Kurdish peace talks in danger

Kurdish peace talks in danger

“During the day, the children play on the streets and the women sit and chat. At night, Cizre is a whole different story with bombs, AK-47’s, hand grenades and mortar fire. The Turkish state is nowhere to be seen. The streets are barricades here.”

These are the first-hand accounts of Hürriyet correspondent Gülden Aydin, reporting on the last week in Cizre, a small town in Şırnak province on the border with Iraq. When I visited the town two years ago after the historic Nevruz announcement of a cease-fire, the town was full of optimism. The head of the chamber of commerce told me his dreams about a railroad that would pass from Cizre into Syria, into Rojava. But a lot has changed since then.

Despite all the talk in Ankara, and despite the smiling faces of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Sırrı Sureyya Önder and Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan posing for the cameras, something seems to be wrong in the peace talks between the Turkish state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). My sources in the security and the military are openly expressing concern about a possible uprising in the southeast, possibly even before the general elections in June.

“Every coffee shop, every little kiosk in the southeast is armed with Kalashnikovs,” said one former soldier. “Even in Istanbul, there is an incredible amount of shipments of weapons and ammunition. But in Ankara the security apparatus does not seem eager to do anything about it.”

I keep remembering jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s words from that historic Nevruz letter. “At the end of all this,” he wrote, “We will either live like never before, or fight like never before.” Sırrı Süreyya Önder repeated that sentence twice in Diyarbakir.

So, frankly, former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ is simply wrong when he says that the PKK is a tired and old organization. Kandil has been recruiting heavily since last summer, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat emerged. The siege of Kobane became a turning point for the youth organization of the PKK. From every neighborhood and every small town, young Kurds left for the Kandil mountains to receive training, before heading on on to Kobane. It was the first big fight for a young generation of fighters to be initiated into the organization. Those who captured the town from ISIL now have enough confidence to challenge the Turkish state and its almost static policies in the process.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hinted that he is expecting “better signs” from İmralı Prison, where Öcalan is serving his life sentence. The sad truth is that Öcalan may be out of the picture for the youths who are taking over the streets of Cizre. Building barricades and throwing Molotov cocktails is a way of building that generation’s pride. They believe they have waited too long for things that are too small to cherish.

“In Cizre, they think the town has turned into Kobane,” says Gülden Aydın. The tables have turned and hopes have vanished. Spring will be a very difficult season this year.