I wrote this blog post yesterday, Thursday 3 January. While writing it, it turned out that two Kurdish politicians and one of his lawyers were visiting Abdullah Öcalan. This is remarkable, since Öcalan has had no contact with anybody but his family (and only occassionally) since more than one and a half year. The one talking to him on behalf of the state, is the highest official of the national intelligence agency MIT, Hakan Fidan. In other words: something significant is going on.
There are speculations about a serious and mutual ceasefire, and even about laying down arms or retreating the PKK from Turkish territory. I talked to several people since writing this post, and everybody who is seriously interested in this matter says: we don’t know what’s going on. That’s comforting, since I don’t know what’s exactly going on either. What we all do agree upon: these are historic times.
Last night, a group of F-16’s of the Turkish air force bombed camps of the PKK in the Kandil mountains, in what is thought to be one of the biggest attacks on the organization for quite some time. On New Year’s Day, ten (according to the government) PKK fighters were killed in the South-Eastern province of Diyarbakir. How can we connect that to the news that the government is, via intelligence organization MIT, talking to PKK leader Öcalan to convince the group to lay down its arms, and is in fact carrying out ‘peace talks’? Seems to me a dangerous game is being played here.
The talks with Öcalan were revealed by a political advisor to PM Erdogan, Yalcin Akdogan, in a TV interview. He made a few remarks in that interview that indicate that the government assumes the PKK has been seriously weakened in the heavy fighting of last year. He said 1,450 PKK members had been ‘rendered ineffective’, and that that’s a ‘big rout’.
Flying over the city
Akdogan: ‘The organization now knows that it cannot achieve anything through an armed campaign. The serious collapse of motivation within the organization generates more pressure and resentment when questions are raised. The organization realizes this now.’ After that, he mentioned the increased cooperation between the military, police and the gendarmerie that contributed to the successes of the operations against the PKK.
This could indicate that the government think they have weakened the PKK so much in the last one and a half year that the organization is on the verge of surrender to the state. To increase the PKK’s assumed desperation, they keep attacking while the ‘peace talks’ are ongoing. While I type this, based in Diyarbakir where a big air base is located, one after the other fighter jet is flying over the city further southeast, to the border.
What strengthens my idea that this strategy is behind the simultaneous talks and violence, is the fact that nothing is happening on a political level to bring a solution to the Kurdish issue any closer. The PKK didn’t take up arms for no reason. The only way to make them lay down their arms would be to meet legitimate demands. That means work on a democratic, pluralistic constitution, allowing education in the mother tongue, change the terror laws and end the KCK prosecutions, just to name a few urgent ones. Constitution process: stalled. Education in mother tongue: no serious debate about it, and the number of Kurdish language students (the Kurdish teachers of tomorrow) was suddenly lowered at the beginning of this academic year. The fourth judicial reform package, which would also change terror laws: wasn’t that going to be arranged in 2012?
Freeing of Öcalan
Some people say the PKK is not interested in ending the fight under any circumstance. Could be, but that is no reason not to solve the Kurdish issue. That needs to be done anyway. If that is done or if serious steps in the right direction are taken, then you can talk to the PKK about a road map to end the violence. That would include, for example, an amnesty for PKK fighters, integrating the group into society somehow, and the freeing of Öcalan in any form. That is the only way to find out if the PKK is really open to ending the violence.
I don’t know how much the PKK has weakened in the last one and a half years. The fighting has been fierce, for sure, but any numbers about how many people died are either presented by the army or the PKK itself: in other words, are not independent. I also have no idea about how many new people the PKK has managed to recruit, so how the balance in the end turns out. That makes it hard to define how realistic the government’s assumption is that the PKK is practically ready to surrender. To be honest: I don’t think it can work. Why would the PKK lay down its arms after thirty years of violence if none of the goals has been reached? The continuous violent approach of the government actually encourages young Kurds to join the PKK and is only (re)strengthening the group.
Besides, holding ‘peace talks’ while intensifying the violence will have another tragic effect. The more PKK fighters die in the mountains and are brought back to Kurdish towns (often mutilated after their death), the angrier Kurdish youth gets. The deaths are their brothers and sisters, class mates, neighbours, childhood friends. The people in these communities are closely entwined with each other, the sense of unity is very strong. A villager who dies in the struggle is everybody’s child, everybody’s brother, everybody’s sister. In the town of Yüksekova, a local politician told me a few months ago, there is a PKK funeral practically every two weeks. Imagine that.
The PKK launched its first violent attack in 1984. Every Kurd born after that year only knows the violent times and has heard and seen so many examples of the extreme violence against the Kurds in the first two decades of the armed struggle. These angry, bitter and increasingly revengeful young men and women are the Kurdish leaders of tomorrow. They won’t be so open to conflict resolution as the generation that is currently leading the Kurdish political movement. In other words: if the government doesn’t start serious peace talks and democratization now, but keeps focusing on crushing the PKK by force, it might be too late.