ANALYSIS - PKK propaganda and misinformation in Europe

There should be no doubt that the PKK is a terrorist organization, as cruel, violent, and criminal as Daesh/ISIS

Dr. Valeria Giannotta   | 14.06.2022
ANALYSIS - PKK propaganda and misinformation in Europe

The writer is an Italian academic and expert on political science and international relations. She is the scientific director of the Observatory in Türkiye by CeSPI.


The list of terrorist organizations recognized by the EU has recently been updated and, once again, the PKK is included. Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that there is widespread benevolence and tolerance in some European circles toward this terrorist organization.

Terror lists and double standards

After 9/11 and following the wave of criminal acts that hit the West, including Europe, the EU adopted various counterterrorism measures, all of which hinge on a list of individuals, groups, and entities involved in terrorist acts and are subject to restrictive measures as a result. According to international law, the term terrorism indicates "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Hence, aiming to ensure effectiveness, and stricter coordination among member states in the fight against terrorism, the EU's list is regularly reviewed and updated every six months at the latest.

The European Council states: "Although responsibility for combating crime and safeguarding security primarily lies with the member states, recent years' terrorist attacks have shown that this is a common responsibility which they must shoulder together. The EU contributes to protecting its citizens by acting as the main forum for cooperation and coordination among member states." In this framework, particular attention has been paid to "jihadist" terrorist groups, which have hit Europe dramatically. Thus, the EU has been "actively committed to applying its sanctions to Daesh/ISIS and al-Qaeda and persons and entities associated with or supporting them."

Much effort has been invested in combatting these groups. However, among the listed terrorist organizations there is the PKK, also known as "KADEK" and "KONGRA-GEL" and its organizational branches, such as the TAK and DHKP-C.

PKK is terrorist organization very much like Daesh/ISIS

The US State Department makes the same references to the PKK and its sister groups and clearly states that they are designated foreign terrorist organizations. There is a clear and formal consensus on the essence and danger of those actors from an epistemological standpoint.

As a result, there should be no doubt that the PKK is a terrorist organization, as cruel, violent, and criminal as Daesh/ISIS. Nevertheless, public perception and widespread sympathy appear to be moving in the opposite direction, with the goal of delegitimizing not only the danger but also the application of international legal principles, all to the detriment of a coherent elaboration of effective common anti-terrorism measures.

Some EU countries support PKK

The benevolent propaganda enjoyed by the PKK, which in any case over the years has carried out a bloody campaign in Türkiye and beyond, claiming over 60,000 victims, behind some labels praising "peace, democracy and solidarity" spreads distorted information on this phenomenon. It is a sort of gas-lighting technique pivoting on well-defined ideological support, as well as on an evident lack of knowledge of facts and history, as well as mistrust towards Türkiye as a sovereign state and its fight against the violent separatist actions threatening its territorial integrity.

In fact, some media and political circles, more or less consciously, are complicit. Indeed, there is clear evidence of the logistical and organizational support granted by some EU countries to the PKK. Members of the terror group find shelter and live comfortably, sometimes serving as spokespersons of humanitarian and philanthropic associations, thus enjoying certain public credibility in Europe.

This is something that European leaders are well aware of. Following a German intelligence report on the PKK's activities in that country, the statements of Thomas Haldenwang, the head of the German domestic intelligence agency, are noteworthy. He said: "The PKK is organizing various fundraising campaigns in Germany, and then using this money to finance terror attacks in Türkiye. The PKK sees Germany as a place to rest and retreat. They are trying to establish political influence here."

Misinformation and manipulation about PKK are widespread

Furthermore, existing evidence of logistical and armed support contradicts the assumptions of the fight against terrorism as the EU conceives it. Moreover, the same level of benevolence is granted to those European foreign fighters joining the PKK/PYD, who are portrayed at home as "brave heroes fighting for a noble ideal." This attitude and misperception lay a big paradox since such tolerance would be unthinkable towards Daesh/ISIS and its foreign fighters.

Such misinformation and manipulation are symptoms of a discretionary and double-standard approach to addressing "terrorism" and "terrorist threats." While the Western and European commitment in the fight against "jihadist terrorism" is strenuous, public condemnations against PKK and its criminal actions are increasingly residual. Moreover, such benevolence contributes to widening and further structuring the PKK's margin of maneuvers.

Ideology vs reality

According to the great scholar and philosopher Hannah Arendt, there is "a huge gap between the image created by man and the reality." That is the flaw in any dogmatic or biased ideology or approach. Indeed, behind the PKK's misperception and distorted image, there are ideological factors making rounds in some far-left circles and bias towards Türkiye.

The Turkish stance against the PKK is not a political struggle against a traditional opposition. Instead, it is a fight against a terrorist organization with separatist aims. Based on this assumption, any state structured around the principle of sovereignty, inviolability, and unity of its territory would implement defensive and preventive policies such as Türkiye, which conversely is very often subjected to criticism and lack of understanding by those partners accommodating PKK rhetoric. In other words, some European states almost automatically make a distinction in assessing the degree of danger of the PKK and Daesh/ISIS, with the former portrayed as a "secular," "peaceful," and "democratic" project.

As this attitude inevitably exacerbates the double standards on issues of primary importance referring to security and stability, it would no longer be sustainable. On the one hand, it is an unfair approach toward Türkiye and its legitimate national interest. On the other, it contradicts the European postulates of a common and joint effort against threats and cooperation with partners. Thus, in the face of so much evidence and ambiguity, the time has come to think and act coherently and pragmatically, disregarding any distinction and goodwill toward enemies and terrorists.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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