As a stateless ethnic group, Kurds have long sought to attain a recognised homeland, Kurdistan. This envisaged territory includes sections of southeastern Turkey, which is home to a large Kurdish population. Turkish Kurds have suffered repression and human rights violations for decades; in 1978 the Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, commonly referred to as the PKK) emerged to fight for secession and launched a violent campaign against government, military and civilian targets. Since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, the organisation has indicated that it would accept a Kurdish autonomous region within Turkey. A Turkish government crackdown weakened the group considerably until support from actors within Iraqi Kurdistan led to a resurgence of attacks against Turkish forces and civilians from 2004 until the present.
Following unsuccessful peace talks between the Turkish government and PKK leaders in Oslo, Norway in 2010, a new negotiation process was launched in late 2012, which resulted in a peace process framework. However, these talks were undermined by a lack of confidence-building steps, the rise of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, and the spread of violence from Syria to Turkey. Moreover, despite the success of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the June 2015 elections, the PKK’s resort to violence and the snap election in November 2015 triggered an end to peace talks between Ankara and the PKK.
PKK youth groups attempted to take over city centers in southeastern Turkey, prompting urban counter-insurgency operations that displaced almost half a million people and resulted in the destruction of many neighborhoods. While the Turkish security forces eventually cleared these areas from PKK elements, violence continues unabated in mountainous areas. The military advance of the PYD in Syria and the establishment of a new PKK base in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq have turned Turkey’s 40-year conflict into a regional one.