Kurdish Peace Process is on Knife Edge — Again

12-10-2013 – AL MONITOR – By Tulin Daloglu – On Dec. 8, militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) kidnapped four Turkish soldiers on the highway from Diyarbakir to Lice, at the intersection of Fis Ovasi, where this terror organization was born in a meeting at a small village house.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan instantly reacted when the news broke: “Those who want harm the process [of negotiations with the PKK] cause these events. The events in Hakkari were also caused by the same kind of people,” he said. “We won’t fall into this trap, but will continue with the process. There is nothing else to say besides that we expect our soldiers to be released soon.”

Not so long after, in the early hours of Monday, the PKK released the kidnapped soldiers — Melih Dikyol and Hakan Ozer, both sergeants, and Ugur Sert and Ali Akdemir, both specialized sergeants. One local in Lice told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview, asking that his name not be revealed, “At least a thousand people went to the area where it was thought that they might be holding these soldiers. It is a location around the Yolcati village of Lice where the PKK has its own cemetery,” he said. “People don’t want a new round of fighting and they are angry with both sides — the government and the PKK. And it was the people who forced the PKK to release these soldiers without being harmed.”

Another source in Lice pointed to the rebellious nature of its people, and noted that when the military wing of the PKK announced May 8 — on imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s command — that their withdrawal from Turkish territory would begin, PKK’s Lice group objected. The Lice group is led by Mehmet Sah Yildemir, also known as Reber.

“The security forces must have received some tips that something was in the making about a week ago. Since last February, when Erdogan announced the existence of the talks with Ocalan, there have been no security checkpoints on this highway from Diyarbakir to Lice. But the military had been checking on people for the past week,” the source told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview. “But one needs to understand that this kidnapping also occurred based on Ocalan’s last message. His warning was a provocation within itself.”

The message was spelled out by Pervin Buldan, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) group acting chairwoman, on Dec. 7 after meeting Ocalan on the island of Imrali where he is in solitary confinement. Buldan claimed that Ocalan had blamed “the finger of the parallel state [the so-called “deep state”] in the death of two civilians in Yuksekova,” and that he called on “people to take necessary measures to protect him, and be cautious of provocations.”

Rumors were spread in Yuksekova, in Hakkari province, that the state was tearing down the PKK cemetery there. Whether these rumors had any truth in them or not, people gathered to protest damage to the cemetery. Things got out of control when some of the protesters wearing masks started to shout Ocalan’s name and chant PKK slogans. In the heat of the chaotic clash between the demonstrators and the security officers, two protesters — Veysel Isbilir and Mehmet Resit Isbilir — were shot to death.

In response, bigger protests broke out in Yuksekova’s city center; masked PKK members set a bank on fire and wrote the nickname of the PKK leader, “APO,” on walls. In Diyarbakir, it was no less chaotic. People wanted to march in the city center in protest of the deaths of the two civilians in Yuksekova. The security forces warned that they were concerned about those wearing masks and called on those wearing masks to leave the group so it could continue its protest in peace. Things, however, did not progress well. People in the crowd threw a homemade bomb at police; nails in it wounded four officers.

Gulten Kisanak, co-chairwoman of the BDP, strongly reacted. “If the government wants to prevent provocations, and if it does really believe that there are some provocateurs who really want to cause harm to the peace process, the first thing that the government should do is to identify those police officers who killed the two civilians in Yuksekova, and surrender them to justice to be put on trial. The government is, however, unnecessarily talking about some unknown provocateurs aiming to cause harm to the process.”

“What is important is to have a thorough investigation to find out who these provocateurs are,” Interior Minister Muammer Guler said Dec. 8. “There is no doubt that these are all provocations to derail [the negotiation process with the PKK.] I believe there are some individuals, groups or power centers from inside and outside who don’t want us achieve success in these talks.” He added: “Unfortunately, the protesters in Yuksekova fired on our security forces from 10 different locations in that specific moment. People were upset about [reported] damage to their cemetery. There was no such harm at the cemetery. People were just provoked to act against the security forces. About 10 police cars were damaged after the events there, and about 50 bullets were fired on our police officers. This is not acceptable. We have never intervened in peaceful democratic protests. Our police officers have only responded with tear gas and pressurized water when protesters have built barricades, used Molotov cocktails, hand grenades and so on. But you cannot expect our police officers not to respond with fire when they actually are being targeted by long-range weapons. It is their legal right to respond with [live] ammunition when they come under direct fire. This is their duty.”

All that said, however, it was clear that there was a building tension between the government and the Kurdish camp, which put the negotiation process with the PKK in an interesting limbo and painted an image that these talks were on the verge of breaking off. As Buldan stated, Ocalan wants these talks to be legally recognized; there also is no doubt that the events noted above only anchored the perception that the government was depending upon Ocalan to keep the guns quiet, and therefore to keep the talks going — at the least until the end of the March 2014 local and 2015 general elections. The failure of these talks has a potential to cost the government at the ballot box, but it is not yet clear what it is exactly that the government may have promised Ocalan in return for his cooperation.

Alas, strengthening Turkish democracy should not be a promise to be given to Ocalan as a precondition for successfully completing these talks; it should instead be a promise given to the country as a whole.