Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)

Reasons Why to Use Women

Large Number of Male Losses

Kurdish separatists adopted suicide bombings for several reasons. In the mid 1990s there was a change of the party’s internal policies because of changes in the domestic political situation. In 1994 PKK lost the strategic military initiative in the Eastern part of the country largely because of the process of modernization of armament of the Turkish army.[xxv] In 1997 operation Hammer (a cross-border operation by the Turkish Armed Forces into North of Iraq between 12 May and 7 July 1997 against the Kurdistan Workers Party) started. As a result 3000 PKK combatants were killed and great part of its infrastructure – abolished.

New Governmental Strategies

Meanwhile the army started applying new anti terrorist strategies in the upland and rural areas where military basis of the separatists were situated, including an anti terrorist task force. At the same time, the government started several programs with the idea to cut the support for PKK.[xxvi] 

Women Constitue a Suprise Attack

PKK womanUnder these conditions, female suicide attacks were seen as a way to return the lost military initiative because the Turkish army and security forces were unprepared to confront female attacks. All this impacted negatively on the relationships of the party with the Kurdish community. The Kurdish community considered the supposition by Yoram Schweitzer of suicide missions as a way to reclaim the lost positions to be quite reasonable: “The PKK resorted to suicide terrorism at a time when it was facing heavy military setbacks in Southeast Turkey, which had had an adverse effect on the morale of its members. Since the group’s terrorist activities had declined constantly between 1994-1996, the organization was seeking an effective means to reverse this trend and to boost the morale of its fighters. Suicide missions were therefore chosen as a consolidating tool. They served as a demonstration of the PKK’s capability to operate and to damage their enemies. The attacks demonstrated the supreme willingness to sacrifice everything, including one’s life for the Kurdish national goals. For some time, such attacks were used for retaliatory purposes.”[xxvii]  Photo: 2008 PKK Woman Fighter, location unknown.

The strength of a female message is also confirmed by some female leaders. Arshem Kurman, a participant in the guerilla group insists: "That is the importance of martyrdom - it gives our cause weight…. Women are dying every day, so what better way to send a message?"[xxviii]

[xxv] BONNER, Raymond. 1996. U.S. Helicopter Sale to Turkey Hits Snag,” The New York Times, March 29

[xxvi] ANONIMOUS. 2008. Suicide Attacks: A Case Study in Turkey. TIPS Connections

[xxvii] SCHWEITZER, Yoram. 2000. Suicide terrorism: development and characteristics. A lecture deliveres in the international conference on countering suicide terrorism at International policy institute for counter-terrorism, Herzeliya, Israel, February.

[xxviii] RASTI. 2006. The women of PKK. 28.11.

Associated Articles

Associated Groups