Istabul: Turkey welcomed on Friday Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan’s ceasefire call as a crucial step towards peace, but obstacles remained in resolving a conflict that has torn the country for nearly three decades and killed around 45,000 people.
‘This is the Spring of Turkey’, declared the headline of liberal Taraf daily, printed on a picture showing the vast crowd of people who gathered on Thursday in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir to hear the message from jailed Ocalan.
‘Farewell to arms’, read the headline of the mainstream Milliyet daily while one in mass-circulation Hurriyet declared: “The era of weapons is over.”
After months of negotiations with the state, Ocalan on Thursday called on his Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerillas to lay down arms and withdraw from Turkey, raising hopes for an end to the three-decade conflict.
The call, which came in a letter Ocalan wrote from his isolated island prison cell, did not specify any solid plans or expectations from the Turkish government in return for the initiative.
Instead, Ocalan said it was time for “politics to prevail, not arms,” delivering a message to his movement to engage for a “democratic model.”
He also effectively delivered a call on Ankara to release thousands of Kurdish activists and local politicians held behind bars on charges of links to the PKK.
Although hopeful, many in Turkey questioned the possibility of peace, “after so many years, so many clashes, and so many funerals,” wrote columnist Fuat Keyman in Milliyet daily.
A single initiative will not be able to solve a problem that spans centuries, wrote historian Murat Bardakci in the Haberturk daily. “There is no example of it” in history.
Still others speculated Ankara was making “secret promises” in return, including the release of Ocalan from jail, where he has been serving a life sentence since 1999 after his death sentence was commuted.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political advisor Yalcin Akdogan denied such speculation, telling CCN Turk television late on Thursday that “it is not a give and take process... it is not a bargaining.”
Some observers have warned that although Ocalan’s message was warmly greeted in the mainly Kurdish Diyarbakir, the reaction in the rest of the country has been more measured.
“There was a big excitement in Diyarbakir, but a deep silence in the rest of the country,” wrote Ertugrul Ozkok in Hurriyet. “It could be a sign of very good things or bad ones. Let’s all pray it is the first one,” he wrote.