‘The leader says the peace process continues.’ I am standing between the graves of Medeni Yildirim, murdered by the state in Lice last year while protesting new army posts, and the grave of Ramazan Baran, that is just being closed. The middle aged man I talk to is standing next to me. He has tears in his eyes. We look at each other and I ask him what he thinks the PKK should do now. ‘I don’t know’, he says. ‘The leader says the peace process continues’.
The peace process continues because Abdullah Öcalan says so. But it is an increasingly vulnerable balance between the anger of the people, the state violence on the ground and the lack of serious democratic steps towards peace by the government on the one hand, and the mantra of the continuing peace process on the other.
At the beginning of the funeral, I asked two young men and one young woman, all three of them with their faces covered by a shawl, the same question: What should the PKK do now? Their instant answer: ‘Revenge’. Later a whole group of youngsters chanted: PKK revenge, PKK revenge!
A week before the local elections, I was in Qandil for an interview with Riza Altun, one of the founders of the PKK and current member of the executive board of the KCK. He talked about the steps the government has to take and said the KCK has no expectations of the government anymore, and that if the government doesn’t take steps, the KCK would have to ‘re-evaluate the peace process’. ‘We have to see how sincere the AKP is’, he added.
When I stated that it seemed so clear already that the government wasn’t going to take any steps and that their commitment to the peace process has seemed insincere from the beginning, he said something important. He said: ‘As a human being, as an individual, you can think like that. But in politics and in mass movements, you cannot. You act within society. If ever in the future the ceasefire is broken, society must clearly see who broke it, and why. Society can imprison you, can blame you, so we must be careful with its sensitivities.’
The PKK, in other words, cannot afford to break the ceasefire, unless it is very clear that there is absolutely no other way. The people long for peace, the last thing society wants is to return to the days in which soldiers died and PKK fighters came back from the mountains in coffins. The PKK will lose support if they take up violence again while their support base is not convinced of the necessity of it.
Now I have to wonder: has the point been reached at which the people are convinced of the necessity to end the peace process, or, more precisely, end the ceasefire (because it’s nothing much more than that)? Are the latest murders, during again protests against new army posts in Lice, shifting the balance to the other side? The people are fed up with soldiers and PKK fighters coming down from the mountains in coffins, but now the ones who decided not to take up arms are being killed. Will the Kurdish people demand their ‘insurance’ back, as Leyla Zana once described the PKK?
And if the KCK is not convinced that armed resistance is the only option left, and if Öcalan again makes it clear that the peace process continues, and if he again says something about a ‘new stage’ that only he seems to know about, will the young folks who shout ‘PKK revenge’ take his word for it? Öcalan is a saint for them, but when will their anger and their pain outweigh their obedience to Öcalan? How well is the old guard of the PKK able to keep under control the young generation that grew up during the 30 year old uprising? The man I talked to beside Ramazan Baran’s grave said there are only two options: ‘Either they give us our rights, or they kill us all.’
But even if the ceasefire ends, it would not be the end of the peace process. That is because the peace process did not start last year. It started even before Öcalan was captured in 1999, with the first negotiations with the state. Whoever is in charge in Turkey and however sincere the PKK considers them to be, their struggle for peace and justice continues. The peace process is dead. Long live the peace process!