Brinkmanship puts Kurdish peace in jeopardy in Turkey

Brinkmanship puts Kurdish peace in jeopardy in Turkey

I apologize in advance to readers that I am not able to quote any sources while compiling this piece, but I believe that those who continue reading may get more of an idea about what is going on in the apparent deadlock in the dialogue process between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political settlement.

On Jan. 8 and Feb. 4, two important meetings took place between members of parliament for the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which shares similar grassroots with the PKK, and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in İmralı Island prison, where Öcalan is being held, in the presence of government officials. The government was represented by the Public Order and Security Directorate (KDGM), which was authorized for the talks by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu with a decree on Oct. 2, 2014, in addition to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which has been carrying out the contact since the fall of 2012. Muhammed Dervişoğlu, the head of the KDGM, was MİT’s number two in the talks during that period.

In the Feb. 4 meeting, all sides agreed on a temporary road map based on a “reinforced cease-fire” call by Öcalan, to be announced jointly by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the HDP. After the call, the official talks aiming to end all armed activities by the PKK in Turkish territory would be brought to a halt, in order to speed up direct peace negotiations as the country heads for the June 7 elections. As was the case in contacts before, an HDP delegation would go to the PKK headquarters in Kandil Mountains of Iraq, in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), before returning to Ankara with their feedback. A joint statement would then be made public. Even the key members of those to make that statement had almost become clear. It would be realistic to say that three HDP deputies - Pervin Buldan, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and İdris Baluken - would come before the cameras, together with Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, who has been in charge of talks with the HDP, Dervişoğlu of the KDGM, and Mahir Ünal, a parliamentary spokesmen for the AK Parti, representing the political will of the ruling party. The “reinforced cease-fire” statement was to be read by the HDP delegation and all three would say a few words confirming the deal for the rest of the process.

The government’s move to postpone a package tightening security measures from being voted in parliament, which the HDP was resisting (along with the other opposition parties), was interpreted as a gesture to give time for the approval, as the PKK wanted the statement to be issued on Feb. 15, the 16th anniversary of Öcalan’s capture in Kenya in a joint CIA-MİT operation.

But the news from Kandil was not positive. It is clear from statements that the PKK leaders in Kandil are not ready for a farewell to arms yet. Asking for the total withdrawal of the security package, which was demanded from the government by President Tayyip Erdoğan on Oct. 11, 2014, a few days after the bloody events of Oct. 6-8, the PKK also demanded that the government first announce the start of direct negotiations, followed by the joint statement of Öcalan’s “reinforced cease-fire.” The government, on the other hand, was (and is) insisting on the joint statement coming first.

The government’s pushing of the security package to a parliamentary debate on Feb. 17, after two consecutive postponements, may not be the only reason behind the PKK’s statements that it will not abandon arms. There was also another important development in the meantime, before news of the PKK’s foot dragging reached Ankara: Hakan Fidan’s resignation as MİT head on Feb. 7 to be a candidate on AK Parti list; perhaps more important was Erdoğan’s public objection to the move the next day, suggesting that Fidan did not listen to his call, but rather that of Davutoğlu. That may have been taken by Kandil as a sign of an inner conflict among the state’s decision-making mechanisms, or used as a pretext for a further delay of their decision as a bargaining chip with the government.

Either way, the government is now waiting for the PKK decision on that joint statement, and the PKK is waiting for the deadline. This brinkmanship could be putting the entire Kurdish peace process in jeopardy.