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July 04, 2012, Wednesday

Is a Ramadan truce on the horizon?

Some interesting developments have taken place in recent weeks. First Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç fired a debate over whether or not Abdullah Öcalan should be taken out of prison and put under house arrest instead.

Arınç said if the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) lays down its arms, the government would consider discussing such a possibility. During this period, renowned Kurdish politician Leyla Zana played a critical role as a liaison between the government and Kurds, and perhaps with Öcalan and the Kurdish party. Zana on a number of occasions mentioned that it is time to put Öcalan under house arrest so that he could play a positive role in bringing about peace. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unexpectedly took a soft approach towards Zana and met with her to listen to her suggestions for a peace plan.

Media outlets that are close to Erdoğan have fully supported such an initiative, and have assumed the role of preparing the public for surprising developments.

Meanwhile, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli asked a provoking question: Is Öcalan at İmralı Prison? Knowing Mr. Bahçeli as someone who has well-informed sources within the government, he would not take such a political risk to imply that Öcalan is not at İmralı Prison. Thus, Mr. Bahçeli’s question has created doubt in the minds of the public. The justice minister has denied allegations that Öcalan is not actually at İmralı, but when it comes to Öcalan, the government has not told the whole truth to the people. For instance, while Erdoğan was using Öcalan as an election campaign issue and said “Had I been in power in 1999, I would have hanged Öcalan,” Erdoğan’s bureaucrats were negotiating with Öcalan and coming to an agreement to place him under house arrest instead. Thus, the government cannot now convince people, one way or the other, about the possibility of Öcalan’s release.

Furthermore, the neo-nationalist Aydınlık daily, which has well-connected sources within the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), has published a provoking report indicating that Öcalan is actually not at İmralı Prison. He is under MİT supervision and in a VIP guesthouse in Bursa. As expected, Aydınlık’s story has deepened suspicions and people are starting to ask questions about what is going on.

To understand what is actually going on between Ankara and İmralı, one needs to understand how the Turkish security bureaucracy operates. As far as I understand, such developments are small indications of an “operation” to understand how people would react if Öcalan is placed under house arrest. Thus, some information was leaked to two nationalist sources, Bahçeli and the Aydınlık newspaper to understand how nationalist circles would react.

The questions is: What is it that has changed since the collapse of the last negotiations that has forced MİT to prepare the groundwork for negotiations? The answer to this question is first that MİT never gave up the idea that Öcalan holds its only chance to bring peace. Thus, for MİT, it is simply a matter of timing as to when to resume such negotiations.

Second, and most importantly, it seems that MİT fears that Öcalan is losing his influence over the PKK so long as he is kept in isolation, and alternative leaders such as Bahoz Erdal or Cemil Bayık, over whom MİT has limited influence, are emerging and could move the PKK away from Öcalan’s influence. Therefore, MİT believes that once Öcalan loses his influence, it would be much more difficult to negotiate peace with other leaders. Thus, MİT needs Öcalan and Öcalan needs MİT.

The only way that Öcalan can regain his influence over the PKK is through a cease-fire. Öcalan first needs to show the public that he is still influential, and he is its only chance for peace. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see in the approaching holy month of Ramadan, or right after, that Öcalan’s isolation could be relaxed, and either a member of his family or his lawyers are able to see him and assist him in sending a message to the PKK and Kurdish people.

I think the bizarre developments surrounding Öcalan are the groundwork for such a possibility.

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