The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), engaged in a fragile peace process with the Turkish government after nearly three decades of conflict, has named a hardline party veteran as its new political leader, local media reported Thursday.
Cemil Bayik, one of the founders of the group which has fought a 29-year nationalist campaign against Ankara, is a close ally of its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan, and is known for his hawkish rhetoric against the government.
In a statement published on pro-Kurd news agency Firat, the PKK announced Bayik would replace the moderate Murat Karayilan, who will however remain head of the group’s military wing. No reason was given for the leadership shake-up.
Turkey and Ocalan in March agreed on a ceasefire as part of renewed efforts to settle the conflict between Ankara and Kurdish fighters fighting for more autonomy.
As part of the truce, the PKK agreed to withdraw its 2,000 estimated fighters from Turkey to their bases in northern Iraq, but the pullout has been slow. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently only 20 percent of the militants had left the country.
In return for peace, the PKK has demanded wider constitutional rights for Turkey’s Kurds, who make up around 20 percent of the country’s 75-million population and live mostly in the southeast.
The PKK said it remained committed to peace “despite the unfavorable attitude” of Erdogan’s government.
The prime minister has failed to quell discontent over his increasingly autocratic style among Turks, and the country’s Kurds are also growing tired of what they see as vague promises and a failure to implement demands for greater recognition.
The PKK took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict in which some 45,000 people are estimated to have died.
Over the years, the PKK has scaled back its original demand for outright secession to a call for autonomy and cultural and language rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.