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September 10, 2012, Monday

Signs of softening

Signs of softening are coming from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In these kinds of situations, the side that seeks peace makes symbolic moves and exerts efforts indirectly to establish peace. And this is what exactly the PKK is doing.

The first such sign was the PKK’s positive reception of the Southeastern Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (GÜNSİAD)’s initiative of the formation of a wise men’s group to help tackle the Kurdish question. GÜNSİAD is an NGO that conducts activities outside the PKK’s sphere of influence. The second meeting of GÜNSİAD’s Communication and Dialogue Group was held in Diyarbakır, and those invited to the meeting were able, directly or indirectly, to connect with the PKK.

The political extension of the PKK is not a secret any more. The important thing is that an NGO that distances itself from the PKK has made a call for dialogue; and the PKK’s cooperative response to GÜNSİAD’s call is more important than the call itself.

The second sign was the long interview that senior PKK operative Murat Karayılan gave the PKK-affiliated Fırat news agency. PKK executives do usually give long interviews when they talk; instead of giving the message with a few sentences, they prefer to convey the message through the general mood of the interview. But, more importantly, it is other senior PKK executives who usually give these long interviews, when conflicts escalate or when peace negotiations are conducted. Some PKK executives, such as Duran Kalkan and Cemil Bayık, voice threats of war or act as a mouthpiece for the PKK, as if there were an ongoing war, and during the last two months, we have seen many examples of this, with the latest PKK attacks being portrayed as a pitched battle and the invocation of the PKK’s “Revolutionary People’s War” theory and provoking agitation.

Contrary to this, Karayılan gives moderate messages. He always talks about peace and compromise and resolution. In last week’s interview with the Fırat news agency, he criticized photos showing deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and a group of PKK terrorists engaged in a meeting, which is claimed to having been planned beforehand. Karayılan stated that the organization does not approve of these kinds of emotional pictures. However, he did not mention the escalated war that is now claiming the lives of dozens of PKK militants every day. Even though his criticisms of the organization were shallow, this was remarkably important.

The PKK has taken a gamble by putting all its capital behind the fight. The PKK has tried to obtain tactical superiority by deploying all its forces in a narrow area. Its tactical superiority has been the damage done to the image of the Turkish state, after the PKK gained control over the city center of Şemdinli for the period of a few hours. PKK flags were hung from public buildings, proving that the PKK had gained domination in the region.

This message of tactical superiority had two addressees: the first was the Kurdish people living in the region, and the second was regional nations such as Iran and Syria. The PKK wanted to prove to these countries that the PKK is a strong actor in Turkey.

However, the result was a complete fiasco. At every post, the PKK lost the war. The PKK failed to establish the domination it expected and wanted. Even as a symbolic move, hanging flags from the public buildings failed to prove the military power of the PKK. It did not convince its first addressee, and failed to secure the expected support from the people of the region.

As for the second addressee, rebuking and outrageous remarks from the Iranian parliament in the wake of a terrorist attack in the province of Gaziantep on Aug. 20, which claimed the lives of 10 civilians, show that Iran does not have high hopes for the PKK. Shell fragments from grenade blasts in war-torn Syria spilling over into Turkey are enough to satisfy Iran. Moreover, establishing official contact with the PKK or supporting the PKK openly conflicts with their interests. The bombing of a Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo by Syrian government forces is a clear indication of the stance of these countries’ governments towards Kurdish minorities.

Winter is nearing. During winter, the PKK declares a ceasefire and withdraws its militants to the camps as a tactical maneuver. I guess this year winter will come early. The PKK has suffered a heavy defeat. In order to tend its wounds, the PKK will withdraw to its camps early. It seems that the PKK will unilaterally declare a ceasefire. But while the PKK sends signs of softening, the government has started to use harsher rhetoric. It looks like the government makes strategic calculations too.

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