Blood and Belief

The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence

363 pages

April, 2009

ISBN: 9780814795873



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Aliza Marcus is formerly an international correspondent for The Boston Globe and lives in Washington, D.C. She covered the PKK for more than eight years, first as a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and later as a staff writer for Reuters, receiving a National Press Club Award for her reporting. She is also a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant for her work.

All books by Aliza Marcus

The Kurds, who number some 28 million people in the Middle East, have no country they can call their own. Long ignored by the West, Kurds are now highly visible actors on the world's political stage. More than half live in Turkey, where the Kurdish struggle has gained new strength and attention since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq.

Essential to understanding modern-day Kurds—and their continuing demands for an independent state—is understanding the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. A guerilla force that was founded in 1978 by a small group of ex-Turkish university students, the PKK radicalized the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, becoming a tightly organized, well-armed fighting force of some 15,000, with a 50,000-member civilian militia in Turkey and tens of thousands of active backers in Europe. Under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, the war the PKK waged in Turkey through 1999 left nearly 40,000 people dead and drew in the neighboring states of Iran, Iraq, and Syria, all of whom sought to use the PKK for their own purposes. Since 2004, emboldened by the Iraqi Kurds, who now have established an autonomous Kurdish state in the northernmost reaches of Iraq, the PKK has again turned to violence to meet its objectives.

Blood and Belief combines reportage and scholarship to give the first in-depth account of the PKK. Aliza Marcus, one of the first Western reporters to meet with PKK rebels, wrote about their war for many years for a variety of prominent publications before being put on trial in Turkey for her reporting. Based on her interviews with PKK rebels and their supporters and opponents throughout the world—including the Palestinians who trained them, the intelligence services that tracked them, and the dissidents who tried to break them up—Marcus provides an in-depth account of this influential radical group.


  • Blood and Belief offers unusual insight into the rebels' shadowy universe and, by extension, into Turkey's festering Kurdish problem. . . . [A] scholarly, gripping account.”

    The Economist

  • Blood and Belief gives meaning and context to the grinding guerrilla war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.”

    Boston Globe

  • “It’s an achievement of Blood and Belief that despite the bloodletting, Marcus still generates empathy—not for the murderous Ocalan, but for the desperate Kurds who joined the PKK revolution feeling they had nowhere else to turn.”

    The Washington Post Book World

  • “;Marcus’ dispassionate recounting of events is impressive in its factual, documented style and avoidance of partisan shrillness.”

    The Bloomsberry Review

  • “Marcus’ dispassionate recounting of events is impressive in its factual, documented style and avoidance of partisan shrillness. While never condoning any of the PKK’s excesses, she points out its one achievement: to have put the Kurdish problem on the agenda in Turkey and in front of the world.”