Turkish Paramilitary Forces During the Conflicts in 1990s

The research focuses on state-backed paramilitary groups and the Turkish state during the armed conflict between the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK) in the 1990s. The main question of the research is how did paramilitary groups emerge, develop, function and disappear in the context of the war in Turkey in the 1990s? The research particularly focuses on the harshest decade of the war: the 1990s.

In August 1984, PKK launched an armed struggle against the Turkish state, which transformed into a full-blown war throughout the next decade. During this conflict, the state established armed groups other than the official army, and many of these groups had paramilitary characteristics. In this period three organizations were established: in the late 1980s in the Kurdish provinces the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele, Jitem) was established, which included the Repentants (defected members of the PKK); the Police Special Operations Police Units (Polis Özel Harekat Timleri) established in 1982, reorganized in 1985 and 1993; the Village Guards (Köy Korucuları) established in 1924, reorganized in 1985 and 1991 in the Kurdish provinces. In addition to these paramilitary units, the radical Islamist Hizbullah organization that was established in early 1980s in a Kurdish province, Batman, was used against the PKK, especially against Kurdish civilians, between 1991-1995.

The state preferred to set up these groups as paramilitary units that were deeply trusted. They were usually semi-formal and informal groups with different characteristics from the regular police and the military institutions; these units were also related to criminal organizations on different levels. These groups that were not independent, but autonomous under the Turkish state control had emerged as the irresponsible, unlawful and dark face of the state used against the opposition during the conflicts. Consequently, instead of fighting the guerrillas, these groups, particularly were set up and used to target civilians. Those groups have been considered the main responsible for the killing of the many Kurdish civilians through the methods of intense violence, such as extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, unsolved murders.