Terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan stated that the era of armed struggle to achieve the political goals of the Kurds is over. He was speaking in a meeting with two Kurdish lawmakers, who made rare a visit to the PKK leader, being held on an island prison, on Thursday, signaling that Turkey is negotiating with the terrorist organization over ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands over the past three decades.
On Thursday, pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Ayla Akat Ata and prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk went to the Imralı island, where Öcalan has been held in virtual isolation since his capture in 1999, a Kurdish lawmaker said.
The meeting came days after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's chief adviser said the government is discussing disarmament with the PKK leader.
Yıldıray Oğur, a Taraf daily reporter, claimed that the PKK will withdraw its armed groups, which were stationed in various mountains in southeast Turkey, to northern Iraq after the severe winter conditions ease in the spring. The PKK step ups its armed activities with the coming of spring every year.
The call of the PKK leader signals that this year would see a different pattern in a move to end the decades-old armed struggle, which has hijacked the political dimension of the Kurdish issue by excluding a viable political solution through democratic means.
Öcalan's continued influence was highlighted in November when his order, made after a visit from his brother, to end a 68-day hunger strike by PKK terrorists in prisons across Turkey was immediately obeyed.
The justice minister said then that there would be more talks with the PKK and Erdogan's chief adviser, Yalçin Akdoğan, said on Monday that Ankara sees Öcalan as its main interlocutor.
Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unthinkable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago.
Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who told reporters that his ministry gave the go-ahead to BDP deputies to talk with the PKK chief, said late on Thursday the process is to the benefit of the country.
However, Ergin warned, if the go-ahead is misused, no permission will be given for talks with Öcalan in the future, in an address to reporters at the 5th Annual Ambassadors' Conference held in Ankara on Thursday.
The meeting stirred a new round of debates over the nature of the talks with the PKK leader to solve the festering Kurdish question, which is seen as a litmus test for the maturity of Turkish democracy.
In remarks to NTV, Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said he approves of such meetings if they serve the process positively.
Öcalan, who founded the organisation in 1974 to fight for an independent Kurdish state, is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984.
But Erdoğan is under pressure to stem the violence, which has included bomb attacks in major cities as well as fighting in the mountainous southeast, particularly with presidential elections next year in which he is expected to stand.
Erdoğan's government has widened cultural and language rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people, since taking power 10 years ago. But Kurdish politicians want more reforms including steps towards autonomy.
Fighting has continued despite the recent moves. On Monday, Turkish troops killed at least 10 PKK terrorists and seized weapons in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Another 46 PKK terrorists were killed in late December in a cross-border military operation into northern Iraq, Turkish media said.