The jailed leader of Turkey’s Kurdish armed separatist group, the PKK, has told his fighters to lay down their weapons and continue their cause by democratic means.
A statement from Abdullah Ocalan was read aloud by a Kurdish parliamentarian at a meeting in Diyarbakir, south-east Turkey, that was attended by an estimated quarter of a million people. The announcement, which has been advertised for days, was made to coincide with the start of ‘Newroz’, the Kurdish new year.
In the statement Ocalan said that the door to democratic process was opening in Turkey and that PKK guerillas should withdraw from the country, adding that armed struggle should give way to politics. “Let guns be silenced and politics dominate,” read the statement, “It’s not the end; it’s the start of a new era.”
Turkey’s Interior Minister has welcomed what he calls Ocalan’s “language of peace.”
Successive Turkish governments and the PKK have been involved in a bloody struggle that has left up to 40,000 people dead since 1984. Ocalan was captured in Kenya in 1999 and been imprisoned ever since. He was originally sentenced to hang but Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to join the European Union. Turkey’s current government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has risked the wrath of hardliners in the military by granting Turkey’s Kurds greater cultural and language rights in recent years. Two years ago he gave the green light for secret talks between his officials and the PKK. Turkish intelligence officers have been openly conducting direct talks with Ocalan since last October.
Turkish intellectual and writer Enver Sezgin tells euronews:
“Now we give peace a very strong chance. This time, peace and a resolution of the struggles are very different from the past. In Turkey, hopes and expectations are very high. Wherever you go in Turkey, people say it is time for peace and resolution. So we have every reason to be hopeful. There is already a de facto ‘truce’ by the PKK. Ocalan is making this de facto truce de jure with his message. He is working to make it permanent.”
The PKK is officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the United States. Its original demands included the creation of an independent Kurdish state but in recent years it has scaled down these demands and has sought more political autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish population.
The new call for a truce is seen by many as the best chance yet of an end to the conflict, although there are suggestions that some groups may be trying to derail the peace process. Tuesday saw a grenade and rocket launcher attacks on government and ruling AK party offices in Ankara, while a bomb exploded in front of an Istanbul shop on Wednesday night. No group has yet claimed responsibility for those attacks.