Since March 21, new year’s day or “Newroz” for Kurds and Central Asian nations, Turkey has been witnessing a historical transformation in its decades’ old Kurdish question. On this day, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization that has been fighting for an independent Kurdistan since 1984, announced that “the time for armed struggle ended, and it is now time for a political struggle. The PKK is on the verge of withdrawing its forces from outside of Turkey’s borders” (CNNTurk, March 21). In an open letter to the Turkish government, Ocalan references Islamic unity and Muslim brotherhood, but refuses the idea of capitalist modernity. Ocalan claims that the new era will be one of unity between Kurds and Turks so that, with such unity, both nations will have a powerful voice in the Middle East (CNNTurk, March 21).
Since the announcement, Turkey has been internally debating the possibility of peace. On the one hand, Turkish nationalists assert that by seeking a peace agreement with the PKK, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government is selling out the country. For instance, Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), claimed that “if it [a settlement with the PKK] was not prevented and if the Turkish nation does not realize what is going on, this era will be one of darkness and collapse” (haberturk.com, April 2)
Kurdish nationalists are skeptical of the prospects for peace as well. They ask the following question: “Why did the Kurds pay such a heavy burden? For what gain does the PKK lay down its arms?” (Aksam, April 8). Just like MHP’s Bahceli, one of the ideologues of the Kurdish nationalists, Ismail Besikci, argues that “Ocalan’s new rhetoric, which references Islamic unity, would not bring any rights or freedom to the Kurds. Ocalan’s emphasis on Muslim brotherhood is nothing but a slogan to delay the Kurds” (t24.com.tr, March 29).
Ocalan’s call was well received by the Turkish government, however. In fact, officials in Ankara had been expecting a letter from Ocalan because Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) was in a dialogue with the PKK leader since September 2012 to convince him to draft such a statement. To prepare the ground, the government allowed parliamentary deputies from the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to visit Ocalan in prison on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara to discuss the possibility of peace. A report, written by the BDP deputies about the meeting, was leaked to the Turkish media, and it indicates the substance of the previous negotiations between Ocalan and the MIT (Milliyet, March 5).
According to the leaked report, the government agrees to free Ocalan and other PKK members from prison as well as allow Kurds some form of autonomy—though it would be granted in the long term. In the report, Ocalan asks the BDP to support Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitious desire to change the Turkish political system from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system, with the promise that with such a change, Erdogan would be able to grant democratic autonomy for the Kurds (Milliyet, March 5).
So far, with minor issues, the peace process has been developing as planned. The BDP deputies’ leaked report reveals that in their negotiations both the MIT and Ocalan have been relying on Ocalan’s Road Map for peace, which was written back in 2009. In the Road Map, Ocalan divides the peace process into three phases. In the first phase, the PKK and the government declare a ceasefire. During this phase, the parties prepare public opinion for peace. A “wise man” committee is to be formed in order to accomplish this task. In the second phase, a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” should be established at the government’s initiative, and it should obtain the approval of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (the parliament). In the third phase, Turkey is to adopt a new constitution, granting all rights to the Kurds. Once those rights are granted, the PKK will permanently lay down its arms (Abdullah Ocaln’s Road Map, a summary of the document is available at freedom-for-ocalan.com, accessed on April 8).
So far, the PKK has declared a ceasefire; and Prime Minister Erdogan vowed that during the Kurdish militants’ withdrawal, Turkish forces will not attack the armed PKK forces (Sabah, March 22). Erdogan’s assurance to the PKK is considered a de facto ceasefire offered by the Turkish state. This indicates that the parties are implementing the first phase of Ocalan’s Road Map. Additionally, consistent with Ocalan’s Road Map, a wise man committee has been assembled. It is made up of 63 academics, journalists, artists, activists and other influential figures (Haberturk, April 5). Furthermore, the AKP government has proposed forming a new parliamentary commission—the Solution Commission—which would fulfill the role of a truth and reconciliation body, as proposed by Ocalan. The commission will likely be formed next week (Milliyet April 8).
Turkey’s parliamentary opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the MHP, declared that they will not fund the Solution Commission (Milliyet, April 8). But the AKP government is determined to proceed with the proposed commission as it was agreed upon between Ocalan and the MIT.
Although the PKK continues to hesitate—for instance, the PKK has yet to announce that it is withdrawing its militants form Turkey (firatnews.com, April 7)—the Turkish government and its media outlets are already convinced that the war is over. Pro-government newspapers report that the PKK will withdraw its militants from Turkey at the end of May (Yeni Safak, March 23; Star and Sabah, April 7).
Given that AKP government officials have been hiding the details of the negotiations with Ocalan—even claiming that no such negotiations are occurring, which is unlikely by any account—Turks are concerned about just what kind of peace is being agreed to. Is the peace agreement between Ocalan and the AKP government designed to be a temporary arrangement, which would allow the ruling party to enter the 2014–2015 election period under a negotiated ceasefire? Or is the agreement meant to bring a lasting peace? Will the PKK in Syria—known there as the Democratic Union Party (PYD)—too lay down its arms at the end of this process, or will it again attack Turkey if the peace process deteriorates in the future? Amid such question, no convincing answers yet exist. And because of this ambiguity, skepticism remains rife among the Turkish population about whether true peace is indeed on the horizon.