Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey has launched talks with imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan boosting public hopes for an end to the almost 30 year-long conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
The meetings taking place on Imrali Island, where Ocalan serves his life sentence in prison, have been confirmed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials.
Days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the ongoing talks with Ocalan on state television in late December, his senior political advisor Yalçin Akdogan revealed limited information on the scope and the motivation of the process.
Akdogan expressed “cautious optimism” about the talks and said that the initiative is aimed at disarming PKK and does not cover all aspects of the so-called Kurdish problem.
The PKK, an armed Kurdish group considered a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and Turkey, demands autonomy from the Turkish government in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey and carries out attacks against Turkish military targets and civilians.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Radikal newspaper published a report announcing that intelligence officials and Ocalan had agreed on a four-stage plan to end the conflict.
The plan, which wasn’t attributed to officials in the report, puts forth the following steps: Ceasefire; approval of a judicial reform package that will release thousands of imprisoned Kurdish activists/politicians and the withdrawal of PKK members beyond Turkey’s borders; democratisation talks; and finally disarmament.
The Stream: Turkey’s Kurdish question
Thousands of Turkish activists, politicians and journalists are in Turkish prisons in relation to cases against the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (Koma Civakên Kurdistan in Kurdish or KCK), the alleged umbrella organisation of the PKK along with other Kurdish groups in the region.
In November, Ocalan played a leading role in ending hunger strikes by Kurdish inmates demanding an end to the isolation his isloation, in addition to right to education and legal defence at courts in their Kurdish mother tongue.
New talks with the PKK leader produced their first results last week as two Kurdish politicians visited Ocalan, a development with no precedent in more than 17 months.
The PKK leader, serving time since 1999, had not been allowed to see anybody apart from his relatives during the period in question.
Although Ocalan is seen as the most influential person within the PKK, the stance of the group’s acting leadership is also crucial to reaching a resolution. Murat Karayilan, de facto head of the organisation based in Iraq, has expressed cautiously positive views on the process.
Karayilan said the talks were merely at a “consultation stage” and called for more practical steps. He underlined that Ocalan’s conditions and communication channels should be enhanced for the process to proceed further.
Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party, has backed the AKP government and the initiative, as long as it is transparent.
The pro-Kurdish BDP also supports the process, even as they continue to demand greater autonomy for the Kurds.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party accused the government of committing “treason”.
The sensitive process has been threatened by various recent developments such as killing of 14 PKK members by the Turkish army in the southeastern city of Hakkari and unclaimed assassinations of three PKK members in Paris on Thursday.
Turkish intelligence’s contact with senior PKK figures was first publicised in 2011 after a recording revealed so-called Oslo Talks, a series of meetings that took place in the Norwegian capital between 2009 and 2011 to settle the decades-long armed conflict.
Prime Minister Erdogan publicly declared that he personally assigned intelligence officials for the talks in question when the Turkish judiciary opened an investigation in 2012 against the same team for attending the very same meetings.
The government’s bid to bring several amnesty-granted PKK members to Turkey as part of its Kurdish democratic initiative in October 2009 damaged the process as a whole, after the Kurdish movement seized the development through crowded popular demonstrations, a move perceived as “offensive” by the AKP and much of the Turkish public.
The so-called Kurdish Opening initiative has been practically frozen since the summer of 2011 amid the PKK’s intensified attacks on Turkish security targets.