Tell them 'Apo is dead'

Tell them 'Apo is dead'

Turkey’s political decision makers could have read the Arab Spring in a much different way. Demands for a better, more just country, better income distribution, a true hope for a better tomorrow were not pie-in-the-sky demands for Turkey’s leaders. Yet, they failed to read between the lines. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) leadership did not.

The PKK’s top brass and its jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, understood the dynamics that were shaping the Middle East. As a wave of anti-government protests surrounded Turkey, the PKK had to re-calibrate its demands and negotiation policies with the Turkish state. To understand this we have to go back to the minutes of the talks before the historic “peace letter” of Nevruz 2013 in Diyarbakır.

Milliyet’s headline on Feb. 28, 2013, published the minutes of the historic talks held in İmralı Island (no, you cannot find it on Milliyet’s website anymore because the paper and Ankara ordered it to be removed). Here are the words that signaled what we are living today:

“If they do not do what we ask them, there will be no withdrawal. If the peace process fails you will tell them Apo [Öcalan] is dead. I am out of it. I won’t let the PKK or [the Peoples’ Democratic Party] HDP use me.” 

Öcalan continued by saying that there will be no need for a house-arrest or amnesty if everything goes well. “If not,” he said, “There will be a civil war with 50,000 people. But this time everyone should know. We will neither live like before, nor fight like before.”

It is there, a written document in his own words. The PKK had said what they were going to do. While the leadership in Ankara was busy with “should we invite Şiwan Perwer to parliament, should we put İbrahim Tatlıses on the ballot” kind of mundane discussions, the PKK was playing its cards openly.

According to a very well informed intelligence source, the PKK read the signs of the Arab Spring and the Gezi Park protests very carefully. It changed its actions towards winning the inner-city voters, blue and white-collar workers. It turned to its roots in 1979 by advocating for all the masses that are suffering under a filthy rich and brutal system. That is why a terrorist organization still can find volunteers, recruitment and a political base.

So the ball is back in the court of the top figures at the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq now. One of the members of the commanding quartet, Duran Kalkan, gave an order to the terrorists and youth militia on the ground NOT to attack police officers and soldiers. The PKK now sees the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan power establishment, not his voters, nor even his soldiers, as its main target. But it has shed too much blood to turn itself into a political actor at this point.

As Turkey approaches another election in early November, peace is the most crucial factor. Celalettin Can, co-founder of the 1978 Foundation, also one of the wise-men of peace talks, said, “Neither the government, nor the HDP can afford the outcome, if violence continues during the election period.”

The outcome may not be too different. But it may pave the way for a real coalition that can draft a true constitution. For that, a gradual cease-fire and a real political will to give up fighting inside Turkey can be the ultimate game changer. Let’s assume Apo is dead. Can the PKK become a peace maker overnight?