Meme War: Freedom Fighters Or Terrorists

What's in a name? The line between "terrorist" and "state terror" blurs with over 30,000 Kurds killed by the Turkish army.

Photo: MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images

An old Kurdish poem describes the Kurds' existence as one of "a thousand sighs, a thousand tears, a thousand revolts." Described in ancient history as a fierce, mountain-dwelling people, the Kurds are the biggest ethnic group in the world without their own homeland. With 25 to 30 million people dispersed throughout Southern Turkey, Northern Iraq and the West of Iran, the Kurds have undergone brutal oppression by foreigners since the Middle Ages.

Kurds make up around 20 percent of the total population in Iraq and Turkey, where their assertion for independence is a major destabilizing force in the Middle East. Their suffering is most evident in Turkey, home to 17 million Kurds: over the past 30 years, Turkey has launched a civil war against them and the PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party), sending in their army to raid 3,000 Kurdish villages throughout the country, killing thousands of civilians and leaving over a million homeless. Kurds make up an overwhelming part of the country's poorest and least-educated, and many who have become successful in business and the government have done so by assimilating into Turkish society. Kurdish language and music had been outlawed until 1991, and the very mention of Kurds in Parliament remains taboo. A Kurdish MP, Leyla Zana, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1994 for swearing an oath to the "brotherhood between Turkish and Kurdish people." While all minorities in Turkey theoretically enjoy the same rights, the Kurds have long endured treatment as second-class citizens.

Although the war between Kurds and Turks ostensibly ended in 1999 with the capture of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, conflicts continue to this day: in February, Turkey sent in troops to attack the PKK in northern Iraq, adding fire to an already volatile region.

The violent tactics of the PKK have caused them to be slapped with the label "terrorist" by the CIA and the Turkish media, yet the PKK see themselves as "freedom fighters," no different from the Zionists during the early 1900s or the Chechens in Russia. "We are not terrorists," said Mizgin Ahmed, a PKK leader in an interview with the Guardian. "We share the same goals of democracy and human rights as the West."

While the PKK's bombings have caused civilian casualties, the sheer number of Kurds killed by the Turkish army – over 30,000 – eclipses the PKK's actions and blurs the line between "terrorist" and "state terror." "We want Turkey to officially recognize the Kurd's identity," said Ahmed. "Then we will disarm tomorrow."