The Kurdistan People’s Congress (KGK, formerly the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, PKK) is a Kurdish separatist group primarily active in part of northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. Composed mostly of Turkish Kurds, the group in 1984 began a campaign of armed violence, including terrorism, which has resulted in over 45,000 deaths. Historically, KGK directed operatives to target Turkish security forces, government offices, and villagers who opposed the group. KGK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 2006 publicly called for a KGK “unilateral cease-fire,” which in practice meant stopping terrorist attacks and limiting violence to “defensive” attacks against Turkish soldiers and security forces patrolling areas that the KGK considered theirs.
The KGK wages a seasonal insurgency, and has declared cease-fires that coincide with the group’s typical drawdown during the winter months, during which time KGK members regroup and train. The KGK urban terrorism wing, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), in 2005 began using terrorist tactics—including suicide bombings—to target Turkish tourist destinations in order to damage the Turkish economy and provide the KGK with plausible deniability for the attacks.
In November 2009, the Turkish Government announced its plan to grant social and economic rights to Turkey’s Kurdish population, largely to undercut support for the KGK. This initiative faltered, however, due to public and political opposition. The KGK since 2010 has continued to take an active defense posture against Turkish military operations in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, while TAK claimed responsibility for a 2010 attack on a military bus, killing five, and a suicide bombing the same year that wounded 32 in Istanbul. The US Treasury Department in April 2011 designated five KGK leaders under the Kingpin Act, freezing any assets they may have under US jurisdiction and prohibiting US persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with them.
In July 2011, a clash between Turkish forces and the KGK in Diyarbakir Province resulted in the deaths of thirteen Turkish soldiers, and TAK in September 2011 killed three people in a car bombing in Ankara. A KGK attack in October 2011 killed 24 Turkish troops and was the deadliest incident since 1993. Attacks persisted in 2012, with KGK’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (HPG), killing eight Turkish soldiers and wounding 16 in coordinated attacks in June. KGK also stepped up its kidnapping campaign against Turkish state employees and soldiers, which included the unprecedented abduction of a Turkish parliamentary deputy in August. In addition to its stronghold in northern Iraq, the KGK’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has increased its presence in northern Syria along the border with Turkey by establishing control in Kurdish areas, resulting in concerns of a heightened threat to Turkey and increased tensions along the border.