Kurdish Hezbollah (also known as ‘Turkish Hezbollah’ or sometimes simply ‘Hizbullah’) is an armed Sunni Islamist group formed in 1993, just outside of Batman, Turkey (4). The group was founded by Hüseyin Velioğlu following a violent rift in the Union Movement after the 1980 Turkish Coup (4). Their main goal was to destroy the militant leftist group PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and topple the current Turkish government in an attempt to instate their brand of Islamist rule. During the peak of their operation, Hizbullah members carried out assassinations and killings of both combatants and civilians, which brought fear to the communities of southeastern Turkey.
History & Foundations
Stemming from the once-peaceful Union Movement, Hizbullah finds its roots in the Islamist movement that formed after the 1980 Turkish Coup (4). The Union Movement was headed by Hüseyin Velioğlu and Fidan Gündör, until ideological disagreements led to the fracture of the group into the Menzil and İlim factions (4). The İlim sect, headed by Velioğlu, stressed the importance of immediate armed revolution against leftist militia groups and the secularist government in charge (1). Hizbullah saw the rising influence of leftist groups, specifically the PKK as a threat to Turkish nationalism, and targeted its members in assasination campaigns.
Objectives & Ideology
Since its earliest inception in the 1980s, Kurdish Hezbollah has maintained their commitment to toppling the secularist Turkish regime and replacing it with an Islamist governmental system (2). After being unable to achieve this goal through democratic means, the group took violent action to accomplish this objective. In connection to their extremist religious belief system, the group adopts a violent use of force to defeat societal outcomes of secularism, such as women’s rights and the right to drink alcohol. As an extension of their radical nationalist belief system, they also view leftist organizations as a threat to their goals, and have taken great lengths to fight their influence.
Despite their humble roots, Hezbollah is known for their assassinations and urban prowess in their war against their enemies. The group was known for their trademarked “three shot assassination” technique, which they employed (often in broad daylight). This method was trademarked to them after the assassination of a Turkish-Armenian journalist – Hrant Dink – in 2007. While many of its early members were inexperienced college-aged men, the group received crucial support from the Turkish military and police in the form of direct training and armament (3). The military had been engaged against the PKK, and used Hizbullah as an extension of their forces in order to defeat the Marxist enemy. In return, Hizbullah offered their intelligence on the PKK to military officials, which created a mutually-beneficial relationship between the two parties (1). While never formally admitted by either side, many Hizbullah fighters have also stated that they received direct military training from the Iranian Secret Service (4).
Approach to Resistance
After the fracture of the Union Movement, Velioğlu’s group began an immediate attack against its enemies. Their assassination campaigns that targeted both military and civilian individuals brought a sense of fear to the communites in southeastern Anatolia. At the conflict’s peak in 1992, PKK members “were being killed at the rate of two a day” (3). Initially the group only targeted PKK members, but soon broadened their focus to anyone that did not align with them. Hizbullah was known for their use of axe attacks on those they deemed immoral, and these assaults were done in public places with the intention of creating terror amongst the population (1). Other victims were found buried alive or hacked to pieces with meat cleavers. Local establishments such as liquor stores and brothels were firebombed and their owners shot because of their secular values (5). Outside of PKK affiliates, journalists and those that spoke out about their connections to Iran and the Turkish military were their primary targets (6). Like most extremist groups, Hizbullah attempted to control the populace through fear and such methods of killing were their greatest tool.
Alliances & International Relations
While operating without any official alliances, Hizbullah had connections to military actors both in Turkey and internationally. Despite often targeting police in their violent campaign, they received training from officers in their fight against the PKK (1). The Turkish military viewed Hizbullah as a valuable asset in their own fight against the marxist militants, and thus offered key support in the form of armament and intelligence aid. 2000'e Doğru, a weekly newspaper in Turkey, reported that Hizbullah fighters were trained under Turkey’s Rapid Deployment Force, which trained them in specialized warfare methods (6). Through their connections to Eastern Europe, the military was able to supply Hizbullah with pistols sourced from the region (6). The group also found support from certain sectors of the Iranian military, specifically the Iranian Secret Service (4). While Iran denies these allegations, official reports document their support in the form of arms and funding towards Hizbullah.
Works Cited (Alphabetised Chicago-style)
(1) - GÜNEY YILMAZ, İSMAİL. “[BIAMAG] : İSMAİL Güney Yilmaz'dan: Hizbullah: Tebliğ, Cemaat, Cihat.” Bianet, April 13, 2013. https://bianet.org/biamag/toplum/145800-hizbullah-teblig-cemaat-cihat.
(2) - Kurt, Mehmet. Kurdish Hizbullah in Turkey: Islamism, Violence and the State. London: Pluto Press, 2017.
(3) - “Refugee Review Tribunal Australia RRT Research Response - Refworld.” refworld. UN Refugee Agency, January 18, 2006. https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4b6fe30f0.pdf
(4) - “Turkish Hezbollah.” GFATF, April 22, 2020. https://www.gfatf.org/archives/turkish-hezbollah/.
(5) - “What Is Turkey's Hizbullah?” Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2021. https://www.hrw.org/report/2000/02/16/what-turkeys-hizbullah/human-rights-watch-backgrounder.
(6) - YAŞAROĞLU, TUĞBA. “Transformation of Kurdish Islamists: The Case of Free-Cause Party of Turkey.” www.kurdolojiakademi.net, February 2015. https://www.kurdolojiakademi.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Hudaparin-Donusumu.pdf.