Kurdish War: Peace In Our Time


March 23, 2013: Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) senior commander Abdullah Apo Ocalan issued his long anticipated call for a permanent ceasefire and a political solution to the Kurdish War on March 21. The PKK has said that it will withdraw its fighters from Turkey. The pro-Kurd Peace and Democracy party (BDP) is steadily assuming the role of political actor for Turkish Kurds, and this is very likely what the government wanted to see. This marginalizes hard-core militants in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, who apparently want to continue fighting. A BDP member of Turkey’s parliament said that Ocalan’s call for the PKK to lay down its weapons and end the fighting is definitive and irreversible. Ocalan has said that the PKK will withdraw its fighters from Turkish territory as the peace process continues and as parliament enacts reforms demanded by Turkish Kurds. Kurdish autonomy, however, is not part of the deal. BDP legislators are going out of their way to make that clear.  Managing the withdrawal will still be tricky. The current concept has two commissions overseeing the withdrawal, one commission run by the government and another staffed by non-government civilians. How this will work remains murky. PKK sources are claiming that they have 2,000 fighters in Turkey, which is at the high end of the Turkish military’s public estimates. Ocalan and several members of the BDP have said that the withdrawal could be completed by August 15, 2013, exactly 29 years to the day the war started (August 1984).

The bottom line is that a genuine, lasting peace deal between the government and Turkey’s Kurdish citizens would benefit Turkey as a whole. The biggest beneficiaries would be Turkish Kurds. One of the gripes many Turkish Kurds had with the PKK (besides despising the PKK’s use of terrorism) was that the militants’ guerrilla war hindered economic development in Turkey’s Kurdish regions. Though anti-PKK Kurds shared many cultural goals espoused by the PKK, they saw Turkey’s economic progress and increasing prosperity. Moreover, Turkey is politically stable. It is stable compared to some of its northern Balkan neighbors and its eastern central Asian neighbors. It is the Rock of Gibraltar when compared to the other nations which would have bordered an independent Kurdistan. Kurd opponents of the PKK concluded that an independent Kurdistan would have needed Turkey as a trading partner and military ally anyway. Iraq remains iffy. Iran is a prison state. Syria is a hideous mess. As it is, Turkey is Iraqi Kurdistan’s largest trading partner. Turkey has been very solicitous of Iraq’s Kurdistan Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), so much so that the Iraqi government has accused Turkey of interfering in internal Iraqi affairs. The Turks would then point out that the PKK, from bases in northern Iraq, very definitely intervened in Turkish internal affairs.

Which leads to another interesting question: how might a genuine resolution to the Kurdish War affect Syria’s Kurds? The Assad dictatorship in Syria has been using its allies in the Kurd Democratic Union party (PYD) as a threat against Turkish intervention. The PYD is regarded as the Syrian wing of the PKK. But if the PKK makes peace, where does that leave the PYD?  The most likely outcome is a severely fractured PYD. Many PYD senior leaders are beholden to the Assad regime. However, some local leaders have made it clear that they are watching the Syrian civil war from the sidelines. A more optimistic scenario has PYD moderates joining the Syrian opposition in exchange for a post-Assad political deal which gives Syrian Kurds the same rights in Syria as Turkish Kurds have in Turkey. (Austin Bay)

March 22, 2013: Despite six weeks of rather open discussion by the government, hints by PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan, leaked transcripts of discussions among pro-Kurd politicians, and not-for-attribution but obviously knowledgeable statements by officials involved in the negotiations, many citizens of Turkey are wrestling with Ocalan’s March 21 ceasefire proposal.  A lot of blood has been spilled. Terrorist attacks by the PKK have occurred throughout the country.  Many Turks are saying they will believe that the PKK is serious about a real ceasefire when they see it implemented.

March 21, 2013: PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan issued his long expected call for an end to the PKK rebellion. Ocalan called on PKK fighters to end their fight and withdraw from Turkey. “The guns should fall silent, politics should talk,” Ocalan said. That phrase captured what Ocalan has argued is now the route for achieving legitimate Kurdish cultural, economic, and political demands. He later added, “This is not giving up our struggle, it is about staging a new phase of struggle.” 

March 17, 2013: The Turkish government indicated that it is willing to let the parliament guide the peace process with the PKK. Several Kurdish leaders think the involvement of parliament is absolutely necessary because it will involve members of pro-Kurd Peace and Democracy party (BDP) in the negotiation process.

March 13, 2013: The PKK announced that it had freed eight Turkish hostages who had been held at PKK camps in northern Iraq. Six of the hostages were soldiers, one was a policeman, and one was an elected local official who had been kidnapped.

March 5, 2013: The Turkish military reported its end strength as 678,617 servicemen and women. The military has 347 flag rank officers (generals and admirals). 33 flag officers are posted with the Turkish Gendarmerie (paramilitary police force). The military has a total of 33,167 officers and 72,061 non-commissioned officers. The gendarme units have 5,561 officers, 22,812 NCOs, and 575 officers.

February 28, 2013: PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan accused several of his lieutenants of hindering his efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to the Kurdish rebellion. Ocalan was responding to criticisms that he is in jail (in prison on the island of Imrali) and the more militant but junior PKK field commanders are still fighting. Ocalan claims he is in position to negotiate a peace settlement that will end the bloodshed and achieve several political and cultural aims Turkish Kurds regard as essential. He said that the fighters in the field are too pessimistic and that given progress in negotiations, continuing to fight was not the best strategy to pursue. Ocalan also reiterated that even if he is in jail he will not let the Turkish government dictate terms. Ocalan has been discussing the peace negotiations with several Kurdish leaders, including Kurdish members of the Turkish parliament who belong to the BDP. Two members of the BDP have met with some of the PKK field commanders in Iraq. The two BDP members of parliament flew to the Iraqi city of Sulamaniyah (in Iraqi Kurdistan). The field commanders represented PKK groups in the Qandil Mountains (northern Iraq).

February 27, 2013: Abdullah Ocalan indicated that he would consider withdrawing PKK fighters from Turkey by August 2013, if the Turkish government succeeds in implementing a package of political reforms. A ceasefire could begin as early as March 21. The reforms do not include Kurdish autonomy but would include recognition of Kurdish ethnic identity, more local administration, increased language rights, and economic development in southeastern Turkey (the predominantly Kurdish region).

February 26, 2013: Several Kurdish members of Turkey’s parliament met with PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan in his prison on Imrali Island (near Istanbul). At least two Turkish intelligence officials (from the National Intelligence Organization, MIT) accompanied the legislators.

February 23, 2013: Senior government officials said that the goal of negotiating with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is to convince the PKK to lay down its weapons and end its armed insurgency. On-going peace negotiations include a PKK retreat (or withdrawal) from southeastern Turkey after a permanent ceasefire is achieved. Apparently both the government and Ocalan are worried that PKK extremists and other terrorist organizations may try to derail a peace agreement and violate the ceasefire in order to keep the war going.

February 21, 2013: This was a day of carrot and stick. The Turkish government said that it recognizes that many Turks are very suspicious about peace negotiations with the PKK and that the there is widespread doubt that any peace agreement will last. The PKK is regarded as an international terrorist organization. It also has a track record for smuggling drugs. The statement followed the release of a recent poll which found that 55 percent of the Turkish people completely opposed negotiating with terrorists. However, the government urged all of Turkey’s citizens to wait and see what the negotiations produce. Meanwhile, combat action continued, as Turkish Air Force fighter-bombers struck 12 different PKK targets in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains.

February 19: A Turkish court order the release of ten Kurdish politicians and activists who belong to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK). They had been arrested on charges of aiding the PKK.


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