Turkey’s Kurds see best hope yet of end to three-decade war

* Ceasefire anticipated from Kurdish New Year

* Conflict has killed more than 40,000

* Economy crippled in under-developed southeast

DIYARBAKIR: Kurdish politician Abdullah Demirbas is haunted by the nightmare vision of his two sons meeting in the hills of southeastern Turkey.

The first left home at 16 to join Kurdish rebels fighting the Turkish army, and now his older brother is signing up on the government side. Like many Kurds weary of a war that has killed 40,000, he prays talks between fighters and government will bring the swift, lasting peace that has eluded generations.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose leader Abdullah Ocalan is conducting talks from his prison cell on an island near Istanbul, is expected to declare a ceasefire next week. On Wednesday, the PKK freed a group of Turkish soldiers held prisoner in their mountain retreat in northern Iraq.

Previous contact with the man once dubbed “baby killer” by Turkish media was a closely-guarded secret, but the latest talks have been openly acknowledged by Ankara, risking the wrath of a conservative establishment.

There are perils for all and forces on both sides that stand opposed to talks. In the regional centre Diyarbakir, a city of anonymous apartment blocks ringed by centuries-old ramparts, the conflict eats into the heart of families and friendships.

“The worst thing that could happen in my life is for both of my children to come together fighting in one place,” said Demirbas, a member of the pro-Kurdish BDP opposition party. His wife, he said, would stay up all night to pray when she heard fighter jets leave on sorties to bomb rebel hideouts.

“Maybe my child is going to die tonight,” he recounted her saying of the younger brother, who left home four years ago to join the rebels in the highlands around the city perched on a bend in the Tigris River.

The three-decade Kurdish conflict has opened Turkey to accusations of human rights abuses and consigned the south-east to poverty. It has lso forced a nation eager for a greater role on the world stage to face up to its own ethnic diversity.

Progress in solving it has been painfully slow.

In this city of 1.5 million people, where boys selling tea and turnip juice dart among old men in traditional Kurdish baggy trousers, there is widespread resentment of a state which for decades denied Kurdish ethnic identity.

But whether driven by his presidential ambition ahead of elections next year, a path which would be smoothed by Kurdish support, or by fear of Kurdish assertiveness in neighbouring northern Iraq and war-torn Syria, Prime Minister Erdogan has a new sense of urgency.

Since October, intelligence officers and Kurdish politicians have been speaking to PKK leader Ocalan in the island prison where he was dispatched in 1999 after capture by Turkish special forces in Kenya.

What has emerged appears the most comprehensive effort yet to end the conflict with the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Washington and the European Union as well as Ankara.

“There have been many attempts at peace, but this one is the most serious,” said Imam Tascier, head of the Revolutionary Democratic Cultural Associations (DDKD), one of several Kurdish leftist groups formed in the 1970s and a precursor to the PKK. reuters

Source http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013\03\15\story_15-3-2013_pg4_5


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