MESOP ANALYSIS : Will the Kurdish Peace Offer Survive the Next Steps?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | Ali Yenidunya in EA Middle East and Turkey, Middle East and Iran

Recep Tayyip Erdogan & Abdullah OcalanLast week Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdish insurgency PKK, wrote a new page on Turkey’s Kurdish issue with his New Year’s message setting out a path to peace.The carefully-prepared statement called on both Turks and Kurds to unite in a democratic country, setting out practical measures such as the withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey.

The PKK‘s leaders approved the directives. The Government’s response was welcoming.

Yet this still may not be enough for a permanent resolution.

Let’s start with Ocalan’s message of 21 March.

The PKK head embraced all of Turkey, “I am calling on every suppressed peoples, women as the oldest colony and the most suppressed class, all classes, religious sects, representatives of the working class and everyone who has been ignored so far to have a place in the process.”

Continuing the theme of integration of every individual into a new Turkish democracy, and moving away from the association of the PKK with “terrorism”, Ocalan said, “Our war has not been against an ethnicity or a religion. Our war has been against ignorance, injustice, obscurantism and tyranny.”

Building on “the process of democratisation” and “the unity of peoples”, Ocalan established the bridge between Turkish and Kurdish peoples….Those who cannot read the spirit of time will go to the rubbish bin of history.”

Allied to this socialist position claiming to defend the rights of the suppressed, the PKK leader invoked Islam:

    All facts mentioned in the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are being applied to life with good news today. The humanity is re-gaining what it has lost.

    Today, Turks who live the old Anatolia in the name of Turkey should know that their mutual life under Islam flag for almost thousand years depends on brotherhood and the law of solidarity. 

And as for the expected peace announcement, Ocalan said:

    Lay down arms and get outside of the territories. A door is now opening on a democratic process after a period of armed struggle. Guns should fall silent and politics should come to the foreground. The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders.

So what can be the problem with turning these intentions into reality?

It lies in the process. Ocalan’s vision is Parliamentary oversight of the withdrawal of the PKK forces and democratisation.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a different concept. Having said there is no law to oversee the PKK withdrawal, Erdogan by-passed Parliament in the declaration, “We would like to see the reflections of Ocalan’s remarks in the shortest period of time.”

Put bluntly, the Prime Minister was saying that the next step was the PKK’s — a unilateral move of its fighters outside the country.

The following day, during a visit to Holland, Erdogan sent his message again:

    There is nothing the Parliament can do now. For withdrawal, there is nothing within the responsibility of the Parliament. There is a government in Turkey. The government is the addressee. The government will do whatever it needs to do.

Erdogan  promised not to repeat the assaults on withdrawing forces by past Governments, as in 1999, but the political challenge had been laid down.

The PKK’s deputy leader, Murat Karayilan, recognised the problem — without Parliamentary involvement, the Kurdish demands might not be addressed:

    We have laid all previously-asked demands aside. In other words, we dropped all conditions. At least, the parliament has to take a decision.

    In the new constitution, there are three things important for us. A new definition of citizenship, recognition of identities and the definition of Turkish nation.

The PKK’s withdrawal starts next week. but it will not be completed by the spring. That raises both an opportunity and a possible collapse: while the fighters are shifting, Ocalan can press his insistence on a Parliamentary process — yet the Government may not only maintain but increase its resistence to the point of stalling the negotiations.

For the moment, the sustenance of the possibility is Ocalan’s belief that this is a historic moment which cannot be risked because of the procedural dispute. But Ocalan is not the entire PKK, and other leaders — including Karayilan — may not be as patient with the Government.

Which brings us to Erdogan. Never known for a preference for sharing power, will the Prime Minister show any flexibility? So far, because of Ocalan’s unilateral statements, that question has not been to the test. When it is, then we will see if this is just another false start towards “peace” or the historical moment that has been promised.