The Label Terrorist: PKK in Turkey
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
There is a 5 years embargo on the thesis approved by my supervisor and the school due to the sensitivity of the research which could potentially put individuals at risk should the research become available.
This thesis examines how the ‘terrorist’ label affects those that are labelled by this designation, particularly with reference on a subsequent choice to use violence in the context of an ethno-nationalist conflict. Drawing on the PKK as a case study, the study asks: what effect did the labelling of the PKK as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the Turkish government have on the use of violence by Kurds in the Turkish-Kurdish ethno-nationalist conflict? The invocation of the label terrorist in any conflict often means both the labeller and the labelled are predisposed to use violence. This study argues that this process of labelling leads the labeller and the labelled to frame one another as an existential threat. To date, the effects of using the label ‘terrorist’ in an ethno-nationalist conflict context remain relatively understudied in both social and political sciences. The period under analysis extends from 1992 to 2015, corresponding to the period during which the Turkish government continuously designated the PKK as ‘terrorist’. In conflict discourse, belligerents use demeaning labels against each other to gather support, legitimacy or simply to increase combatants’ morale. The study argues that the label terrorist is a constituent element of the conflict. The Turkish government uses the label terrorist as a tool to securitise the Kurdish-Turkish ethno-nationalist conflict. The Turkish government’s labelling of the PKK as ‘terrorist’ places the Kurdish issue in the broader framework of securitisation, a theory in International Relations. While securitising the Kurdish issue has bestowed more powers to the Turkish government to combat violence described as ‘terrorist’, the resolution of the ethno-nationalist conflict became increasingly more complex leading to protracted waves of violence. Analysing data collected through semi-structured qualitative interviews with Kurds from Turkey, the study reveals that the impact of the label terrorist is far more complex than previously assumed in the existing academic literature. The specific effects of the label terrorist on any given conflict, however, are the subject of an empirical question to be settled through rigorous research. Drawing on the Labelling Theory of Deviance fathered by Howard S. Becker and complemented by discourse analysis, this study finds that the application of the label terrorist against the PKK increases the perception of victimization among its wider Kurdish community. Secondly, the research demonstrates that the invocation of the label terrorist against the PKK places the group’s actors and sympathizers in a situation that makes it harder for them to engage in peaceful means of resolving the conflict. The interplay between these two consequential effects of victimisation and political exclusion leads to the conclusion that there is an indirect relationship between designating an ethno-nationalist armed group ‘terrorist’ and the choice to use violence.
PhD in Ethno-Political Studies