Skip to main content

Why have PKK cemeteries become a target?

Kurdish militants in Turkey are accused of using cemeteries as military bases and ammunition depots.
Farhat Amat, a fighter from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), guards a cemetery in the remote Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Iran border in Sulaimaniya, 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Baghdad, July 15, 2007. Amat takes care of the site, which holds 67 graves of PKK fighters killed in the movement's guerrilla war for a Kurdish state. Picture taken July 15, 2007.  To match feature IRAQ/TURKEY   REUTERS/Shamal Aqrawi (IRAQ) - RTR1S4KZ
Read in 

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — In the summer of 2013, unusual activity was underway in a rural area not far from Diyarbakir, the central city of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Human remains — some of them two decades old and still unidentified — arrived in bags and coffins, exhumed from many locations across the southeast, as long lines of graves were dug. A new cemetery was being shaped, but it was not an ordinary one. The bones of 117 militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), killed in clashes with the security forces since the early 1990s, were reburied at what was called the Harun Martyrs’ Cemetery. Named after a fallen PKK commander, the site was adorned with posters of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and had the insignia of the outlawed group on its gate. Thousands of Kurds flocked to the cemetery for an inauguration ceremony in October, attended also by PKK militants and Kurdish parliament members.

The cemetery sprung up in the lull of cease-fire and settlement talks between Ankara and the PKK. Media coverage of the event sparked indignation that the PKK was overstepping the mark, and a judicial investigation was launched against leaders of the initiative. Nevertheless, the authorities did not touch the site.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.