[email protected]

February 25, 2013, Monday

‘A new era has begun’

The title of this article is a headline that was used by the Özgür Gündem daily, which champions a pro-Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)/Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) editorial policy. The headline was based on the remarks BDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş in commenting on the messages sent by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently serving a life sentence in a prison on İmralı island, off the coast of İstanbul. Demirtaş said: “We have left behind a difficult period. A new era has begun.” We should focus on these words.

It has been reported that Öcalan's 21-page messages were communicated to the PKK commanders in the camps in the Kandil mountains. The sentence in the title of this article is from the conclusive remarks made after Demirtaş discussed the messages, first sent to the BDP. Apparently, Turkey has closed one period and a new era has begun. If everything develops without problems and Turkey is able to solve the terrorism and Kurdish issues permanently, the date of the beginning of this new period will be determined. I believe that this date will be the one when the three BDP deputies received the messages from Öcalan. When these messages were delivered to their carriers, one era was closed and a new one was begun.

The reason I am making such definitive predictions is not because of Öcalan's influence over the organization and pro-Kurdish politics. This is important in terms of correctly analyzing the dynamics of the peace process. Öcalan is not the architect but a major representative in this process. With their tactics, the PKK and BDP have given Öcalan this power of representation. To this end, they organized a long-lasting hunger strike. Öcalan is not voicing his own ideas or views about the solution, but is instead pushing the agenda and demands that are communicated to him. If this was not the case, political decisions made by a leader who has been in prison for 14 years and who has not been sufficiently informed would be viewed skeptically by his own followers. As he is laying the groundwork for the peace process, Öcalan is using not his leadership charisma but his mandate as representative.

Öcalan is a predictable addressee for the government. His ties and communications are under strict control and free from the manipulation of foreign intelligence services. Government officials can find him and talk to him whenever they want. Öcalan is an ideal representative for the PKK and BDP. This is because using Öcalan means securing the support of a large portion of the Kurdish public despite the power struggle within the PKK.

The PKK attacked a military outpost in Diyarbakır's Silvan district in July of 2011, killing 13 Turkish soldiers and undermining secret talks the Turkish state had been conducting with some PKK leaders in Oslo under British mediation. Given the fact that Öcalan has today emerged as a point of reference in the power struggle within the PKK, the winners are those who seek peace.

Feb. 23 was the beginning of a new era in Turkey. We can now expect steps to be made one after another that will ease the process. If, at the behest of Öcalan, the PKK releases the public officials it had kidnapped, this will come as a great relief to the public. The agenda expressed by a fourth package of judicial reforms will bring the Kurdish public closer to the solution. The formula of the judicial package is well-designed. The PKK will take steps to win over the Turkish public while the government will move to convince the Kurdish public of its good intentions.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's strong leadership is the greatest assurance for success in the peace process. Only such a strong, powerful leader will be able to keep the promises that will be made. Erdoğan's policies are criticized in many respects, but even his rivals accept that he keeps his promises. As a matter of fact, Öcalan has emerged also as a counter-balance to Erdoğan. This picture makes the process more predictable, and therefore boosts hope.

Weapons have been silenced on their own. A new era has begun. Now we will wait and see the steps taken.

Previous articles of the columnist