Experts believe Turkish intelligence and security officials contacted the PKK on a number of occasions and spoke with its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence on the island of İmralı in the Sea of Marmara. But the issue was heated up once more by politicians from opposition parties on the eve of a public referendum on constitutional amendments slated for Sept. 12 in order to sway the public to vote “no.”
Opposition parties claim the government contacted Öcalan to negotiate a deal with him, hinting that this might amount to unpatriotic behavior or, as some claimed, could be tantamount to treason. But security experts point out the politicians are after an easy score and intentionally mix apples and oranges to hurt the government. They underline that the state and the government are two different things in the Turkish political context and that the state has long been meeting with Öcalan in his jail cell.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin yesterday said state officials had meetings with Öcalan but added that this should not be turned into a daily political polemic. Speaking to NTV, Ergin said security forces and the state's intelligence apparatus met with Öcalan whenever a need arose for it. “This did not start today. It was a need,” he said.
The PKK recently declared that it will stop its attacks and that its de-escalation period will last until Sept. 20. Murat Karayılan, another PKK leader, said this decision was made after the state contacted Öcalan. He added that they might extend this period if certain conditions are met, one of which is accepting Öcalan and the PKK as an interlocutor.
The other conditions put forth by the PKK are an end to military operations against it, the release of pro-Kurdish politicians who have been arrested for allegedly being members of the urban extension of the PKK and lowering the 10 percent election threshold.
But Karayılan’s remarks on the state meeting with Öcalan turned into fierce discussions right before the referendum. Both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of engaging in bargaining with the PKK for political gain, a claim strongly denied by the government.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is urging its constituents to boycott the referendum, underlined that if such meetings are taking place, there is nothing to be surprised about.
“We urge the government to announce if there was a meeting with the PKK. The prime minister should be able to say that they are meeting with Öcalan and the PKK to find a solution to the Kurdish question. If a meeting took place, this is a good thing,” BDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş said in public rally in Mardin on Wednesday.
CHP claims MİT recently met with Öcalan
CHP Adana deputy Tacidar Seyhan has claimed that National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan met with Öcalan on July 20, the ANKA news agency has reported.
He said Fidan, accompanied by two other officials, went to İmralı and that all cameras on the island had been turned off during the visit.
Seyhan also submitted a parliamentary inquiry on the matter and asked several questions to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including if the MİT undersecretary had been used as a mediator in bargaining between the government and Öcalan. Seyhan added that he has more knowledge about this meeting and that, if his parliamentary inquiry is not answered, he will make it public.
Former MİT Deputy Undersecretary Cevat Öneş said there has been contact between the state and Öcalan ever since he was captured in 1999.
In an interview with Lale Kemal of the Taraf daily, Öneş said it is possible to reassess the meetings between the state and Öcalan in three phases.
According to him, the first phase was from 1999 to 2006, when military officials primarily met with him. MİT and police forces were excluded. The second phase started in 2006 and involved civilians, though these meetings were very rare.
But, according to Öneş, the meetings with Öcalan most likely intensified in number since 2008 because this is when not only civilians but also the military started to believe that the Kurdish question cannot be solved with guns alone but through effecting change using diplomatic, economic and psychological factors.
However, Prime Minister Erdoğan said the government had never held such talks but that if necessary, the state does so through its institutions.
“We should not mix them up [the state and the government],” he noted. The prime minister’s remarks came on Monday evening on “Siyaset Meydanı” (The Political Arena), a TV program broadcast live.
Asked what he meant by “state institutions,” Erdoğan said the state has an intelligence organization, referring to MİT. “This organization is charged with providing intelligence to the state. What does this mean? It is charged with unlocking some keys and settling some problems. A political power never sits at a negotiating table with a terrorist organization.”
On Tuesday, President Abdullah Gül said weapons are not the only means to fight the PKK. “All means [in the fight against the PKK] should be mobilized. This may be diplomacy on some occasion, and the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] on others,” he noted.
Meanwhile experts underline that if the aim of the meetings is to end terrorism and eliminate the PKK, it is normal for the state to be in contact with the terrorist organization. Sedat Laçiner shares this view and adds that the important thing for these kinds of meetings is the level of the parties and the principles of the meeting.
“Everyone meets with those kinds of organizations. The important issue is to define well the framework and to not give any concessions. But if you are having these meetings not to stop terrorism but to decrease its level, then such meetings are not acceptable,” Laçiner told Today’s Zaman.