Imprisoned PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan Preparing a Roadmap to Peace in Turkey’s Ethnic-Kurdish Insurgency

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 24

A member of the PKK beneath the image of imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan

Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK), plans to release a “roadmap” of PKK conditions for laying down arms in the ongoing, decades-old ethnic-Kurdish insurgency in southeast Turkey. Details are now emerging of the project the PKK leader first announced on May 13, when Ocalan stated he would release a “roadmap” to peace at the end of August based on the Turkish Constitution of 1921 (,  May 13). Ocalan’s four-step roadmap is expected to include:

• An introduction describing why Turkey should solve the Kurdish issue.
• A suggestion that Turkey should establish a strategic alliance with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
• An outline of the steps necessary to implement short and long-term solutions.
• A disclosure of the conditions that must be met before disarmament of the PKK fighters still in the mountains (Hurriyet, July 18).

A Basis in Turkey’s First Constitution

Ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in the latter stages of the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922), the Turkish Constitution of 1921 was the nation’s first, and remained in force until superseded by the Constitution of 1924.

The reason Ocalan bases his roadmap on the 1921 Constitution may be found in the belief of some experts on Turkish constitutional affairs that the 1921 Constitution stipulated Turkish provinces were to have full autonomy in local affairs. [1] Article 11 of the 1921 Constitution defines “province” as an autonomous institution.  It states that those powers exclusive to the state include domestic and foreign policy, judicial issues, military affairs, international economic relations, and inter-provincial issues.  Provincial parliaments were to have autonomous powers in the fields of education, health, economy, agriculture, development, and social issues.

The Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP) has a view similar to Ocalan’s. The DTP prepared a draft proposal outlining its own plan to address the Kurdish question using the 1921 Constitution as precedent. The DTP argues that the 1921 document is the most democratic of all of the country’s constitutions and reflects the party’s advocacy of a single state and a single flag but also its objection to a single language and a single ethnicity (Hurriyet, June 2).

Ten Fundamentals

According to the Turkish daily Sabah, Ocalan’s roadmap will also contain ten “fundamentals” crucial to a settlement:

1) The definition of a citizen should be amended in the Constitution and grant Kurds the status of a founding group of Turkey.  
2) Kurdish-language instruction and education should be accepted and codified in the constitution.
3) The ceasefire should continue and an unconditional amnesty should be announced.
4) Intellectuals should take the initiative during the transformation period.
5) All obstacles to the freedom of conducting politics should be lifted. Everyone should be allowed to participate in the political sphere.
6) The isolation inflicted on Abdullah Ocalan should be lifted.
7) Local authorities should be empowered. Democratically-based local autonomy should be accepted.
8) A Truth Commission should be created to research all events in the Turkish-Kurdish struggle, especially any murders committed in its pursuit.
9) The “Village Guard” system (an ethnic-Kurdish paramilitary loyal to the Turkish state) should be abolished.
10) The land distribution system should be reformed (Sabah, July 24).

An End to the Armed Struggle?

The reason Ocalan and the DTP propose “roadmaps” to address the Kurdish issue is because violence no longer serves the PKK’s interests. Since September 11, 2001, a number of geopolitical developments have forced the PKK to change its approach:

• International pressure on the PKK to renounce violence.
• Turkey’s developing economic and security relationship with the Kurds of northern Iraq.
• The democratizing effect of Turkey’s application for membership in the European Union.
• Kurdish and Turkish exhaustion and frustration with the continuing civil war.

Since the PKK resumed its armed struggle in 2004, the movement has been unable to achieve the level of success it expected. The trilateral talks between Turkey, Iraq and the United States have pushed the PKK into a corner where there is no room for advocating violence (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 29). In fact Cemil Bayik, one of the top leaders of the PKK, admits, "The PKK has gained what it could from the armed struggle and the state cannot gain anything with its military operations. The international community is also supporting the peace process. Thus it is now time to find a peaceful solution" (Firat News Agency, June 2).

Political observers suggest the government is waiting for Ocalan’s road map with “uncomfortable curiosity.” The government is intrigued because it knows Ocalan can offer something “workable” and has the influence to make the PKK and the support base of the movement accept the proposals. This has made the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) government uncomfortable because it is afraid that Ocalan will take the initiative during this “bottleneck” and, worse, be seen as taking Ocalan’s recommendations into consideration (Vatan, July 17).

While the public was busy discussing Ocalan’s roadmap, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed that the government has launched a comprehensive plan to address the Kurdish question. "We have launched an initiative, whether you call it the Kurdish problem or the southeast problem, or as some recently named it, the Kurdish initiative" (Hurriyet, July 23; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 24). In the following days, Interior Minister Besir Atalay gave a press conference to outline the government’s Kurdish initiative. “The way to a solution is through democratization. We want to take this step together with all segments of society. For this reason, we would like to see every segment being constructive regarding this and contributing to a solution” (Today’s Zaman, July 30). Atalay emphasized that the government was making efforts to put to work a model that is unique to Turkey and stated that his government expects that no segment of society would attempt to sabotage the process (Today’s Zaman, July 30). Apparently linked with this plan, the Turkish National Police Academy is hosting a panel to discuss the Kurdish question. It is the first time that a Turkish governmental institution has openly discussed the Kurdish question in this format (Radikal, July 29; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 29).

Reaction to the Roadmap

Some political observers regard Erdogan’s statement as a way to preempt Ocalan’s roadmap with Kurdish reforms (Reuters, July 21; Radikal, July 22). In fact, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has declared, "The Kurdish issue will be solved in Ankara, not in Imrali," referring to the site of Ocalan’s imprisonment since 1999 (Anadolu Ajansı, July 21).

Regardless of their political affiliations, many Kurdish intellectuals and politicians welcomed both the government’s efforts as well as Ocalan’s roadmap. AKP deputies appeared for the first time in six years on Roj TV (a Kurdish satellite TV station based in Denmark and Belgium and accused of having ties with the PKK) and stated that “all political actors [including Ocalan] should be considered if they positively contribute to the peace process”(Hurriyet, July 31). More importantly, Yılmaz Ates, the deputy chairman of Republican Peoples Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP) who is closely associated with state ideology joined a show on Roj TV via telephone and stated that “we need to have self-criticism about what happened that we [Turks and Kurds] have become foes” (, August 1). The president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, also stated his support for initiatives to solve the problem. “If the problem is in the process of being solved, the PKK has to lay down its arms because the Kurdish public will not support them” (Sabah August 1).

Turkish nationalists, on the other hand, are very upset with the AKP’s plan. The leader of the National Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP), Devlet Bahceli, furiously rejects attempts to solve the Kurdish problem because he thinks such efforts are a form of negotiating with terrorists. “If you negotiate with those who spent 25 years in the mountains to divide the country, be prepared to negotiate with Turkish nationalists who are ready to spend 50 years preventing the division of the country” (CNNTurk, August 1).

Duran Kalkan, a prominent figure in the PKK leadership, has outlined how the PKK sees recent developments. Kalkan thinks it is not important whether the government is preempting Ocalan’s peace plan or not. What is important is what the government’s plan includes. Kalkan suggests the plan should begin with the initiation of a dialog.  While the dialog continues, PKK militants may redeploy to avoid clashes with the Turkish military. If negotiations proceed satisfactorily with pro-PKK organizations, including the DTP or Ocalan himself, and some rights are granted, the status of the PKK militants could then be discussed (, August 1).


It is a fact that the debate on resolving the Kurdish question is a healthy step toward preparing Kurdish and Turkish public opinion for a possible peace deal with the PKK.  Public distrust is one of the main reasons why both sides cannot come together. Ironically, the distrust is largely based on the accusations of both Turks and Kurds that the other side is serving the interests of “outside forces.” There is no dispute that the majority of the Turkish public believes the PKK is a project of “outside forces,” i.e. a U.S. plan to divide the country. On the other hand, Abdullah Ocalan and other PKK leaders think it is the United States that prepared the government’s plan to eliminate Ocalan and the PKK (, August 1). When it comes to the question of whether a possible peace is on the horizon we should not be too optimistic.


1. Ergun Ozbudun, 1921 Anayasası [1921 Constitution], Ataturk Kultur Merkezi, Ankara, 1992, pp. 43-44.