Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)


In Turkey the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) is not the only organization using female suicide missions, but is held responsible for the majority of them. According to Terrorist Event Statistics, “in the period from June 30, 1996 to July 5, 1999, the PKK attempted a total of 21 suicide attacks; 15 of them were actually carried out and 6 of them were intercepted. As a result of these attacks, 19 people died and 138 were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians, policemen, and soldiers.”[i] It is unclear, however, if the PKK participated in one of the most impressive attacks.  In 2006, the PKK[ii] was blamed for the assault in a religious school in Ordu, carried out by two women, but it rejected these accusations.[iii]  According to information disseminated by Turkish authorities, one of the women died during the act and other one while attempting to escape, was arrested.[iv] PKK also rejected authorship of the attack on May 22, 2007, when a woman blew herself in Ankara, wounding at least 91 civilians.[v] The Ankara governor didn’t give any more details and police declined to comment on the event, but Turkish media reported earlier that eight people had been detained in connection with the blast.[vi]

Kurdish Protest in Sweden

Photo: 2011 Kurds in Sweden meet outside Swedish Parliament to protest military intervention in iraqi Kurdistan from Iran and Turkey.

The Kurdish Question

PKK female suicide terrorism should be understood in the light of the Kurdish question and the widespread perception among the Kurdish community of oppression by the Turkish state. Many scholars consider the so called Kurdish question as the most severe one in the almost 90 year history of Turkish republic.[viii] While represented in completely different ways by both sides (PKK qualifies its activities as a national liberation struggle, while Turkish political elite prefers to speak about troubles in the East part of the country) it became – nationally and internationally - one of the main challenges to Turkey. The Kurdish question became significant after the World War I when the Ottoman Empire broke and new states appeared. The Sever Peace Treaty (August 10, 1923) previewed the creation of an independent state under the name of Kurdistan. However this never came to pass because of the resistance of Kemal Ataturk’s movement. Nevertheless, at the beginning of its existence, the Turkish republic didn’t reject the existence of a Kurdish demographic; it even identified itself as a national contract between two ethnic elements. Political discourse of the epoch characterizes Kurds as a nation rather than as a minority; the leader, Kemals Ataturk, who several times asked for Turkish help, insisted that in the regions where they are majority they will be given the right of self-government.[ix]  Signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty canceled the Sever treaty and divided Kurdistan among Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. As a result today, the 15 million Kurds who live in Turkey are not recognized as a minority by the Turkish constitution but only as a religiously different group. They occupy the South Eastern quadrant, where the income per capita is two times lower that in the rest of the country.[x] In this political context the KPP appears. Funded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1977, the party started its political activity as a leftist oriented Marxist group and has recently transformed into a nationalist terrorist group. The transformation has several reasons. The first one has to do with the intent of PKK to distinguish itself from the unsuccessful communist regimes which were broken at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. The second one was determined by completely internal factors: the need to offer to young people an understandable ideological alternative (for most of them Marxism was totally obscure) and the new attitude toward Islam, at that time recognized by PKK as an inseparable part of Turkish ethnic identity. While accepting armed violence as legitimate form of struggle for Kurdish’ rights, , PKK didn’t hesitate to resort to female suicide bombing in the second half of 1990s. 


[i] ANONIMOUS. 2008. Suicide Attacks: A Case Study in Turkey.  27 August.  

[ii] FINANCIAL TIMES INFORMATION.2006. Female suicide bomber kills herself, injuries one in ordu blast. 8th April. LexisNexix Data base

[iii] ROSS-THOMAS, Emma. 2006. Female duo hits mosque in Turkey. Reuters news agency, 8th April. LexisNexis Data base

[iv] MATTHEWS, Owen. 2006. An ugly nationalist mood is brewing in Ankara, stalling once hailed reforms; Newsweek International, April 24

[v] ANONIMOUS. 2007. Kurd rebel group deny carrying out Ankara attack. 23rd May. Reuters.

[vi] ANONIMOUS. 2007. Kurd rebel group deny carrying out Ankara attack. 23rd May. Reuters.

[viii] CORNELL, Svante. 2001. The Kurdish question in Turkish politics. Orbis, Winter2001, Vol. 45 Issue 1.

[ix] Цитирано по BARKEY, Henri and Graham E. FULLER. 1988. Turky’s Kurdish question. Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflicts.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[x] YILDIZ, Kerim and Max MULLER. 2008. The European Union and Turkish Accession. Pluto Press, р. 17

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