Dying to Win by Robert Pape

Dying to Win by Robert Pape

Author:Robert Pape
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781588364609
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Published: 2005-05-23T16:00:00+00:00


From 1996 to 1999, the Parti Karkaren Kurdistan, or Kurdish Workers Party, carried out fourteen suicide attacks, each with one attacker, against government buildings and Turkish military targets, killing twenty-two people in addition to the attackers themselves. The PKK’s suicide terrorism is remarkable in three respects. First, it qualifies as the least aggressive modern suicide terrorist campaign, killing on average fewer than two persons per attack, compared with the average of twelve in the universe of suicide terrorist attacks since 1980. Second, the individual PKK suicide terrorists sought remarkably little publicity, leaving no final testimonials in writing or on video, and the organization rarely promoted the life stories of the attackers. Third, few if any of the suicide attackers appear to have been walk-ins. Although suicide terrorist organizations almost always replenish their ranks as the suicide campaign unfolds, the PKK’s suicide attackers were long-serving members of the organization and their number was not augmented by grassroots volunteers.

From the perspective of explaining suicide terrorism, the important question in the case of the PKK is less why it occurred than why it remained so limited. Although the PKK’s suicide terrorism occurred while the Kurdish homeland was under Turkish military occupation, the origins of the PKK’s suicide terrorism, more so than any other case, are most likely due to a narrow commitment to the group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan. While in jail, Ocalan called for his followers to conduct suicide attacks as a means to compel the Turkish government to release him. Coercion failed and the attacks stopped when Ocalan asked his followers to abandon the effort. He remains in custody.

The interesting question is why suicide terrorism did not escalate in the Kurdish case. Some have thought that suicide terrorism occurs mainly as a product of internal group dynamics. Once started, so the argument goes, suicide terrorism can feed on itself, fomenting a wider rebellion or an escalation in suicide attacks.95 If so, then the sources of suicide terrorism are mainly inside the group and are only slightly related to external circumstances such as foreign occupation or religious difference. To be sure, the PKK’s suicide terrorism shows that internal group dynamics can cause some suicide terrorist attacks. However, there is a more important observation. Even if internal dynamics account for the PKK’s suicide terrorism, these attacks did not precipitate a groundswell of national resistance and in fact mark the tail end of the Kurdish national rebellion, which lasted from 1984 to 1999. Why is this so?

The limits of suicide terrorism among the Kurds are likely due to the absence of a religious difference in this case. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish military occupied large parts of the Kurdish homeland and used harsh measures to suppress the PKK. However, this was far from intensifying Kurdish support for the nationalist rebellion. Indeed, the vast majority of the Kurdish population appear to have sided with the Turkish government, while support for the rebellion actually declined over time. A key reason appears to be the commonality of religion across the two communities.


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