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March 22, 2013

Turkey Cautious Over PKK Cease-Fire Announcement

by Dorian Jones

The announcement of a cease-fire by Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Worker's Party or PKK, has been cautiously welcomed by Turkey's prime minister.

The imprisoned rebel leader described his call for a cease-fire and withdrawal of his forces from Turkey as historic. But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was cautious in his response.


"I find the call, the invitation, a positive development," he said. "But the essential thing is the decision into practice. We would like to see the reality of Ocalan's remarks in the shortest time possible," Erdogan said.
 

The Turkish government has indicted that the withdrawal of an estimated 3,000 PKK fighters in Turkey could be achieved by the end of the year. Prime Minister Erdogan also gave a commitment that departing rebels would be allowed safe passage.


However, Ocalan gave no timetable for the withdrawal. Murat Karayilan, the commander of the PKK in nothern Iraq, reportedly ordered a cease-fire but not a call for withdrawal from Turkey


Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based research institute Edam, believes the PKK is looking for the government to make some concessions.


"I think the PKK wants the parliament to acknowledge this process. If they get this commitment from the Turkish parliament it will be the main guarantee that they are keen as a legitimate interlocutor. And, that would certainty go a long way in convincing their grassroots (groups) or to their constituents that they have acquired this legitimacy and that they are not seen as a defeated quote-unquote army," Ulgen said.


Until now, efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK have been confined to talks between Ocalan and the head of Turkey's Intelligence Agency, Hakan Fidan. Erdogan refuses to describe the talks as negotiations.


Gultan Kisanak, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, said earlier this month the government has to legitimize the process by bringing in parliament.


"We believe right now there should be the creation of parliament commissions to work on the peace negotiations and this is what we expect from the government, she said. "It is vital in helping to bridge the different demands of the state and Kurdish people."


Analyst Ulgen warns that such a move would carry risks for the prime minister and the peace process.


"We should all recall that Ocalan is still viewed by many Turks as the person responsible for the deaths of up to 35,000 people. And, therefore, a government initiative that would aim to legitimize the talks with him is likely to produce a backlash in Turkish society. So that is the reason why the government is quite cautious about this," Ulgen said.


With the arrival of spring and the snows melting in the mountain hideouts of the PKK across Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, observers predict an increase in pressure on the rebels to withdraw, along with growing expectations by Kurds of concessions by the government.