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Facts And Figures: Kurdistan Workers Party

Demonstrators hold Kurdish flags and portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a gathering to celebrate Norouz in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on March 21, 2013.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded in 1978 as a hybrid movement drawing on revolutionary socialism and Kurdish nationalism, with the aim of uniting the Kurdish people. As part of its efforts, the PKK took on the Turkish government by means of protests and sabotage.


Beginning in 1984, the PKK entered into an armed struggle of independence against Turkey, with much of the fighting based in southeastern Turkey and Anatolia. The number of deaths attributed to the fighting stands at about 40,000, including Turkish forces, PKK fighters, and civilians. Large-scale fighting subsided after PKK leader and co-founder Abdullah Ocalan's arrest in 1999.

Ocalan's Imprisonment

Ocalan was arrested in 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya, and flown to Turkey after unsuccessfully seeking asylum in several European and African countries. He was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted in 2002 when Turkey abolished the death penalty. He is currently incarcerated in the island prison of Imrali.


On March 21, 2013, on the occasion of Nouruz, Ocalan announced a cease-fire with Turkey in a message read out by a Kurdish lawmaker. He called on Kurdish fighters to halt their activities and to withdraw from Turkey.

FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW about Ocalan's cease-fire call

PKK Fighters

There are an estimated 3,500 PKK fighters in Turkey.

Terrorist Organization

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by: the United Nations, NATO, United States, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Iraq, Iran, France, Germany, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Moldova, New Zealand, Philippines, Syria, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Political Ties

Political parties that support separatism are banned in Turkey. However, the Peace and Democracy Party (Turkish: Barıs ve Demokrasi Partisi -- BDP) is widely seen as the main political party representing Kurds in Turkey. The BDP holds 36 of 550 seats in Turkey's parliament and 97 seats (out of 2,919) in local municipalities. It was formed in 2009 after its predecessor, the Democratic Society Party, was disbanded by Turkish authorities for its ties to the PKK and other Kurdish separatist movements.

Kurdish Population

Kurds account for about 14 million of Turkey's population of 80 million, although some Kurdish groups put the number at 20 million-25 million. Worldwide there are an estimated 26 million-36 million Kurds, with many living in the Middle East states of Iran (6 million-8 million), Iraq (6 million-6.5 million) and Syria (1.5 million-2.2 million).


1984: PKK begins armed struggle for Kurdish independence
1987: Turkey declares "state of emergency" in 11 provinces
1992: Turkey's armed forces launch strikes against PKK in northern Iraq
1995: Turkey sends 30,000 troops to northern Iraq
1999: Abdullah Ocalan arrested in Nairobi, Kenya
2004: Ankara allows Kurdish to be used in state TV broadcasts
2009: University-level language courses in Kurdish are allowed
2011: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Iraq's Kurdistan region
2012: Ankara allows primary school to be taught in Kurdish
2013: PKK co-founder Sakine Cansiz killed in Paris
(For an extended timeline, click here)
-- Compiled from material gathered from CIA Factbook, AP, AFP, the BDP website, and others