Kurds Still Want More Autonomy

ANKARA – DAILY STAR LEBANON – By Jonathon Burch and Gulsen Solaker – 10.1.2013 –  Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party said on Wednesday a new push to find a political solution to the long Kurdish conflict appeared to be serious but greater autonomy for the Kurds was still a main demand.

The prospect of an end to three decades of war between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) surfaced in recent weeks after the government acknowledged it was talking to the insurgents’ jailed leader. Turkish media reports this week said a framework for a peace plan had been agreed with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. But they made no reference to an independent Kurdistan or to “democratic autonomy”, a concept previously proposed by Kurdish politicians.

“How this autonomy will be created, what it will consist of, can be discussed but to say we have given up on autonomy from the Kurdish standpoint is wrong,” said Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas.

“Only the way this will be implemented can change,” he told Reuters in an interview at his parliament office in Ankara. The conflict in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, a remote and mountainous region bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria, has killed 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984. It has included bomb attacks in cities around the country. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday the authorities were taking a two-pronged approach, with the state intelligence agency talking to Ocalan, imprisoned on an island in the Marmara Sea since his capture in 1999, and the government talking to Kurdish politicians.

Previous negotiations with the PKK were secretive and largely appeared to have run aground but Demirtas said the latest contacts had so far given grounds for hope. “I do not see this as a crude and cheap (government) tactic. This appears to be a more serious effort,” he said. “Both sides now feel there has to be a solution.” Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unpalatable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago but Ankara is under increasing pressure to end the violence.

Speaking during a visit to Niger on Wednesday, Erdogan said the aim was to rid Turkey of separatist violence and that the efforts were genuine.

“The steps we took recently show our sincerity. We have said in the past that the separatist terror organisation should leave Turkey, put down weapons and leave Turkey,” he said. Erdogan’s government has widened cultural and language rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s 75 million people, since taking power 10 years ago. But Kurdish politicians say the reforms do not go far enough. The Radikal newspaper said on Tuesday that intelligence officials had agreed on a four-stage plan to end the conflict, including the withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkish territory before disarmament talks and an eventual laying down of arms. Demirtas rebuffed a suggestion in some other media reports that senior PKK commanders based in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, from where the group has launched attacks in Turkey, would be sent to live in a European capital as part of a peace plan. “This is not a formula the PKK could accept. After all, the PKK is an organisation living in Kurdistan. Why would they lay down their Kurdistan arms and go to another country,” he said.

Demirtas said he and BDP co-leader Gultan Kisanak together with two other Kurdish politicians had applied to the justice ministry to visit Ocalan but had not yet received a response. Two BDP lawmakers paid a rare visit to Ocalan last week but the militant leader would only announce his own roadmap after having spoken to other Kurdish actors, Demirtas said. “Ocalan’s style is not to say, ‘I have taken this decision on my own, now implement it’. Therefore, if we go, we will share our ideas and thoughts,” he said. “After that Ocalan will announce his ultimate roadmap, his plan.”