Can PKK accept Erdoğan’s condition?

Can PKK accept Erdoğan’s condition?

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has just clearly stated the Turkish government’s first condition for the continuation of talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to reach a peaceful solution to the violence-polluted Kurdish problem, which is described as "Turkey’s worst" by President Abdullah Gül.

From Niamey, the capital of Niger, Erdoğan made his call to Turkey, saying PKK militants should lay down their arms and leave Turkey at once. The call was meant as clarification to many speculations in the Turkish media over the last week, following the confirmation that two members of the Turkish Parliament, who are Kurds, had been given permission by the Ministry of Justice to visit the İmralı Island prison near Istanbul for talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. The visit itself was an indication that refreshed talks between the PKK and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the government's behalf had reached a higher level.

As a political party focused on the Kurdish problem, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), shares the same grassroots with the PKK. According to MP Ahmet Türk, who was one of two deputies that visited Öcalan, the BDP is demanding a larger role than serving as a bridge between the PKK and the government. Selahattin Demirtaş, its co-chair, addressed the party’s group in Parliament on Jan. 8 and said they wanted to be an address of the talks for the Kurdish problem rather than being a postman. Recent information shows that being able to speak with the BDP more has often been a demand by Öcalan during his talks with Hakan Fidan, the head of MİT, and was even discussed in the National Security Board (MGK) meeting chaired by Gül on Dec. 29, 2012. Demirtaş has also asked for more access for Öcalan, more newspapers, TV and visitors to better his atmosphere for the continuation of the talks.

Erdoğan’s call is in a way an answer to Demirtaş’s. By publicizing his government’s demand from the PKK, Erdoğan says at the same time that the government, or the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) could take the BDP as a counterpart in talks. Erdoğan also pointed out the "provocation attempt" by the PKK - only a day after PKK militants attacked a military unit in Hakkari province bordering both Iraq and Iran, killing one soldier and leaving 12 bodies behind. But there is another important detail regarding this attack. Under other circumstances, the incident would make a headline in daily Özgür Gündem, which sympathizes with the PKK. However, there was no mention of the story on the front page of Jan. 9 issue, only Demirtaş’s "glass half full" sort of statements.

The 10 point question is this: Can the PKK accept Erdoğan’s initial condition?

Withdrawing its militants out of Turkey is something the PKK has tried before. Following his capture and death sentence in 1999, Öcalan gave five orders (via his lawyers) to a badly defeated but still resistant PKK to withdraw. However, hundreds of them were literally hunted down on their way to their bases in Iraq by Turkish security forces, who did not much care what the weak three party government was saying at the time. Now, both the PKK and the one party Turkish government are stronger. With a third term in power, the AKP has control over the security forces.

It is a hard decision for the PKK to take. But if it decides to start withdrawing its militants - with or without laying down arms- and if that first step is completed without much damage, then there might be more room for optimism regarding the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey.