Amnesty may come to agenda after Erdoğan’s remarks in Diyarbakır

18 November 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Discussion of general amnesty may appear on the government’s agenda again following statements made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on Saturday in a bid to bolster the ongoing settlement process that aims to end the decades-old Kurdish conflict.

Erdoğan signaled that if the Kurds stand behind the settlement process, Turkey could release Kurdish prisoners and that those who joined the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would come down from the mountains.General amnesty is a very sensitive issue in Turkey and many do not approve of the notion that convicted terrorists would be let go. There is also a host of legal and judicial problems with such an amnesty move.  As questions hang over the issue, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has ruled out a possible general amnesty for the PKK militants amid ongoing debates.

He said the government has no plan for an amnesty at the moment. In March, Erdoğan shut down rumors of possible general amnesty for PKK terrorists that would be part of government-sponsored efforts to end the decades-long terror problem in the country.

“A general amnesty will not happen by any means. I have stated this several times before. I do not consider myself eligible to pardon a man who killed innocent people,” said the prime minister at a breakfast organized by representatives of some civil society groups in Balıkesir, a western city run by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) launched the settlement process last year to resolve the country’s terrorism problem and has been holding talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the terrorist PKK, since then.

 “We’ll see the days when people leave the mountains and the prisons are emptied,” Erdoğan said on Saturday, a remark many have interpreted as a possible government move towards an amnesty. The release of individuals currently imprisoned in cases related to the PKK and the terrorist Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) has been one of the major demands of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a party that is affiliated with the PKK. Commenting on Erdoğan’s speech in Diyarbakır, AK Party Diyarbakır deputy Galip Ensarioğlu said that Erdoğan was not hinting at an offer of amnesty but was merely paving the way for PKK members’ entrance into legitimate politics.

In a TV interview on Monday morning, Ensarioğlu clarified that such amnesty is not compatible with the Constitution and added that no one has the right to release people who have committed violent crimes back into society.

Ensarioğlu said that Erdoğan’s words only referred to facilitating the PKK’s engagement in legal political activity and that the government should work on a strategy to demilitarize the PKK.On Saturday, speaking in a televised interview, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay also signaled that amnesty could be on the way.

He called on terrorists from the PKK to surrender their weapons and said, “We will do what we need to do.” He said the government doesn’t describe this process as “amnesty,” but said that peace processes in the world usually end up with decisions about the future of militants being made after they lay down their arms.

Atalay also said that the core of the settlement process is this: Terror will end, weapons will be laid down and then the ruling party will do whatever is necessary. He said that would include members of the PKK returning home from mountain camps, their participation in politics, the situation of PKK-linked prisoners and the rehabilitation of any who are linked with the terrorist organization.

According to the Taraf daily, in the event of a general amnesty, the release of much-debated prisoners Ogün Samast and Cem Garipoğlu could be possible. However the government does not favor such action at the moment because of concern about potential public reaction.

The ultra-nationalist teenager Ogün Samast is the hitman that killed Hrant Dink, the late editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, who was shot dead on Jan. 19, 2007 outside the newspaper’s offices in İstanbul in broad daylight. Cem Gariboğlu was imprisoned after brutally murdering his girlfriend.

The daily also noted that at the beginning of the settlement process the government carried out amnesty works that included not only KCK members, but also Ergenekon and Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup trial suspects. However the government decided to wait to focus on this issue until the end of the settlement process and declare a package under the name of social peace.AK Party officials noted that instead of a general amnesty, it would be a better move to release KCK and Ergenekon prisoners via the amendments to be made in Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and Turkish Penal Code (TCK). 

Officials also underlined that the amendments would establish a peace between the state and its nations. Thus, amnesty could cover crimes against the state. The amendments to be made within this framework are expected to also include military crimes, paving the way for the possible release of senior military officers as well. Erdoğan’s statement that prisons will be emptied will only be possible after the PKK lays down its arms. Speaking on a TV program on Monday, AK Party deputy Yalçın Akdoğan, who is also the chief political advisor to Erdoğan, said the aim should be emptying the mountains in order to stop terrorism.