A Kurdish woman in front of her destroyed home in Silopi / RT
Only within this month, Turkey was hit with two separate devastating bombings. One exploded in its cosmopolitan heart, Istanbul on December 10 and another in Kayseri, its nationalist heart, on December 17. The Istanbul bombings killed 37 riot police and 8 civilians, whilst the Kayseri bombing killed 14 off-duty soldiers, who were part of the Kayseri Commando Brigade, the first Turkish commando brigade known today for its active operations in Kurdish regions such as Hakkari and cross-border operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq. Commenting on the bomb attack, senior PKK commander Murat Karayilan stated that the brigade’s members were seen in a video where two captured PKK female guerrillas were executed and thrown off a hill.
These bombings were both claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a Kurdish militant group that according to its own definition, "seeks retaliation for the treatment of the Kurdish people and those killed at the hands of the Turkish government." Motivated by its enmity to the Turkish regime, TAK is an urban guerrilla group born out of total despair against the destruction and killings witnessed in Kurdish towns. In retaliation to the Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurds, TAK said it targeted the Kayseri Commando Brigade particularly because, “The Kayseri Commando Brigade has for years taken its part in the frontline of the genocidal war against the Kurdish people, killing hundreds of our people”.
Although TAK’s name has become well known recently, especially after the Ankara bombings in February and March, which directly targeted military personnel, the group’s first actions date back to the mid 2000s. After a latest ‘peace process’ between the Turkish state and the PKK broke down in July 2015, TAK reemerged as the clashes between the sides were intensifying. Unlike the PKK, TAK is not a social movement and does not have a permanent political agenda. According to the group its attacks will continue unless attacks on Kurds ceases, a ceasefire between the state and the PKK is declared, the aggravated isolation of jailed Kurdish leader Abduallah Ocalan lifted, and the political oppression of the Kurdish people is halted. After Turkish President Erdogan toppled the negotiations table and voided the Dolmabahce Agreement to say there was no Kurdish issue, an all-out war began in Kurdish towns. In the absence of resolution talks, and destruction of Kurdish towns, TAK has emerged as a group impacting the political process in Turkey and the region.
How does TAK operate?
TAK members can camouflage themselves effectively, generally operating in teams of two militants; the militant group performs its actions with top military intelligence and experience. So much so that the December 10 Istanbul bombings claimed by TAK were said by Istanbul police chief Murat Caliskan to be “carried out only as a result of direct state support provided to the militant group due to the efficiency of the explosives used in the bombings”. Even the teams operating within TAK are not aware of who the members in another team are, therefore making it nearly impossible for its structure to be unraveled and detected by Turkish intelligence.
In another sense, TAK operates as sleeper-cells in Turkish cities, dragging the Turkish-Kurdish conflict into areas where the PKK does not hold any control or remains without presence. In order to protect their identities TAK militants can even adopt certain identities, as in the case of Abdulbaki Somer, nom de guerre Zinar Raperin, who carried out the Ankara bombing in February and was known to Turkish authorities as a refugee who had entered Turkey from Syria. TAK’s emergence came at a time when the destruction of Kurdish towns, amidst indefinite curfews declared by the state, were met with declarations of autonomy and defence of these towns by the Civil Defence Units (YPS). The brutal curfews resulted in civilian deaths, mass killings of injured people trapped in basements, scores of injured people, undocumented human rights violations and the forced displacement of more than a million people.
The atrocities of Turkish forces in Kurdish towns
TAK said its first major attack in Ankara was a response to the mass killing of at least 178 people trapped in three basements in the town of Cizre. Amongst the civilians killed in these basements was the Cizre People’s Assembly co-chair Mehmet Tunc, whose voice the public heard several times via telephone as he called out for help for the injured people. The Turkish army, despite top government officials knowing of civilian presence, ruthlessly shelled the basements. Yet their voices were neglected by the state, the state didn’t care, as Turkish state media had already reported that the Turkish army had entered a basement, and that ‘60 terrorists were neutralised’. Soon after the building was burnt down with the people inside to destroy all evidence.
During the curfew declared in Silopi in December 2015, a 57-year-old Kurdish mother named Taybet Inan was shot on the streets for violating the curfew; her lifeless body was abandoned and left to rot on the street for seven days. Ambulances were not given permission to retrieve her body and the people who tried to reach her were shot at. For seven days, Taybet Inan was exposed to the clearest example of state brutality, as her children watched from their home 150 metres away from her lifeless body. Her son, Tamer Inan wrote a letter saying, “When we heard about my mother being shot, we ran to retrieve her, but before we could arrive, my uncle had tried but he was shot too.” It was at this time that a police officer on duty in Silopi – later to be killed in the Besiktas Istanbul bombings – gleefully commented on his Facebook status: “There are carcasses everywhere”.
Many other atrocities occurred during the autumn and winter of 2015 and early 2016; Haci Lokman Birlik, a 24-year-old Kurdish man, was shot 28 times and tied to an armoured vehicle, his lifeless body dragged on the streets by Turkish soldiers. Turkish Special Forces circulated a video of this on social media in October 2015 and caused widespread anger, hurt and calls for revenge.
As the former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared on TV claiming that all the people who had been killed in Cizre were terrorists, a 10-year-old Kurdish girl named Cemile Cagirga was being shot dead outside her home in September 2015. Her body was kept in a freezer for three days because of the curfew and could only be taken to a morgue when Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MPs arrived. Also who can forget how 3-month-old baby Miray was shot by police, also in Cizre, alongside her grandfather who tried to take her to the hospital; resulting in two deaths from the same family? It is these kinds of acts that are behind the motivation for TAK attacking Turkish military and security targets.
Is being against violence enough to stop it?
We see many foreign officials condemning TAK's attacks, saying that they are against terrorism and violence in Turkey. However, being against violence simply isn’t enough to be able to stop it in the present situation. Kurdish people are being suppressed more than ever, notably in comparison to the 1990s, the period of intensified violence between the PKK and Ankara where extrajudicial killings took place and Kurds went missing, never to be heard of or found again. In the 1990s, the crimes committed by JITEM, a military wing operating for the Deep State, could be hidden easily. But today atrocities can be exposed to the world with the latest advances in media and technology. In an environment where we see photos of the decapitated bodies of the Kurdish YPS fighters killed by special operation units in Cizre, or the lifeless bodies of Kurdish female militants exposed on social media accounts allegedly affiliated to JITEM and the Deep State, it is no surprise that an organisation like TAK – who sees the actions and tactics of the PKK against the state “too soft and ineffective” – has risen up against Ankara.
Although TAK says that it targets the Turkish state’s institutions, security personnel and economy, there can be no excuse for the death of innocent civilians in its actions. The group has expressed regret about civilian casualties, calling them ‘accidental’. However TAK is not in a position adopted by the PKK, which complies with the Geneva Convention and has launched investigations into its actions resulting in civilian casualties. The PKK has also criticised TAK’s bomb attacks in which civilians have been killed and harmed. But this hasn’t stopped these actions. Therefore we must question the circumstances that have led to the establishment of TAK and the reason it is still carrying out bomb attacks in Turkish towns.
The disconnection between Kurds and Turks
It is no secret that the majority of Turkish people are glad to hear news of Kurdish militants being ‘neutralised’, which generally means killed. Despite the rise of racist, ultra-nationalist anti-Kurdish actions and sentiment, the majority of Kurdish people continue asking for a return to peace talks and do not want to see any more bloodshed on either side. However it needs to be accepted also that as long as the denial policy against the Kurds continues, TAK or groups like TAK will gain in popularity for the Kurds. This makes questions such as: does TAK have organic ties with the PKK or is TAK an offshoot of the PKK redundant. The PKK and TAK are the result of a historical injustice and unless that injustice is rectified even more radical groups will be created. The only way TAK can be stopped then is if the path to dialogue and negotiations is opened. But for now, it seems that those doors are tightly shut as Ankara continues bellowing the oft repeated “We will eliminate the PKK next year!" at the end of the 32nd year of this bloody war.
For Kurds the 32nd year of war has become synonymous with the word “basement.” Proud of their accomplishment in Cizre, Turkish special teams graffitied “Love is being lived in the basement, darling” and posed in front of bullet-ridden buildings in many Kurdish cities, holding Turkish flags and making nationalist signs. This phrase was used across the country: within popular culture, at football matches and by government trolls on social media. Whilst Kurds now feel pain when they hear the word “basement”, when they hear “TAK”, they know very well what it stands for: Revenge.