A historic pullout of Kurdish rebels from Turkey is under way. Six weeks ago, on 21 March, after 30 years of bloody conflict the leader of the Kurdish armed separatist movement PKK announced a truce with the Turkish state. It was not the first, but this time it was accompanied by an unprecedented commitment. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party said its fighters would leave.
It said: “We are at the stage where our armed forces should retreat beyond the Turkish border.”
The pullout was set for the middle of this week. It is expected that the withdrawal from Turkey into northern Iraq has been phased, not everyone waiting specifically for 8 May, and moving by night to reduce risks of confrontation. The operation could take weeks. But there’s no video of it.
Around 2,000 PKK rebels are thought to have been deployed within Turkey’s border in the area; they will join some 3,000 others in Iraq’s Qandil mountains – heart of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which also extends into Turkey, Syria and Iran.
The Kurdish fight for an independent state has claimed more than 45,000 lives since 1984. In 1995, the Turkish army engaged more than 30,000 troops, including inside Iraq, to try to break the rebellion. Two-to-three million people were displaced as the hostilities wore on.
Abdullah Ocalan at the head of the Kurdish movement designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US kept fighting. In spite of the withdrawal, the PKK says it will not lay down its arms.
The Turks captured Ocalan in 1999, tried him and sentenced him to death, this being commuted to life in prison in 2002. He remains leader, behind bars. He’s been in secretive peace talks with the Ankara authorities for months.
Kurdish analyst Umit Firat says: “It is certainly possible that in these meetings things have been proposed to him, and Ocalan might say: ‘I guarantee to turn the page on military action in exchange for not spending the rest of my life in prison”. There is a lot of suspense, and this must have been discussed.”
Some Turkish analysts also feel that the political will is stronger than ever, and that with stability will come peace and economic development, better education and infrastructure for the Kurds.