“This process will truly begin at the moment the terrorists in Turkey cross the border to another country,” Erdoğan said on Monday aboard a plane carrying him back to Turkey from an official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The prime minister's remarks came on the heels of a visit over the weekend by three Kurdish lawmakers to Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader imprisoned on İmralı Island since his capture in 1999.
Turkish state authorities have been holding “peace talks” with Öcalan since last October. The authorities believe the talks may lead to a timetable for the disarmament of terrorists. A delegation of Kurdish politicians traveled to İmralı over the weekend to discuss the negotiations. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies Pervin Buldan, Altan Tan and Sırrı Süreyya Önder were in the visiting delegation. At those talks, the PKK leader signaled the PKK may declare a cease-fire and release soldiers and state employees it is holding, according to a statement read by the politicians
Speaking at a press conference after a party meeting on Monday to evaluate the weekend's talks with imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan on İmralı Island, BDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş said Öcalan is working on a roadmap for the settlement in order to pave the way for social peace, and the formulation is expected to be ready within two to three days.
"An approach that boosts hopes for peace emerged on İmralı Island. Öcalan expressed his resolve for a solution that anyone who endorses peace could back and said the state has no other option but to support the newly gained momentum," Demirtaş said, adding that Öcalan is working on a formulation that will set the main components of the negotiations with the state.
Demirtaş pointed out that they expect the delivery of the proposal that will be finalized by Öcalan in the days to come, and stressed that the upcoming two to three weeks are of critical importance for any substantial progress in the process.
He called on the government and any group that backs the peace talks to strongly endorse the ongoing peace efforts in a bid to end the bloody conflict and noted that the future of the process does not solely hinge upon Öcalan or the BDP..
“I have not been briefed by my friends [colleagues] about the process [course of talks] yet. I will be briefed first and then make a statement,” Erdoğan also told journalists on Monday. According to him, there is huge expectation among the Turkish people for the immediate settlement of the terrorism and Kurdish problems.
Erdoğan earlier said his government might take steps to make it possible for PKK members to take shelter in other countries on condition that they lay down their weapons, in remarks that indicated Turkey would not take legal action against these terrorists.
Öcalan has significant influence among PKK members and supporters. The Turkish state believes that talks with the terrorist head will achieve their goals of a terrorist withdrawal from Turkey and, in the longer term, disarmament.
The prime minister also touched on the issue of the Makhmour Camp, a UN-operated refugee camp in northern Iraq, saying it is a matter to be settled with the UN. Turkey has long been insisting on the closure of the camp, which, according to Ankara, serves as a haven for the PKK.
The BDP convened for a meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss the details of their lawmakers' meeting with Öcalan and the PKK leader's timetable for disarming the terrorist group. No information was immediately available to the press.
Reports: Cease-fire may come in one month
Several Turkish newspapers reported on Monday that Öcalan may call a cease-fire in March as part of ongoing peace talks.
According to newspapers, Öcalan is planning to call on the PKK to enter into a cease-fire on March 21, the day of Nevruz, which heralds the arrival of spring commonly observed by Kurds in Turkey. However, the newspapers did not disclose their sources.
The newspapers also suggested that the cease-fire will be followed by the withdrawal of PKK terrorists from Turkey and their eventual disarmament. During Saturday's meeting, Öcalan reportedly briefed the BDP deputies about his new roadmap for the settlement of the Kurdish and PKK matters. He also told the delegation that the PKK should declare a cease-fire against Turkish security forces.
The newspapers further said that Öcalan had written down three letters addressed to senior commanders of the terrorist PKK, who are staying in camps on the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, but did not give the letters to the visiting delegation. According to reports, the letters will be sent to the PKK commanders through “other channels” due to security concerns because Öcalan was not sure if the lawmakers would really take the letters to his interlocutors. Other channels refer most probably to officials from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
According to the newspapers, the PKK leader in his letters asked the commanders of the terrorist group to be ready for a cease-fire and eventually lay down their arms. He also asked the commanders to release “prisoners” in the hands of the PKK. Öcalan refers to both captured soldiers and government employees kidnapped by the PKK in recent years. The PKK is holding nine people, including soldiers and civil servants, according to the Diyarbakır-based Human Rights Association (İHD).
BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş spoke to reporters on Sunday and said the prospect to “stop the bloodshed” rests in an agreement to be reached by the government and Öcalan. He also said the BDP would not keep anything belonging to the talks “behind closed doors” and will make an explanation about the details of BDP deputies meeting with the PKK leader. “The visit was a historic step,” he added.
On Sunday, a group of young protesters who call themselves the “Platform of Young Turks” convened in Beyoğlu, İstanbul, to protest the peace talks with the terrorist leader. The group was carrying banners that read “We demand respect for martyrs,” “We demand respect for Turks,” “How happy is he who says he is a Turk” and “We want to fight against terrorism, not negotiate with terrorists.”
Families hopeful for releases of captives
A message by Öcalan for the release of soldiers and government employees kidnapped by the terrorist PKK in recent years has boosted hopes among the families of the captives to reunite with their loved ones.
Müşerref Özgen, the mother of police officer Nadir Özgen told reporters that she is hopeful the ongoing talks between the government and the PKK will lead to her son's release. “Nadir was like my baby. I am looking forward to hugging him again. I have always longed for peace,” she said.
Müşerref Özgen said her son was kidnapped by the PKK one-and-a-half years ago while serving in a district in the eastern province of Van. “Let peace arrive and mothers not cry any more. I want the [terrorism] problem to end. I am hopeful that peace will arrive soon.”
The sister of Kenan Erenoğlu, a district governor, said she was expecting her brother to be released by the terrorist group soon. “I hope I will learn about the release of my brother and share this news with my mother,” she said.
Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Faruk Loğoğlu said his party would be happy if the captured soldiers and government employees are set free. However, he said, Öcalan was wrong to refer to PKK terrorists kept in Turkey's prisons as “captives.” “There are no captives at the hands of the state. There are criminals who were implicated in acts of terrorism,” he stated.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, says it keeps half of its 7,000 terrorists in Turkey and half in northern Iraq, where is maintains its primary camps in remote, near-impassable mountains. The Turkish government estimates the number of terrorists to be lower.
The terrorist group has waged a bloody campaign for self-rule in predominantly Kurdish southeast Anatolia since 1984. More than 40,000 people, including civilians and security forces, have been killed in clashes with the terrorist group.