Peace between PKK and Turkish government?

Posted on March 21, 2013 by

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The call to lay down arms and end the armed struggle that came from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ‘ is a positive  initiative of the  leader Abdullah Öcalan’,  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  said during the Nevruz celebrations in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
“I find the call, the invitation,  an  positive development. But the essential thing is realization,” Erdoğan said at a joint press meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte.

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“We would like to see the reflections of Öcalan’s  invitation in the shortest period of time,” Erodğan said. “Once it comes true,  the atmosphere in Turkey and the region will change.”

Erdoğan criticized the absence of a Turkish flag during the celebrations in Diyarbakır. “I would like to see our flag there,” he said. “I believe that this is not only my wish but the whole nation’s.”

Earlier this week jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan  asked for removal of Kurdish armed militants from Turkish soil in a historic message read out by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Pervin Buldan and Sırrı Süreyya Önder in Kurdish and Turkish.

“We have reached the point where weapons should go silent and ideas should speak,” Mr. Ocalan wrote in a letter read out to jubilant crowds gathered in the Kurdish heartland here in southern Turkey.

“A new era starts when politics, instead of guns, comes to the forefront. This is not an ending but a new beginning,” said Öcalan’s message.

The jailed PKK leader’s message came amid an ongoing peace process initiated by the Turkish government to end a three decade old conflict with the outlawed group.

“Our fight has not been against any race, religion or groups. Our fight has been against all kinds of pressure and oppression. Today we are waking up to a new Middle East, new Turkey and a new future,”   Abdullah Ocalan said.

The conflict between Mr. Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., and the Turkish government has claimed nearly 45,000 lives and has deeply scarred society since its start in 1984. While there have been previous periods of cease-fire between Turkey and the group, never before has a broader peace process had as much support at the highest levels of both the Turkish and Kurdish leadership.

For the Turkish government, the effort to seek peace within its borders has been seen as a critical step in its ambition to be a regional power. For the Kurds, the call for peace carries with it the hope of expanded rights under a new constitution and the freedom to express a separate identity within a country that for decades denied their existence, forbade them to speak their language and abused their activists.

Mr. Ocalan’s declaration, a critical confidence-building step as the peace process continues, brought ecstatic celebration among the huge crowds gathered outside Diyarbakir to celebrate Nowruz, the traditional spring festival. Lawmakers read out the statements in both Turkish and Kurdish as waves of yellow, red and green, the traditional colors of the Kurdish movement, rippled through the masses.

“Now, we’ve reached the phase that our armed elements retreat beyond the borders,” the letter read, referring to a withdrawal of P.K.K. fighters from Turkey to the group’s stronghold in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. “In our hearts, this is not an end, but a brand new start. This is not quitting the struggle, but starting a different one.”

The Kurdish resistance leader’s direct involvement in the peace process, albeit while he is serving a life term in prison on a treason conviction, was itself a statement of how far the two sides have come. Mr. Ocalan had been barred from involvement in previous diplomatic efforts.

His announcement was praised, though cautiously, by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who over the past decade took steps to start easing cultural oppression of the country’s huge Kurdish population.

“As a matter of fact, I see the statement as a positive development,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Implementation, however, is much more important, as we hope to see at the earliest to what extent Ocalan’s statement would be accepted.”

Murat Karayilan, the rebels’ military commander in Qandil Mountains in Iraq, issued a statement in support of Mr. Ocalan’s announcement and confirmed that the group would retreat, NTV, a private news television network, reported.

Some level of skepticism, however, resonated among Kurds who had flocked to the festivities here early Thursday, who are wary after having lived through past truces that failed.

“If the state fools these people once more, hell would break lose and we’d be forced to leave this land that will turn into a big ball of fire,” Zulkuf Gunes, 52, said, as he embraced his 2-year-old grandson, who was dressed in traditional Kurdish outfit in military green.

“Apo has made a step and now the state should do something to show that it is sincere,” Mr. Gunes added, using the popular nickname for Mr. Ocalan.

Kurds primarily demand the release of thousands of Kurdish political activists, including elected mayors, who were put in jail on charges of attempting to destroy the unity of the Turkish state.

“How can we talk about a political process when thousands of our people, activists, are in jail?” said Fevzi Cengiz, a retired man from Diyarbakir, as he quietly walked away from the gathering, with a Kurdish scarf tied around his shoulder.

“I did not hear any unconditional retrieval in Apo’s message,” he said. “It’s just a door set ajar, and now it’s the state’s turn to make a step.”

Source: 1. HÜRRİYET – TÜRKİYE’NİN AÇILIŞ SAYFASI,
2.  New York Times

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