PM Erdoğan pleased with Öcalan’s role in peace initiative

4 February 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan affirmed that the role Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is playing in the peace initiative, which the government recently started to settle the Kurdish issue, is a positive one.

“We observe, as information passed on to us by our intelligence agency indicates, that messages İmralı [with reference to Öcalan who is being kept in prison on İmralı island] sends are very important,” Prime Minister Erdoğan said. His comments draw attention to messages communicated, in the wake of the peace initiative the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) started, by those in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where the PKK headquarters are located and by those in Europe who are affiliated with the PKK as well as by the members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

But Erdoğan seemingly prefers to adopt a cautiously optimistic attitude concerning the settlement of Turkey’s terror problem. “It may be wrong here to confuse targets [formerly] set with the present situation,” he said at a press conference he held at İstanbul’s Atatürk Airport on Sunday before he left for a trip to visit three central European countries, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

“It’s out of the question that we stop fighting against the separatist terrorist organization, unless it lays down arms,” he added, but also noted that Turkey would allow the terrorists to leave the country in a safe way, implying that Turkish security forces wouldn’t launch operations against terrorists who wanted to get out of Turkey. The prime minister’s words indicated he attributes utmost importance to peace in the southeast region where Kurdish population is dominant. “Our security forces are not itching to stage operations, but fighting against terrorism is their primary duty,” he remarked. In response to a question about whether the terror problem would be finished by June as speculated, “Nowhere in the world would any such schedule in the fight against terrorism be set,” the prime minister said. “Besides, we are not negotiating with anybody, because we wouldn’t ever sit at a negotiating table with an illegal organization.” Erdoğan also said, in a clear reference to the BDP, Turkish officials would keep communicating with those who are known to be the PKK’s political branch in Turkey.

Following the visit, at the beginning of January, Mardin independent deputy and senior Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, and BDP deputy Ayla Akat Ata paid to Öcalan at İmralı island to get Öcalan’s stance and directives as part of the government’s peace initiative, the question of when the second visit to İmralı would take place is on everybody’s mind. But Erdoğan didn’t give a clue about a possible date of a second İmralı visit. “We have not made a promise as regards a [second] visit to the island,” he said. Noting that the authority to issue permission for the visit is the Justice Ministry, “We will set a date after the ministry submits its proposal [as regards the date].

There is no definite date for the visit; no commitment that it will take place this week,” the prime minister said. In contrast to past years, for some time now, Erdoğan has been describing the problem not as a Kurdish problem, but as a terror problem. “There is no Kurdish problem, but there is a terror problem. We are against all types of ethnic nationalism. Let’s get together under the citizenship of Turkish Republic,” he stated, noting that the Kurdish identity is no longer being denied in Turkey.

The BDP demands that local municipalities should be given more power so that Kurds can get a kind of democratic autonomy. But the prime minister made it clear he doesn’t agree with those who seek that the authorities of local municipalities be reinforced. “Municipalities in Turkey are now stronger than they have ever been,” he said, noting that the municipalities enjoy good financial revenues. But he also added that in cities where the municipality is under the direction of the BDP, the financial resources are not being spent for the city, but for other purposes, with the implication that the cities’ resources are being transferred to the terrorist organization.

Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the BDP, complained at a BDP congress in Van on Saturday that Kurds have yet to see any positive results from the government’s peace initiative. Although he noted that they give support to the initiative on account of the confidence they and the Kurdish people have in Öcalan, “We attribute importance to words voiced, but we know it’s not possible to settle a hundred-year-old issue just with nice words,” he said.