The PKK is an ethno-centric terrorist organization currently based in Turkey and possesses arms in Syria, Iraq and Iran. It has been monopolizing the "Kurdish Identity" for over 40 years now – with narratives consisting of colonization, freedom of women and freedom for the Kurds – but does the PKK really represent the Kurdish population in Turkey as it claims?
It's quite surprising that the first attack by the PKK was against Kurds themselves, prominently known as the Hilvan-Siverek incident in 1979. Celal Bucak, a Kurdish deputy of the then Justice Party in the Turkish province of Urfa, was targeted by the PKK, having his vehicle cut off and gunned down by semi-automatic machine guns. Bucak escaped with no wounds. The reasoning behind this attack was supposedly "to fight the colonizers and those working with the colonizers of the lands of Kurdistan," a type of narrative similarly used by Zionists, and similar to state-building narratives of terrorist organizations like Daesh.
The conflict initiated by the PKK towards the Turkish state has resulted in many cease-fires initiated by the organization and casualties of roughly more than 40,000 on both sides. The latest cease-fire the PKK initiated was broken again by the organization with two police officers assassinated in their homes in July 2015. From then on, the PKK has turned southeast Turkey, including many historical sites, into rubble with improvised explosive devices (IED) planted under tarmac-covered roads by utilizing municipal council equipment.
In addition to IEDs, the PKK has also very heavy handedly used RPG rockets, hand grenades and weapons of the like in residential areas to attack Turkish military and security personnel.
Considering this, the 40 years of PKK conflict initiated against the Turkish state has resulted in a form of PKK radicalization based upon these narratives and left-wing ideology.
PKK ideology has not been static; instead, it has evolved over time to recruit members from a greater array and adapt its ideology to current trends, a tactic almost all terrorist organizations use to continue providing and fueling their organizations with fresh legs on the ground.
The ethno-separatist terrorist organization uses many tactics to aid in the radicalization of its members, these being family and kinship ties, written and verbal (white and black) propaganda, marriage, charismatic leaders and preachers in society in rural and metropolitan districts, indoctrination camps and social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The cycle of radicalization initiated by the PKK is very similar to that of Daesh and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). By exploiting societal factors such as unemployment, family issues and sociological dynamics present in the region the recruit is from, a narrative of us and them is first constructed by the PKK with theoretical groundings in its narrative based upon colonization of its lands, continuous revolution and designing the new Kurd.
In this regard, the PKK has built its narratives of us and them through fabricated history of Kurdish lands being colonized through two phases. According to the PKK, the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639 was the first phase in which Kurdish lands had been divided.
Due to World War I, Iraq and Syria were established; thus, according to the PKK, Kurdish lands were colonized in the second phase and Kurdish lands were divided into four regions. As it could be seen, the PKK utilizes mythology and fabricated data and information quite well in its narratives when trying to attract recruits.
The PKK exploits family and kinship ties for radicalization quite extensively. Biographies and autobiographies studied indicate that family and kinship ties play a great role, especially with female recruits. The concepts of taking ones honor into one's own hands and gender equality are exploited by the PKK, thus weakening the relational fabric between family members and opening up cognitive gaps in the mind of the recruit, which allows radicalization and recruitment to take place.
A second point that should be considered is having family members and friends in the terrorist organization acting as pull factors to convince other family members and friends to join as well. Family members and friends act as sociological bridges and pathways between the PKK and the potential recruit.
Currently, the PKK possesses a great array of written propaganda primarily consisting of biographies, autobiographies, magazines, books on PKK ideology and history, novels and memoirs. PKK magazines currently published monthly and quarterly aid propaganda and provide theoretical and rhetorical groundings in the mind of the recruit.
Autobiographies, biographies and memoirs allow for white propaganda to be conducted by the PKK and allow the recruit to see the PKK in the eyes of the organization itself. Extensive utilization of heroism and mysticism are also seen.
Recruitment centers under the pseudonym of community centers and cultural centers are also present in the PKK's radicalization toolkit. In these centers, children and teenagers are drawn in and indoctrinated in PKK ideology to establish a cognitive opening with the narrative of us and them, dehumanizing the Turkish state and portraying it as a colonizer and showing Turkish security forces as the enemy.
In addition to recruitment centers, the PKK uses charismatic preachers. PKK preachers, like those of Daesh, travel to both rural and metropolitan areas to recruit teenagers and youngsters to the organization.
Through social media, family and kinship ties, written and visual propaganda, recruitment centers and charismatic preachers, a feeling of injustice is created in the recruit, thus leading him or her to search for answers to this feeling of injustice.
As the recruit searches for answers, connections are made with the new ideology the PKK brings via its radicalization pathways, thus facilitating psychological re-framing and internalization of PKK values and narratives, eventually either leading to non-violent, but mostly to violent radicalization whereby the recruit joins the terrorist organization.
All in all, both academic and governmental institutions in Turkey must create more effective counterterrorism strategies. Rather than just looking at the issue of terrorism from a security perspective, critical terrorism studies need to be utilized to develop effective countering violent extremism (CVE) and preventing violent extremism (PVE) programs that take advantage of social psychology and sociology.
The counterterrorism fight should be fought on macro, micro and meso levels and in different pathways. As radicalization is de-pluralization of ones values according to social norms and culture, work should be done to de-radicalize and re-pluralize PKK sympathizers and terrorists, thus cutting off the supply chain of fresh legs to the PKK and allowing for its downfall and disintegration in the long term.