Turkey’s Peace Process with Kurds Hits Bumps

By Ayla Albayrak

ISTANBUL–The jubilant mood which met Kurdish militants’ call to lay down arms last month has in recent weeks been replaced by a more complex reality: that Turkey’s road to peace with its large Kurdish minority will likely be long and bumpy.

Since the jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan last month called for his Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to lay down arms and withdraw from Turkey to bases in Northern Iraq, uncertainty has lingered over which party should take the next step in the peace process and what that step should be.

The PKK leadership demands that Turkey’s parliament should pass laws to ensure the safety of their fighters during withdrawal, and to avoid the recurrence of the bloodbath in 1999 when Turkish soldiers attacked PKK fighters as they emerged from hideouts in Turkey to cross the Iraqi border after Mr. Ocalan’s capture.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has thus far been reluctant to change laws to guarantee the safety of militant fighters. To avoid a scenario in which Turkish military comes nose-to-nose with armed PKK fighters during their withdrawal, Mr. Erdogan has said the PKK militants should disarm before withdrawal – a proposal which the PKK leadership says is unacceptable.

“No laws have been changed to prevent attacks against the withdrawing guerrillas. The military can still use those laws…and no-one could call the military to account,” said Cemil Bayik, one of the veteran PKK leaders in Northern Iraq, in an interview with a Kurdish private television channel, Nuce TV on Tuesday.

The government has instead focused on building public support for the process, on Wednesday unveiling a 63-member committee of “wise people” including academics, journalists, businessmen and celebrities, handpicked by Mr. Erdogan to explain the process to the public. Opposition parties on Thursday vowed to boycott any cross-party committee suggested by the government.

Analysts said the struggle to reach agreement is not insurmountable, but underlines the complexities of trying to broker a peace deal which Ankara hopes will alter the power dynamics in a region of the world being reshaped by uprisings and a reduced U.S. military presence. Turkey aspires to be a model for nascent Muslim democracies emerging from the Arab Spring, and to boost its standing. A deal also could speed one of Turkey’s most dramatic geopolitical shifts—its deepening ties with the oil-rich Kurds of northern Iraq.

“The caravan will be fixed along the way, because there is a sense of common purpose between the government and Mr. Ocalan. Some daily statements do not mean the process has hit the rocks,” said Hugh Pope, director of the Turkey-Cyprus project of the conflict resolution NGO, International Crisis Group, the ICG, who has followed the Kurdish question for three decades.

“But at the end of the day, Ocalan is a prisoner of the Turkish state. This is why Turkish government has to respond to Kurdish demands to convince the (PKK) movement,” Mr. Pope said.

Turkey’s Kurds have for long demanded greater rights including education in mother tongue, larger self-rule in Kurdish majority provinces, the release of Kurdish political prisoners and amendments to harsh anti-terrorism laws.

Turkey’s media on Thursday was brimming with unverified reports that Mr. Ocalan has ordered the PKK to comply with the Prime Minister’s proposal and disarm before leaving Turkish territories, but Kurdish lawmakers who visited the militant leader on Wednesday, refused to confirm the reports.

“We will make a statement about this in the coming days,” said BDP lawmaker Pervin Buldan, part of a delegation which visited Mr. Ocalan on Wednesday.

The PKK leader sent a message to Kurds celebrating his birthday on Thursday which called for all Kurds to embrace the process in a peaceful manner but gave no details on how the next steps would be taken.

Since the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union, waged its armed campaign against the Turkish state in 1984, some 40,000 people have been killed in clashes between the state security forces and the militants, and operations of either party have not spared civilians.

Attention will now turn to the contents of a letter written by Mr. Ocalan and due to be made public in the coming days, according to Kurdish lawmakers.

Write to Ayla Albayrak at ayla.albayrak@dowjones.com

Source http://stream.wsj.com/story/latest-headlines/SS-2-63399/


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