News / Middle East

Turkish Government in Talks with Kurdish Rebel Chief

A person holds a poster of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan as Kurdish demonstrators march in Istanbul, Turkey, April 19, 2011.
A person holds a poster of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan as Kurdish demonstrators march in Istanbul, Turkey, April 19, 2011.
Dorian Jones
The Turkish government is in talks with the imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. However, questions remain as to whether the government is ready to make necessary reforms to persuade rebels to give up their fight when Kurdish nationalism across the region is increasing. 

A senior adviser to Turkey's prime minister, Yalcin Akdogan, confirmed Turkish intelligence officers have started talks with the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish group the PKK.

"The goal is the disarmament of the PKK," Akdogan said. "You can't win through armed struggle. You have to use other tactics and negotiation is one of them."

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK,  has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 - a conflict that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives.  Akdogan expressed hopes that the rebels could give up their arms as early as spring and its leaders agree to go into exile.

But international relations expert Soli Ozel at Kadir Has University questions whether Turkey's government is prepared to give what is necessary to achieve such a goal.

"This is all geared towards making sure the PKK is dropping the guns, which is fine," said Ozel. "But we also have a political problem vis-a-vis the Kurds of Turkey which is a problem of citizenship primarily. We don't know where the government wishes to take the country and given the fact we are locked onto the presidential election of 2014, I really don't see the government moving in that direction, which might alienate some of the conservative and nationalists constituencies it depends on."

Observers warn the PKK is far from ready to give up fighting. In the last year, violence has returned to the levels of the 1990s,  the height of the conflict.

The rebels are fighting for autonomy and greater cultural rights. But with presidential elections not due for another year, Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based research institute Edam, believes there is a window of opportunity for the government to make concessions.

"This is going to be a long drawn and gradual process," said Ulgen.  "I think there are two critical issues here. Indeed, one is how much the government is prepared to offer. That is certainly what is being currently negotiated. But the second one, is really the issue of trust. And, here it's a question more of the government trusting the parties that they are negotiating with, but also the PKK members trusting the Turkish government that it will actually deliver."

Ocalan has been cut off from his supporters for more than a decade while being imprisoned on the island of Imrali. Questions remain as to what influence he has over the PKK.

Political observers point out his credentials were enhanced last year when the Turkish government turned to him for help to end a protracted hunger strike by imprisoned Kurdish rebels.

International relations expert Ozel says this may be the best opportunity for the government to show it is moving in the Kurds' direction.

"The Kurdish nationalist movement regionally is making its presence known on the world stage," Ozel said. "A quasi-independent Kurdistan in Iraq, and autonomously-run Kurdish regions of Syria in the north, and the Turkish Kurds are seemingly being left behind in all these developments."

The last talks between Ocalan and the government broke down two year ago. The collapse in those talks saw a marked increase in fighting, which continues today. Observers say with Turkey facing a presidential and general election in 2014 and 2015, talks with the Kurds could present the best opportunity for success for many years to come.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs