [globeandmail.com, December 2, 2002]

“The possibility that Turkey may make a military incursion into northern Iraq ahead of an attack by US-led forces against Iraq has prompted the rebels to take counter measures.” [Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 16, 2002]

“Some 700 Turkish soldiers battled late on Sunday [in northern Iraq] with more than 500 Kurdish guerrillas of the People’s Defence Force (HSK), an armed wing of Turkey-based Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) …” [Kurdistan Observer, May 27, 2002]

2001 In January, the Turkish military launched a large scale operation against Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey and Iraq. Only a few other incidents of violence were reported for the year.

“Iraq Kurdish officials on 7 January reported that an estimated 500 Turkish troops had advanced into Kurdish controlled northern Iraq in what was being seen as preparations for a major offensive against some 2,500 rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Reporters from Turkey claim that as many as 10,000 troops have moved into northern Iraq since December 20.” [Janes Defence Weekly, January 17, 2001]

“Turkish soldiers have killed six Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in the southeastern province of Sirnak in the past two days, security forces said.” [The Times of India, January, 12, 2001]

2000 Dismissing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ceasefire as a terrorist ploy, Turkish forces pursued PKK rebels deeper into northern Iraq, where the rebels were believed to withdraw after their imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan called on them to stop fighting.

“At least 500 troops have pushed 100 miles into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in their deepest incursion in the 15-year conflict, Iraqi Kurdish officials said yesterday. The move was being seen as preparation for a major offensive against 2,500 rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) dug in along the Iran-Iraq border. According to reports in Turkey, as many as 10,000 Turkish troops have poured into the Kurdish-controlled enclave since December 20 …” [Electronic Telegraph, January 8, 2001]

1999 Fighting between government forces and Kurdish rebels continued, though the intensity decreased as the rebels claimed to withdraw from the conflict. The rebels carried out terrorist attacks throughout the country, including suicide bombings, while Turkish forces again invaded northern Iraq in pursuit of rebel fighters.

“Turkish ground forces with air support conducted several operations during the year in northern Iraq against the PKK. The Turkish Government maintained that it targeted only PKK fighters in northern Iraq and that it respected the right of civilians in these operations. The Kurdistan Democratic Party cooperated with the Turkish Government in shutting down PKK facilities in northern Iraq. Local observers in northern Iraq, including NGO and other foreign humanitarian workers, reported no incidents of collateral damage or civilian casualties from these operations.

“The PKK suffered severe setbacks during the year, especially following the arrest, forced return to Turkey, and trial of its leader Abdullah Ocalan, and his subsequent death sentence. After his arrest and incarceration in February, the PKK carried out repeated suicide bomb attacks throughout the country; these included a suicide bomb attack in Adana in July, which injured 17 persons, and an Istanbul department store bombing that killed 13 persons. PKK attacks against civilians, military, and law enforcement personnel in the southeast continued but declined in number. There was a lower rate of PKK terrorist acts during the summer and fall than in the previous year. The PKK claimed that it was withdrawing from the conflict and would take a nonviolent path to political change. The evidence was not conclusive that a PKK withdrawal from Turkey had occurred; reports indicated that while some PKK members heeded Ocalan’s call for an end to the armed struggle and PKK withdrawal from Turkey, others did not. The authorities disputed that a meaningful withdrawal was underway.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Turkey, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, February 25, 2000]

1998 Clashes in southeastern Turkey between government forces and Kurdish guerrillas and government offensives against rebel bases in northern Iraq extended the conflict through 1998.

“Thousands of Turkish soldiers flew into northern Iraq on Thursday to hunt Kurdish rebels believed to have fled there after killing 22 Turkish troops in a single raid. … Turkish troops have become a semi-permanent presence in northern Iraq… ” [Reuters, July 16, 1998]

“Turkish forces meanwhile poured fresh troops into northern Iraq by helicopter to strike against PKK forces before winter grips the remote mountainous region. … Turkey=s Iraqi Kurdish ally, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, is backing the latest offensive with around 5,000 of its ‘peshmerga’ fighters deployed along the border.” [Reuters, November 10, 1998]

“Although the armed conflict in the southeast lessened in intensity, both government forces and the PKK continued to commit serious human rights violations. Village guards — ethnic Kurdish villagers who function as government-appointed civil guards in remote areas of the southeast — continued to be implicated in many abuses, and civilians remained particularly vulnerable in the region.” [Human Rights Watch World Report, 1999]

Number of Deaths:

Total: The war has claimed between 30,000 and 40,000 lives since 1984.

2002 Media reports suggested that close to 25 people died in the fighting this year.

“Kurdish rebels clashed with Turkish soldiers in the mainly Kurdish southeast Sunday, leaving an insurgent dead and five soldiers wounded …” [The Associated Press, October 27, 2002]

“Three people have died in the southern Turkish city of Mersin, in clashes between thousands of Kurdish youths and Turkish riot police over a government ban preventing Kurds from celebrating their new year.” [BBC News, March 21, 2002]

“Fighting broke out between the Turkish military and armed Kurdish rebels in a remote region of northern Iraq at the weekend with conflicting reports of casualties on both sides…The Turkish armed forces last night attacked the People’s Defence Force in the Haftanin province (of northern Iraq). One militant was killed and five seriously injured. Fifteen Turkish soldiers were killed.” [Kurdistan Observer, May 27, 2002]

2001 The death toll declined from the previous year to an estimated 20 deaths.

“The chief of police and five other officers have been killed in an ambush in the main city in Turkey’s Kurdish region, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said.” [CNN, January 24, 2001]

“Leaders of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party in Turkey say they are extremely worried about the safety of two party officials who went missing a week ago. Mr. Tanif and Mr. Deniz disappeared the day after six police offiers where shot dead in the nearby city of Diyarbakir.” [BBC, February 1, 2001]

2000 Although at least 100 people were killed this year, this was a sharp decline from the estimated conflict deaths in 1999.

“Turkish troops have killed 53 Turkish Kurd separatist rebels in a fresh cross-border drive into northern Iraq, military officials said on Wednesday. A military official based in Diyarbakir — regional capital of Turkey’s mainly-Kurdish southeast — said some 10,000 troops, backed by aircraft, pulled out of the region on Wednesday after launching the offensive four days ago.” [Reuters, May 10, 2000]

1999 About 1,300 people, including civilians, were killed in 1999.

“The PKK continued to commit politically motivated killings, primarily in rural southeast Anatolia. Victims included soldiers, state officials such as Jandarma, state-paid paramilitary village guards and family members, young villagers who refused to be recruited, and PKK guerrillas-turned-informants. According to the Government, during the year 220 security officials and 118 civilians died in terrorist incidents, and 961 PKK members were killed by security forces … . These figures show a decline from 1998, when 243 soldiers and Jandarma, 10 police officers, 114 village guards, and 132 civilians were killed.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Turkey, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, February 25, 2000]

1998 Approximately 2,100 people died in the fighting during 1998, about half the estimated conflict deaths during 1997.

“The Turkish authorities say the army killed more than eighteen-hundred people described as separatist terrorists, last year, in operations in eastern and south-eastern Turkey. They say more than three-hundred members of the security forces also died in the clashes with Kurdish separatists. The Kurdish campaign for independence, which began in 1984, has so far claimed more than thirty-thousand lives.” [BBC News Report, January 2, 1999]

Political Developments:

2002 In April the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) and stated intentions to campaign peacefully for Kurdish rights. It claimed that its armed wing, renamed the People’s Defense Units, would be used only for self-defense. In a bid to gain membership in the European Union, the Turkish government initiated reforms to grant more rights and freedoms to the Kurdish community, including private Kurdish language education, and stayed the execution of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (Instead, he was issued a life sentence with no chance of amnesty.) The government also lifted its ban on Kurdish language television and radio broadcasts but put strict limits on the amount of allotted air time.

Tension between the Turkish government and Kurds in Iraq intensified over Turkish fears that the creation of an Iraqi Kurdish state following the fall of Saddam Hussein would inspire Kurds in Turkey to reignite their armed struggle for independence. The government eventually agreed not to invade Kurdish areas during a US-led war on Iraq if the Kurds agreed not to push for a separate state or take control of the region’s oil production centres.

“The Kurdish rebel group that waged a 15-year war against Turkey announced a name change and shift in strategy Tuesday, saying it now wants to campaign peacefully for greater Kurdish rights.” [washingtonpost.com, April 16, 2002]

“The EU – which is a strong critic of Turkey’s treatment of its 12 million Kurds – says Turkey must meet certain standards of human rights and freedom of expression before it can become a member.” [ BBC News, March 21, 2002]

“… Wednesday’s announcement that a maximum 30 minutes per day of Kurdish programmes will be allowed on state television and 45 minutes on the radio has been met with dismay by Kurdish representatives… the decision shows that the Turkish state still wants to control and limit the rights of the Kurds. ” [BBC News, November 22, 2002]

2001 The leader of a Kurdish faction in northern Iraq announced his intention to cooperate with Turkish officials in fighting the Turkish rebel group the PKK in January. The same month PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan warned that Turkish military attacks against the PKK could cause a war.

“The leader of one of the main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq has promised Turkey that he will cooperate fully in the fight against the Turkish Kurd rebel movement, the PKK. Jalal Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, has been holding talks with Turkish foreign ministry officials in Ankara.” [BBC, January 10, 2001]

“The Kurdish guerilla leader jailed in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has warned that Turkish military action against his group, the PKK, could cause a war. Mr. Ocalan said the PKK would act in self defence against Turkey if attempts made to exterminate it continue. The statement follows Turkish attacks on guerilla bases across the border in northern Iraq, as well as Turkish government talks with rival Kurdish groups.” [BBC, January 26, 2001]

2000 In January, the Turkish government decided to delay the death sentence against Abdullah Ocalan until the European Court of Human Rights reviews the case. Ocalan’s appeal was based on claims that Turkey breached provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which it ratified in 1954.

“Ocalan is appealing to the Strasbourg court on the grounds of breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights, including right to life, right to liberty, and right to a fair trial.” [CNN, November 21, 2000]

“Turkey’s coalition government Wednesday announced it has temporarily suspended the death sentence against Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan until a European court can review it.” [CNN, January 12, 2000]

1999 The Turkish government captured the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in February, and in June, he was charged with treason and sentenced to death. Following his capture, Ocalan appealed to PKK members to withdraw from Turkey and take a nonviolent path to advance Kurdish goals. In what appeared to be a change of PKK policy, Ocalan=s appeal was officially endorsed by the rebel group=s ruling Presidential Council, a step credited with the subsequent decline in fighting. Some groups within the PKK resisted Ocalan=s call.

“In February the Government captured PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. In June he was tried in a State Security Court on the charge of treason through trying to separate part of the country from government control (i.e., sedition) and sentenced to death. His sentence was upheld in November, and the case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights observers, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), raised several due process concerns in the Ocalan case, including his initial 9 to 10 days of incommunicado detention, the limited access of Ocalan’s lawyers to private consultations with their client and to written material included in the prosecution’s case, and the harassment and threats directed toward Ocalan’s lawyers. After his capture and trial, Ocalan called for PKK members to leave Turkey and commit themselves to a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish problem.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Turkey, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, February 25, 2000]

“Last August, Ocalan ordered a unilateral cease-fire and a withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey. Shortly afterwards he called on a group of PKK guerrillas to surrender, thereby demonstrating the PKK=s commitment to >peace and security.= The acceptance of Ocalan=s demands by the PKK=s ruling Presidential Council, [one group of guerrillas subsequently surrendered near the Turkish border town of Hakkari, while another group of activists flew from Europe to surrender themselves to the Turkish authorities], appeared to officially confirm the change of PKK policy.” [Jane=s Defence Weekly, December 15, 1999]

1998 During 1998 the Turkish government stepped up its campaign against the pro-Kurdish People=s Democracy Party (HADEP) and pressured Syria to sign an agreement to end support for the PKK. In November PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was arrested in Rome (and later released) following his earlier expulsion from Damascus. PKK proposed peace talks, based on a seven point plan for regional autonomy within Turkey, but the government remained opposed to negotiations.

Details of the PKK seven point peace plan of 1998:

  1. the end of Turkish military action against Kurd villages
  2. a return of displaced Kurd refugees to their villages
  3. elimination of the “village guard corps”
  4. autonomy for the Kurd region without harming Turkey=s borders5 – recognition for the Kurds of all democratic freedoms enjoyed by the Turks
  5. recognition of Kurdish identity, language and culture
  6. freedom and pluralism of religion
    [from Globe and Mail, November 26, 1998]

“Turkey has claimed an important victory after forcing Syria to drop its support for Kurdish rebels. … Under a deal signed last week, Damascus is to cut off assistance to the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, which had been using Syria to launch attacks across the border into Turkey.” [The Guardian Weekly, November 1, 1998]

Background:

The Paritia Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK), or Kurdish Workers= Party, has been waging a guerrilla war for Kurdish independence or autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984. A government campaign to depopulate pro-PKK villages in Turkey has created at least 500,000 internal refugees (some estimates run higher than 2 million). While most of the war has taken place in southeastern Turkey, since 1992 the Turkish government has also launched periodic air strikes and ground assaults on PKK camps in northern Iraq. More recently, the rebel Kurdish Iraqi group, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has backed Turkish troop offensives against the PKK. Following the imprisonment of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, many insurgents withdrew from the conflict and violence declined.
Arms Sources:

The US is the largest weapons supplier to Turkey, with Germany and France as additional major suppliers. Russia, Italy, Israel, Spain, the UK, and the Turkish domestic armaments industry also have provided weapons recently. The PKK has been supported at various times by Armenia, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

[Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2002; Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 16, 2002, The Military Balance 2000/2001]

“Local press reports quoting both intelligence and Turkish military sources, say that the KADEJ has acquired weaponry including small arms and SAMs worth some $200,000 from Armenia, Iran, and Iraq in the last month as part of its efforts to increase the defence against a possible incursion by the TAF [Turkish Armed Forces] into northern Iraq.” [Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 16, 2002]

During the period 1995-1997 the major suppliers to Turkey were the US, Germany, and France. [World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1998, US State Department].

“Germany reportedly sold DM 449.2 million (approximately $265 million) worth of weapons and military equipment to Turkey in the first half of 1998, the Anatolia news agency reported from Bonn. The number was derived from a response by the German government to a questionnaire submitted by the Green Alliance 90, a united opposition movement, on the transfer of weapons to some countries in recent years. According to the German Government=s statement, the value of weapons and military equipment delivered to Turkey by year is as follows: DM 619.3 million in 1994; DM 177.9 million in 1995; DM 600.8 million in 1996; DM 145 million in 1997; and DM 449.2 million in the first half of 1998.” [Press Agency Ozgurluk, Aug 14, 1998 – on mideast.kurds newsgroup]

“Turkey purchased several ‘Popeye missiles’ having a range of 150km, from Israel. The two countries also reached an agreement worth 2-3 million US dollars in order to produce several parts of the Popeye missile in Turkey.” [Study Centre on Turkey, February 1, 1999]

*Spain also recently supplied military equipment to the government [The Military Balance 1999/2000, p.43].

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