Is the PKK resisting Öcalan’s directive?

İHSAN DAĞI for Today’s Zaman – 25.4.2013 –  I am becoming confused about the İmralı peace process. We all know that the first step of the process is the withdrawal of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) forces from Turkey into northern Iraq. According to the government, the PKK has already started to withdraw its forces.But the PKK leadership in Kandil have not confirmed this. Yes, in principle they declared that they would obey the directives of their leader Abdullah Öcalan, but there is talk on the ground about the ambiguities of the process and the difficulties of convincing middle and low-ranking members of the PKK.

Particularly after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked the PKK to lay down its arms before it withdraws, PKK leaders started to express the “difficulties that they would encounter in the withdrawal process.”

Murat Karayılan, the head of the executive committee of the PKK, told Al Jazeera that laying down its weapons was the third stage in a three-step plan. “The first is a cease-fire and the withdrawal of PKK forces, the second is constitutional and legal amendments and the third is laying down our arms. The Turkish authorities are now asking us to immediately lay down our weapons. This is not our agreement with Öcalan. Disarmament is the final stage. … We now have doubts about the sincerity of the Turkish government.” Karayılan also asked the government and Parliament to take a formal decision on the withdrawal of the PKK. Karayılan and the other high-ranking members seem unhappy about the fact that they are not part of the negotiation process.

It is clear that the PKK leaders want to be part of the process. Their exclusion may indeed be risky. Jonathan Powell, the key negotiator in the agreement between the British government and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was in Turkey last year and repeatedly underlined that without the PKK’s participation, the third leg of the negotiation process cannot take place.

The messages coming in from the PKK indicate that they are likely to slow down or even block the process unless they are included. For instance, in another interview with The New York Times, Karayılan asserts, “Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms. It is the last issue, something to discuss as a last issue to this process.” He says that they “do not believe and trust the approach of Turkey.” Repeating their preferences of peace and dialogue, he adds, “Our forces believe they can achieve results through war.”

More radical and open remarks came from Duran Kalkan, a member of the executive committee of the PKK. He insists that their forces are not in a position to withdraw: “Our forces are not eager to withdraw. In fact they do not, and are also not in a position of withdrawal. Whether conditions are ripe for withdrawal are being debated. But it is not easy to convince the guerillas to withdraw. … It is a mistake to think that the guerillas are already ready to lay its arms. On the contrary, among the forces in the south we encounter great pressure to move to the north [Turkey].”

These are some statements coming from the PKK that need to be explained. It may be interpreted as the quest of the PKK to be part of the process as noted above. But it may also be the first signs of a new development: Öcalan is losing his grip on the PKK.

 It is interesting to see that after all these messages, Yalçın Akdoğan, an advisor to the prime minister and a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy, wrote a commentary titled “PKK içindeki kanatlar ve riskler” (Factions within the PKK and the risks). In the commentary, he implies that there might be some factions within the PKK that would not comply with the directives of Öcalan. This is a very interesting confession because the current process was based on the assumption that the organization will obey the calls of Öcalan.

The question for the government is that if some powerful radical wings within the PKK do not obey Öcalan’s directives to lay down their weapons and instead continue with their terrorist activities, how is this process expected to “silence the PKK and resolve the terrorist question” — the official formula of the government to justify the process — let alone the Kurdish question?