The Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have before them a rare opportunity to move a decades-long dispute toward a lasting solution, wrote Cemil Bayık, a founding member and top leader of the PKK, in an article he penned for the Washington Post.
Numerous efforts by the PKK to negotiate in good faith with the Turkish government have failed due to the short-sighted political calculations and lack of commitment from the country’s ruling party, Bayık said.
The article by the top PKK leader arrives as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist AK Party (AKP) has been taking on a more conciliatory stance against the country’s Kurds, who make up roughly 15 percent of the population. The AKP, in a move that prompted speculations that Ankara might be aiming to revive the peace process, lifted the years-long visitation restrictions on jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Over 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have lost their lives in the conflict between Turkish government and the PKK, an armed group that has been at war for autonomy in Turkey for over three decades. The leader of the organization Öcalan has been jailed in İmrali Island, off the coast of Istanbul, since 1999.
“Ocalan’s capture and imprisonment coincided with the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan and his party won early public support by emphasizing democracy, human rights, and justice,” but the Turkish leader later denied the existence of the Kurdish problem, Bayık wrote, accusing Turkey’s strongman of scrapping the latest peace talks for political gain.
A two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the Turkish state and the PKK collapsed in July 2015.
Tanks and fighter jets flattened 10 Kurdish cities following the end of the talks in 2015, Bayık underlined, stressing that the Turkish military killed hundreds of civilians, including women, children and the elderly.
According to the senior PKK official, Erdoğan, at this point, sees the democratic revolution of the Kurds in Syria and the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) as a threat to Ankara’s Kurdish policy.
The PKK is not naive enough to maintain that the Kurdish question can be solved through dialogue with Turkey’s ruling AKP alone, Bayık said, adding that it remains committed to a political solution of the Kurdish question within Turkish borders.
Öcalan remains the lead negotiator of the PKK, Bayık underlined, while calling for the transfer of the PKK leader from Imrali prison to a safe house.
Today’s crisis in Turkey is political, the article stressed, is ‘’ derived from the bankruptcy of the Turkish republic’s century-old Kurdish policy, a problem that lies at the heart of Turkey’s current domestic, regional and global challenges.’’
A solution to the problem requires for the administration to address the region’s historic diversity, ‘’freed from Ankara’s centralizing stranglehold,’’ it added.
Ankara could play a decisive role in furthering democracy, stability, and peace in the Middle East, Bayık wrote, however, the Turkish state refuses to do this.