Founded in 1978 as a Marxist-Leninist insurgent group primarily composed of Turkish Kurds. The group’s goal has been to establish an independent, democratic Kurdish state in the Middle East. In the early 1990s, the PKK moved beyond rural-based insurgent activities to include urban terrorism. Turkish authorities captured Chairman Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya in early 1999; the Turkish State Security Court subsequently sentenced him to death. In August 1999, Ocalan announced a “peace initiative,” ordering members to refrain from violence and requesting dialogue with Ankara on Kurdish issues. At a PKK Congress in January 2000, members supported Ocalan’s initiative and claimed the group now would use only political means to achieve its public goal of improved rights for Kurds in Turkey. In April 2002 at its 8th Party Congress, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) and proclaimed a commitment to nonviolent activities in support of Kurdish rights. Despite this pledge, a PKK/KADEK spokesman stated that its armed wing, The People’s Defense Force, would not disband or surrender its weapons for reasons of self-defense. In late 2003, the group sought to engineer another political face-lift, renaming the group Kongra-Gel (KGK) and brandishing its “peaceful” intentions, while continuing to commit attacks and refuse disarmament. First designated in October 1997.
Primary targets have been Turkish Government security forces in Turkey, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the organization in Turkey. Conducted attacks on Turkish diplomatic and commercial facilities in dozens of West European cities in 1993 and again in spring 1995. In an attempt to damage Turkey’s tourist industry, the then PKK bombed tourist sites and hotels and kidnapped foreign tourists in the early-tomid 1990s. KGK continued to engage in violent acts—including at least one terrorist attack—against the Turkish state in 2003. Several members were arrested in Istanbul in late 2003 in possession of explosive materials.
Approximately 4,000 to 5,000, most of whom currently are located in northern Iraq. Has thousands of sympathizers in Turkey and Europe.
Location/Area of Operation
Operates primarily in Turkey, Europe, and the Middle East.
Has received safehaven and modest aid from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Syria and Iran appear to cooperate with Turkey against KGK in a limited fashion when it serves their immediate interests. KGK uses Europe for fundraising and conducting political propaganda.