Sunday, September 23, 2007


Turkish Hizballah (Hizbullah): A Case Study of Radical Terrorism

By Suleyman Ozoren
Wednesday , 18 April 2007


The Republic of Turkey is one of the many countries that have been
struggling with terrorism for decades. This article concentrates on the
development and activities of Turkish Hizballah. Following an overview of
the resurgence of radicalism and terrorism in Turkey, the main
characteristics of Turkish Hizballah are highlighted and compared to other
notorious terrorist groups, KONGRA-GEL (Kurdistan People’s Congress) in
Turkey and the Hizballah in Lebanon. The ideology, goals and structure of
Turkish Hizballah are also examined. A final analysis focuses on
contemporary trends, including law enforcement and security operations
against Turkish Hizballah, as well as related policy implications.

The phenomenon of terrorism has plagued countries throughout the world for
centuries. In September 2001, when the United States experienced its first
major terrorist attacks on American soil since the World Trade Center
bombing of 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the American public
suddenly became painfully aware of a variety of fundamentalist religious
terrorist groups that had been active elsewhere in the world for many years.
The Republic of Turkey is one of the many countries that have been
struggling with terrorism for decades. This article will focus on the
development and activities of a specific terrorist group: Turkish Hizballah.
An overview of the resurgence of radicalism and terrorism in Turkey, the
main characteristics of Turkish Hizballah are highlighted and compared to
other notorious terrorist groups, KONGRA-GEL (Kurdistan People’s Congress)
in Turkey and the Hizballah in Lebanon. Subsequently, an examination of the
ideology and structure of Turkish Hizballah will lead to a final analysis
focused on more contemporary trends of the terrorist group.
By Süleyman Özören (University of North Texas & Cécile Van de Voorde,
University of South Florida)

Terrorism in Turkey

For over three decades, Turkey has been affected by domestic
insurgencies and political violence without receiving from the international
community much of the attention it deserved. In particular, Turkey has been
plagued by terrorism for several years and on many fronts. Active terrorist
groups include not only the Turkish Hizballah (Party of God), but also the
Kurdish separatist group known as the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy
Congress (PKK-KONGRA GEL, formerly called PKK), the Revolutionary People’s
Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C or Dev-Sol), as well as other entities tied
to terrorist groups based in Syria and Iran. In order to understand the
development of Hizballah in Turkey, it is crucial not only to comprehend the
resurgence of political Islam and radical terrorism in a fundamentally
secular country, but also to distinguish Turkish Hizballah from both the
more notorious PKK-KONGRA GEL and its Lebanese namesake.

Religious Violence and Radical Terrorism in Turkey

Although religious faith itself cannot produce violence and terrorist
behavior, it may be interpreted to justify an attack on social structure.
Three circumstances must be present in order to motivate believers to shift
their thoughts towards violent action: (1) believers must perceive a threat
to their values, (2) a theology must be transformed into a dogma produced by
textual interpretation and (3) the true believers must embrace the violence
as a means for preserving their faith. Where these criteria are met,
terrorism becomes an integral part of theology.1 Nevertheless, Islam does
not inherently condone terrorism: the word Islam shares the same Arabic
etymological root as the word peace and the Holy Qur’an condemns war as an
abnormal state of affairs opposed to God’s will.
Essentially, Islam is ‘an apolitical religion concerned solely with
spiritual and ethical guidance’ and using Islam as both a religion and a
state or global political struc ture may be perceived as ‘a deviation from
and a perversion of that true conception’.2 Furthermore, political Islam may
be construed as ‘an illegitimate extension of the Islamic tradition outside
of the properly religious domain it has historically occupied’.3 In recent
years, the phrase ‘political Islam’ has been used to refer to ‘the seemingly
unprecedented irruption of Islamic religion into the secular domain of
politics’ as ‘Islam has become a central point of reference for a wide range
of political activities, arguments and opposition movements’.4 Nevertheless,
even though Muslim activists often use Islam for political purposes, it is
important to note that not ‘all forms of contemporary Islamic activism
involve trying to "capture the state".’5
The role of Islam in Turkey is peculiar insofar as it is intricately related
to Turkish history, nationalism and identity. Historically, Turkish Islam
has been tolerant and respectful of other religions, which helped Ottomans
expand their empire and rule over millions of people without significant
conflicts. Furthermore, the first Turkish Muslims, who were heavily
influenced by Sufi-oriented ideas, ‘kept a certain distance from the
politics of their times in contrast to other Islamic movements’.6 As a
result, prominent religious leaders have denounced any action associated
with violence by asserting that a terrorist could not truly be a Muslim and,
conversely, a Muslim could not be a terrorist.
Owing to its unique location between Europe and Asia, Turkey has been
composed of and influenced by a variety of cultural, ethnical and historical
entities for centuries. Diversity is still a hallmark of contemporary Turkey
and the rapidly modernizing country has seemingly set ‘an example of what is
possible in integrating Islamic movements into its relatively democratic
political system. By accommodating Islamic voices and expanding the
boundaries of p articipation, Turkey has preserved and consolidated its
democracy and civil society’.7
Nonetheless, fundamentalist terrorism is still a reality and such radical
terrorist groups as Turkish Hizballah are active in Turkey today. Overall,
the activities and ideologies of these groups have been met with much
resistance by the mainstream society. Major issues have been revived and
causing growing concern throughout the country, including radicalism,
integrism, separatism and terrorism.8

Major Differences Between Turkish Hizballah and PKK-KONGRA GEL

The most prominent source of Turkish terrorism, which Turkish
Hizballah is sometimes confused with, is the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy
Congress (PKK-KONGRA GEL). PKK-KONGRA GEL was founded in 1974 by Abdullah
Öcalan as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK (Partya Karkeren Kurdistan), a
Kurdish political party and insurrectionary group adhering to a
Marxist-Leninist ideology.9 The main objective of PKK-KONGRA GEL has been
the creation of an independent United Democratic Kurdistan in southeast
Turkey (Anatolia), northern Iraq, Iran and Syria. Since the early 1980s, it
has led a brutal campaign of guerrilla warfare and terrorism against Turkey
with the collaboration and protection of various countries and groups,
mainly Syria and Greece. In the early 1990s, PKK-KONGRA GEL evolved from
radical activism in rural areas to more structured urban terrorism. Today,
the group operates in Turkey, Europe and the Middle East. It is arguably one
of the best-organized terrorist organizations in the world with an estimated
4,000 to 5,000 members, mainly located in northern Iraq, and thousands of
sympathizers throughout Turkey and Europe. The financial stability of
PKK-KONGRA GEL is guaranteed by its heavy involvement in narcoterrorism,
arms smuggling, kidnapping (primarily children and tourists) and other forms
of organized crime. Between August 1984 and February 2000, PKK-KONGRA GEL
was credited for about 22,000 terrorist actions. The leitmotiv of PKK-KONGRA
GEL’s left-wing extremists is the use of their ethnicity as an incentive for
politico-ideological recruitment. Paradoxically however, PKK-KONGRA GEL has
arbitrarily murdered Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, that is, the people
on whose behalf it allegedly acts. The group further considers both the
Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (the two main
Kurdish groupings in northern Iraq) as e nemies.10
PKK-KONGRA GEL is most notorious for its promotion and use of terrorist
suicide attacks, a modus operandi Turkish Hizballah has never resorted to.
The suicide terrorism techniques used by PKK-KONGRA GEL are characteristic
of a continuum that entails not only a hierarchical organization with a
highly charismatic leader (known as the ‘pioneer’), but also the idea of a
‘suitable culture’ likely to promote self-sacrifice for the sake of religion
or the interests of the group through intense indoctrination. Thus,
PKK-KONGRA GEL’s ‘indoctrination of its members is based on praising valor
and rebellion against oppression and victimization’.11 Additionally,
situational factors play an important role in the continuum of PKK-KONGRA
GEL’s suicide terrorism campaign. Whereas PKK-KONGRA GEL only ordered a few
suicide attacks in prisons until the 1990s (none of which resulted in mass
casualties), several attacks took place in the 1990s that were mainly
prompted by political or internal crises. Many of the terrorist suicide
attacks perpetrated by PKK-KONGRA GEL actually coincided with the arrest,
imprisonment, sentencing or extradition of Öcalan, as well as upsurges in
repressive measures adopted by the Turkish government. Between 30 June 1995
and 15 July 1999, fifteen terrorist suicide attacks occurred and caused the
death of thousands of people, including many women and children. In
addition, PKK-KONGRA GEL, which strives to impose its subversive views on
the uneducated and the ignorant, is also responsible for the assassination
of more than a hundred schoolteachers.
PKK-KONGRA GEL membership is often favored by educated people who prefer its
more transparent actions. PKK-KONGRA GEL and the Hizballah have openly
clashed in Turkey since PKK militants killed the father of a Hizballah
member in 1990 and Hizballah militants retaliated by murdering a PKK
sympathizer. According to Turkish Hizballah, the main reason for their
struggle with PKK-KONGRA GEL is that the latter is a Marxist-Leninist group
that kills Muslims and collaborates with Armenians, who are considered to be
Infidels. In reality, their rivalry results from a long-standing fight for
authority over southeastern Turkey. Both PKK-KONGRA GEL and Turkish
Hizballah have high stakes in that region, which is composed of a highly
religious Muslim population. From an ideological perspective, even though it
has nothing to do with religion, PKK-KONGRA GEL understands that the only
way to influence such a public is to use the imams (prayer leaders).
Consequently, in order to gain support from the religious population of the
area, PKK-KONGRA GEL has established the Kurdish Prayer Leaders Association
(Kurdistan Imamlar Birligi). The PKK-KONGRA GEL strategy obviously
contradicts the ideology and tactics defended by Turkish Hizballah, which
seeks to radically alter the secular regime in Turkey by organizing
religious people t oward the use of violence. For a long time, PKK-KONGRA
GEL claimed to be the only dominant group in southeastern Turkey. Yet,
Turkish Hizballah has engaged in hostile activities against PKK-KONGRA GEL
interests in the region, which has reinforced the struggle between the two
groups in Turkey. As a result, both sides lost over 500 members between 1992
and 1995, including 22 imams killed by Hizballah.

Major Differences Between Turkey’s Hizballah and Lebanon’s Hizballah

Turkish Hizballah has no official organic ties with either the Lebanon-based
Islamist terrorist group also named Hizballah12 or its offshoots throughout
the Middle East.13 Notwithstanding a few similarities in terms of ideology,
methods and goals, they are essentially very distinct terrorist groups.
Officially backed by Iran, the Lebanese group known as Hizballah seeks to
reestablish the supremacy of Islam in the political and socio-economic life
of the Muslim world.14 Hence, as indicated by the political manifesto of the
group, its goals are mainly to eradicate any western influence from Lebanon
and the Middle East in general, to destroy Israel, as well as to liberate
Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israeli occupation. The ultimate
purpose underlying Hizballah’s actions in Lebanon is to establish a radical
Shia (or Shiite) Islamist theocracy in that country. Lebanon’s Hizballah is
indeed based on Shia ideology, whereas Turkey’s Hizballah is predominantl y
rooted in Sunni Islam. Besides, in Lebanese Hizballah, the spiritual leader
assumes an important function in terms of motivating his members along the
lines of the Shiite writings. This responsibility is apparently not as
primordial for Turkish Hizballah, as notably evidenced within the Ilimciler
group when Huseyin Velioglu served as political and spiritual leader despite
his weak religious background or training (which actually led Fidan Gungor,
the leader of the Menzilciler group, to claim Velioglu was incapable of
leading his group).
Lebanon’s Hizballah has been active not only in Lebanon, but also throughout
Europe, North America, South America and Africa. The terrorist group has
resorted to various tactics, including car bombings, kidnappings and
hijackings, primarily targeting western and Jewish interests. Turkish
Hizballah, on the contrary, has not perpetrated attacks outside of Turkey,
which is also why it is not technically or officially considered an
internation al terrorism organization. In terms of affiliation with other
terrorist organizations, the main difference between the two groups lies in
the fact that Lebanon’s Hizballah has served as an umbrella organization for
such terrorist groups as Hamas. Turkey’s Hizballah, on the other hand, has
only had very limited relationships with such groups. In addition, Turkey’s
Hizballah does not strive to be legitimized, whereas Lebanon’s Hizballah has
become a major part of Lebanese politics. As such, the Lebanese Hizballah
has been struggling for the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli
occupation for years. Furthermore, it has carried out social activities to
support social, economic and educational life of the Shiite community. It
thus functions like a de facto government for the Shiite people of southern
Lebanon. In contrast, the functions of Turkish Hizballah are strictly
limited to a very secret group that has nothing to do with everyday life in
the community. The main purpose of T urkey’s Party of God is to establish a
religious-based government by overthrowing the existing secular
Moreover, Lebanon’s Hizballah pioneered suicide bombings in the Middle East,
another important characteristic that differentiate it from its Turkish
homonym. The Lebanese group is responsible for the wave of suicide terrorism
that started in April 1983 when a truck laden with explosives was driven
into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 49 and wounding about 120 people.
The goals of Hizballah suicide operations evolved over time as the group
gained notoriety at the local and international levels and became a role
model for and supporter of several other terrorist organizations. The group
and its Iranian benefactors used suicide terrorism as a propaganda tool for
the dissemination of the precepts of the Islamic revolution throughout the
Middle East. Foreign UN peacekeeping forces eventually had to leave Lebanon
and the Israeli army also retreated from central Lebanon to a restricted
strip further south. Hizballah further used suicide terrorism as an
instrument of deterrence and reprisal against Israel. The use of suicide
attacks as a primary method of operation has now declined to one attack per
year or less, but the overall success of Hizballah has been observable even
outside of Lebanon, where the terrorist group inspired and occasionally
sponsored several other terrorist entities.

Ideology and Structure of Turkish Hizballah

The Growth of Hizballah in Turkey

According to a U.S. Department of State report, ‘Turkish Hizballah is a
domestic terrorist group of mostly Kurdish Sunni Islamists with no known
ties to Lebanese Hizballah. Turkish officials and media assert that Turkish
Hizballah has received limited Iranian support.’16 Turkish Hizballah, also
known in Iraqi Kurdistan as the Kurdish Revolutionary Hizballah (Hisbullahi
Kurdi Shorishger), is thus composed of Kurds, a large ethnic group that is
predominantly Sunni Muslim and concentrated in the mountainous regions of
the border area between Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The ‘network is alleged to be
responsible for numerous assassinations and disappearances over the past
decade, including a number of high-profile terrorist incidents. . . . 1999
estimates suggested that Hizbullah may have as many as 25,000 adherents,
including 4,000 armed militants.’17 Hizballah members are economically and
socially alienated from mainstream society: they typic ally come from
low-income families and half of them are not steadily employed, which
reflects the situation of the Turkish socio-economic crisis. More
importantly, one fourth do not have any kind of education and about a third
of the members only have an elementary-school-level education.18
Based in southeastern Anatolia, Turkish Hizballah originally operated mainly
in the cities of Diyarbakir, Van, Batman and Mardin. Members of the
terrorist group habitually gathered in and around bookstores, where they
discussed their ideologies and spread their propaganda. According to
official reports, the founding members of Turkish Hizballah initially
gathered at one bookstore, Vahdet, but they were never able to form a
homogenous group.19 Due to ideological divergences and leadership disputes,
Turkish Hizballah separated into two major groups: Ilimciler (Scientists)
and Menzilciler (Rangers). The Ilimciler, led by H useyin Velioglu, met at
the Ilim Bookstore, whereas the Menzilciler, led by Fidan Gungor,
congregated at the Menzil bookstore. Beside leadership struggle, the two
factions were opposed in the tactics they used to accomplish the goal of the
terrorist organization. While the Ilimciler defended armed struggle and
comprised Hizballah’s most brutal factions, the Menzilciler believed it was
too early for such radical action and opposed, for instance, attacks on
suspected PKK-KONGRA GEL members.20 An intra-group struggle stemmed from the
battle for leadership and caused the death of over a hundred people on both
sides. In 1994, the assassination of Menzilciler leader Fidan Gungor by
Ilimciler members almost obliterated the dispute between Ilimciler and
Menzilciler, but the truce was short-lived and the factions remain opposed
to this day.
In the late 1990s, Hizballah attempted to widen its area of operation to
cities in the western part of Turkey, especially Istanbul. The ongoing
conflict between Hizballah and PKK-KONGRA GEL in southeastern Turkey was the
major impetus for the shift. Still, western cities like Istanbul did not
prove to be as favorable an environment as southeastern cities had been
(e.g., Diyarbakir, Van, or Mardin) for the development of Hizballah. The
efforts of the group were seriously curbed as major operations were carried
out against Hizballah cells in and around Istanbul in early 2000, one of
which led to the killing of Huseyin Velioglu, the Ilimciler group leader,
and the arrest of his two top lieutenants, Edip Gumus and Cemal Tutar.

Ideology and Goals

The ideology defended by Turkish Hizballah is similar to the
principles almost all terrorist organizations have adhered to throughout the
world and history. According to Turkish Hizballah, the world is divided
between two forces, Good and Evil, which represent the Ultimate Truth. ‘It
is likely that in closing themselves off from others, they became isolated
and lived in an imagined community that struggled to destroy the ‘unjust
other’ in order to prove that they were the "just selves".’21 Based on such
ideology, Turkish Hizballah has opposed every group that has deviated from
what they believe to be the true path of Islam, including other Islamic
movements and organizations.
Hizballah’s brand of radicalism further derives from ‘the threat
of the Modern Kharijites’.22 The uncompromising principles defend ed by the
Kharijites (Hariciler) were in fact the source of the first rebellion
against the rulers of the Islamic world.23 The Kharijites divided the world
into two parts, one that belonged to true Muslims and another belonging to
nonbelievers; they declared a jihad against all nonbelievers and apostate
Muslims and used any means available to them in order to rid the world from
the infidels.
The ultimate goal of Turkish Hizballah is to overthrow the
constitutional secular regime of Turkey in order to introduce a strict
Islamic state inspired by Iran. Accordingly, a two-fold scheme has been
devised: people are first invited into the group (the term officially used
is davet, to invite) and then, once the group has secured enough supporters,
it can deal with other organizations in the region.24 Besides, as has been
observed in other terrorist groups, Turkish Hizballah foll ows the rigid
rule of ‘you are either with us or against us.’ Those who believe in the
same values and means as Turkish Hizballah side with the group, while those
who do not are against it. If they choose not to change their mind and join
the struggle, opponents of Turkish Hizballah are destroyed by any means
available and necessary. Thus, the ‘unjust others’ targeted by Turkish
Hizballah have included moderate Kurdish businessmen who support the secular
constitutional government, as well as religious individuals who do not
embrace the ideology of the terrorist group.

Organizational Structure

The structure of Turkish Hizballah clearly defines each position by the
specific functions assigned to each individual (see Figure 1). There are
three major levels in the hierarchy of the group: leadership, top council
(Sura) and lower-level (city) council.
Leadership. The first level of the hierarchy of Turkish Hizballah is the
leadership. It is divided between two individuals: the spiritual leader and
the political leader. The former has no power or influence on the
decision-making or the execution of the operations; he does, on the other
hand, have to support the members by means of religious motivation. The
latter has decision-making power regarding the activities of the group: he
can modify or change the directions of general operations. Although
political and spiritual leadership positions are typically not assumed by
one man, Huseyin Velioglu was an exception, since he served as both the
spiritual and the political leader of Ilimciler, the dominant Hizballah
Top council. The second major hierarchical structure of Turkish Hizballah is
the top council, or Sura, a central committee comp osed of high-ranking
political and military members. Important decisions regarding the group are
discussed and made by the Top Council, which controls both the military and
the political wings of Hizballah.
Lower-level council (city-level council). At the local level, that is, in
Turkish cities and towns, the hierarchy of Hizballah is divided between the
military and the political branches, following a pattern similar to the Sura
framework. The military wing is the unit that carries out the armed
operations of the Hizballah in Turkey. The leader of the military wing, who
can be a member of either the Sura or a lower-level council, is responsible
for the execution of the armed operations on behalf of either council he has
membership in. The military wing is composed of unit leaders and operation
teams or units. Within each lower-level council, unit leaders are in charge
of directing military operations carried out by up to three ope ration
teams. They are supervised by the city leader and direct his orders to the
operation units. The latter come last in the chain of command of the
military wing; they are typically composed of two to six people. As a rule
in the Ilimciler group, operation teams are bound by secrecy: members know
only of the members in their own team, not of any members of the group in
general (according to official reports, members of operation team A will
have code names starting with A, for instance, whereas members of a group B
will have code names starting with B).
The political wing, on the other hand, is responsible recruiting new members
and communicating the precepts of Hizballah to persuade the people of Turkey
to establish an Iranian-like regime. The leader of the political wing of
Hizballah is a member of the Sura. High-ranking officials of the political
wing are in charge of public relations and propaganda operations.
Furthermore, Hizballah radicals perform duties of propaganda and recruitment
in units operating in local schools and colleges. Finally, the public unit,
generally organized in and around mosques, as well as in neighborhoods and
villages, has no influential role in the decision-making process regarding
the future operations of the Hizballah.

Contemporary Trends of Turkish Hizballah

Modus Operandi, Victim Selection and Activities

When Turkish Hizballah first came to the attention of the Turkish public, it
was often mistaken for the Lebanese movement of the same name. The major
differences between the two groups, as explained above, were rapidly
clarified and Turkish Hizballah steadily gained notoriety throughout the
1980s and 1990s ‘for the killings of Kurdish rebel sympathizers . . . at the
height of a conflict between Turkish security forces and the separatist
Kurdistan Workers’ Party.’25 Ever since its emergence in Turkey, Hizballah
has been operating in great secrecy. Unlike most terrorist groups, it
typically does not claim responsibility for its actions and usually does not
publish any written propaganda. Turkish Hizballah started out as ‘a mainly
urban phenomenon’ observed in predominantly Kurdish cities of southeastern
Turkey and became particularly known for its distinct ‘style of
assassination carried out in broad daylight, often by pairs of young
assassins using pistol s of Eastern European manufacture’.26
Initially, only suspected members or sympathizers of the Kurdistan Workers’
Party (then PKK) were targeted by Hizballah. Opponents of governmental
policies and separatists ‘were being killed at the rate of two a day . . .
[and] more than a thousand people were killed in street shootings from 1992
to 1995.’27 In the late 1990s, however, Hizballah started killing
secularists, moderate Muslims, representatives of Kurdish religious
charitable foundations and clerics from other religious movements. One of
the first widely publicized incidents attributed to Turkish Hizballah was
the April 1997 grenade attack on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of
Constantinople. The attack, originally attributed to ‘some hard-core group’,
specifically targeted ‘the spiritual heart of hundreds of millions of
Orthodox Christians all over the world’ and occurred in a ‘climate of
extreme nationalism and militarism’.28 In January 2000, police and security
forces became yet another tactical target to boost the motivation of the
group members when Police Chief Gaffar Okkan and five police officers were
assassinated in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeastern Turkey.
Okkan had led a very successful operation to take apart Hizballah factions
the year before and had subsequently been added to the death list of the
A 2000 indictment of high-ranking Ilimciler members actually specified that
the activities of Hizballah in Turkey ‘included shootings, arson, assault
with meat cleavers, kidnapping, beatings and attacks with acid on women not
dressed in an Islamic manner.’29 Kidnapping is indeed one of the methods of
operation favored by Hizballah in Turkey. Targets vary from PKK-KONGRA GEL
members and sympathizers to members of other religious movements;
businessmen have also been kidnapped for ransom, as was discovered during
recent police raids.30 Above all, Turk ish Hizballah has set a gruesome
record for torture in Turkey. The Ilimciler group in particular has resorted
to extremely brutal torture techniques in a methodical and premeditated
manner. Some have argued that Turkish Hizballah is an intrinsically
fundamentalist and terrorist group in which ‘killing and torturing were
perceived of as inherently a part of their mission.’31 Turkish Hizballah
victims are characteristically bound and gagged and subjected to severe
torture prior to being killed. Some tortured bodies are even buried alive
and most corpses have thus far been recovered from shallow graves, concrete
blocks, or coal sheds.32 Such tactics have been used either to merely
inflict pain on the victims or to persuade them of the validity and
righteousness of Hizballah’s struggle in Turkey. Even individuals from the
Menzilciler group and other religious people opposed to Hizballah’s ideology
and tactics have been subjected to torture by the Ilimciler group.
Suspected support from Iran.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution posed the first major threat to the stability of
Turkish-Iranian relations in the twentieth century.41 Regarding terrorism in
particular, the activities of PKK-KONGRA GEL and other right-wing terrorist
groups have increased Turkey’s suspicions about neighboring Iran. For
example, during his interrogation, Abdullah Öcalan alleged that Iran had
served as a mediator between Hizballah and PKK-KONGRA GEL and members of
Hizballah have asserted they received training in Iran.42
In April 1998, the daily newspaper Cumhurriyet claimed to have uncovered
evidence of links between Iran and various radical Islamist groups outlawed
in Turkey, including Hizballah. In an effort to dismiss the allegations, the
Iranian Embassy in Ankara declared: ‘Iran recognizes no group e ntitled
Turkish Hizbollah (party of God) in Turkey’ and also rejected ‘any link with
the Turkish Hizbollah or any other illegal group in Turkey’.43 Even
Hizballah members, in fact, have dismissed those claims as inconceivable and
revolting. However, Cumhurriyet affirmed that the Iranian regime was in
effect the ‘spinal cord’ of Turkish Hizballah and that their accusations
were supported by a ‘statement made by the Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal
In June 2000, as officially reported by the Representative Office of the
National Council of Resistance of Iran [RONCRI], Turkey ‘sent Iran a
detailed dossier drawn up by its security forces on the Turkish Hizbollah, a
fundamentalist organization suspected of carrying out hundreds of
assassinations with support from Iran.’45 Official reports abound regarding
members of Turkish Hizballah receiving weapons, financial support and
training from Iran, notably from the Iranian Secret S ervice.46 Both Iranian
and Turkish officials have vehemently denied that members of Turkish
Hizballah had ever been armed or trained by the Iranian government, but no
investigation has ever been launched to establish the truth. Even
allegations that Turkish Hizballah has formally approved of the Iranian
Revolution have not been verified and the Turkish terrorist group therefore
remains officially unrelated to its Iranian neighbor. Overall, it has been
noted that the relationships entertained by the ‘Iranian theocratic regime
with the neighboring Turkey have never been easy ever since the victory of
the Islamic revolution of 1979.’47 Turkey keeps accusing Iran of not only
helping Turkish Islamist and terrorist groups to create an Islamic Republic,
but also supporting and protecting PKK-KONGRA GEL separatists.

Law Enforcement Response and Nationwide Security Operations

Since the early 1990s, Human Rights Watch and other organizations have
openly criticized the laissez-faire attitude of Turkish authorities towards
the activities of Hizballah in their country. ‘Belated police operations
against Hizbullah often appeared to be carried out for show, rather than as
a determined move against a dangerous illegal armed group. Initially, police
did not move against the more ruthless Hizbullah Ilim group . . . but
against their rival, the Menzil faction, which was reportedly opposed to
attacks on suspected PKK members. . . . The authorities were inexplicably
coy about their successes in combating Hizbullah and declined to respond to
Amnesty International’s repeated requests for detailed information on
prosecutions of alleged Hizbullah members.’48 Consequently, some argue, ‘by
action or omission, the Turkish state bears some responsibility for the
slaughter committed by Hizbullah.’49
Following a c oncentrated effort to bring down the secular branch of Turkish
Hizballah, about four hundred people linked to the terrorist group by local
authorities were arrested in February 1999.50 In addition, weapons and
propaganda material were seized during raids in three southeastern Turkish
provinces. These arrests marked the first stage of a nationwide effort by
Turkish law enforcement to dismantle the country’s Hizballah network. In
early 2000, a ‘crackdown on Turkey’s violent and shadowy Hizbullah network’
gave the formal fight against Islamic fundamentalists ‘a more direct
security dimension’,51 just as Hizballah leaders were attempting to restore
the strength of their group. Hizballah safe houses were raided methodically
and mass graves of victims tortured and executed by Hizballah members were
discovered throughout the country. According to the International Institute
for Strategic Studies,52
The operation launched by the Turkish police . . . agai nst suspected
members of the Turkish Hizbullah has dealt a severe blow to the operational
capabilities of the militant Islamist organisation. There are also widening
splits within the Kurdish nationalist and moderate Islamist movements. These
divisions are causing frustration among younger radicals. Unless the
government acts swiftly to improve socio-economic conditions and ease
cultural and religious restraints, there will continue to be a stream of
ready recruits for Islamic militant groups. It is becoming more likely that
the focus of armed resistance to the Turkish state will shift in the long
term from Kurdish nationalism to religious fundamentalism.
By the fall of 2000, nearly a thousand alleged members of the radical
Islamist group were taken into custody. About twenty thousand pages of
documents were also recovered from computer archives. Up to seventy alleged
high-ranking Sura members and local-level council leaders of the right-wing
terrorist group were apprehended and put on trial, ‘accused of killing 156
people and wounding 80’: most of them faced the death penalty for
‘organizing an armed group that aimed to bring strict Islamic law to
Turkey.’53 The alleged deputy leader of the group, Edip Gumus, declared that
they had ‘fought for Islam’ but not taken part ‘in a single armed attack,’
adding, ‘we intended to make Islam rule the world, not just Turkey. . . . We
did not spend a single bullet aiming to break the state’s constitutional
order. If we had wanted to do that we could have made Turkey a lake of blood
with a group of 20 or 30 people.’54 In January 2001, Turkish authorities
launched another massive security operation following the assassination of
Police Chief Gaffar Okkan and five of his colleagues in Diyarbakir. Okkan,
as mentioned earlier, had led the successful anti-Hizballah campaign in his
province the year before. According to official reports, efforts by
Hizballah to spread out to western Turkish cities have been quelled and the
expansion movement has been stopped.55 In recent years, Hizballah’s actions
seem to have alienated more members and sympathizers and the public has even
renamed the group Hizbul Vahset, or Party of Slaughter.


Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It has been observed in various forms
throughout the world for centuries. In the past few decades, terrorism has
developed internationally with the establishment of global terror networks
and intensified into a seemingly paroxysmal issue that many countries have
been unable to address effectively. Turkey has been struggling with
political violence and terrorism on many fronts for more than three decades.
In effect, the resurgence of fundamentalism and radicalism has caused major
concerns regarding the revival of radicalism, integrism, separatism and
terrorism in and around Turkey. Turkish authorities have had to adapt their
policies and response strategies in order to deal more effectively and
independently with various terrorist groups, from the separatist Kurdistan
Freedom and Democracy Congress (PKK-KONGRA GEL, former PKK) to the radical
fundamentalist Turkish Hizballah. The latter, composed predominantly of
Sunni Muslim Kurds, has been striving to overthrow the constitutional
secular regime of Turkey in order to establish a strict Islamic,
Iran-inspired state. Turkish Hizballah has targeted PKK-KONGRA GEL
sympathizers and suspected members, secularists, moderate Muslims,
representatives of Kurdish religious charitable foundations and even clerics
of different religious faith. Amidst allegations of leniency towards
Hizballah and official support for the terrorist group, Turkish authorities
attempted to topple the secular branch of Hizballah in the late 1990s and
have vowed to dismantle the terrorist network. However, Turkish Hizballah’s
regimented methods and extremely violent actions, as well as its distinctive
brand of radicalism, have baffled and overwhelmed authorities for years. The
radical terrorist group is a contemporary version of the Kharijites, a sect
that deviated from mainstream Islam: their extremism is constantly fueled by
pervasive forms of social alienation, such as widespread illiteracy and
inferior education, as well as the inadequate economic and social
development of certain segments of Turkey’s society.
The relative success of their counter-terrorism approach notwithstanding,
Turkish law enforcement authorities have had to regularly reassess, adapt
and alter some of their tactics in order to fit the constantly evolving
threat posed by the various terrorist groups active in the country. The
outcome of counter-terrorism strategies depends largely upon the ability of
law enforcement authorities and state officials to comprehend the source of
the problem and, accordingly, to tackle it at its roots. With regards to
radical religious fundamentalist groups, it is crucial to correctly define
their goals and ideology instead of merely associating their fanaticism with
Islam in a simplistic and reductionist attempt to justify or explicate their
actions. Thus, these groups must be clearly distinguished from mainstream
Islamic society and the Islamic community as a whole should not be
stigmatized as terrorist or violent.
Having acquired much experience in the fight against terrorism over the last
few decades, Turkey has now established itself as a major actor in the
global war on terror. Indeed, Turkey could play an important role in
countering international terrorism and dismantling global terror networks
worldwide. Over the years, Turkey has acquired massive amounts of
intelligence about terrorist groups and their members active both in Turkey
and in surrounding countries. Sharing that intelligence with the
international law enforcement community would be an invaluable contribution
to the global fight against terrorism. In addition to intelligence, Turkish
law enforcement agencies and security forces could transfer their experience
to law enforcement agencies in other countries by providing training and
education: Turkey could in fact become a training hub for agents in Middle
Eastern as well as other European countries. Co nsidering that many
international terrorist groups have gained importance and even established
networks throughout Europe, sharing intelligence and creating training
programs would most likely provide new opportunities and tools to counter
international terrorism. More importantly, Turkey could become a model
nation for Middle Eastern countries by effectively integrating an Islamic
perspective including tolerance and respect for other religions within a
secular democratic regime.

1. Jonathan R. White, Theologies of Terror: Religion and Domestic Terrorism
(New Orleans, LA: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of
Criminal Justice Sciences 2000).
2. Alexander Flores, ‘Secularism, Integralism and Political Islam’, Middle
East Report 183 (1993) p.32-33.
3. Charles Hirschkind, ‘What is Political Islam?’, Middle East Report 205
(1997) p.12.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., p.14.
6. Bulent Aras and Gokhan Bacik, ‘The Mystery of Turkish Hizballah’, Middle
East Policy 9/2 (2002) p.156.
7. M. Hakan Yavuz, ‘Political Islam and the Welfare (Refah) Party in
Turkey’, Comparative Politics 30/1 (1997) p.63.
8. E.g., Nezihi Cakar, ‘Turkey’s Security Challenges’, Perceptions: Journal
of International Affairs 1/2 (June – Aug. 1996); John L. Esposito, Unholy
war: Terror in the name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press 2002);
Alexander Flores, ‘Secular ism, Integralism and Political Islam’, Middle
East Report 183 (1993) pp.32-38; Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of
God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press 2000); Masoud Kazemzadeh, ‘Teaching the Politics of Islamic
Fundamentalism’, Political Science and Politics 31/10 (1998) pp.52-59; Heinz
Kramer, A Changing Turkey: The Challenge to Europe and the United States
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press 2000); Sabri Sayari and Bruce
Hoffman, Urbanization and Insurgency: The Turkish Case, 1976-1980 (Santa
Monica, CA: RAND Corporation 1991).
9. Sometimes also referred to as the Kurdistan Labor Party or the
Mesopotamian Army.
10. Dogu Ergil, ‘Suicide Terrorism in Turkey: The Workers’ Party of
Kurdistan’, in Anti-Defamation League (Ed.), Countering suicide terrorism
(New York: Anti-Defamation League 2002) pp.109-133.
11. Ibid., p.118.
12. The Party of God is als o known as: Hizbullah; Hizbollah; Hezbollah;
Hezballah; Hizbu’llah; Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War); Islamic Jihad
Organization; Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine; Ansar al-Allah,
Ansar Allah or Ansarollah (Followers of God, Partisans of God, or God’s
Helpers); Al-Muqawanah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Resistance); Organization of
the Oppressed; Organization of the Oppressed on Earth; Revolutionary Justice
Organization; Organization of Right Against Wrong; and Followers of the
Prophet Muhammed.
13. Rex A. Hudson, Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why: The 1999 Government
Report on Profiling Terrorists (Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press 2000); F.
Stephen Larrabee and Ian O. Lesser, Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of
Uncertainty (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation 2003); Chris Morris,
‘Turkey’s Muslims Pray for Peace’, BBC News (Jan. 2000)
14. The term Hizballah was not coined in the early 1980s. In fact, it is a
Qur’anic reference to the perpetual conflict between the true believers and
the infidels of the Hizbasheitan, the party of the devil. These infidels
were pagans; today, the party of the devil is composed of the heretics
belonging to the western culture and Judaism. Hence, the teachings dictate
that if Muslims are the victims of a worldwide conspiracy, they must belong
to both Hizballah and Jundalla (the Army of God). This explains why
religious fundamentalist groups are characteristically semi-military
organizations whose members are viewed as soldiers fighting a holy war
through various forms of terrorist activities.
15. E.g., Aras and Bacik (note 6); Human Rights Watch, What is Turkey’s
Hizbullah? (Feb. 2000); Hurriyet, Hizbullahin Dunu Bugunu
[Hizballah Yesterday and Today] (2000); Mats Wärn, Staying the course:
The "Lebanonization" of Hizbullah (1999) < href="http://almashriq.hiof.no16/">
16. United States Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism (2001)
17. Larrabee and Lesser (note 13) p.37.
18. Taha Akyol, Hizbul Cahil [Party of Illiterate] (2000); Justus Leicht, Political and Social Dimensions
of the Turkish Financial Crisis (2001)
19. See Aras and Bacik (note 6).
20. See Human Rights Watch (note 15).
21. Aras and Bacik (note 6) p.7.
22. Michael O’Brien, The Threat of the Modern Kharijites (London: Paper
presented at the Meeting of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense
Studies 2002).
23. Taha Akyol, Hariciler ve Hizbullah [Kharijites and Hizballah] (Istanbul,
Turkey: Dogan Yayincilik Publications 2000); Department of Religious
Affairs, Bulletin (2000)
24. See Aras and Bacik (note 6).
25. Reuters, Alleged Turkish Rebels Say They Fought for Islam (2000)
26. See Human Rights Watch (note 15).
27. Ibid.
28. Athens News Agency, Grenade Attack on Ecumenical Patriarchate Widely
Condemned (1997)
29. Chris Morris, ‘Islamic Militants on Trial in Turkey’, BBC News (July
30. See Hurriyet (note 15).
31. See Aras and Bacik (note 6).
32. E.g., Chris Morris, ‘Turkey’s Muslims Pray for Peace’, BBC News (Jan.
2000); Chris Morris, ‘More Bodies Found in Hezbollah
Probe’, BBC News (Jan. 2000); Chris Morris, ‘Islamic
Militants on Trial in Turk ey’, BBC News (July 2000)
33. See Human Rights Watch (note 15).
34. Ibid.
35. Ibid.
36. Larrabee and Lesser (note 13) p.37.
37. Dorian Jones, Hizbollah leaves trail of horror in Turkey (2000)
38. Ibid.
39. Chris Morris, ‘More Bodies Found in Hezbollah Probe’, BBC News (Jan.
2000) <>
40. Chris Morris, ‘Turkish Hezbollah: "No State Links"’, BBC News (Jan.
41. E.g., John Calabrese, ‘Turkey and Iran: Limits of a Stable
Relationship’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 25/1 (1998)
pp.75-94; Emmanuel Sivan, ‘Sunni Radicalism in the Middle East and the
Iranian Revolution’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 21/1
(1989) pp.1-30.
42. Ely Karmon, The Demise of Radical Islam in Turkey (1999)
<>; Milliyet, Hizbullah Devlete Sizdi [Hizballah Leak to
the State] (1999)
43. Iran News, Iran Dismisses Link with Any Illegal Group in Turkey (1998)
44. See Reuters (note 25).
45. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran,
Brief on Iran: Absence of Turkish President Overshadows Regional Summit in
Iran (2000) <>
46. E.g., Calabrese (note 41); Chris Morris, ‘Istanbul Police in Islamist
Shootout’, BBC News (Jan. 2000); Representative Office
of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (note 45).
47. Payame Azadi, Iran Accused of Killing Pro minent Turkish Journalist
(2000) <>
48. See Human Rights Watch (note 15).
49. Ibid.
50. Chris Morris, ‘Turkish Police Seize 400 Islamists’, BBC News (March
51. Larrabee and Lesser (note 13) p.37.
52. International Institute for Strategic Studies, ‘Turkey’s Divided
Islamists’, IISS Strategic Comments 6/3 (2000)
53. See Reuters (note 25).
54. Ibid.
55. Chris Morris, ‘Turks Pursue Kurds Inside Northern Iraq’, Guardian
Unlimited (April 2000); Chris Morris, ‘Turkey
Launches Huge Security Sweep’, BBC News (Jan. 2001)
Originally published on Wednesday , 01 December 2004.
Republished 18 April 2007
By Süleyman Özören (University of North Texas & Cécile Van de Voorde,
University of South Florida)

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