The Independent Gateway to Kurdish News and Analyses

Is Turkey-PKK dialogue on the horizon?


Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 2, June 2009 -

by Servet Tosun and Jeff Allan


The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was founded as the 1970s drew to a close, marking a turning point in the Kurdish national movement just as Turkish military oppression of dissident groups – such as Kurds and leftists – was at its height. Cengiz Candar of the Turkish newspaper, Radikal, has described the PKK as a consequence of the “Kurdish problem” that emerged soon after the establishment of the Turkish Republic. This “problem” has given birth to a number of revolts in various incarnations, and has continued with violence that has claimed thousands of lives over the last 25 years. Candar states that the PKK is not a single organization, but it is a well-networked entity. While their leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been imprisoned for over 10 years, the military cadres of the PKK are still well-organized and active in the Qendil Mountains straddling the Iraq-Iran border and other areas near the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. A significant portion of the PKK’s financial resources come from its civil organizations supported by Diaspora Kurds in Europe, and the PKK enjoys the psychological support of many Kurds in Turkey.


In the beginning, the PKK demanded a free and independent Kurdish nation-state, or a Kurdistan, that includes parts of present-day Turkey. However, after 1993, it changed its core objective and sought a solution to the Kurdish question within the borders of the modern-day countries that occupy portions of the Kurds’ historical homeland. Turkey had neither accepted nor acknowledged the change in the PKK’s objectives, and refused to open communication with the rebel group despite various overtures that included the PKK’s unilateral ceasefires or the official surrender of small numbers of PKK political and military personnel. However, as the conflict between the PKK and Turkey continues, a close watch on the media in Turkey indicates that changes may very well be taking place.



Last month, a well-known Turkish journalist, Hasan Cemal, conducted an interview with the active PKK leader, Murat Karayilan. The interview was published in a popular mainstream (and somewhat right-wing) Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, and has received considerable political attention. In this interview, Karayilan emphasized the importance of the change in the Turkish side. Later, he commented in the popular Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that, “In the past, Turkey used to block its ears to our calls and peaceful initiatives. This time, however, all the media outlets in Turkey are discussing and openly debating our issue, especially after the appeal I made personally through the Turkish journalist. The reaction of the Turkish side to this interview seems, generally, positive.”


In the interview with Hasan Cemal, Karayilan explains that the PKK is an inexpugnable movement, as has been proven over the last 25 years of conflict with Turkey. Given such a reality, neither side should attack the other, but rather, a dialogue for a peaceful settlement should begin between Öcalan and Turkey. If this is not acceptable for Turkey, Karayilan explains, Turkey can open a communication with the active PKK leaders.


PKK leader, Murat Karayilan (left), is interviewed by Hasan Cemal (right) from Milliyet.


If Turkey still resists, then Turkey can negotiate with the democratically-elected members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). If none of them are reconcilable for Turkey, Turkey can establish a dialogue with a so-called “wise man committee.”


Karayilan states in the interview that the PKK wants to negotiate a “democratic autonomous Kurdistan” in Turkey, which would include strengthened local governments under the reformed local authorities law. “This demand should not scare Turkey,” Karayilan says, and he further explains that it would not affect the borders and the unitary structure of the Turkish Republic.


Karayilan’s comments received provoked reactions from both Turkish politicians and the media. The Turkish government has begun discussions of a possible political resolution to the “Kurdish question” in Turkey. Among the various politicians, civil organizations, academics and media who have responded, President Abdullah Gül is the most prominent actor. President Gül has stated that the Kurdish question is Turkey’s most important issue. During his recent visit to Kyrgyzstan, he also talked about his intention to bring together the various political parties represented in Turkish parliament, as well as a designated a group of officials, to find a solution to the Kurdish question.


"The general goodness of Turkey depends on the general goodness of the Kurds. Unless Kurds meet peace and prosperity, Turkey [will not] achieve peace and prosperity. Unless Kurds become free, Turkey [will not] be free."


Among the officials who have been identified for such a task is the Minister of Interior, Besir Atalay. His comments during a news conference have also shown some changes in the nature of Turkey’s political culture. In response to a question with regarding Karayilan’s interview, Atalay said that, “We see an importance in any comment about solving the Kurdish question and observe everything that is happening carefully, and we are taking careful notes.”


On May 30, 2009, Mustafa Erdogan, a Turkish columnist from the daily newspaper, Star, suggested that giving rights to the Kurds is an absolute condition for bringing peace. He wrote that this condition could be fulfilled only through the constitutionalization of cultural rights, a decentralization of the government, and the creation of easier access for political representation for the Kurds. In addition, Erdogan emphasizes the importance of a reconciliation process that includes making the Kurdish general public feel that Turks are sympathetic to the Kurds. If none of these objectives are accomplished, he says, stable peace will not come. Erdogan asserts, “The general goodness of Turkey depends on the general goodness of the Kurds. Unless Kurds meet peace and prosperity, Turkey [will not] achieve peace and prosperity. Unless Kurds become free, Turkey [will not] be free.”


Murat Karayilan also referred to a reconciliation process between Kurds and Turks in an interview with the Times of London. He expressed that both sides will bear responsibility for reaching rapprochement: “Both Turkish and Kurdish societies have been damaged. Both sides have to forgive one another…Forgiveness is necessary for peace. Kurds and Turks must open a new white page.”


Pro-Kurdish DTP leader, Ahmet Türk (left), meets with Turkish President Abdullah Gül (right) - May 2009


Other writers, such as Mümtazer Türköne from Zaman, celebrate the possibility of ending the violence in Turkey but provide warnings. Türköne emphasizes that any delay in making steps toward the settlement may become a possible threat to this process. He writes, “Fear and hope are twin brothers. As hopes rise, so do fears. But this time, it seems, Turkey has also mobilized reason, which can manage fears.”


As Türköne implies, there is an ongoing battle between hope and fear in Turkey when it comes to addressing the Kurdish question. Hasan Cemal describes such psychological difficulty by giving an example from his experience after his interview with Karayilan in Qendil. Since his interview, Cemal has been subject to many accusations of conspiring with the PKK. According to Cemal, President Gül, State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan initially scheduled meetings with him following his trip to Qendil, but then suddenly either postponed or cancelled the appointments because they did not want to be victims of the same accusations. (Milliyet, May 30, 2009)


In addition to these political obstacles, tensions and violence still continue. Turkish forces recently attacked alleged PKK sites in Iraqi Kurdistan once again, and skirmishes between the PKK and the Turkish military continue in the southeast. At the same time, Prime Minister Erdogan harshly criticized DTP-leader Ahmet Türk for calling upon Turkish security forces to silence their weapons. Türk fired back stating, “The prime minister is obviously trying to dilute the issue as he cannot openly declare that he has no political will.”


"[O]verall recent developments do indicate that changes are taking place in the attitudes of both the Turkish state and the PKK. Certainly, there are still very serious obstacles to progress. However, reactions to the peace process have so far been considerably positive and have created hope for the future in the relations between Kurds and Turks."


Nevertheless, overall recent developments do indicate that changes are taking place in the attitudes of both the Turkish state and the PKK. Certainly, there are still very serious obstacles to progress. However, reactions to the peace process have so far been considerably positive and have created hope for the future in the relations between Kurds and Turks. It seems that Turkish politicians, especially those within the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), are at least considering taking steps toward dialogue. The Turkish media, which in the past has frequently engaged in self-censorship (especially with respect to the controversial and emotionally-charged Kurdish question), is speaking about the need for some resolution to this issue. And while the CHP, the standard bearer of Turkey’s founding ideology, is viewed by some as less flexible on the Kurdish issue, CHP officials have recently met with DTP representatives for the first time.


For many years, Turkey’s government and military have refused to engage in dialogue with the PKK. Indeed, the Turkish party line dictated that the issue of the PKK was one of “terrorism”, and unrelated to issues of justice or equality within Turkey. At the same time, aggressive measures were taken against non-PKK representatives of the Kurdish people, including the DTP’s predecessor parties active in Turkish municipal politics and the parliament. Now more than ever, change is being observed. Genuine dialogue is close to becoming a reality, and many would agree that this could not happen too soon as Turkey struggles to enter the European Union while the PKK is poised to enter its fourth decade as the outlawed voice of Kurdish aspirations in Turkey.


Servet Tosun holds a masters degree in Political Science from Rutgers University and currently resides in Istanbul. His research has been primarily focused on the Kurdish question and includes a comparative study between Turkish and Kurdish nationalism, the effect of globalization on Kurds, and the role of military in Turkish politics. Jeff Allan is co-founder of Kurdish Herald and a member of the editorial board..


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