The Turkish government has given permission for three more deputies from the Kurdish problem focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to go and talk to Abdullah Öcalan, the for-life leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who is currently serving a life sentence in İmralı island prison.
In a written statement from the BDP last week, it was clearly stated that not all the names were Öcalan’s first choice. Öcalan wanted to see at least one of the BDP co-chairs in order to convey his messages to the grassroots that are “shared” by the PKK, according to the BDP leadership. That is what Mehmet, Öcalan’s brother, told the press following his visit to İmralı earlier in the week. However, following Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s objection, it seems that Öcalan changed his mind and settled for the current names: Pervin Buldan (whose husband was killed in 1994), Altan Tan, whose father was tortured to death in Diyarbakır prison right after the 1980 military coup), and Sırrı Süreyya Önder (a leftist, Turkish-origin film director and writer, who himself once spent seven years in prison and was tortured). Altan and Önder are also members of Parliament’s Constitutional Conciliation Commission, currently trying to write a new Constitution.
Both Erdoğan’s and Öcalan’s moves are clear: The messengers are less important than the message.
And it seems that the message is known to Erdoğan. As concluded from statements over the past week, a roadmap proposal by Öcalan was delivered to him most probably via Hakan Fidan, the head of National Intelligence Organization (MİT). It is now the BDP’s turn to learn about this, and it will most probably be publicized at the start of the new week on Monday. It will then be clear whether Öcalan is asking for the withdrawal of all PKK militants in Turkey, unarmed, under Erdoğan’s earlier promise that they would not be touched on their exit path by the Turkish security forces, unless they attacked first.
At this point, it might be helpful to recall what the PKK had demanded for a ceasefire before the constitutional referendum in 2010. There were four conditions:
1. All military operations were to be stopped by the government.
2. All KCK prisoners should be released.
3. The 10 percent election threshold should be lowered.
4. Öcalan should be included in the peace process.
Now, Öcalan is involved in the peace process. Military operations are promised to be stopped under certain conditions by the government, if the PKK declares a withdrawal. Most of those in jail in the KCK (the outlawed Kurdistan Communities Union, the popular front of the PKK) cases are expected to be released as the government pushes the fourth legal package through Parliament; submitted Friday evening following a Cabinet meeting, half a day before the departure of the deputies to Öcalan. There is still no mention of the 10 percent election threshold yet.
Those are what the PKK asked for in 2010, in order to start the process. There are other goals in the details, such as bringing the militants down from the mountains to be employed as an autonomous police force, but we are not there yet, if indeed it ever comes. We know the goal of the government: an ultimate farewell to arms by the PKK and the removal (or at least marginalizing) of terrorist attacks from the country’s political, economic, and social life.
It is indeed a difficult and painful process, but it is a necessary one. Turkey is going through one of its historic moments.
This article was first published in Hurriyet Daily News on Feb. 24, 2013
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2