Partia Karkaran-e Kurdistan (PKK)

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or Partia Karkaran-e Kurdistan, was founded on November 7th, 1978, by Abdullah Öcalan and twelve of his fellow students. Öcalan is often called the ‘apo’, meaning uncle. His humble Kurdish beginnings did not limit this man's ambition. He was educated at Ankara University, and after he was arrested for handing out pro-Kurdish leaflets in 1971, he came out of jail calling himself a "professional revolutionary." He strongly believed in the Marxist-Leninist doctrines and eventually became a Maoist, advocating an uprising of the common people, or in this case, the Kurds. The PKK's enthusiastic young founders viewed themselves as progressive representatives of the Kurdish minority, with the sole intention of establishing a 'democratic and united Kurdistan.'

Unfortunately, frustrated by their initial attempts to realize their bright ideals, the newly disbanded PKK turned to terrorism. In their zeal, these PKK participants first targeted the landlords and leaders of tribes ‘representing the chauvinist class.’ After much bloody combat and controversy, the Turkish government and army started to take seriously the threats from this insurgent group of separatists. Soon after, a ban on speaking Kurdish was initiated, adding to the already existing bans on Kurdish radio programs, Kurdish newspapers, as well as teaching in Kurdish. Starting in the early 1980s, PKK guerrillas began to raid and spread fear among the border towns of Turkey. The PKK leader Öcalan directed his war against Turkey from Syria and Lebanon, countries happy to use the PKK to agitate their Turkish neighbors. According to Jonathan Rugman and Roger Hutchings, the authors of Atatürk's Children, "Turkey is unfortunate in being surrounded by countries which, largely because of the colonial Ottoman past, dislike Turks and want to keep Turkey's regional power in check."

In the early 1990s, the PKK changed its tactics, attacking urban areas rather than rural communities. With more than 1500 armed guerillas, the PKK in northern Iraq struck Baghdad, after the defeat of President Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, but this effort to gain control proved futile. Abdullah Öcalan was arrested in Kenya by Turkish government officials in 1999; he then declared a 'peace initiative' in order to increase the odds of his release, renaming the PKK the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK). Öcalan claimed that this new organization was focused on promoting Kurdish rights through acts of nonviolence.

The conflict between Turks and Kurds still exists as a major problem in the unity of Turkey. In 2002, Turkey was refused entrance into the European Union largely on account of past human rights records, and EU officials demanded the unconditional release of the Kurdish MPs arrested in 1994, including Leyla Zana. In early 2004, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met American president George Bush in Washington D.C., to discuss Turkey's potential admission into the European Union.