A critical meeting for Turkey’s Kurdish problem

A critical meeting for Turkey’s Kurdish problem

The meeting to be held this week between Turkish government officials and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan in the island-prison of İmralı, south of Istanbul is expected to be a critical one for the future of the talks concerning a political settlement in the country’s chronic Kurdish problem, according to sources on both sides who wished to remain anonymous.

Officials from the Public Order and Security Directorate (KDGM), which is authorized by the government to conduct the talks, the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and a more-crowded-than-usual delegation of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is a party focused on the Kurdish problem, are expected to be in the meeting with Öcalan.

The reason that makes the meeting more important than the previous ones after being initiated by then-Prime Minister, now President, Tayyip Erdoğan is the coming parliamentary elections on June 7.

Both Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government want Öcalan to announce an “absolute non-action” status, if not a total farewell to arms, a fight which has been continuing since 1984, as soon as possible, also in order to secure a peaceful election. Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said in a public speech last week that the government expected such an announcement by March 21, the equinox day of Nevruz, which is also celebrated as the cultural new year by the Kurds.

On the Nevruz of 2013, via a letter he sent to the rally in Diyarbakır, had called the PKK militants to leave Turkey to Iraq where the PKK’s military headquarters is with their weapons, but it did not work as planned, especially after the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in both Iraq and Syria. Government sources complain that the PKK has been using that as a pretext for dragging its feet and the PKK has been accusing the government of playing for time until the elections are over.

The elections are important for Erdoğan because he wants a sufficient parliamentary majority for the AK Parti to adopt a new constitution for a stronger presidential model instead of the current parliamentary one.

The elections are important for the HDP (and the PKK, which share similar grassroots) too because they want to step up their presence and position in parliament, which could give them a stronger hand in talks with the government.

In order to bypass an unfair 10 percent threshold, the HDP’s predecessors used to enter parliament as independent MPs and from there join under the party umbrella. But this time, they want to challenge that 10 percent hurdle by getting into the elections under the HDP name, having more seats, but taking the risk of not making it into parliament.

Both the HDP (and the PKK) and AK Parti government sources acknowledge that the peace talks and the election campaigns have intertwined under the current unique circumstances.

Sources claim that Öcalan could announce his opinion during this week’s meeting about whether the HDP should go as it is or via independent candidates as usual, which is most likely to become the choice of the HDP, before the deadline for candidacy gets closer. That makes this week’s meeting between government officials, HDP deputies and Öcalan worth watching closely.