New BDP delegation may go to İmralı next week

8 March 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik has said a new delegation of Kurdish lawmakers may travel to İmralı Island next week to meet with the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, it is not certain who will be included in the new delegation.

“The visit may come next week. I am not sure if it may be extended to another date such as two weeks later or so. The justice minister has not made a statement about the exact date of the visit, and I will not utter a date, either,” Çelik told reporters on Thursday evening.

Turkish state authorities have been holding peace talks with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan since last October, with the aim of achieving a timetable for the disarmament of PKK terrorists. Three Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies traveled to İmralı Island on Feb. 23 to meet with the PKK leader as part of the talks. The delegation included Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Pervin Buldan and Altan Tan.

The BDP wants the same delegation to visit Öcalan, but the government is unwilling to allow the same three lawmakers to travel to the island due to the “chaos” sparked in the aftermath of the first visit. After returning from İmralı, the BDP delegation declined to tell the press what they talked about during their meeting with Öcalan. However, minutes from the meeting were published by the Milliyet daily last week. It is still a matter of controversy how the logs were leaked, but the BDP denies being behind the leak, although most observers say it is the likely culprit. Sources from the Prime Ministry also point to the BDP as being behind the leak. According to them, the BDP leaked the minutes intentionally.

The BDP has not officially submitted to the Ministry of Justice a list of its deputies in the next delegation to visit Öcalan for a new meeting. When the list is submitted, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin will either approve the list or reject it, asking the pro-Kurdish party to send a new list.

According to some sources, the BDP has an alternative list, which includes deputies İdris Baluken, Murat Bozlak and Nursel Aydoğan. EU Affairs Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bağış said the leaking of the minutes was a “step aimed at halting the peace process.” “They [those behind the leak] wanted to use the minutes as a gun to halt the process. But their plan did not work,” he said on Friday during a televised program. On Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke about the debates regarding the leaked İmralı meeting minutes and addressed the media outlet that published the story to announce the culprit responsible for the leak.

“If we remain patient for a while, our colleagues from the media [Milliyet daily] may publicize the source of the leak. They know it and they have to announce it. Patience is needed. But if they don’t announce it, then we will,” Erdoğan said.

The prime minister also spoke about the possible release of the public officials kidnapped by the terrorist PKK, and said his government does not want the group to turn the release into a show of strength. “We do not want a repeat of the Habur incident,” he stated.

On Oct. 19, 2009, the PKK turned over a group of its members to the Turkish authorities at the Habur border gate, which was at the time seen as a groundbreaking move that might have led to the disarmament of the PKK. However, PKK supporters turned the militants’ return into a major show of power, with massive demonstrations in the Southeast, offending nationalist sentiment in Turkey and also the families of soldiers killed in clashes with the PKK.

The incident led to an interruption in the government’s efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the decades-old conflict.The PKK holds 10 public officials who were kidnapped from their places of service in eastern and southeastern towns in 2011 and 2012. According to Ahmet Türk, an independent Kurdish deputy, the kidnapped officials may be released by the PKK in five or six days. The green light for the release of the officials came from Öcalan last month. He told the BDP delegation visiting him that the PKK should treat the officials well, adding that he hopes they can return to their families soon.

The PKK has not made an announcement about how to release the officials. There are rumors the PKK will ask a BDP delegation to take the officials from where they are being held to their families. The BDP is reportedly working on a list of deputies to be included in the delegation.

Türk also made a call on the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), saying the party should contribute to the “peace process,” referring to ongoing talks between the state and Öcalan aimed at disarming the terrorist PKK. “We know that achieving peace is difficult. Everyone knows that stability will not come to Turkey or the Middle East without the settlement of the Kurdish problem. … We have gone through rather painful times for the past 30 years during which many people lost their lives. It is very important that the CHP lend support to this peace process and work to strengthen the will of the peoples of this country to coexist,” he said. Türk also complained that the CHP is following a policy that does not support peace.