Between the island, mountains and the capital

The release of eight Turkish public officials who had been held hostage for 19 months by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came not only as a relief for their families but also is the most concrete step so far in the Kurdish process. Scenes of emotional parents hugging their young sons were aired widely in the media, and served their purpose to further assure the public that the talks will indeed bear fruit.


In Stockholm, President Abdullah Gül in his address to the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) expressed also relief and emphasized the importance of talking in a “different language.” He meant that the discourse must no longer include arms if politics is to be normalized. Gül’s visit to Sweden has exposed the vital link between the process and the fundamental political reform, as well as the irreversible direction towards EU membership.

The visit followed an unexpected meeting between him and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), during which the latter allegedly questioned the legitimacy of the talks between the state and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK. But, following the meeting, Kılıçdaroğlu did not have anything tangible to say about where now he and his party stand vis-à-vis the process itself. One could see it coming: The deeper and more productive the process, the weaker and more shaken the main opposition. The CHP, which defiantly keeps sending one “friendship delegation” after another to Bashar al-Assad while remaining indifferent to peace talks on İmralı Island, is already in profound trouble, destined for even worse.

No one should be in denial that the mutual understanding that was reached between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Öcalan is to push through for a solution in the context of democratization, of changing the paradigm of the rigid republic and grant rights and freedoms. But only time will reveal the details. After the release as the first confidence building measure, it is now time for Parliament to pass the fourth judiciary package, already marked by most of us as “insufficient, but progress nevertheless.” A third BDP delegation will carry the responses from the military and diaspora wings of the PKK to Öcalan and, if all goes well, we will witness a declaration of a unilateral cease-fire, followed by a withdrawal, as soon as next week.

From then on, the authority of Öcalan — now recognized by the state — will come under a tough test. Will he be able to deliver? The Turkish media present the course of events as “take and take” for Ankara, but Öcalan knows that he will need to convince the armed wings and the Kurdish voters of the BDP in general that “he is not selling them out.”

What does it take from Ankara to also help drag Kurds in general behind a peaceful solution?

It would be worthwhile to read the notes by Didem Collinsworth, an expert on Turkey with the International Crisis Group (ICG) who took part in a conference in Switzerland, where Kurds cautiously sympathetic with the PKK expressed their expectations. Reading her notes it is rather clear that the general mood is pro-solution, that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s assessment on Öcalan’s will to stop fighting was correct, though he does not have the ability to make everyone in the PKK obey his orders, that much depended on Ankara, to strengthen his persuasive skills.

“I realized once again” Collinsworth concludes in her notes, “that to attain sustainable peace, both sides would have to overcome a deep lack of trust. After years of unfulfilled promises, Kurds are highly suspicious of the intentions of the ruling AKP in the talks and accuse it of employing stalling tactics. … I left Switzerland feeling that most Kurds, including the hardliners, would back the latest peace efforts if there is an open process supported by real reforms from Ankara and combined with Öcalan’s power of persuasion over his base.”



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