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June 17, 2012, Sunday

Could Öcalan be transferred to house arrest?

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has stated that “Öcalan will be transferred to house arrest if the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) lays down its arms.” Unsurprisingly, the statement sparked deep controversy.

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has supported the idea too. Yet, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that it was a personal opinion of Mr. Arınç. A surprising statement came from another deputy when democratic initiative coordinator Beşir Atalay’s declaration that there is no such alternative as house arrest for Öcalan came to the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) attention.

Given the fact that there is nothing coincidental in Ankara, such statements from AK Party leaders were an attempt to test the waters. It is surprising that such a statement came from Mr. Atalay, who usually takes a soft position while other AK Party leaders take nationalist positions. This time it was Mr. Atalay who first denied such a possibility.

Coming from Mr. Atalay this was surprising because he is one of the architects proposing a possible Öcalan house arrest through the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Therefore Mr. Atalay’s denial is particularly important at this time. To understand why Mr. Atalay denies such a possibility one needs to understand his critical role in the government and failure of the AK Party’s Kurdish initiative.

Mr. Atalay was always associated with the democratic side of the AK Party and therefore he was expected to promote Öcalan’s house arrest. This time Mr. Atalay did not endorse the idea because there is a strong reaction to Öcalan’s arrest and harsh criticism toward Mr. Atalay for being too soft on the PKK. Therefore, Atalay’s image is closely associated with PKK.

Especially after documents revealed that MİT and the AK Party’s negotiators were trying to appease the PKK, Mr. Atalay’s images eroded in the eyes of ordinary people. Thus, Mr. Atalay’s “politically correct” denial for Öcalan’s house arrest is much more meaningful than his acceptance and endorsement.

When Mr. Atalay denied the proposal, I realized that the AK Party is testing the water by allowing Mr. Atalay to try to restore his eroded image. Thus, recent statements should be considered the beginning of a new era. In addition to other information leaked to media, by looking at the recent statements one could argue that there is something going on behind the curtains. Such a statement could be a sign that Öcalan requested from the negotiation teams that discussions are to be public.

The question that needs to be answered is the following: Even if the AK Party government wants to transfer Öcalan to a house arrest, will it be possible?

There are two major obstacles before such a move. The first is that public anger toward Öcalan and the PKK is very high. It would be a very risky step for any political party to go ahead with such a decision. Before even discussing such a possibility there should be a long-term period of peace so that people will have started healing. However, just a few days ago military personnel and police officers were killed.

The second and biggest obstacle before Öcalan’s house arrest is the PKK itself. Some people in the PKK do not want Öcalan to be transferred to house arrest because it would end their careers in the PKK. Therefore a clique within the PKK simply sabotages Öcalan’s peace proposals and his chances of transfer to house arrest. For them, Öcalan’s isolation is preferable because it gives them an excuse to continue manipulating society and interfering with any attempts at making peace.

Further, in 2014 there will be a big election, the presidential election that could turn everything upside down. Therefore, the AK Party’s real preference would be to stop the violence but not to solve the problem. Thus, one needs to consider recent statements as a signal to the PKK to declare a ceasefire, not to negotiate a solution.

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