Shortly before the 14 May 2023 general elections, the political debate in Türkiye is intensifying. The Free Cause Party’s (Hüda-Par) decision to support President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the People’s Alliance in the elections, as well as the announcement that it will run under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lists, further heightened the public discourse. At the center of these discussions is the direct link between Hüda-Par and the Kurdish Hezbollah, which is notorious in recent Türkiye’s history for its bloody terror acts.
The relationship between Hüda-Par and the Kurdish Hezbollah is questioned by the public for justifiable reasons, but Hüda-Par executives provide mostly evasive responses to questions about this relationship. The Kurdish Hezbollah, which in 2001 assassinated Diyarbakır Police Chief Ali Gaffar Okkan in a bloody ambush involving nearly twenty militants, is in no way regarded as a terrorist organization by Hüda-Par.
To comprehend this stance of Hüda-Par, which is very likely to be represented in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) after being elected from the AKP lists following the 14 May elections, it is necessary to examine the historical evolution and effects of the Kurdish Hezbollah.
The impact of the Iranian Islamic Revolution
Established in a bookstore in Batman in 1979 within a Kurdish-Islamic ideological framework, the illegal organization, which we will now briefly refer to as Hezbollah because we have sufficiently emphasized that it is distinct from Hezbollah in Lebanon, is one of the most enigmatic in the history of the Republic of Türkiye.
It is generally accepted that Hezbollah was founded in 1979, a year that also saw the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a low-intensity civil war with ideological conflicts in Türkiye, the Islamist movements based on Millî Gorus gaining strength, and the illegal PKK, founded the previous year, accelerating its organization. These four key aspects of the political environment in 1979 had an immediate effect on the formation and organization of Hezbollah.
Comparable to the numerous far-left factions that outnumbered them during those years, the Kurdish-Islamists in the region were organized into numerous factions.
Strategies of the PKK and Hezbollah
These factions include the Kurdistan Islamic Party (PIK), Islamic Jama’at, Harekâta İslami, and Fecir. Despite the fact that the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the new winds of Ikhwanism are fueled by the same sources, it is evident that the Islamist groups in question differ, particularly in their use of violence. Despite drawing their inspiration from similar sources, such as the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Ikhwanism (Muslim Brotherhood), it is evident that these Kurdish-Islamist groups are distinct from one another, particularly in their use of violence.
Similar to how the PKK violently suppressed other Kurdish far-left organizations it perceived as rivals and became the sole dominant organization in the region, Hezbollah violently silenced other political Kurdish-Islamist groups and assumed the role of the region’s sole proponent of Kurdish-Islamist ideology.
In terms of leadership, Hezbollah and PKK are broadly similar. Abdullah Öcalan and Hüseyin Velioğlu, the founding leaders of the two illegal organizations, the PKK and Hezbollah, share the same role of despotic and unquestionable leader. Both of them attended the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University for a time.
September 1980 coup
According to Kurdish Hezbollah’s own sources, Velioglu closed himself off from the outside world and read Risale-i Nur Collection (tafsir –exegesis- on the Qur’an written by Said Nursi) during his long break from university. Although the influence of Said Nursi and Sheikh Said, the leader of the first Kurdish-Islamist uprising of the Republic, was instrumental in the formation of Hezbollah, it was not highlighted by the security forces, likely out of a desire to avoid other Islamic groups centered on Said-i Nursi that did not engage in acts of violence and terrorism.
Velioğlu’s intense organizing activity after the military coup of September 12, 1980 in the village mosques and madrasahs based in Batman, with religious scholars, sheikhs known as “seyda” among the Kurds, gave Hezbollah a concrete appearance. During its establishment period, however, the organization witnessed the rapid dissolution of large groups. In these separations, it is understood that disagreements based on the use of violence are effective.
When Velioğlu, who was unable to reach the level of organization he desired in Batman, chose Diyarbakır as the center for these activities in a short time, and then in the incidents of intra-organizational executions and tortured interrogations in the 1990s, it can be said that this first period had psychological effects.
Bloody competition for leadership between the two groups
After Velioglu shifted its center to Diyarbakır, the activities carried out in the bookstore called “Vahdet” in Batman during this period resulted in a two-headed structure, “Ilim” and “Menzil”. Discussions about the timing of the armed struggle and the use of violence led to these two structures accusing each other of being “hypocrites.” It is estimated that close to seventy sympathizers and militants were killed during the conflict between these’ factions, which lasted until 1993.
After the conflicts that concluded with the llim group’s absolute superiority, which excluded theory and emphasized armed struggle, the Menzil group was dissolved, and Velioglu became the sole leader.
According to various sources, the organization’s original name was “Cemaata Ulemayên Islami (Islamic Scholars Community)”, but it was renamed Hezbollah after the slogans at regional weddings that group members attended. Notable in this regard is that collective halay (folk dance) events attended by Hüda-Par supporters are referred to as “Hezbollah Weddings.” Considering that Hüda means Allah in Persian and Kurdish, and Par is the abbreviation for Party, Hüda-Par can be interpreted as Allah Party, or Hezbollah in Arabic.
Cycle of violence
1991 is regarded as the beginning of the conflict between Hezbollah and the PKK. On this date, it appears that the PKK’s murder of the parents of a Hezbollah member in the İdil district of Şırnak was a significant turning point. According to the book “Derin Hizbullah” by journalist Ruşen Çakır, who conducted extensive research on the subject, the senior PKK regional official of Syriac descent, Mihail Bayro, has also been killed by Hezbollah in retaliation.
The struggle for power between the PKK and Hezbollah quickly escalates into a vicious cycle of violence. More than 700 members of both terror organizations, primarily PKK members, were killed between 1991 and 1995.
It is apparent that Hezbollah, which entered into a spiral of intense competition and violence with the PKK in the name of regional dominance, entered into a relationship of use ranging from some centers within the state security forces at the time condoning its organization and actions to protecting and caring for it.
Murders bearing the imprint of Hezbollah
Velioğlu’s extensive organizational archive, which was seized during the Beykoz Operation on January 17, 2000, during which he was killed in an exchange of fire with the police, remains shrouded in mystery as a result of the lack of information shared with the public about it. However, this archive played a significant role in the Hezbollah’s downfall at that time.
Clearly, the strategy for combating terrorism, which began with the tactical silence of observing the Hezbollah-PKK conflict based on the logic of “the enemy of my enemy” and continued with the opening of space and active support, failed. This approach has caused the same damage not only in Turkey, but also in almost any country (USA, France, etc.) with enduring power centers based on this understanding. In order to successfully end the struggle against all types of terrorist elements, it is crucial for the state to remain within the boundaries of the conflict and to employ legitimate-legal means and methods.
During this time period, Hezbollah’s actions involved Soviet-made Tokarev and Makarov automatic pistols. Typically, assassins would approach the victim from behind and fire a shot into the victim’s neck. It was also observed that the individual was attacked with a cleaver from behind. The murder weapons and techniques were a sort of “signature” of the Hezbollah.
Grave houses, torture tapes, hog tie
Hezbollah’s operational focus included not only its ideological opposition to the PKK, but also numerous groups from the Islamist circle with its similar origins.
As an example, consider the murder of İzzettin Yıldırm, the founder of the Zehra Foundation from Islamist Nur movement and Kurdish circles. Dead body of Yıldırım, who was kidnapped from his home in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul on December 29, 1999, was discovered in a home in the Kartal district approximately one month later. According to photos published in the media, the final condition of Yıldırım’s body indicated that he was killed by a method of slow suffocation known as “hog tie.”
Konca Kuriş, known for her Islamist perspective on the women’s rights struggle, was another victim of the Hizbullah that shook public opinion. Kuriş, who was kidnapped in 1998 in a manner similar to that of Yıldırım, was murdered after 38 days of torture, and his body was discovered buried in the basement of a house in Konya 555 days later.
Grave houses, tortured interrogation tapes, executions with a single bullet to the neck, and acts of wounding with cleaver and syringes unearthed in various cities revealed Hezbollah’s extensive ties to terrorism and violence.
In fact, the Kurdish Hezbollah, which was founded in 1979, before the Lebanese Hezbollah, which was founded in 1985, was considered an important opportunity for Tehran within the framework of the “revolution export” policy, which was the lever of the mullah regime with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. State records show that many of Hezbollah’s core cadres traveled directly to Iran for religious and armed training.
During this period, it has been claimed that relations between Iran and Kurdish Hezbollah were conducted through two separate channels: the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards. It has also been noted that some of the organization’s senior figures fell under Iranian influence to the extent that they converted from Sunni to Shiite sect within these connections.
At this point, it is necessary to open a parenthesis about Edip Gümüş, one of the senior officers of the organization who was captured alive together with Cemal Tutar during the Istanbul Beykoz Operation in 2000. Released in 2011 after a judicial reform, Gümüş is known to have fled to Iran immediately. In this respect, it can be said that the relations between Hezbollah and Iran have remained warm in the recent period.
Mustazaf-Der should be placed at the center of the debate on the relationship between Hezbollah and Hüda-Par. The Association for Solidarity with the Mustazafs (Mustazaf-Der), which was founded in 2004 as one of the strategies of the organization’s supporters to improve their image and gain a social base after it was largely crushed by the successful operations of the security forces in the early 2000s, was shut down in 2012 due to its links with Hezbollah.
The concept of “mustazaf”, meaning oppressed, suppressed and exploited, has an important place in the literature of Iran’s mullah regime. During the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a portrait of a revolution in which the ideology of the mustazaf would dominate was drawn, and in this respect, the concept of mustazaf became an important conceptualization of the regime.
The “Mustazaf Islamic Revolution Foundation”, founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and today one of the largest conglomerates in the Middle East, is remarkable in this respect. The choice of the name of Mustazaf-Der, founded by Hezbollah, should not be seen as coincidental in this respect.
The establishment of Hüda-Par in 2012, when Mustazaf-Der was shut down, is a move that had to be made earlier than planned for the organization’s supporters.
“Resolution Process” and Hüda-Par
In 2014, the peak year of the period known as the “resolution process to the Kurdish problem” in the public opinion and called the “democratic opening” by the AKP, Hüda-Par entered the local elections for the first time. Although this result was disappointing for Hüda-Par, which received close to 95 thousand votes across Turkey, it is noteworthy in terms of showing that it was able to mobilize a certain mass at the ballot box.
The tension between Hezbollah and the PKK, two elements that have increased their effectiveness in the region due to the resolution process, has led to incidents similar to the period of violence in the 90s.
First, a person affiliated with Hüda-Par was killed by PKK members in the Dargeçit district of Mardin, followed by many violent incidents between the parties. During the events of October 6-8, 2014, which started after the HDP’s call for support for Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) under ISIS attack, tensions between the parties reached their peak when a group of PKK members raided the Köy-Der, a village association known for its close ties to Hezbollah, and killed three people. At least 46 people were killed and 682 injured in these incidents.
Everything is obvious
In this process, the PKK called Hezbollah “Hizbulkontra” and Hezbollah called the PKK Partiye Kâfiren Kurdistanê (Kurdistan InfidelsHüda-Par’s relations with Kurdish Hezbollah, which will be represented by being elected from AK Party lists after the elections Party), which is important in terms of signaling the resurgence of hostility.
As a result, the fact that Hüda-Par’s senior figures, including its chairman Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu, do not even attempt to deny Hezbollah’s history of terrorist acts gives a clue to the nature of this relationship.
Today, Hezbollah has built its organizational structure and dynamism in a new framework. The efforts to gain a base and spread through civil society, which started with Mustazaf-Der, continued with Hüda-Par’s direct entry into legal politics.
The most important indicator that Hüda-Par has not completely rejected violence and armed struggle is the formation called “Sheikh Said Seriyyeleri” that emerged in 2014. Images of this illegal group, which is apparently a supporter of Hüda-Par, with long-barreled weapons have appeared on social media and in various media outlets. It is clear that Kurdish Hezbollah’s relationship with Hüda-Par, which is a legally political organization, is similar to the relationship between the PKK and the HDP.