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Can PKK accept Erdogans condition

Murat Yetkin

Published: Updated:

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has clearly stated the Turkish government’s first condition for the continuation of talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is to reach a peaceful solution for the violence polluted Kurdish problem, which is described as Turkey’s worst by President Abdullah Gül.

The visit itself was an indication that refreshed talks between the PKK and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the government’s behalf had reached a higher level

Murat Yetkin
From Niamey, the capital of Niger, Erdogan made his call to Turkey, saying PKK militants should lay down their arms and leave Turkey at once. The call was meant to answer speculations in the Turkish media over the last week which followed the confirmation that two members of the Turkish Parliament, who are Kurds, had been given permission by the Ministry of Justice to visit İmralı Island prison near Istanbul for talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. The visit itself was an indication that refreshed talks between the PKK and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the government’s behalf had reached a higher level.

As a political party focused on the Kurdish problem, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), shares the same grassroots with the PKK, according to MP Ahmet Türk who was one of two deputies that visited Öcalan. The BDP is demanding a larger role than serving as a bridge between the PKK and the government. Selahattin Demirtaş, its co-chair, addressed the party’s group in Parliament on Jan. 8 and said they wanted to be an address of the talks for the Kurdish problem rather than being a postman. Recent information shows that being able to speak with the BDP more has often has been demanded by Öcalan during his talks with Hakan Fidan, the head of the MİT and was even discussed in the National Security Board (MGK) meeting chaired by Gül on Dec. 29, 2012. Demirtaş has also asked for more access for Öcalan, more newspapers, TV and visitors to better the atmosphere for the continuation of the talks.

Erdogan’s call

Erdogan’s call is in a way an answer to Demirtaş’s. He has publicized his government’s demand from the PKK, while simultaneously insinuating that the government, or the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) could take the BDP as a counterpart in talks. Erdogan also points out ‘provocation attempts’ by the PKK; that is only a day after PKK militants attacked a military unit in Hakkari province bordering both Iraq and Iran, killing one soldier and leaving 12 bodies behind. But there is another important detail regarding this attack. In other circumstances, the incident would make a headline in daily Özgür Gündem, sympathizing with the PKK. There was no mention of the story on the front page of Jan 9 issue, but Demirtaş’s ‘half glass full’ sort of statements.

The 10 point question is this: Can the PKK accept Erdogan’s initial term?

Withdrawing its militants out of Turkey is something the PKK has tried before. Following his capture and death sentence in 1999, Öcalan has given five orders (via his lawyers) to withdraw. But hundreds of PKK members were literally hunted down by Turkish security forces on their way to their bases in Iraq, who did not care much what the weak three party government was saying at the time. Now both the PKK and the one party Turkish government are stronger. With a third term in power, the AKP has control over the security forces. It is a hard decision for the PKK to take. But if the PKK takes the decision to start withdrawing its militants - with or without laying down their arms- and if that first step is completed without much damage, then there might be more room for optimism regarding the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey.

*This article was published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Jan. 10, 2013. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/can-pkk-accept-erdogans-condition.aspx?pageID=449&nID=38747&NewsCatID=409

(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.)


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