Forcing the limits in the Kurdish problem

Forcing the limits in the Kurdish problem

Right on the eve of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Cairo, planned earlier but turned into a joint mission with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in search a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, a surprise statement was made on Nov. 17 on the hunger strikes in Turkish prisons by sympathizers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Apparently, Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned-for-life leader of the PKK, made a call to end the strike by hundreds of his followers and they immediately started to give up in lots; something which the government had failed to provide. This is critical since some of the strikers have been approaching their 70th day of hunger and a possible death could put Erdoğan in a difficult position inside and outside Turkey.

Inside, the strikes had caused a block on not only a possible dialogue on the Kurdish issue, but on the process of writing a new Constitution in political consensus, because the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which shares the same grassroots with the PKK, has boycotted the Parliamentary Conciliation Commission until the end of the strikes. Outside, the European Union and human rights institutions had called the Turkish government to take all measures to save the strikers’ lives, despite making it clear that they do not support hunger strikes for political gains.

A few hours before the statement was revealed, Erdoğan had said the government would not let any prisoners die because of this strike. It could be assumed that he already knew the statement was coming, since every contact with Öcalan in the island-prison of İmralı is under the strict control of the Justice Ministry and government’s has been maintained through Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The details are not 100 percent clear yet, but it would be safe to assume that a nongovernmental contact with Öcalan under the auspices of the government, which could be seen as a step for compromise, should have led to his call to end the action.

Öcalan’s call and its immediate echo could help to draw a few conclusions. First of all it endorsed that Öcalan has representative power, regardless of his imprisonment since 1999. That means any deal that the government could cut with him is likely to find a general approval among his sympathizers. This might not make the current PKK leadership, based in their military headquarters in the Kurdish region of Iraq and ordering more cross-border attacks every other day claiming more lives. Hours after the good news about the end of the strikes, the news of five soldiers killed by PKK militants in Hakkari, the Turkish-Iraqi border hit the wires.

Secondly, the move can make new political moves possible to find a new ground for both the Kurdish problem and the PKK problem in Turkey; resuming the parliamentary commission could be a tool for that.

Thirdly, any attempt in the search to find a solution to Turkey’s number-one problem through political means could endorse Turkey’s diplomatic position in regional matters like the one in Gaza and in Syria.

Meanwhile, the successful move of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to use its own political channels (in the absence of Ankara’s links with Damascus) to save a Cüneyt Ünal, a Turkish journalist in captivity in Syria for months, further helps to strengthen Turkey’s position. It may get on the nerves of the government perhaps, since it is their rival’s success, but when looked at from outside it is a picture of democratic system in Turkey.