Executions in the ranks of the PKK

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In August 2014 the publishing house İletişim (Communication) issued a book called "Yoldaşını Öldürmek" ("Killing your comrade") written by former PKK prisoner Aytekin Yılmaz.[1] This book revived some discussion on internal executions among armed organizations in Turkey, in particular the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). This study aims at giving some background on the issue. Some links in the article point to entries in Wikipedia.

First reports

On 12 November 1985 journalist Yavuz Baydar reported in the daily Cumhuriyet (Republic) that former PKK member Baki Karer had taken refuge in Sweden and feared for his life.[2] He had given the Swedish Security Service (SAEPO) important information about his organization. He said that he had been in the same hall, when another PKK member Nuri Candemir had come to kill Çetin Güngör, himself and another PKK member. Baki Karer had come to Sweden after his brother Haki Karer had been killed.[3] Baki Karer named 21 persons who had been killed within the PKK.[4]

On 7 January 2000 the weekly 2000'e Doğru ("Towards 2000") carried the cover story "Confessions, 21 agents of MİT (National Intelligence Organization) in Bekaa Valley" ("İtiraflar Bekaa'da 21 MİT ajanı"). Of 41 PKK members that had been imprisoned in the Hevler camp in Bekaa Valley accused of being agents of the Turkish State the identities of 21 were presented. The article revealed some detail on how trials against these alleged "spies" were conducted. Further details can be read in the book of Selim Çürükkaya "Apo'nun Ayetleri" ("The Verses of Apo", Apo being short for Abdullah Öcalan) translated into German as PKK: Die Diktatur des Abdullah Öcalan (Dictatorship of Abdullah Öcalan) 256 pages, Fischer Publishing House, 1997, ISBN 978-3-5961-3587-5. Already during interrogation two suspects reportedly died. Another 12 people were later executed and the others were taken for further interrogations.

Writing for the PKK, but against its leader

After 11 years in prison Selim Çürükkaya became one of the most important dissidents in the ranks of the PKK.[5] He realized that the organization he had joined had changed completely during his imprisonment, with the "Führer" (tr: önder) Abdullah Öcalan being in charge of everything. Having been elected as a delegate for Europe to the National Assembly of Kurdistan he argued for democratic rules and was imprisoned by the PKK himself. He managed to escape and wrote the book "Apo'nun Ayetleri" ("The Verses of Apo"), which he first published in 1996 on his own account. Besides his experiences in the ranks of the PKK had also provided some details on internal executions of militants that had refused to become "sneaks". Later he presented his findings in several documentations under titles such as "201 opponents of Abdullah Öcalan killed in 28 years"[6] or "Of 120 people in the founding state of the PKK only 7 are left"[7] On his own website he has presented details on 131 people from the "early days" of the PKK.[8] Amoong these 131 people 39 are shown as victims of internal executions (5 in Europe, 8 before the military coup in 1980). After the capture of Abdullah Öcalan Selim Çürükkaya presented some other cases after he had formally left the PKK.[9]

Besides individual cases the book "Verses of Apo" contains some more information on "executions at the front". Having been asked to write a book about the fact that the long term commander of troops of the PKK, Ali Ömürcan had been a "traitor" all along at deserved nothing but the death penalty (that seems to have been executed in 1993) Selim Çürükkaya was able to inspect parts of the archives of the organization for 1992. He saw reports from certain regions in Turkey and figures on how many people had been killed in combat, surrendered to the enemy and who had been executed. The figures for those "killed in combat" and those "executed as traitors" was almost equal. 141 militants had been executed in the ranks of the PKK in only three regions (equal to five of around 20 Kurdish provinces in Turkey) in just one year. In the archives Selim Çürükkaya also found details on an incident in winter 1992 in the Engizek mountains in Pazarcık that is in another region than the five provinces mentioned above. In this case Ali Ömürcan was made responsible for the execution under torture of 17 young militants (two of them female), alleged to follow the line of the dissident Mehmet Şener (killed in 1991).

Findings by Aliza Marcus

Aliza Marcus, who began reporting on Turkey and the Kurdish guerrilla war in 1989 is one of very few authors outside Turkey that have dealt with internal killings with the Kurdish Workers' Party, PKK. She worked for Reuters News Agency in New York before being named Istanbul correspondent in 1994. In 1995, a Turkish state security court opened a case against her for a news article on the Turkish military’s forced evacuation of Kurdish villages, After being acquitted, she joined the Reuters Middle East/Africa editing bureau in Cyprus. Between 1998 and 2000, she worked in Israel as a special correspondent for The Boston Globe, and between 2002 and 2006, she was based in Berlin. Her book "Blood and Belief" (The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence) was published in 2007 by New York University Press and has 368 pages, ISBN 978-0-8147-5711-6.

In preparation for the book she spoke with or formally interviewed close to 100 people. She also relied on her extensive reporting about the PKK and the Kurdish conflict, carried out between 1989 and 1996 and studied books on the subject including Henri J. Barkey and Graham E. Fuller’s "Turkey’s Kurdish Question"; Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand’s "Apo ve PKK"; former PKK member Selahattin Celik’s "Agri Dagini Tasimak"; Turkish journalist Ismet Imset’s "The PKK"; British expert David McDowall’s "A Modern History of the Kurds"; and Turkish academic Nihat Ali Ozcan’s PKK "Kurdistan Isci Partisi". However, most of her information on internal executions of PKK members came from so-called dissidents, people who had been active members of the PKK but had been able to escape execution.

The killing of Çetin Güngör

In the early 1980's Çetin Güngör, a prominent member of the PKK in Europe known by his code name "Semir" began to argue for internal reform.[10] He felt that the group was too authoritarian. During the PKK’s 2nd Congress in August 1982, held in an abandoned Palestinian encampment near Syria’s border with Jordan, did not find much sympathies for his ideas... Öcalan always was concerned about challenges to his authority and to the unity of the PKK under his authority and he began to see a problem in Semir. Semir had worked closely with the PKK’s Turkish leftist partner Dev-Yol, which had started to rethink its Leninist posture and the belief that democracy should follow the revolution, rather than coming first.

In May 1983 Semir left his organization. Nevertheless he agreed to meet PKK activists at an apartment in Cologne, Germany, hoping for some sort of reconciliation. But he was accused of having links to Şahin Dönmez, a high ranking PKK member who had become a renegade ("itirafçı") in 1979. He was locked inside the apartment. A week later he managed to escape. Early in 1984, PKK's official organ, Serxwebun, named Semir a traitor. In the PKK’s vocabulary, this meant he was marked for death. One November evening in 1985, Semir and two other former PKK members joined a meeting of Kurdish activists in Stockholm. During the break, a young man walked up behind Semir and shot him dead. The assailant insisted the killing had to do with a personal dispute. But Semir’s former comrades in the PKK had little doubt why he was killed. The PKK itself issued a leaflet in which it hailed the murderer as a patriot: “This agent-provocateur (Semir)... has been brought to justice by our people.”

The remarks of Aliza Marcus are confirmed by Taner Akçam, at the time a leading figure of Devrimci İşçi, the European representation of Devrimci Yol. In an interview he gave in 2012 he said, "We had a friend named Çetin Güngör (code name Semir). He was from Dersim and he was Armenian. He was a member of the PKK’s Central Committee and in charge of the PKK in Europe. He was detained by Öcalan because he wanted democracy within the organization. He was confined in a house in Köln. Semir successfully escaped this house. He knew he was going to be killed. He came to us to Hamburg. We weren’t capable of protecting him. I had Semir meet with Amnesty International, the Social Democrat Party and the Green Party, as well as some other organizations. He sought protection but couldn’t receive any. Since we couldn’t protect Semir in Hamburg, he went to Sweden and hid there. I guess it was one or one-and-a-half years later when Semir attended a cultural night for the first time and they killed him that night."[11]

More killings of high-level members

The murder of Semir marked Öcalan’s public victory over the first, open challenge to his authority. But Semir was not the only victim of Öcalan’s drive to ensure that his rule was challenged. Between 1983 and 1985, Öcalan ordered or encouraged the murder of at least 11 high-level former or current PKK members. Some managed to flee and hide themselves, but most were gunned down either in Europe or in northern Iraq in the PKK’s camp in Lolan Valley. İbrahim Aydın, who met Öcalan when they were both imprisoned in Ankara in 1972, had backed Öcalan in the dispute with Semir. At the end of 1984 Aydın was sent to Lolan camp in northern Iraq. He noticed that he was being treated suspiciously by the others. Aydın fled Lolan and took refuge with Massoud Barzani’s Iraqi Kurdish forces who were based just inside the Iranian border.

A woman only known by her code-name Evin was not as fortunate. Evin was executed in a PKK camp in Lebanon in 1985 with Öcalan’s approval. She had worked with Semir in Europe but sided with Öcalan in the dispute. Saime Aşkın, who defended Semir after she came to Damascus from Germany at Öcalan’s request in 1983, also was killed. In late 1984 or the first half of 1985, she was executed by the PKK. Suphi Karakuş, known by his code-name Soreş, also worked with Semir and later was sent to Lolan Valley. He was killed in late 1984. At least three PKK members who had worked in Europe with Semir and quit the group about a year after he did were murdered in Europe in 1984: Zülfü Gök, Enver Ata, and Murat Bayraklı.

Öcalan simultaneously worked to isolate and kill others who had raised similar but separate concerns about the PKK’s methods and plans. Central Committee Resul (Davut) Altınok was detained by the PKK in 1982, subsequently transferred to Lolan camp, and late in 1984 he was executed. Baki Karer, former central committee member, managed to survive, but just barely. He was detained in 1982 and sent to Lolan, but thanks to an inattentive guard he managed to escape. Former PKK members based in northern Iraq in the mid-1980s say that another six or eight experienced PKK members - possibly more, but nobody knows for sure - were summarily killed between 1984 and 1985.

Executions after 1989

In 1989, Öcalan issued a directive to his commanders, warning them that some recruits actually might be Turkish agents sent to destabilize the organization. Because of this fear - one militant called it a paranoia - at least 24, perhaps closer to 50 or 100, new recruits were executed in 1989 and 1990 on suspicion of being real or potential traitors. The killings took place wherever PKK militants gathered: in the rudimentary camps inside Turkey, in the bases along the Iraqi border, and in the Mahsum Korkmaz Academy (as the Helwe camp was now known) in the Bekaa Valley.

In one incident in 1989, about a dozen students from a university in the western city Eskişehir were executed by the PKK soon after they joined the rebels in the mountains in southeast Turkey. One version has it that one student was the daughter of a policeman, and this was enough to damn her and all those who came with her... These sorts of killings - as opposed to the targeted killings of PKK dissidents - had started a few years earlier in the Mahsum Korkmaz Academy in the Bekaa Valley, where the sudden surge in recruits from Europe in 1986 and 1987 made Öcalan fearful of attempts to destabilize the PKK and his control. According to one former PKK member, who observed some of the killings, Öcalan ordered - or tacitly approved - the execution of an estimated 20 or so new recruits.

The Bekaa executions reached their apex in 1989, when university students began to flood to the camp. Öcalan ordered the academy’s coordinator to investigate new recruits and identify those deliberately sent to destabilize and destroy the PKK. Former PKK commander Selahattin Çelik dryly noted in his history of the PKK that, “As the number of agents who were discovered increased, so did the number of graves.” Early in 1990, the accidental shooting death of childhood friend Hasan Bindal - killed by the academy’s director, Şahin Baliç, during military exercises - gave Öcalan the opportunity to shift blame for the executions at the Academy on Balic. Baliç was put on trial, found guilty, and executed by a firing squad.

Killings were a form of control and a way to deal with dissent and they were not limited to the mountains. In Europe, PKK members also were killed. PKK militants also were killed in Turkey’s urban, western cities. In 1993, for example, a 15-year-old PKK member in Istanbul was captured by police on her way to join an armed unit in the southeast. Apparently, she told the police what little she knew about the organization. Around January 1994, a few months after returning to her parents’ home in Istanbul, she was taken away by PKK militants who wanted to question her about what had happened. Her corpse turned up in one of the city’s forests about three weeks later. She had been strangled.

PKK militants viewed as close to a so-called traitor - including being related by blood - also were at risk of being executed. In the early 1990s, for example, two brothers in the Behdinan region along the Iraqi border, Cafer and Ferik, were executed after their third brother fled the PKK... Starting in 1995, as the PKK’s military hold over the southeast started to decline, so did these internal executions. But they never stopped.

Data from other critics

At the end of 2011 a commission was formed in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) to look into "violations of the right to life in connections with incidents of terror and violence".[12] The Commission heard victims and experts, among them İbrahim Güçlü, a politician known to be the founder of Ala Rizgari (political group in the late 1970s, see the German page on Rizgari) and HAK PAR (legal political party, see the German Wikipedia for Hak ve Özgürlükler Partisi).[13] He was heard on or around 17 January 2012. At the same time lengthy articles appeared on what he might have told the Commission, including lists of people that the PKK had killed among its own members and activists of other political groups before and after the coup of 1980.[14] İbrahim Güçlü presented some detail on 26 incidents in which 97 PKK members were executed by other PKK members. Among them were 15 cases that Selim Çürükkaya had not mentioned before. Having alraedy reported on three events that happened before the coup of 1980 İbrahim Güçlü found another eight instances in which the PKK killed members of "separatist" organizations before 1980. His information included the name of 19 members of KUK (Kürdistan Ulusal Kurtuluşları (tr) - Rizgarvanen Neteweyim Kurdistan (kur) - National Liberators of Kurdistan, see the German page about KUK).

The information that Aytekin Yılmaz presented in his book "Killing your Comrade" is somehow special, because he looked into cases of internal executions among prisoners. In Turkey this was possible in the 1990s when prisoners were held in larger wards of 16 to 60 prisoners, and in certain "correctional institution" in which political organizations were more or less in command of day-to-day life. Aytekin Yılmaz found about 30 incidents in which prisoners had been killed by other prisoners from the same organization. They included some 15 killings of prisoners from the PKK (13 by name). The others could be attributed to armed groups from the Turkish left. Having been held in a ward of prisoners from the PKK Aytekin Yılmaz maintained that this practice had been approved Abdullah Öcalan himself.

Official figures

Official figures on the issue are not publicly available. In the report that the parliamentarian commission looking into violations of the right to life prepared[15] some figures are quoted as an answer of the General Directorate of Security covering the period of May 1987 to October 2011. For this time, the headquarters of the police had registered 178 "killings of terrorists by terrorists". This figure was split up as 108 members of the same organization, 63 sympathizers and 7 "confessor" (tr: itirafçı). Names of organizations said to have committed these killings were not mentioned,

The Commission did not seem to be satisfied by the answer from the General Directorate of Security and rather relied on information İbrahim Güçlü had provided. According to the report (page 69) he had sent a list of internal executions to the Commission by mail. This list contained information that between 1984 and 1993 a total of 727 people that had been killed, most of them in form of executions within the organization. These killings had occurred in 9 years (much less than the 24 years covered by the headquarters of the police). The Commission concluded that the true number of internal killings was likely to be much higher.

Not only the institutions of the Turkish Republic appear not to have kept records of "internal executions", the PKK, too, has never presented any "official" figures from its side. However, its leader has readily admitted that such executions have taken place. In an interview with the journalist Mehmet Ali Birand in 1992[16] he spoke about 10-15 "such cases". When during his trial at Ankara Stata Security Court he was confronted with some sample cases he accepted the accusations saying that there were tens (dozens - tr: onlarca) of cases like this.[17]

Individual cases and estimated figures

Besides Selim Çürükkaya and İbrahim Güçlü some other people have provided names of individuals said to have become the victims of internal executions in the ranks of the PKK. One of them is Şemdin Sakık, a well known commander of armed units of the PKK, imprisoned since 1998. In February 2012 newspapers in Turkey reported that he had testified to a prosecutor in Diyarbakır investigating internal executions in the PKK. He had given him a list with 38 names[18] stating that a total of 2,000 people had become the victim of such killings.[19] Like in many other instances no details on the place and date of these killings were mentioned.

Astonishingly the highest figure that is often given in the Turkish media is attributed to the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan himself. In one of his talks to his lawyers on İmrali island, where he is imprisoned since 1999, he reportedly mentioned 15 thousand cases of internal executions.[20] The sources available indicated that such a conversation could have taken place in 2004 or 2008. One possible source could have been talks of Öcalan with his lawyers on 19 September 2008 in which he accused one of the military commanders of the PKK, who had left the ranks as being "the reason for the death of thousands of honest and young cadres".[21] About one month earlier Öcalan had attacked Germany hosting some of his strongest critics. According to the daily Yeni Özgür Politika of 25 July 2008[22] he told his lawyers on 24 July 2008 in relation to "traitors" such as Selim and Sait Çürükkaya or Selahattin Çelik, "They have killed their own comrades... they are living comfortably in Germany and other European countries. They have flats, bodyguards and flocks of women at their side. They have entered the blood of thousands of people. They are the murderers of 15 thousand people." Given the circumstances of such a "statement" it can hardly be called a "serious allegation", leave alone "confession" so that it must be doubted that he ever admitted to more than "dozens of internal killings".

In October 2014 Helmut Oberdiek tried to combine the somehow confusing information on individual cases, provided by different sources. In the Turkish article PKK saflarında örgüt içi infazlar muamması (Puzzle on internal executions in the ranks of the PKK) he combined the information provided by Selim Çürükkaya and İbrahim Güçlü with information in the reports of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) making use of material he had put together in an earlier study of 2007 on Killings by Armed Groups. He ended up with lists of 103 persons that the PKK might have killed among its own members. These lists had been separated according to location and consisted of

  • 40 killings in the Middle East
  • 36 killings in Turkey
  • 14 killings in Europe
  • 13 killings in (various) prisons in Turkey

The fact that some details could be found on about 100 cases does not allow to make a reliable estimate, since most victims might have been killed as simple fighters, whose names nobody seems to remember. The report of the "parliamentarian commission looking into violations of the right to life" comprised of deputies of various political parties in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey may be of some help with the statement "(since) 727 people were killed in 9 years, the true number of internal killings is likely to be much higher." Thus, the estimate the experienced journalist Namık Durukan, based in Diyarbakır, presented in 2006 may have been close to the "true dimension" of the problem. He said, "until today the PKK carried out almost 1,500 internal executions".[23]

See also

in German

© Helmut Oberdiek November 2014


  1. According to the German solidarity group "Democratic Turkey Forum" (DTF) Aytekin Yılmaz was born in Ortayazı village in Ergani district in Diyarbakır Province in 1967. He became active for the PKK and on 24 March 1992 he was detained in Istanbul and imprisoned in Bayrampaşa Prison in Istanbul. On 25 July 2001 he was released from Gemlik Prison. In 2003 he wrote first book on his experiences in prison named “Labirentin Sonu: İçimizdeki Hapishane” ("The end of the labyrinth: The prison in us"), see the German article of the DTF Meinungen zu Hinrichtungen innerhalb von Organisationen in der Türkei of October 2014.
  2. Hardly legible copies of the article can be found in Turkish in the archives of Cumhuriyet and as copy of a German translation
  3. Haki Karer was killed in Gaziantep in May 1977, allegedly because he had criticized Abdullah Öcalan, see PKK yi kimler kurdu? 2
  4. The names he mentioned were Enver Ata, Cetin Güngör, Zülfi Gök, Abdullah Kumral (Kumlu), Yasar Organ, Ethem Akcam, Abdullah Aziz, Halil Ibrahim, Resul Altunok, Besi, Selehattin, Cemil, Cetili Akkurt, Ayten Yildirim, Saime Askin, Bircan Yildiz, Serdar (code name), Hasan Hüseyin, Haci Sunta, Semsettin Aktas
  5. Being born in 1954 M. (Mehmet) Selim Çürükkaya joined the PKK in 1974 - 1975 when he studied at Tunceli School of Education. He was detained in May 1980 and lived through the "hell" of Diyarbakır Military Prison between 1981 and 1984. Later he wrote a novel with two volumes entitled "12 Eylül karanlığında Diyarbakır şafağı" ("Dawn of Diyarbakır in the darkness of September, 12") in which he described the harsh regime in prison and the "heroic resistance" of imprisoned PKK militants. Before his release from Bartın Prison in April 1991 he wrote columns for the weekly Yeni Ülke as "Bay Muhalif" (Mister Opposition). On invitation of Abdullah Öcalan he went to Damascus and stayed at "Mahsun Korkmaz Academy". In August 1991 he participated in the so-called "dungeon conference" ("zindan konferansı") aimed at convincing the PKK militants that not the prisoners but Abdullah Öcalan had been the centre of resistance in prison. In March 1992 Selim Çürükkaya was sent to Germany to observe the official publication of the PKK: Serxwebun (Liberation) and Berxwedan (Resistance). On initiative of Abdullah Öcalan elections for a Kurdish National Parliament were held in 1992. In Europe 430 delegates met in Giessen in December 1992 and decided on 15 deputies. Selim Çürükkaya was one of them. In March 1993 they went to Damascus and met with Abdullah Öcalan. Having argued that the delegates should choose their spokesperson among themselves, instead of being appointed by Abdullah Öcalan, Selim Çürükkaya was taken to Bar Elias and put under arrest of the PKK. In July 1993 he escaped to Beirut and with the help of PEN International and the Red Cross he came to Germany in September 1993. He has been there ever since and has published eight books and numerous articles, some on his own Internet address http://www.madiya.net/
  6. See Aktif Haber of 13 February 2006 PKK'daki iç hesaplaşmanın analizi.
  7. See an article in the daily Türkiye PKK’yı kuran 120 kişiden 7 kişi kaldı.
  8. You can find the series as "portraits" under Portreler (in Turkish).
  9. See his statement at the site of Rizgari
  10. Among other things, in this section Aliza Marcus is referring to a pamphlet from Die Grünen/GAL, “Politische Mord in Europa,” 25/6/1987, better to say a booklet of 26 pages, see Google Books
  11. See the Today's Zaman of 2 April 2012 Akçam unveils history of PKK’s internal executions
  12. See the article on Yaşam hakkı ihlalleri ile ilgili TBMM komisyonu
  13. You can find more details on his biography under İbrahim Güçlü’nün kendi dilinden biyografisi
  14. For examples you may look at a document of 14 December 2011 or an article in Kürdistan Aktuel of 20 January 2012 İç infazlar listesi
  15. The full text of the report is available in Turkish only.
  16. You can find on a page called PKK Merkez Komite Üyesi “Semir” Kod Adlı Çetin Güngör’ün İnfazı.
  17. Quoted from the reasoned verdict against Öcalan.
  18. The names were given as Ali Doğan Yıldırım, Mehmet Turan, Mehmet Uzun, Ali Yaylacık, Ahmet Ballı, Baki Karer (Süleyman), Abdullah Kumral (Yusuf Hoca), Şükrü Karakuş (Soreş), Cemile Merkit (Seher), Murat Bayraklı, Enver Ata, Resul Altınok (Davut), İzzettin Evcil (Serdar), Zülfü Gök, Çetin Güngör (Semir), Lamia Baksi (Dr. Jiyan), Mustafa Ömürcan (Sarı Ömer), Mahmut Bilgili, Mehmet Tunç, Dilaver Yıldırım (Haydar), Halil Kaya (Kör Cemal), Mustafa Çimen (Teyfik), Metin Değer, Şahin Dönmez, Şahin Biliç (Metin), Zeki Yılmaz, Mehmet Şener (Ahmet), Cemil Işık (Hogir), Ali Ömürcan (Terzi Cemal), Osman Tim, Mehmet Çimen (Ali Rıza), Yıldırım Merkit, Hidayet Bozyiğit, Nazime Aktürk, Faruk Bozkurt (Dr. Nasır), Faysal Dumlayıcı (Kani Yılmaz), Ramazan Topbaş (Sarı İbrahim) and Çekdar from Syria.
  19. See an article in the daily Zaman of 23 February 2012 Kürtlere ilk kurşunu Abdullah Öcalan sıktı
  20. As one Turkish source look at an interview of 14 September 2014 ‘Şu anki PKK, Türkiye için son şans'
  21. The quote and and answer of Sait Çürükkaya can be found at Sait Çürükkaya: Bir Megoloman’ın hezeyanları.
  22. See the relevant article in Yeni Özgür Politika
  23. See the daily Milliyet of 14 February 2006 PKK'dan 1500 infaz (1,500 executions by the PKK).