Turkey’s peace process faces fresh challenges

The PKK has said peace talks will fail unless Turkey’s government agrees to more reforms.

Peace talks between Turkey and Kurdish separatists, which began at the end of 2012 and raised hopes for a solution to end the decades-long conflict, were pushed to the sidelines when anti-government protests broke out in several cities in Turkey at the beginning of June.

Now the Kurdish issue has burst into the headlines once again, after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) delivered an ultimatum to Ankara, announcing that the peace plan would fail if the Turkish government did not implement tangible reforms by September.

After a ceasefire successfully initiated as part of peace talks between Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, the armed group’s fighters started to withdraw from Turkey in May.

Since then, the PKK and the Kurdish political movement have been pressing anew for the peace deal to include constitutional reforms to provide greater recognition and civil rights for Kurds in Turkey.

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Cemil Bayik, the de facto head of the PKK’s military wing, based in northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, called for immediate constitutional reforms.

“We do not want to return to fighting. We expect a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish issue and if Turkey does not [take action], we will take our measures,” Bayik told Al Jazeera.

Bayik, who is a close ally of Ocalan, was appointed as the group’s new political leader – replacing Murat Karayilan when the armed group recently changed its management cadre.

The leaders of the outlawed group claimed that the Turkish government was not fulfilling its commitment to the peace initiative, while Ankara said a slate of reforms are in their final stages.

The latest warning from the PKK and its leadership shake-up have raised new questions and suspicions about the direction of the peace process, which in recent months seems to have been thrown into jeopardy.

The ultimatum may force the government to take immediate steps on Kurdish demands.

Tiny steps

Aysel Tugluk, an independent pro-Kurdish MP for Van province and a prominent figure in the Kurdish political movement, said that the latest warning from the PKK was a consequence of the Turkish government enforcing its own methods within the peace process.

“The government is trying to handle this issue on its own and ignoring the demands of the Kurdish political movement. But Kurds are no longer in a position to accept this,” Tugluk told Al Jazeera.

Constitutional reform is the only way to grant rights for Kurdish people and achieve peace.

by Aysel Tugluk, independent pro-Kurdish MP

She said the peace initiative cannot be carried out by “tiny steps”, and that the government has to show Kurds it is taking care of the issue in a strategic way.

Tugluk emphasised that concrete projects and a clear roadmap must be unveiled immediately, and that the process must be carried out with the strong contribution of Ocalan and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

“Kurds do not ask for too much. Better detention conditions for Ocalan must be provided and he must be allowed to communicate with the members of the Kurdish movement and [the] press as well,” she said.

She also urged the government to abolish the controversial anti-terrorism law and to release thousands of Kurdish political prisoners, to lower the election threshold that parties must achieve to enter parliament, and to grant full Kurdish-language rights in education and public services.

Tugluk pointed out that greater efforts for a new constitution was vital for the peace process: “Constitutional reform is the only way to grant rights for Kurdish people and achieve peace.”

Rocky road ahead

Some analysts say that, despite the hiccups in the peace process, the initiative is still on track to succeed.

Avni Ozgurel, a journalist and member of the so-called “Wise People” – a commission set up by the government to enlighten the public about the process – said the PKK’s latest announcement was not “a threat of a new armed struggle”, but a warning to the government to speed up the peace process.

“The PKK is at an irreversible point, because there are great expectations among the Kurds for a solution and peace. So there is no turning back,” Ozgurel told Al Jazeera. “However, it is not going to happen today or tomorrow; we are talking about almost 30 years of conflict. Both parties are aware that this is a rocky road.”

Inside Story – Turkey and the PKK: A chance for peace?

Can Paker, another member of the “Wise People” commission, said statements from both parties were merely “tactical moves” that should not be taken seriously.

“Both parties know that there is no place for war before the road to peace, and they are determined to reach a political solution,” Paker told Al Jazeera.

Paker also said that the motivations for a peace deal still remain, and will do so as long as the peace process does not suffer any major setbacks.

“The [Turkish] government is expected to introduce a new package of reforms soon, which aim to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority,” Paker said.

Follow Erman Yuksel on Twitter: @eyuksel

Source: Al Jazeera