After almost two and a half years of peace, Turkey has reignited its decades-long war with the insurgent Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK. After the PKK took responsibility for a recent string of violence targeting members of the police, the Turkish military responded by bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq. Though the PKK may seem to be synonymous with Turkey’s Kurdish population, the breakdown of the PKK-Turkish ceasefire is, in fact, the result of intra-Kurdish tensions.
The PKK espouses a Marxist, radically secular ideology. While it is popular among many Kurds in Turkey, its leftist politics have alienated more conservative, pious Kurds. The Kurdish HDP party, which broke the 10% election threshold and officially entered parliament this June, is a distant political offshoot of the PKK and also espouses a leftist, radically egalitarian and secular political ideology.
Without any conservative groups of their own, religious Kurds have been drawn to the religiously conservative AKP for much of the party’s existence. Those Kurds who found the AKP not to be conservative or Islamist enough have supported the Huda-Par, or Free Cause, Party which is a far right, Islamist and somewhat nationalist group. Huda-Par’s parent organization, the Islamist terrorist organization known as Hezbollah (no relation to the Lebanese Hezbollah) has been suspected in the past of being a proxy of the Turkish deep state, a shadowy alliance of intelligence services, the military and politicians that works to manipulate and undermine groups perceived as enemies of the state. Hezbollah and the PKK clashed frequently in the 1990s.
This past fall, tensions rose in response to Turkey’s perceived unwillingness to help Kurdish fighters defend the Syrian town of Kobani against the Islamic State. Demonstrations against the Turkish government and radical Islam devolved into violence between supporters of Huda-Par and the PKK. Though most of these clashes did not directly involve Turkish security forces, they marked the beginning of the end of the Kurdish-Turkish peace process.
The official resumption of hostilities between the PKK and Turkey came after the bombing of a group of leftist aid workers in the Turkish town of Suruc. The suicide attacks was allegedly perpetrated by a Kurd. The suspect has been identified as a Kurdish-origin Turkish national who joined the Islamic State and recently returned home to Turkey. The majority of Turkish nationals who have traveled to and fought with the Islamic State are thought to be of Kurdish ethnicity. The political rejection Kurds have experienced from mainstream Turkish society (as represented by the AKP and its broken promises of equal rights for Kurds), the cultural alienation they feel within Turkey, and the multi-cultural and racism-free “utopia” promised by the Islamic State is likely behind this phenomenon.
Turkish Kurds are fighting an ideological war amongst themselves as militant groups like the PKK and Huda-Par, secular and peaceful political groups like the HDP, and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State all fight for their hearts and minds. With the breakdown of the peace process, and the former AKP government’s failure to implement full cultural rights for their community, Turkey’s Kurds may be almost unanimous in their disillusionment with the Turkish state. They are, however, far from united in any political or ideological sense. The renewal of hostilities between the Turkish State and the PKK will only serve to exacerbate these divisions and spark more intra-Kurdish violence.