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January 07, 2013, Monday

Challenges in talks with Öcalan

Optimism and hope have increased for an eventual solution to the country’s terrorism problem due to ongoing talks between state officials and terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan to broker a deal for the disarming of the terrorist group.

However, columnists point to the challenges the state faces during the talks and warn people to remain guarded while hoping for a solution.

The Radikal daily’s Cengiz Çandar says the first point of excitement about the talks is that Öcalan is at the center this time. Previously, talks had failed because the PKK leader was involved much later. The talks are, in a way, an attempt to have Öcalan be part of the solution rather than a part of the problem, Çandar noted, adding that he agrees with this approach. However, he describes the negotiations as a fragile process comparable to dancing on thin ice due to the nature of the problem, the number of actors, the domestic and international conjuncture and, more importantly, because the process is open to sabotage.

It has been argued, however, that Öcalan does not have undisputed control over the organization. PKK chief Murat Karayılan had remarked: “The fact that [Öcalan] has met with some [Kurdish] deputies is of course very important. But what is more important are the powers holding the guns. We need direct dialogue with our leader because we have a problem persuading the commanders and pro-war structure within the organization [when it comes to laying down arms].” This statement was interpreted as disagreement between Karayılan and Öcalan. The columnist, however, believes that Karayılan implied in his remark that all wings of the organization can be persuaded but that Öcalan is the only person who can do this. While it may be true that there are some segments within the PKK that act independently of Öcalan, there is no wing that acts against the PKK, Çandar noted.

Adem Yavuz Arslan from Bugün emphasized that this will be quite a difficult process but that the situation will be even more difficult if the negotiations succeed. “There is a generation that has grown up in the most violent of times, and these people are middle aged now. Also, there are thousands of relatives of soldiers who were killed by terrorists in clashes; there are people who were wounded by terrorist attacks; there are people who lost relatives on the PKK side of the clashes and there are thousands of youths who are frustrated with the state; and there are thousands in limbo, unable to decide whether to side with the PKK or the state. The most difficult part will be to fix the damage in people’s hearts and minds. The PKK has been sowing hatred and creating a grudge in the minds of young people for years. It has also spread a discourse of animosity towards Kurds among Turks. Even if arms were silenced today, there would be a lot to do in the sense of rehabilitation,” Arslan underlined.

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