What happened on 15 August 1984?
15 August 1984 is a historical turning point and marks the beginning of the military struggle of the Kurdish freedom movement, which today is one of the most modern guerrilla movements and a mass popular movement.
From the beginning, the Turkish Republic was founded on the denial, assimilation and annihilation of the Kurdish people. Tens of thousands of Kurds were murdered by poison gas in Dersim in 1938, and countless children were resettled and forcibly assimilated. The uprisings of Şêx Seîd, Agirî and Koçgiri were also drowned in blood. Thus, for a long time, a sepulchral peace prevailed in Turkish-occupied Northern Kurdistan. By the middle of the 20th century, the colonial powers were certain that Kurdistan would never rise again. In the early 1970s, however, a group of young people initiated by Abdullah Öcalan stepped onto the stage of history and revived the Kurdish people's hope for freedom. Then, on 27 November 1978, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was founded in the village of Fis near Lice. Due to the attacks of fascists and big landowners, the founding members were already experienced in armed self-defence. On 18 May 1977, the members of the group had resorted to the method of armed struggle for the first time to avenge the murder of Haki Karer, one of the leading cadres of the group. The armed struggle became an indispensable method in anti-fascist actions against the fascists, big landowners and the colonial state that emerged in the Hilvan and Siverek districts of Urfa between 1978 and 1980.
In order to transform the armed resistance into a professional guerrilla war and a liberation army, PKK cadres and militants went to the Palestine-Lebanon region in the summer of 1979, where they received ideological, military and political training under the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan. Kemal Pir, who had taken over the military leadership of the movement, returned to Northern Kurdistan after his guerrilla training. However, he was captured by the Turkish state in autumn 1980. This and the military coup of 12 September 1980 led to a delay in the beginning of the actual armed struggle.
New phase begins with the second party congress
During this period, the PKK cadres and fighters continued their ideological, political and military training in Lebanon. After the second congress of the PKK in the summer of 1982, the groups that were to take up the armed struggle left in September to settle in prepared camps on the borders of Southern and Eastern Kurdistan.
However, the "return to the country" turned out to be very difficult and laborious. On 24 November 1982, on their way back to Kurdistan, eight fighters of the group led by Şahin Kılavuz died in a flood on the Hêzil River. After their difficult journey, the guerrilla groups reached their positions at the end of 1982 and camps were set up on the steep cliffs on both sides of Zap in early 1983.
Mehmet Karasungur martyred
In April 1983, the PKK's field command met in Lolan to discuss the organisation of military and social resistance against the coup regime of 12 September. The most important question was the following: How, when and where should the armed struggle be launched? It was envisaged that a preparatory unit would be deployed in the area extending to the border line of Zagros, Botan and Serhat. The unit started its work in the vast area. According to the guerrilla commanders, the priority was to establish a guerrilla front stretching from Şırnak through Eruh, Baykan, Kozluk to Sason.
In those days, when the days were counting down for the start of the guerrilla war and the guerrillas were implementing their preparations with very limited means and under difficult conditions, another unfortunate event shook the PKK. Mehmet Karasungur, a member of the PKK Central Committee and the Central Military Committee, was killed together with his comrade Ibrahim Bilgin in an Iraqi Communist Party camp in Qandil, where he had gone for a meeting with organisations from Southern Kurdistan. This event again delayed the start of the armed struggle planned for summer 1983.
Foundation of the HRK
The Central Committee elected by the 2nd Congress of the PKK in early 1984 was transformed into a "Central Preparatory Committee" for one year. It held its second meeting in Damascus. At this meeting, which was attended by Abdullah Öcalan and seven members of the Central Committee, it was decided to expand the freedom struggle and to start the guerrilla war as soon as possible.
In April of the same year, a large meeting was organised in the Çiyayê Reş area of Zap, attended by around 150 PKK cadres. At this meeting, where the results of the Central Committee meeting were announced, it was decided to prepare the armed struggle in Uludere and Çukurca and tasks were distributed accordingly. However, the efforts made in Çukurca were not sufficient. As a result, Abdullah Öcalan shared a draft perspective on the way forward.
On the basis of the perspective presented by Abdullah Öcalan, six members of the PKK Central Committee met in the Xinêre area on 16-18 June 1984. At this meeting, the foundation of the Kurdistan Liberation Forces (Hêzên Rizgariya Kurdistan, HRK), which would organise the guerrilla war, was decided. The decisions of the six leading cadres of the PKK, who were in the mountains of Kurdistan at that time, were transferred to the extended group of cadres in the Şikefta Birîndara area in mid-July.
At this historic meeting in Şikefta Birîndara, the founding declaration of the HRK was prepared and the places and dates of the actions were set. According to this, the guerrillas were to march simultaneously into Eruh, Şemdinli and Çatak on 15 August 1984. The armed propaganda unit under the command of Mahsum Korkmaz (Egîd) was to march into Eruh and the armed propaganda unit under the command of Abdullah Ekinci (Gözlüklü Ali) into Şemdinli. A guerrilla unit under the command of Egîd was to complete the unfinished action in Çatak a year later, on the anniversary of the 14 July resistance.
Eruh action makes history
In the middle of July 1984, the guerrilla groups left for the regions of Northern Kurdistan. The most difficult task was that of the group in Eruh. Egîd, the commander of the group, described the difficulties in his report as follows: "We could not find a single person in the city centre from whom we could get information. Many of the villages are deeply alienated from our struggle." Moreover, Egîd had serious problems walking long distances due to congenital difficulties. In his diaries, which were later published, Egîd described this situation in a single sentence: "The pain in my knee prevents me from walking", and he hid this discomfort in his feet from many of his friends. Historians would compare Egîd's disability during mountain hikes to Che Guevara's asthma.
Egîd practised with the guerrilla group on a model of Eruh and carried out the final reconnaissance for the attack on 13 August. Even hours before the action, many in the group did not know exactly where to attack. At dawn on 15 August, the group reached the designated point. At dawn, there was still a deep silence in the region. When dawn broke, Egîd pointed to the target, which looked like a dot in the distance. The whole group watched the town with binoculars. Eruh was three kilometres away.
Everything for the action had been calculated down to the smallest detail, even a "plan B" had been prepared. If the plan failed, the members of the group would try to reach a meeting point at the foot of the Çirav mountain. Those who arrived there would wait for their comrades for 1.5 hours at most and then retreat to their bases. In the operation, in which four militiamen and 25 fighters took part, Egîd's tasks were distributed as follows:
Attack unit: Erdal, Selim, Şiyar, Fikret, Musa, Haydar, Azad, Ferhan.
Rocket launcher unit: Haşim, Baran, Keleş (militia).
Defence group: Kazım, Ibrahim (militia).
Command: Egîd and Serdar (Degtyaryov).
The group raiding the casino and the commander's accommodation in the courtyard of the barracks: Bedran, Bijî, Kerim.
Propaganda group in the mosque: Tevfik, Ömer Şoreş.
Poster and acquisition unit: Botan, Cengo, Bozan.
Unit for the interruption of the road from Eruh to Siirt: Hacı, Xalil, Salih.
Unit for the interruption of the road from Eruh to Şırnak: Ali, Cuma, Halil (three militiamen).
At dusk on 15 August 1984, the group set off at around 7.30 pm. It reached Eruh around 9 pm and quickly split into three units. A few minutes later, the first shot rang out, fired at the guard post of the gendarmerie post. A rocket hit the upper floor of the barracks and a few minutes later the two-storey military building fell into the hands of the group. The soldiers panicked. Meanwhile, the "main attack column" stormed the officers' mess.
While the foundation of the HRK was announced over the mosque loudspeaker, the guerrilla fighters controlled the city and destroyed the symbols of the Turkish state. The post office building and the bank were destroyed and the commander's vehicle was set on fire.
The guerrilla group left Eruh around midnight with a wagonload of confiscated material. Everything was loaded onto mules at a bridge at the exit of the town and on 18 August the guerrilla unit safely reached their base again.
The action in Şemdinli under the command of Gözlüklü Ali
At the same time as the action in Eruh, the guerrillas also marched into Şemdinli. Unlike in Eruh, there were fierce clashes with the Turkish army in Şemdinli. Here, the guerrilla fighters under the command of Gözlüklü Ali attacked the police stations and military accommodation. The Turkish army suffered heavy losses. Despite the fierce clashes, the founding of the HRK was also announced in Şemdinli through leaflets.
In an interview with the newspaper Yeni Özgür Politika in 2018, Duran Kalkan, a member of the PKK's Executive Committee, explained the differences between the Eruh and Şemdinli actions as follows: "The action in Şemdinli was not inferior to the action in Eruh by any means. In practice, the actions were very similar. The focus on Eruh is partly due to the command of the units that carried out the actions. Egîd, who led the action in Eruh, was martyred in a battle in Gabar on 28 March 1986. This and his further activity led to a focus on the action in Eruh. The commander of the action in Şemdinli, comrade Gözlüklü Ali (Abdullah Ekinci) also continued to fight courageously in the following period. He was the commander of a guerrilla unit that fought in Hakkari in 84 and advanced to Garzan in 85 and carried out numerous actions."
In the same interview, Duran Kalkan noted that the suicide of Gözlüklü Ali against the backdrop of forces trying to liquidate the movement had caused Şemdinli’s action to fade somewhat into the background. Kalkan explained: "He was a very sensitive and emotional person. He could not withstand the discussions and arguments aimed at dissolving the movement."
An earthquake that lasts 38 years
The PKK's breakthrough on 15 August triggered an earthquake in Ankara. Although the Turkish state tried to cover up the actions in Eruh and Şemdinli, the actions made headlines around the world from the first moment. The BBC, Voice of America and Iranian radio were the first organisations to announce the news of 15 August. The European media said: "They adopted the strategy and tactics of the South American guerrillas", "The Turkish press must not report on it", "The surprise attacks could be the work of PKK fighters known as Apoists", "Their intention is to establish an independent socialist state with Diyarbakir as its capital" and "They choose mountainous areas ideal for guerrilla warfare".
It was not until 18 August 1984 that 15 August reached the Turkish media. While the Milliyet newspaper published a short article on its inside pages with the headline "Separatists attacked two gendarmerie posts and an officers' mess", Hürriyet censored the events of 15 August with the headline "Terrorists who carried out an attack in Eruh and Şemdinli are wanted". In the following days, the Turkish media tried to regain the initiative lost on 15 August with headlines such as "The soldiers are breathing down their necks", "The attackers are surrounded" and "The gendarmerie is on the prowl in Eruh". While these reports were appearing in the Turkish media as if centrally prepared, the head of the military junta, Kenan Evren, announced: "Terrorists who dare to take up arms against the state must be caught immediately and handed over to the iron grip of the Turkish justice system." Evren gave a deadline of 72 hours for this and said, "The looters will learn their lesson." Evren believed that the "29th Kurdish uprising in the history of the republic" would suffer the same end as the 28 others before.
However, the bullets of 15 August led to an awakening throughout Kurdistan. Through this awakening, a guerrilla army was formed within a few years, which included men and women from almost all cities, districts, towns and villages, all denominations and religious communities.
The guerrilla's life span of 72 hours proclaimed by Kenan Evren has so far turned into 38 years. As the American philosopher Dale Carnegi said, "Most important things in the world have been achieved by people who kept trying, even when there seemed to be no hope." In 1984, during one of the darkest years in Kurdistan's history, a group of freedom fighters lit a fire of hope and success where there seemed to be no hope.