How would you feel if your high school son or daughter joined the ranks of an illegal organization?
Never ignore this possibility because the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is getting more and more active in high schools and universities across 38 Turkish provinces, including big cities, to attract more youths to join its ranks as part of a new strategy it has adopted. Police teams from the İzmir Police Department captured 17-year-old B.G., the regional representative for the PKK’s youth branches, in Bornava’s Mevlana neighborhood in İzmir in mid-December, as he was readying to carry out a terrorist attack with a pipe bomb. The bomb, which was found in the youth’s backpack, was defused. B.G. was among the young people who attacked police with Molotov cocktails that were prepared at the Kurdish Language Association (Kürdi-Der) in Şanlıurfa in April. He was released after spending five months in jail.
Mensur Güzel, a 26-year-old man who hijacked a high-speed ferry near İstanbul on Nov. 11 and was killed in a pre-dawn operation, was a leading member of the Democratic Patriotic Youth Council (DYGM), the PKK’s youth branch. After he was given training by the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), an armed wing of the PKK, he was sent to the western province of İzmit to carry out attacks in provincial capitals.
The PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984, has begun to use more and more youths in its armed attacks for several reasons.
According to officials from the police, most members of the DYGM are high school or university students. The DGYM particularly attracts youths who have not previously been involved in criminal activity. A young person who joins the DGYM may find themselves in PKK camps in the mountains soon after joining. Most of these youths lose their lives in a short time in terrorist attacks, say sources from the police. The average lifespan of a PKK terrorist in the mountains is said to be around three years, according to a recent study that was released by the International Center for Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM) — a department of the Turkish Police Academy — at a symposium on international terrorism and transnational crime, which began on Dec. 9 in Antalya.
The use of young people in recent PKK attacks shows that the PKK has given up sending mountain-based militants for terrorist attacks in cities, mostly because these terrorists have difficulty in adapting to city life after spending a long time in the mountains. Additionally, sending PKK members based in the mountains to city centers for attacks is thought to lead to a weakness in the mountains. So the PKK changed its strategy, using young people in attacks in cities in recent years.
The PKK’s Self-Defense Units (ÖSB), where members receive special training to take advantage of social unrest and public protests to cause provocation, has begun to employ young people and give them training for one to three months in PKK camps in northern Iraq. They are trained to use explosives, Kalashnikovs, hand grenades and other weapons. These members form very small groups and they do not stay in the same place with other PKK militants. If they have to be with PKK members, their faces are covered with cloths so as to not to be recognized.
After receiving training in PKK camps, ÖSB members go to cities where they are ordered to stage attacks in groups of three. After ÖSB members arrive in the city, they receive explosives from PKK militants based in the mountains in the place and time determined by PKK leadership. ÖSB members mostly target police vehicles.
After carrying out several successful terrorist attacks, the ÖSB unit is ordered to go back to the rural area and receive more training, which can last from five to six months. Some of the attacks for which the ÖSB claimed responsibility have included: a bomb attack on the Mustazaf-der Foundation in Adana’s Gülbahçesi neighborhood in August 2008, a Molotov cocktail attack on a vehicle belonging to the Silopi District Education Directorate in December 2008, four separate attacks with explosives in İstanbul in April 2010, a small grenade attack on the Batman Çarşı Police Station in February 2011, which resulted in the injury of two police officers and a small grenade attack on a military housing complex in Batman’s Pınarbaşı neighborhood in July 2011.