Prosecutors sought charges on Tuesday against three members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and two people who came from the Makhmour refugee camp in northern Iraq, while 29 people were released. But a civilian court set up at the Habur border crossing decided to free them, so none remained in custody. The symbolic move was initiated after Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK who is serving life in prison on the island of İmrali, urged the PKK last week to send what he described as “peace groups” to surrender to Turkish authorities. Eight members of the PKK, four women and four men, the eldest being 57 and the youngest 24, joined 26 people from the Makhmour camp, including four children.
Upon their arrival in Turkey from the Habur gate, they were interrogated by special public prosecutors who demanded the arrest of five of them for previously issued warrants for promoting the PKK and being a member of the organization.
The return of the PKK members and some inhabitants of the Makhmour camp, which is home to approximately 10,000 Kurds, has been considered a groundbreaking move that may lead to the PKK laying down its arms and therefore strengthens the hand of the government in its recently launched democratization program to end the country's decades-old Kurdish problem.
The coordinator of the initiative, Minister of Interior Beşir Atalay, said on Tuesday at a press conference that the “return home” is part of the democratization process and that there will be more good news soon.
Pro-Kurdish DTP supporters welcomed a group of PKK members arriving in Turkey with excitement, chanting slogans in favor of the PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Iraqi Kurds welcome PKK turnover
The regional Kurdish administration in northern Iraq has hailed the surrender of a small group of members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to Turkish authorities on Monday. The group surrendered in a gesture of support to the government's recently launched democratization package to end the country's decades-old Kurdish problem.
“The Kurdistan region backs initiatives leading to peace,” Fouad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the president of the largely autonomous Kurdish region, was quoted as saying on Monday by AK News, an English-language online news portal based in Arbil.
The move by the PKK members was a significant step toward building peace with Turkey and supporting the democratic opening the country recently began, Hussein also said, noting that the Kurdish region has shown its willingness to support the democratic opening in Turkey since the initiative began.
The Turkish government launched an initiative in late July to solve the Kurdish question. The government has yet to provide details on the initiative, but officials have frequently underlined that the process aims to make every Turkish citizen an equal and free member of a highly developed democracy. Ankara Today's Zaman
“We consider all dimensions, including administrative, security, judicial and health for the first phase of the returning home process important,” he said, adding that they even had psychologists on duty at the border.
He also said the measures were taken in accordance with Article 221 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which is known also as the “active redemption law,” envisaging lesser punishments for members of the terror organization who surrender of their own accord, who were not involved in any violence and who are ready to provide information about the PKK.
The group arrived on Monday and refused in their testimonies to say that they “regret” what they have done before. They said they returned in order to overcome the deadlock in the democratization process that was not moving forward.
Amnesty for fighters and more rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority are key demands of the PKK, which began attacks in 1984 and is labeled a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the US. As many as 40,000 people have died in a war that reached its peak in the 1990s.
“They're evaluating the implementation of the repentance law to see if, in fact, it represents an adequate amnesty arrangement,” said David Phillips, who is a Turkey expert at the Atlantic Council, a research center in Washington, D.C., as quoted by The Associated Press.
Cemil Bayık, a PKK leader in Iraq, questioned Turkish sincerity and said they would not disband as long as “Kurdish identity” was not accepted.
“The PKK will not come down from the mountains just because it has a positive outlook toward the peace groups,” the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency quoted Bayık as saying.
Atalay stated that they are expecting the return of another group of 100 to 150 people.
“I want to point out openly that the people in the mountains are also realizing that they are at a dead end. We as the Turkish Republic want to end terrorism. All elements in the state are decisively in agreement to do it,” he said.
The Turkish military has let the government take the lead on Kurdish pronouncements, signaling its tacit support.
Atalay also urged all to act with sensitivity and called on to the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to act responsibly.
The DTP leaders cancelled a welcoming ceremony in Diyarbakır for the people who arrived from northern Iraq. The DTP's Diyarbakır provincial branch head, Fırat Anlı, said they will devise their programs in a way to contribute to the process positively.
“We will meet the group in Çınar, and we will send them to Ankara. Their message is directed to Ankara. We are considering all developments while making our program. We will continue to contribute to peace,” he said.
Thousands of people gathered at the border to meet the group in response to calls from the DTP. They chanted slogans in favor of the PKK and Öcalan. Co-chairpersons of the DTP Ahmet Türk and Emine Ayna and some other deputies from the DTP were present to meet the group.
Türk said the move was a sign showing how Öcalan can contribute to the process if he is given the opportunity.
Turkey refuses to negotiate with the PKK, but the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recognizes that military action alone cannot solve its conflict with Kurds and that giving more social and economic opportunities to Kurds would also boost Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
Kurds make up about 20 percent of Turkey's more than 70 million people and dominate the country's poor southeastern region.
French counterterrorism teams arrest 9 PKK members
French counterterrorism teams have arrested nine people in an expansive operation to bust operatives of the PKK for committing extortion to support the organization.
According to reports, the police action came following complaints to authorities by business owners over the activities of the suspects -- Yasin K., Köksal D., Ahmet B., Refik D., Mahsun T., Hasan N., Nadir Ç., Sedat Z. and Abdullah M. Those arrested have been charged with membership in a terrorist group and extortion to ensure financial support of a terrorist organization. In the raids of the terrorists' homes, PKK documents, drugs and money were confiscated.
Meanwhile, in a related development a hearing is to be held today to determine whether Nedim Seven, known as the PKK's “secret cash register” in Europe, will be extradited to Turkey by French authorities. Seven was captured in Italy while attempting to flee to Armenia using a fake passport last year and then transferred to French authorities.