Kurdish peace negotiators on verge of political talks: British mediator

Kurdish peace negotiators on verge of political talks: British mediator

Cansu Çamlıbel ISTANBUL
Kurdish peace negotiators on verge of political talks: British mediator The Turkish government and Kurds are on the verge of starting political negotiations, according to British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who was one of Tony Blair’s senior aides who took a crucial role during Northern Ireland’s peace talks.

“You are on the verge of political talks. Now you cross that no man’s land,” Powell told daily Hürriyet, when asked about the current position of the Kurdish peace process in Turkey, while expressing his optimism about the negotiations.

“You are about to get into political talks,” he said, noting the parties in the process had “crossed a difficult bridge.”

In a historic joint press conference with the government on Feb. 28, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) announced a call by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan for the outlawed group to hold a congress in spring to discuss disarmament in Turkey, calling for a “reinforced cease-fire.”

“These 10 points presumably may be discussed in the conference, then you are going to move into some sort of negotiations. That is why I am optimistic about it. You in a way crossed the difficult bridge,” he said.

The diplomat said the parties should “move from the place where people don’t talk to each other or kill each other to the stage where they talk and sign an agreement and promise to do things.”

“The agreement is one step away from that place, but only one step,” he said, asserting that the peace process was not a single-time event that happens suddenly.

“I think the main observation I have is that people always expect the peace process to be an event … A day when this peace suddenly arrives ... It doesn’t work like that. You start with people, enemies who do not trust each other, and end the process with those who do trust each other and can live alongside each other normally,” he said.

The sides in the process need to see promises kept to begin trusting each other, according to Powell, who currently runs a nongovernmental organization, Inter Mediate, which works on armed conflicts around the world.

“I would say you certainly got beyond the talks about talks. But you haven’t necessarily entered into full-phase negotiations,” he stated.

Powell said the statement did not show the presence of negotiations “but the willingness to show we can proceed with negotiations if Öcalan’s call is implemented.”

He admitted the picture appeared very complicated, with the government claiming the message was implying disarmament, while PKK leaders have insisted the solution about democratic means must come first.

“Plus they have a battle going on in Syria and won’t lay down arms. It looks very complicated,” he said, but added the exact meaning of the text was not important as long as people start to talk about laying down arms.

“The good news is that everyone is talking about the end of the armed struggle. You haven’t yet worked out how the end of the armed struggle is going to happen but now you have got that commitment at the end of the armed struggle,” he said.

The diplomat also suggested the Turkish government’s allowance to Kurdish fighters to pass over its soil to fight against Islamist jihadists in Rojava strengthened the trust between the factions.

Powell also praised former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Hakan Fidan for his work in and approach to the process, likening Fidan’s role to his own actions in the Irish peace process.

“I have got the highest respect for him. I think he has done a remarkable thing. I think he deserves a huge amount of credit for what he has achieved,” he said.

However, he added, he personally thinks the changing of personalities assuming a crucial role in the negotiations could have an adverse impact.

“It is very difficult to change personalities in a process like this because the trust is not built up between institutions. It is built up between individuals,” he said.