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 Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

This Statement of Reasons 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 where available.

Name of the organisation

Kurdistan Workers’ Party

Known aliases

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

Legislative 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, 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 listed the Kurdistan Workers' Party 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.

Details of the organisation

Overview and objectives

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is an ideologically motivated violent extremist organisation. The group was founded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978 as a nationalist and revolutionary organisation, based on Marxist‑Leninist ideals.

Specifically, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s nationalist ideology encompasses the rights of Kurds to maintain their Kurdish ethnic identity. Further to its nationalist objectives, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party aims to monopolise Kurdish political power, including by attacking the interests of rival political parties. However, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party primarily conducts attacks against the Turkish government and security forces.

Leadership

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party founder and leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is currently serving life imprisonment in Turkey. Day‑to-day affairs are run by Murat Karayilan.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s operational command consists of a three person executive committee, including Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Fehman Huseyin. This executive committee manages the Kurdistan Workers’ Party from its base in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq. 

Membership, recruitment and funding

The precise strength of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is unknown. The majority of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants are based in northern Iraq.

Most Kurdistan Workers’ Party members are recruited from Kurdish areas in south-east Turkey. The group also recruits from the Kurdish population in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. The group recruits both men and women for all its activities, and recent recruiting strategies have focused on youth. In urban areas and in Europe, a network of Kurdistan Workers’ Party members and sympathisers 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 Kurdistan Workers’ Party is not known to maintain formal links with any other listed terrorist organisations. However, the group maintains ties with other pro-Ocalan Kurdish violent extremist organisations across Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The Turkish government makes little or no distinction between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Syria‑based Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The current level of interconnectivity between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and YPG is unclear.

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

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks mainly targeting Turkish authorities and infrastructure in Turkey’s south-east, and can be reasonably assessed as responsible for the following terrorist attacks and actions:

  • On 28 October 2020, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party attacked and destroyed the Botaş oil pipeline in Turkey’s Mardin province. There were no injuries or deaths reported. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party claimed responsibility for the attack the next day.
  • On 31 March 2020, a suicide bombing damaged a natural gas pipeline between Turkey and Iran near the city of Barzagan, Agri province, eastern Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party claimed responsibility, stating it had killed at least 30 Turkish soldiers who were guarding the pipeline.
  • On 12 September 2019, seven civilians were killed and 10 were injured when a roadside improvised explosive device detonated in Kulp District, Diyarbakir province, south-east Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, stating they were targeting ‘spies’.

On the basis of these examples, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is assessed as being responsible for directly or indirectly engaging in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts.

Other considerations

Links to Australia and threats to Australian interests

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party does not currently pose a direct threat to Australian interests. However, Australians could be incidentally harmed in attacks targeting tourist locations in Turkey, or in Iraq and Syria.

One Australian has been charged with being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. In May 2019, the NSW Supreme Court sentenced Renas Lelikan to a three-year Community Corrections Order for being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Mr Lelikan had earlier pleaded guilty to being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party between April 2011 and August 2013.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has engaged in ceasefires and peace talks with the Turkish government at various stages throughout its history.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s terrorist activities slowed significantly during its most recent ceasefire (2012‑2015), though its members continued to conduct occasional attacks against civilian, military and other government targets in Turkey. Following the breakdown of peace talks in June 2015, Kurdistan Workers’ Party attacks increased to pre‑ceasefire rates but have since dropped significantly.

Conclusion

On the basis of the information above, the Australian Government assesses that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts.​