By Humeyra Atilgan Buyukovali and Burcu Arik
The PKK terrorist group has adopted a ‘franchising strategy’ in the region to survive and maintain influence, according to a new report on terrorism.
"The PKK, recognized as an international terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU, has undergone a significant and yet little understood evolution in terms of both ideology and organizational structure," read the report released Wednesday by the research center operating under the Turkish Police Academy.
The International Center for Terrorism and Security Studies’ (UTGAM) report titled "PKK's Regional Franchise of Terror" mainly focuses on the strategies of the terrorist organization and its franchises in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, as well as the West’s support to them.
Omer Aslan, an expert from UTGAM on international terrorism and security, said: "PKK was founded as a classical top-down organization." However, he added that like Al-Qaeda "PKK has established regional franchises such as PYD, YPG, and others".
Aslan said such a franchising strategy "allowed PKK to expand its global reach and continue to survive".
"PKK is like an umbrella organization," he said adding, PYD and YPG in Syria, as well as PJAK in Iran, and other marginal/revolutionary leftist terrorist groups in Turkey were "all PKK-linked terror groups".
He said another such franchise was TAK (Teyrebazen Azadiya Kurdistan or Kurdistan Freedom Falcons), which was founded in 2004 and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since 2006 in Turkey -- including the most recent attacks in Istanbul and Ankara in 2016.
The report said: "Since TAK has concentrated its activities in urban areas, it has given the PKK an opportunity to deny responsibility for the civilian casualties caused by the attacks that would have otherwise led to a loss of credibility in the eyes of the general public as well as among its own sympathizers..."
Terrorists themselves, the report said, acknowledged no difference in the PKK, the PYD, the YPG, or the PJAK.
"Although the PKK has become an umbrella organization with a more complex organizational structure, its core features as a terrorist organization remained the same," he added.
West’s support to PKK's franchising system
Prof. Birol Akgun, head of the International Relations Department at Ankara-based Yildirim Beyazit University, said the Western countries did not want to accept PKK as dangerous as al-Qaeda.
"They consider terrorist organizations selectively," he said, adding "to be selective on terrorism is dangerous".
The report warned the Western countries "by supporting the PKK’s franchising system" were allowing the terrorist organization to stretch its network as wide as possible.
"It should not be forgotten that the PKK has long been well-connected to extreme leftist circles in Europe," it noted.
Akgun said PKK's franchising strategy was now seeking to take control of the region "by setting up a transnational network".
He also pointed out that "terror groups learn from each other" and "Each replicates tactics from one another".
Sule Toktas, professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Istanbul-based Kadir Has University, stressed the significance of the report and said: "This is the first report which incorporated the idea of PKK franchising."
"It grasps the background of revolt and provides evidence of historical events like the ones in 1999, 2004, and 2010 or what happened after the Arab Spring and what is happening now," she said.
According to the report, PKK gradually reinvented itself after its so-called leader Abdullah Ocalan’s capture in 1999 and therefore, underwent a neglected or ignored process of organizational restructuring.
Following a five-year unilateral ceasefire, PKK resumed its armed conflict in 2004, when the group declared an end to the ceasefire.
In 2010, the group's insurgency entered a new era as the organization intensified and broadened its campaign of violence both in the cities and the countryside.
More than 1,200 people -- including security force personnel and civilians -- have lost their lives since the terrorist group resumed its decades-old armed campaign in July 2015.
Professor Toktas said the PKK had two turning points in its history -- the imprisonment of Ocalan in 1999 and the Arab Spring.