The call extended by Abdullah Ocalan, chairman of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to his party members to cease all military operations crowned efforts to resolve the Kurdish question that is threatening Turkish national security.
Over the past three decades, more than one truce failed between the PKK and Turkish government. The reasons were varied. However, the main ground for the failed treaties stemmed from the fact that local, regional and international circumstances were not conducive for a positive solution after the peace accord was signed.
This new truce has come to kindle fresh hopes for the two parties to reach a peaceful solution that will be acceptable to both. Ocalan’s call was preceded by preparing the party’s forces psychologically to accept this difficult and unforeseen decision. He handed a letter to Salah Al Deen Demirtas, Kurdish leader of the Turkish Peace and Democracy Party, from prison, which was presented before the media. Ocalan stated that he was preparing his March 21 call and that it would be a historical one. The announcement was preceded by preparations for implementing it over high-level coordination efforts between the PKK in both Ankara and Erbil. He urged the fighters of his PKK organisation to withdraw from Turkey, in a message read out to loud cheers during Kurdish New Year celebrations in the city of Diyarbakir.
Hundreds of thousands of people were present in Diyarbakir to hear Ocalan’s message, which followed months of talks between the PKK and Turkey. “A new phase in our struggle is beginning. Now a door is opening to a phase where we are moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle,” he said. More than 45,000 people have died in the 30-year fight for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in Turkey’s south-east. The next expected step is the release of 700 PKK prisoners from a number of Turkish prisons. Ocalan himself is expected to be on top of the list to be released.
The circumstances that assisted in maturing this agreement can be attributed to two aspects: One Turkish and the other Kurdish. There were three fundamental factors which stood behind the official Turkish stand. The first of which is the pragmatism of the Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The party realised early on the nature of change in the world order and the repercussions that must be faced in the future. Thus the party was aware of the importance of conducting internal reforms, especially in connection to the rights of religious and ethnic minorities in the country. This issue in particular is one of the most important reform demands required by the European Union for Turkey to acquire its membership. Erdogan was the first Turkish leader who spoke openly about a comprehensive resolution for the Kurdish question.
Erdogan’s politics of service paid off. He invested billions of dollars in public projects in the Kurdish-populated areas and encouraged the private sector to do so. The region made a quantum leap in infrastructure, agriculture, transportation and education. New roads, airports and universities have allowed greater degree of social mobility. Poverty and unemployment have been significantly reduced. Erdogan was aware of the importance of a positive approach towards the Kurdish question in the light of the changes that were taking place in the region. Iraqi Kurds enjoy an almost completely autonomous region while the Kurds in Syria will also have a similar status if Bashar Al Assad’s regime is toppled. Thus having good economic relations with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria will enhance the Turkish economy. Another factor is related to the Turkish national security. Erdogan’s government is aware that the ongoing ethnic and sectarian struggle in the area may well spill over into Turkey, especially as the Kurdish question in the country includes sectarian and ethnic aspects.
On the other hand, there is the PKK factor. After three decades of armed resistance, the Kurdish party realised that it has to change its ways under the new world order in calling for its ethnic rights. It realised that it had to accept the peaceful political option and to use all available options locally, regionally and internationally to pressurise the Turkish regime.
However, Ocalan does not have what it takes to obtain the same rights that the Iraqi Kurds have achieved. The PKK was not able to display its cause in a manner that gained it sympathy because it resorted to violence and was categorised as a terrorist organisation. The agreement on political issues has not been stated yet because any decision pertaining to this will not be solely determined by Erdogan’s government. It is a well-known fact that Turkey’s Kurds demand equal constitutional rights with Turks. This needs an amendment of the constitution, which is the Turkish parliament’s responsibility.
Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.