Turkey Analysis: Kurdish Fighters Begin Withdrawal – Is Peace on the Way?

April 22, 2013  Ali Yenidunya  – EA Middle East & Turkey, Middle East & Iran

Prime Minister ErdoganAs part of peace talks, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has begun withdrawing forces in small groups from southeastern Turkey near the Black Sea, even though the PKK, backed by Turkish opposition groups, was unable to get Parliamentary oversight of the move.So does this mean the “peace process” between the Erdogan Government and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is on its way to resolving the decades-long crisis?

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has resisted demands to open up its control of the process with others, including opposition parties. It has maintained the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) as the supervisor of the peace process, including the withdrawal.

At the same time, the Government, with votes from the opposition BDP, has established the “Resolution Process Assessment Commission“. Composed of representatives from the AKP, BDP, and possibly  the Nationalist Movement Party and the Republican People’s  parties, the commission has an immediate four-month mandate to investigate claims of abuses in southeastern Turkey, with testimony taken from former PKK members.

There is a sign of trouble, however, from the National Movement Party (MHP) and AKP members unhappy with the deal with the opposition BDP. On Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered in the western city of Izmir, condemning the Government’s involvement in the peace process.

On the Kurdish front, Ocalan continues to test the waters of negotiation. He knows the Government is trying to maintain its control, but he dopes not want to miss this opportunity to break the status quo and boost the Kurdish political movement. So the withdrawal has begun, despite the failure to get Parliament involvement. 

Meanwhile, attention shifts to political issues. The BDP’s co-chair, Gulten Kisanak, has called on the Government to establish a constitutional language for peace. The PKK’s Cemil Bayik reiterated on Sunday that basic political conditions securing the Kurds’ position in Turkey had to be established before full withdrawal. 

So what now?

There will be no full withdrawal, with disarmament of PKK fighters, before the ruling Government provides assurances in its drafting of the new Constitution. Even a partial withdrawal must be matched by steps by Erdogan, as BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas made clear:

All citizens should not be called as “Turks” as they called now; citizens should be given the right to have education in mother language; Turkey’s diversity should be recognized and a somehow self-determination should be added into the constitution.

Demirtas also demanded an increase in the total amount of financial support given to opposition parties and asked the government to narrow the content of anti-terror laws.  

The conflict is not over. Despite Government calls for a quick withdrawal, leaders of the Kurdish camp stress that it will take time with complementary steps to meet their demands. However, those Government steps could risk a rift with nationalist opposition parties,

The political dance continues.