ISTANBUL – Ten years after his arrest, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan still has a strong influence on how Turkey handles the Kurdish question. Even though Turkish media on Thursday praise the AKP government for declaring the Kurdish question will be solved by democratic means, the more concrete and far-reaching measures expected were not announced. The possible reason: Kurdish politicians, who are important in getting support for government plans among Kurds, can’t agree on a government plan without knowing Öcalan’s wishes.
This last week tension in Turkey has risen because of the plans the AKP government planned to present. There was heavy speculation about laws that would enable Kurdish education in state schools, renaming villages in the south-east of the country with their original Kurdish names, and even about an amnesty arrangement for PKK fighters. Öcalan himself earlier declared he would come up with a roadmap to peace in mid August, after which the government speeded up their own initiative to keep matters in their own hands.
That seems to have failed now, probably partly because the AKP couldn’t manage to get support for the plans of Kurdish party DTP, which has twenty seats in parliament. Even though the DTP denies it, they have connections with the PKK. Only when it is known which demands Öcalan makes for a definitive end to the armed fight, the DTP can determine whether to support the government plans and to openly call on the PKK to lay down their arms.
Öcalan, who still has a lot of supporters among Kurds, was arrested in Kenya in 1999, and is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali in the Marmara Sea. He is in solitary confinement, but is in touch with his lawyers once a week. They will announce Öcalans road map to peace on the 15th of August. A symbolic date: on that day 25 years ago the PKK committed their first attack in Turkey and the armed conflict began.
The war between Öcalan’s organisation, which is considered a terrorist organisation by both the European Union and the United States, and the Turkish army has cost more than 40,000 lives so far. There are also babies among the victims, which explains the nick name that many Turks use for Öcalan: baby killer. The last few years Kurds have won more rights, after the Turkish government was pressured by the European Union. Important matters like recognition of the Kurdish identity in the constitution and an amnesty arrangement for PKK fighters have nevertheless remained as stumbling blocks up until now.