Code of the Terrorists: The PKK and the Social Construction of Violence
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According to Turkish authorities, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a terrorist organization that uses violence indiscriminately to target and murder innocent civilians. Based on interviews conducted with a former longtime member of the PKK, we argue that this view of the nature of the PKK as an organization and its use of violence is misleading. The interviews reveal that the PKK’s use of violence is governed by a code that regulates (1) legitimate and forbidden targets; (2) rules of engagement; (3) treatment of enemy captives and detainees; and (4) conduct in regard to private property and protected places. A formal system exists to enforce the code. Rather than being indiscriminate, violence by the PKK is purposeful, restrained, and employed primarily in response to Turkish oppression. Understanding that the PKK is governed by a code has important policy implications, and we contend that the prospects for resolving the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds remain dim so long as the PKK is portrayed as a terrorist organization populated by bloodthirsty and irrational radicals. Instead, the PKK should be viewed as a political organization whose pursuit of political aims is most likely to be settled not through continued violent conflict but at the negotiating table.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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