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February 22, 2013, Friday

Are we really getting closer to peace?

Imagine a problem which emerged due to an ideological error made during the establishment of a country and was exacerbated over time as no effort was made to ameliorate that error in the following years. Turkey has a multitude of problems that fit this definition. At the root of these problems is the intention of the founders of the republic to transform the multicultural heritage of the empire into a monolithic state. The most complicated of these problems is a violent environment resulting from the failure of the state to meet the demands of Kurdish citizens for equality and rights and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) issue. Turkey recently launched its most comprehensive effort to tackle this problem which has snowballed into a gigantic size since the establishment of the country.

Today, early in the morning, a second delegation consisting of several pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies will head to İmralı Island. The peace talks had actually started in October of last year but the public only learned of them after the prime minister announced it before the end of last year and the first delegation of BDP deputies visited PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on Jan. 4. Öcalan gave this delegation a roadmap for peace so that it could be discussed and approved in BDP and Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) circles. Essentially, Öcalan had come to an agreement with the state about this roadmap. By giving the roadmap to the BDP delegation, he was in essence trying to make sure that his leadership would be asserted by the organization. According to the plan, Öcalan's roadmap would be assessed and approved by PKK leaders in PKK camps located in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, the PKK's European wing and the BDP and their feedback would then be sent to Öcalan. Thus, Öcalan would provide legitimacy to the agreement which he inked with the state by securing the backing of the organization and his supporters in this process. After the successful completion of this stage, a second BDP delegation would visit Öcalan, who would then call on the PKK to declare a cease-fire for an indefinite time and pull out of Turkey.

However, in the meantime, three PKK-linked women were killed under suspicious circumstances in Paris. This created a delay in the process. The assassination couldn't be illuminated yet but many believe the attack was directly targeting the peace negotiations. Simultaneously with this attack, a crisis erupted between the BDP and the government as to the composition of the second delegation.

Pervin Buldan, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Altan Tan

It took three weeks to overcome this crisis and the members of the delegation who would visit Öcalan were eventually determined on Wednesday. The Ministry of Justice approved the BDP's list of Pervin Buldan, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Altan Tan. It was announced that the delegation would go to İmralı Island on Saturday. This three-week delay was attributable to the criteria of the delegation members voiced by the prime minister and the BDP's insistence on sending certain figures to the island. Finally, Öcalan himself stepped in and identified the people who would visit him and sent this list to the BDP via his brother Mehmet Öcalan during his visit. Thus, the crisis was overcome. “If this list is not approved, I will begin to think that there are ill intentions behind this move,” Öcalan said and it appears that his words were effective.

As a matter of fact, the delegation will not play a prominent role in the process. The reason why the composition of the first delegation was altered is not because Ahmet Türk and Selahattin Demirtaş had been written off, but so that the inclusion of new figures would send messages to different social groups. Indeed, Buldan is a Kurd and she represents the BDP. Önder is a Turk and a socialist known for his moderate rhetoric. Tan is not close to the PKK and is a religious politician who still advocates for the Kurdish identity. Their selection is truly symbolic.

While the second delegation's visit to İmralı is just a formality, it is still important for public relations. Actually, the talks have been concluded. The PKK's Kandil and European wings have approved of the roadmap agreed between the state and Öcalan. The delegation will just assume the role of acting as a mediator for Öcalan's announcement of this agreement. Formerly, KCK Executive Council Chairman Murat Karayılan had stated that the PKK's and KCK's executive councils had held meetings for seven days in Kandil and had eventually resolved to lend full support to Öcalan in the İmralı peace process. Karayılan said: “We discussed the situation at the meetings. We assessed the information sent to us by our leader. Our leader Apo [Öcalan's nickname] wants to take steps. He seeks to improve this process. The movement is ready for it. We never treat ourselves differently from our leader. We are one. We don't say, ‘We support the leader.' We are one and united. We have just re-asserted this fact. In this regard, we are fully resolved.”

The significance of the visit to be held today is that the previously agreed roadmap will be announced to the public. Öcalan will make a statement via the second BDP delegation on three topics: (1) the declaration of a permanent cease-fire; (2) a call to PKK militants to pull out of Turkey; and (3) commonsensical and realistic demands concerning the resolution of the Kurdish issue.

It is said that the PKK will pull out in May and the sole demand voiced by the organization in this context is that the government should make assurances for a smooth process of disarmament and withdrawal and plan the process in detail beforehand. In an effort to dispel these concerns, the prime minister has acknowledged that the problems seen in 1999 would not occur again. Öcalan is taking pains not to make statements that may be used to sabotage or provoke the process. He will propose a lengthy roadmap on the three matters mentioned above. His demands would not be unacceptable or perceived as aggressive by the public. It will be politically implied that the state should not conduct operations during the withdrawal of PKK militants. This is actually assured in the agreement. The demands related to the Kurdish issue will also include the fourth judicial reforms package which the government is preparing to enact. Öcalan will advise the government to take impetuous steps with regard to education in one's mother tongue. Öcalan's declaration is expected to employ a language and schedule that would not be disturbing to the public.

Putting an end to intra-BDP competition

By deciding on the composition of the second delegation, Öcalan put an end to competition within the BDP. On Thursday, the BDP held a meeting to discuss the matter. After today's visit, the BDP will make an assessment and announce Öcalan's declaration at a press conference. Öcalan enjoys considerable clout over the organization, the party and its supporters. Given the fact that Öcalan is acting with resolve and the organization has expressed its full support, we can expect the BDP to assume more political responsibilities and roles in the coming days. The peace process is being conducted with the utmost care and design.

But a permanent cease-fire or withdrawal is not an end in itself. The process will always be open to provocations and problems. For this reason, everyone should act very cautiously and with resolve. Objections to Öcalan cannot be voiced openly because he enjoys a very high standing and influence within the PKK and the BDP. But there are certainly groups that are not happy with Öcalan making a deal with the state. Syria will still try to undermine the process. Also, provocative efforts such as the recent attacks on BDP deputies in Sinop and Samsun may increase in Turkey. It is obvious that these attacks did not occur by themselves and anti-peace groups will not sit idle. Parliamentary opposition parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), tend to block the process. They see this as a form of opposition to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). But the matter at hand is a serious national problem. These parties will certainly pay for what they are doing now.

In the past, Turkey came close to achieving peace countless times, but every time provocations prevented peace. We must refrain from being manipulated by provocations and bring this process to successful completion with resolve. The government seems to have this resolve. We may be on the brink of ending this century-old problem with strong popular support and with some luck.

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