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 Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

Also known as: Freedom and Democratic Congress of Kurdistan, Hezan Parastina Gel, HPG, KADEK, Kongra Azadi u Demokrasiya Kurdistan, Kongra Gel, Kongra Gele Kurdistan, Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress, Kurdistan Freedom Brigade, Kurdish Freedom Falcons, Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, Kurdistan Halk Kongresi, Kurdistan Labor Party, Kurdish Liberation Hawks, Kurdistan Ozgurluk Sahinleri, Kurdistan People's Congress, New PKK, Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, People's Congress of Kurdistan, People's Defence Force, PKK, TAK, Teyrbazên Azadiya Kurdistan

This statement is based on publicly available information about the Kurdistan Workers' Party. To the Australian Government's knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Minister for Home Affairs must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  • is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  • advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code on 17 December 2005. It was relisted on 28 September 2007, 8 September 2009, 18 August 2012, 11 August 2015 and 4 August 2018.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

The PKK's objectives have changed over time, in line with Turkey's evolving political environment. Since its inception, the group has primarily been committed to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in south-eastern Turkey, Syria and Iraq. After the end of the Cold War, the PKK increasingly emphasised its role as a Kurdish nationalist movement. The organisation now calls for autonomy for Kurds within Turkey and seeks to promote the rights of Kurds living in Turkey, specifically the right to maintain a Kurdish ethnic identity. It also aims to monopolise Kurdish political power, including by attacking the interests of rival Kurdish political parties.

Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

The PKK has engaged in violence since its foundation in 1978, including during periods covered by ceasefires with the Turkish Government. Its main targets are the Turkish military and police, along with other Turkish Government interests—including infrastructure, schools and civilians associated with the government.

Following the breakdown of the group's most recent ceasefire in 2015, PKK's terrorist activities have been largely concentrated in Turkey's south and east, particularly the provinces of Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Sirnak, Mardin and Van. In 2016 the scale of PKK attacks increased when the group started using more vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and expanded their areas of operation to include urban centres in Turkey, including in Ankara and Istanbul. The PKK's activities have mostly consisted of bombings, armed assaults and attacks against infrastructure.

While the volume of PKK's attacks significantly reduced in 2017; sporadic attacks continue, particularly in Turkey's south and east. The PKK continues preparing and planning terrorist attacks in Turkey. This is demonstrated by Turkish authorities' disruptions of advanced-stage PKK attack plots and uncovering large quantities of explosives and firearms. These include:

  • 13 December 2017, Turkish police disrupted a planned PKK attack on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Istanbul. Police found a minibus filled with 60 kilograms of explosives in Istanbul and detained at least 11 suspects.
  • 11 August 2017, Turkish police raided an address in Adana province disrupting a major PKK attack planned for 15 August 2017 in Ankara. Police confiscated 1.5 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, 300 kilograms of nails, 25 gas masks, more than 200 litres of gasoline, other bomb-making materials, 12 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 hand grenades, ammunition, and 12 assault vests and 12 police uniforms with ‘Ankara' written on them.

Significant attacks for which responsibility has been claimed by or reliably attributed to the PKK since its last re-listing include:

  • 21 March 2018, PKK claimed two Turkish soldiers were killed in a PKK operation in Hakkari province.
  • 2 November 2017, six Turkish soldiers and two military security guards were killed, and two soldiers wounded, in clashes with the PKK in Hakkari province.
  • 11 April 2017, PKK claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device attack using two tonnes of explosives that killed three people at the police headquarters in Diyarbakir province.
  • 13 September 2016, the PKK claimed a vehicle borne-improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack targeting the Justice and Development Party local government offices in Van province, which killed 18 police and security force personnel and wounded over 50 people.
  • 26 August 2016, the PKK claimed a VBIED attack outside a police headquarters in the Cizre district, Sirnak province, which killed 11 police officers and wounded 78 people.
  • 18 August 2016, the PKK claimed a VBIED attack on a police station in Turkey's Elazig province, which killed three police officers and injured 217 people.

Details of the organisation

The PKK was formally established by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978. The group originally followed a Marxist-Leninist ideology and has been primarily committed to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in south-eastern Turkey, Syria and Iraq. In line with its objectives and associated ideology, the PKK primarily conducts attacks against Turkish Government and security force targets and has not directly targeted Western interests.

Leadership

Although PKK founder Ocalan, currently serving life imprisonment in Turkey, is still the group's leader and figurehead, day-to-day affairs are run by Murat Karayilan. The PKK's operational command has consisted of a three-man Executive Committee, including Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Fehman Husain, which has managed the organisation from the PKK's base in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq.

Membership

The precise strength of the PKK is unknown; however, the majority of militants are based in northern Iraq. The group draws on considerable logistical support from a large number of sympathisers among the Kurdish community in south-east Turkey, Syria and Iran. There are also thousands of PKK supporters outside the region, mostly in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Recruitment and funding

Most PKK members are recruited from the main Kurdish areas in south-east Turkey, with some drawn from cities in the country's west. The group also recruits from the Kurdish population in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. Most recruitment in rural areas of Turkey occurs through personal acquaintance. The group recruits both men and women for all activities, and recent recruiting strategies have focused on youth. In urban areas and in Europe, a network of PKK members and sympathisers working in non-government organisations and pro-Kurdish political parties reportedly manage financing, propaganda and recruitment processes.

Financing for the group has historically been obtained through fundraising among Kurds in Turkey and the European Kurdish diaspora. Additional sources of funding include criminal activity, such as narcotics smuggling and extortion.

Links to other terrorist organisations

The PKK has maintained ties with other pro-Ocalan Kurdish groups across Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. These are largely at an interpersonal level. Some of these groups are considered terrorist organisations by other countries, particularly Turkey and Iran; however, these groups are not proscribed terrorist organisations under the Australian Criminal Code.

Links to Australia

In July 2016, one Australian was charged with being a member of the PKK. The matter remains before the courts.

Threats to Australian interests

While the PKK directs attacks against Turkish Government and security force targets, attacks by the group have treated civilian bystanders as acceptable collateral. In late-2015 and 2016, there was an increase in the scale of PKK attacks, with an expansion of the group's areas of operation to include urban areas across Turkey, including metropolitan centres in the country's west, and cities popular with tourists on Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coast.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The PKK is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The PKK is also included in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Consolidated List maintained under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945, which implements Australia's obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 in relation to countering the financing of terrorism.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

The PKK has engaged in ceasefires and peace talks with the Turkish Government at various stages throughout its history. While the PKK's terrorist activities slowed during its most recent ceasefire (2012-2015), its members continued to conduct attacks against civilian, military and other government targets in Turkey. During the ceasefire period, in addition to the hundreds killed in PKK attacks, the group is reported to have kidnapped more than 300 children (between December 2013 and May 2014). Following the breakdown of peace talks in June 2015, PKK attacks increased to pre-ceasefire rates.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that the PKK continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, the PKK is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  1. cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  2. are intended to have those effects;
  3. are done with the intention of advancing the PKK's political, religious or ideological causes;
  4. are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  5. are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.