The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) is a militant Marxist group which is based in Turkey and seeks to establish a socialist state through a campaign of armed struggle. The significance of the DHKP-C’s “party-front” structure can be explained by its dual approach; whilst its “Party” represents the group politically, the “Front” stands for the group's militant actions. Since its establishment in 1978, it has conducted an insurgency against the Turkish government and has since been designated as a terrorist organisation. The DHKP-C is predominantly based in Istanbul and mostly recruits its members from the working class of the city (1).
History & Foundations
The group was formed in 1978, originally under the name Devrimci Sol ('Revolutionary Left'), until it adopted its current name, DHKP-C, in 1994. This name change came about after a split in an originally-larger group called Dev-Yol ('Revolutionary Path') who – whilst not exactly being a peaceful organisation – did not class themselves as militants. The few attacks committed by Dev-Yol generally targeted Turkish nationalist groups such as the “Grey Wolves'', as opposed to attacking the apparatus of the Turkish state such as the military/police or the judiciary/government. This is what eventually caused the split (3).
The DHKP-C began recruiting from schools and colleges within Istanbul’s working class neighbourhoods. Still under the name Devrimci Sol, its first assassination was carried out on the 27th of May 1980 against Turkish nationalist politician Gün Sazak. That same year they assassinated former Turkish prime minister Nihat Erim (6).
The DHKP-C’s tactics have changed and included more targets over the years. Initially, the DHKP-C earned notoriety through its assassinations in the 1980s, in which high-profile members of the former Turkish military and government were killed. Throughout the 1980s, attacks were carried out against US and NATO targets in Turkey. DHKP-C claimed responsibility for bombings to protest the allied involvement in the Gulf War, claiming it as “western imperialism” (3).
Objectives & Ideology
The primary objective of the DHKP-C is to overthrow the Turkish government and to form a Turkish socialist state. Its other objectives or targets include attacks on NATO and US forces, fighting against the gentrification of urban working class neighbourhoods, and fighting against drug gangs. The group is also fighting for extensive Turkish prison reform – in particular against a special type of high security prison used in Turkey known as “F-Type prisons”, in which inmates are held in complete isolation for prolonged periods of time (5).
From the 1990s onwards, the DHKP-C has also adopted a staunchly Anti-NATO and Anti-US ideology. They have expanded their objectives to fighting foreign interests in Turkey and they subsequently began carrying out assassinations of US officials. In a statement from their news bulletin, they stated "We repudiate all agreements that strengthen imperialism. We stand against the whole economic, political and military presence of imperialism in our country. We want the US and NATO bases to be closed and all the bilateral agreements to be annulled" (3).
Approach to Resistance
The DHKP-C uses a range of tactics, ranging from hunger strikes, assassinations, or even suicide bombings to achieve their aims. Throughout the early 1980s, it carried out a number of assassinations, usually on retired or former military and government staff. Former Turkish Prime Minister Nihat Erim, for example, was assassinated by a DHKP-C attack in 1980 (4).
Due to the Turkish military coup in 1980, many of the group's members have either been killed, arrested or have fled to Western Europe. This meant that the group was relatively inactive throughout the mid to late 1980s. In October 1989, two of its leaders – Dursun Karatas and Bedri Yagan – escaped from prison and the group began to get noticeably more active in the following months.
In the 1990s, the group began attacking the US military, its diplomatic personnel, and its facilities in what they perceived as methods of American imperialism during the Gulf War in which they viewed their country as being used as a US puppet to aid capitalist imperialism. In addition, more than 20 US and NATO facilities within Turkey were bombed in the 1990s (3).
The group is also known for using sophisticated surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques which made it difficult for law enforcement and Turkish authorities to arrest its members. Due to their extensive support networks in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, they are able to move members easily in and out of Turkey and Western Europe to evade capture. The group often uses forged documents and elaborate disguises such as when three members of the DHKP-C walked into the offices of a US business based in Istanbul dressed as policemen and asked to speak to a manager – they then brought him into an office and shot him (3).
In the 2000s, the group began using hunger strikes to protest in favour of a prison reform. The Turkish state had brought in what it called F-Type Prisons, which were high security prisons in which prisoners were completely isolated from each other. To protest these new penitentiaries, the DHKP-C initiated multiple hunger strikes over the years, in which more than 60 people have died.
In 2001, the group started integrating suicide bombings within their approach to armed struggle. A DHKP-C suicide bomber killed 3 people (including a Turkish police officer) in Istanbul that same year. Multiple more suicide bombings have occurred over the years, including one outside the US Embassy in Ankara that killed the bomber and a security guard (2).
After the DHKP-C attacked the US consulate in Istanbul in 2015, one of the attackers – Hatice Asik – was captured. This attack was coordinated alongside three other simultaneous operations; while two of them targeted police stations, one targeted a military helicopter. A couple of hours later, a gunman opened fire on Turkish police officers, killing one and injuring ten. Two DHKP-C men were also killed. (7)
Relations & Alliances
The DHKP-C is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the United States, and Turkey. Despite claims made by the Turkish Government, they have no confirmed links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish Marxist guerilla group which has been running an insurgency against Turkey since 1978.
The DHKP-C is funded primarily through fundraising campaigns that it organises within its own communities. It is believed that they also earn funds through extortion and robberies, although the group denies these allegations and instead claims that other unaffiliated actors use their name when engaging in these acts (3).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - 2013, “Profile: Turkeys Marxist DHKP-C” BBC News https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21296893 (2) - 2015, Lowen, Mark. “Turkish Marxist group claims Istanbul suicide bombing” BBC News
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30707871 (3) - 2000, Kenville, Michael. “Devrimci Sol: A study of Turkey's revolutionary left and its impact on United States interests, 1968-1999”
(4) - 2015, Bilginsoy, Zeynep. Mullen, Jefro. Botelho, Greg. “Trio of attacks in Turkey target police, U.S. Consulate” CNN
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/10/europe/turkey-istanbul-violence (5) - 2017, McHugh Richard. “Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party/Front” Brittanica
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Revolutionary-Peoples-Liberation-Party-Front (6) - 2013, Khazan, Olga “Turkey Bombing: What is the DHKP-C terrorist group?” Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/02/01/turkey-bombing-what-is-the-dhkpc-terrorist-group/ (7) - 2008, Jenkins, Gareth. “Turkish Police foil alleged DHKP-C attack on Erdogan, U.S. Companies.” Jamestown Foundation