Somersault alaturca – Play it again, Sam!
14 years after the abduction of Abdullah Öcalan in an international operation by intelligence services, the Kurdish question in Turkey is more current than ever. Not even this act, undertaken in violation of international law, was able to change this.
At one time declared “Public enemy no 1″, today leading Turkish politicians talk about “Imrali” as the authority to negotiate with if the vexed problem is to be resolved.
Imrali, the prison island in the Turkish Marmara Sea on which Abdullah Öcalan is held prisoner, on one hand represents breach of international law, isolation and torture, the arbitrariness of the state and lack of rule of law; on the other hand it is regarded widely as the “driving force” behind a lengthy and bloody process of settlement between the Turkish state and the liberated Kurdish people which does not cease to insist on its civil rights.
This process had already reached an advanced stage in 2011. By order of the Turkish government, a delegation made up of senior officials of the Turkish intelligence service negotiated with the Kurdish leader. Further talks with leading representatives of the Kurdish resistance movement took place in Europe and Northern Iraq. A joint plan, which envisaged mutually dependent steps for the resolution of the Kurdish issue, was agreed and ratified by the Kurdish representatives. The only thing that was missing to initiate the first practical steps was the approval of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish Prime Minister. But Erdoğan backed out: in an unprecedented backwards somersault he chose to ignore what had gone on before. One of the most bloody periods of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in years followed. Erdoğan used flimsy arguments to justify the military escalation which included intensified military operations against Kurdish guerrilla forces, arrest waves against Kurdish political activists and aggravated repression against the Kurdish civil population.
In December 2012 Erdoğan stated that talks were held again with ‘Imrali’ to achieve a disarmament of the Kurdish resistance movement. The reaction of the Kurds was restrained. Erdogan’s choice of words as well as the emphatic insistence that there was no such thing as a Kurdish question triggered doubts about the seriousness of those talks. Too little information is offered to be able to make a sound evaluation. Only one delegation of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has been able to visit Abdullah Öcalan. The lawyers of the Kurdish leader, however, have been denied a visit to their client for 15 months now. What is worse, the assassination of three Kurdish women activists in Paris, the hunting down of scattered guerrilla units in the winterly Kurdish mountains and the ongoing arrests of Kurdish politicians certainly to do not build confidence.
For weeks representatives of the government and representatives of the Kurdish movement have been engaged in an exchange of blows in the media in which they are marking the fronts. How serious the Turkish demand is for Kurdish guerrilla forces to hand over their weapons and withdraw from Turkish territory before a political process starts remains to be seen. But a peace process like this does not look very promising. Like in all other peace processes the political causes of the conflict have to be discussed and action for their resolution has to be taken before a demobilisation or similar technical details can be put in place.
However, how strongly Turkey remains committed to its anti-Kurdish doctrine can clearly be observed from its stance on the Syrian civil war where Islamist jihadists instructed by Turkey attack cities in the Kurdish areas in the North. This and the arbitrary repression of the opposition in Turkey provides but little hope that the government intends to take any positive steps. The catastrophic human rights situation and the overcrowded prisons show that Turkey still has a long way to go before it will implement and adhere to rule of law.
Nevertheless the relative importance and potential impact of the talks should not be disregarded. Only through dialogue new paths to a solution can be found. A negotiated settlement cannot be imposed in a unilateral and bureaucratic way, even though it may suit the Turkish Prime Minister to do so. If genuine negotiations are to succeed, it is critical that all relevant parties to the conflict participate equally. Öcalan has once again proven that he, one of the architects of a political solution, is a major player in this process. His proactive role is the driving force behind the process which Turkey now feels obliged to follow. For that reason he has to be fully supported in any possible way. Transferring him to house arrest could be a first step. From the vantage point of history, his release is merely a matter of time.
Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan!
International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan – Peace in Kurdistan!”
PO Box 100511, D-50445 Cologne