Also Known As: TH, Kurdish Hezbollah, Hizbullah in Turkey;
Country Of Origin: Turkey;
Operational Area: Turkey;
Involved In: Kidnapping, Armed Attacks, Suicide Bomb Attacks, Assassinations;
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Turkish Hezbollah (TH), also known as the Kurdish Hezbollah or just Hizbullah in Turkey, is a predominantly Kurdish Sunni Islamist militant organization, active against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (mainly in the period between 1992 and 1995) and the Government of Turkey.
The group, founded by Kurdish-Turkish Islamist Hüseyin Velioğlu, remains a primarily Kurdish group that has its roots in Turkish Kurdistan and among Kurds who migrated to the cities in Western Turkey. The Hezbollah reestablished in 2003 in Turkish Kurdistan and “today its ideology might be more widespread then ever among Kurds there”. The Turkish Hezbollah’s influence has not been limited to Turkey and it has also “left an imprint on Turkish Kurds in Germany.”
In the 1970s various Turkish and Kurdish Islamists sought to work through democratic means to develop Islamism in Turkey. It initially remained a primarily Kurdish group that had its roots in Turkish Kurdistan and among Turks and Kurds who migrated to the cities in Western Turkey from the east. Many joined the National Turkish Student Association (Milli Türk Talebe Birliği, MTTB), the youth organization of the National Salvation Party.
With the closure of these after the 1980 Turkish coup d’état, it became clear that the military was too strongly dedicated to secularism to allow Islamists to organise, and a group of them launched the Union Movement (Vahdet Hareketi). The movement organised around two bookshops in Diyarbakır – Fidan Gündör’s Menzil and Hüseyin Velioğlu’s İlim. Until 1987 the groups gathered around these bookshops worked together.
According to Guido Steinberg, the Turkish government cooperated with this group against the PKK. He also asserted that Turkish Hezbollah’s influence was not limited to Turkey and it has also had influence among some Kurds in Germany.
In 1987, when Hüseyin Velioğlu moved his bookshop to Batman, different opinions on leadership and armed actions resulted in a split into two wings. The so-called İlim wing, under the leadership of Hüseyin Velioğlu, wished to start an armed struggle immediately. The dispute resulted in bloody fighting between the two factions. Between 1990 and 1993, the İlim group killed many members of the Menzil group, and ultimately emerged victorious. In 1993 the İlim group took the name Hizbullah.
The group which became known as Hizbollah took this name in 1993, after emerging victorious from a bloody factional war between two wings of the Union Movement (Vahdet Hareketi) which had been established following the 1980 Turkish coup d’état’s crushing of Islamist hopes for democratic success. Hüseyin Velioğlu’s group had previously been known as İlim, named for his bookshop.
According to Turkish security officials, Hezbollah was financed by and trained in post-revolutionary Iran, with Iran allegedly using terror groups to establish Islamic governments throughout the Middle East.
Further groups within Hezbollah were named as Tevhid, led by Nurettin Şirin and Mehmet Şahin and Yeryüzü, led by Burhan Kavuncu. Besides the town of Batman, Hezbollah was strongest in Cizre district of Şırnak, Nusaybin district of Mardin and Silvan district of Diyarbakır province. For a long time the village Yolaç was used as their base.
In the early 1990s the organization became a direct threat to the already rising Kurdish separatist movement. It (of Sunni thought) began as an oppositional force against the PKK, though later they have targeted both the PKK and people who they considered to be with low morals (people who drank alcohol, wore mini-skirts etc.).
Between 1992 and 1995 they killed around 500 PKK members, for the loss of around 200 of its own. The Hezbollah viewed the “PKK’s claim to be the only true spokesman of Kurdish nationalism” as a “threat to its own identity”, and dubbed the PKK as the “Partiya Kafirin Kurdistan” meaning Kurdistans Infidels’ Party.
The TH also targeted journalists who wrote about its activities, particularly those who wrote about connections between them and the Turkish state. It was believed that the group gets support from Turkish army for its conflict against the PKK. Journalists, mainly Kurds, associated with 2000’e Doğru and Özgür Gündem were particularly targeted (see List of journalists killed in Turkey).
Some of Hezbollah’s major attacks allegedly include an April 1999 suicide bombing in Bingöl, and the February 2001 assassination of Diyarbakir police chief Gaffar Okkan (and five other police).
Turkish military support:
The weekly 2000’e Doğru of 16 February 1992 reported that eyewitnesses and sympathizers of Hezbollah had informed them that members of the organization were educated in the headquarters of Turkey‘s rapid deployment force (Çevik Kuvvet) in Diyarbakır.
Two days after the article was published its author, Halit Güngen was killed by unidentified murderers. Namik Taranci, the Diyarbakir representative of the weekly journal Gerçek (Reality), was shot dead on November 20, 1992 on his way to work in Diyarbakır.
Again, the previous edition of the magazine had examined relations between the state and Hizbullah. Hafiz Akdemir, reporter for Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda), was shot dead in a Diyarbakır street on June 8, 1992, after reporting that a man who had given refuge to assassins fleeing a Hezbollah-style double killing in Silvan was released after only six weeks in custody, without even appearing in court.
The 1993 report of Turkey‘s Parliamentary Investigation Commission referred to information that Hezbollah had a camp in the Batman region where they received political and military training and assistance from the security forces.
Former Minister Fikri Sağlar said in an interview with the paper Siyah-Beyaz (Black-White) that the army not only used Hezbollah, but actually founded and sponsored the organization. He maintained that such a decision had been taken in 1985 at the highest levels – the National Security Council.
On 17 January 2011 Arif Doğan, a retired colonel in the Turkish army who also claims to be a founder of JİTEM, while testifying in court in the Ergenekon case, declared that he set up Hezbollah as a contra group to force to fight and kill militants of the PKK. The organization was originally to be called Hizbul-Kontr (“Party of the Contras”).
According to journalist Faik Bulut, some Hizbollah members were caught in Istanbul with 40 kg of C-4 explosive and valid Turkish National Intelligence Organization identity cards.
In December 2003 Corry Görgü put the number of militants as high as 20,000 a figure presented by the Center for Defense Information as well. Information provided by the Intelligence Resource Program of the Federation of American Scientists based on the 2002 Patterns of Global Terrorism report suggests that the organisation possibly has a few hundred members and several thousand supporters. Ufuk Hiçyılmaz stated that the group had about 1,000 armed members.
After the kidnapping of several businessmen in Istanbul and the subsequent raid of a house in Beykoz quarter a nationwide hunt on Hezbollah supporters followed. During the operation in Beykoz on 17 January 2000 Hüseyin Velioğlu was killed and Edip Gümüş and Cemal Tutar were detained. Edip Gümüş, born 1958 in Batman was alleged to lead the military wing of Hezbollah and Cemal Tutar was said to be a member of the armed wing. In this period nearly 6000 KH members were arrested.
In the time to follow many trials were conducted in Diyarbakır and other places against alleged members of Hezbollah. In several instances defendants raised torture allegations. Such allegations are documented in Urgent Actions (UA) of Amnesty International.
In the trial in which Edip Gümüş and Cemal Tutar were indicted the defendant Fahrettin Özdemir said on 10 July 2000 that he had been held in custody for 59 days and had been tortured. In the hearing of 11 September 2000 Cemal Tutar said that he had been held in police custody for 180 days.
The Hezbollah trial was concluded in December 2009. The defendants received varying terms of imprisonment.
Eighteen members of Turkish Hezbollah, amongst them Edip Gümüs and Cemal Tutar, were released from jail on 4 January 2011, in accordance with a recent amendment to the Turkish criminal code that set a limit of 10 years on the time detainees can be held without being sentenced in a final verdict. The juridic authorities demanded a re-arrest of the released, but the police failed in locating them.
Movement of the Oppressed and Hüda-Par (2002–present):
Following the decision to end armed struggle in 2002, sympathizers of Hizbollah’s Menzil group founded an association called “Solidarity with the Oppressed” (tr: Mustazaflar ile Dayanışma Derneği or short Mustazaf Der) in 2003. It also became known as the Movement of the Oppressed (Turkish: Mustazaflar Hareketi).
On 18 April 2010 Mustazaf Der organized a mass meeting in Diyarbakir to celebrate the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (known as Mawlid). The Turkish police estimated that the event was attended by 120,000 people. The organizers put the figure at over 300,000.
On 20 April 2010 a court in Diyarbakir ordered the closure of the Association for the Oppressed (Mustazaf-Der) on the grounds that it was “conducting activities on behalf of the terrorist organization Hizbollah.” The decision was confirmed by the Court of Cassation on 11 May 2012.
In late 2012, the Movement of the Oppressed announced its will to found a political party, basically to challenge the hegemony of the Peace and Democracy Party. In December 2012, a political party with the name Free Cause Party (Hür Dava Partisi) was founded. Hüda-Par, the abbreviated form of the party’s name is synonymous with Hizbollah, both interpreted as the “God’s Party”, emphasising that the party is a front for the otherwise illegal Hizbollah.
Societies affiliated with Hüda-Par operate under the umbrella organisation Lovers of Prophet (Turkish: Peygamber Sevdalıları, Kurdish: Evindarên Pêyxamber) particularly active in Kurdish Mawlid meetings.