Zones of Rebellion

Zones of Rebellion

Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State

Aysegul Aydin and Cem Emrence

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2015, 208 pages

Book Review published on: March 17, 2017

In Zones of Rebellion, Aysegul Aydin and Cem Emrence argue that resources heavily influence the actions of parties in civil wars, and that these strategies and tactics vary according to different zones of control. To support their claim, the authors consider both qualitative and quantitative data from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party insurgency in Turkey from 1984 to 2011. The book examines the organization, ideology, and strategy of first the insurgency and then the counterinsurgency in order to determine where and how each side employed violence. The book is clearly written and well organized, making it appealing to any student of irregular warfare or the Middle East, though it is geared toward an academic audience.

Readers familiar with The Logic of Violence in Civil War by Stathis Kalyvas will recognize the concept of zones of control. However, this book does not delve as deeply into theory as Kalyvas does. Aydin and Emrence have further simplified Kalyvas’s construct by reducing the number of zones from five to three—namely, zone 1: battle zone (insurgent control), zone 2: transition zone, and zone 3: state-controlled zone. To orient the reader, the authors provide maps illustrating these zones, a timeline, and list of acronyms. The clarity and organization of the material should make it accessible to readers new to civil war studies.

Even readers better versed in Middle Eastern insurgencies are likely to find new insights from the thorough review of the history of this conflict. Military and government practitioners will not find a template for counterinsurgency, but will find many lessons from this case study. It gives the reader a greater understanding of how insurgents select targets, and illustrates how Turkish forces apply transformation and co-optation depending on the situation. The authors describe the differences in the logic of both parties, and point out the windows of opportunity related to both parties that existed for the adversaries to capitalize on military successes. They also show some of the errors that prevented both sides from being more effective in their efforts. All of these are worthwhile lessons for students of military history, tactics, and strategy.

The authors make a strong case for their argument that there is significant variance in violence during war related to the different zones of control. The premise raises important questions about the conventional wisdom regarding grievance and group identity in irregular conflicts. It explores the diversity of tactics used by all parties, and ultimately points out that the causes of conflict often run deeper than even the combatants acknowledge. The authors are careful to point out that the variation across conflicts suggests that there is no universal template for either insurgents or counterinsurgents. In sum, Zones of Rebellion is a worthwhile contribution to the discourse on civil war studies.

Book Review written by: Maj. Thomas R. Nypaver, Texas Army National Guard, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas