Turkey’s fight with the PKK is heading toward an end
A statement to German TV channels made on April 9 by Cemil Bayık, one of military leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), could prove to be the strongest response to imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan’s March 21 call to end the armed campaign launched against Turkey in 1984, in which more than 40,000 people have been killed to date.
The news agencies focused on the “apology to Germany” part of the interview.
It is indeed an important development for the PKK to regret that it had turned a country home to hundreds of thousands of Turkey’s Kurds into a major battleground for its activities - in activity second only to Turkey. This could be a major move in order for the PKK to be removed from Germany’s official list of terrorist organizations.
“I apologize to the German people on behalf of the PKK,” Bayık said. “That will never happen again.”
His words were referring to actions ranging from violence at demonstrations - such as PKK sympathizers setting themselves ablaze - to the bombing of Turkish and German targets, to massive extortion campaigns targeting Kurdish and Turkish business owners and workers in Germany.
However, perhaps it was most important for Bayık to say that the PKK was fed up with fighting. “The PKK is no longer aiming for an independent Kurdish state,” Bayık said. “We will try a political solution. We do not want to fight against Turkey any more. We say, that’s enough. Neither us nor the Turkish state has achieved our goals through war.”
To hear those words from one of most hawkish PKK leaders is a strong signal that the bloody three-decade long fight really could be coming to an end. The Turkish government has been in dialogue with Öcalan through its National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan since 2012, an initiative started by President Tayyip Erdoğan when he was the prime minister. The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which shares similar grassroots with the PKK, has been facilitating the dialogue between the government, Öcalan, who has been in prison since 1999, and the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq and its Brussels-based European network. As a result of those efforts, Öcalan recently issued a message to his organization to convene a congress as soon as possible to announce a conceptual cease-fire, making official the de facto cease-fire announced three years ago with the aim of ending the “armed struggle.”
It is not yet public knowledge whether or not the PKK has held that congress, but Bayık’s statement is a strong signal in that direction. It is also important because of its timing, as the HDP is the key factor in the parliamentary elections on June 7. If it manages to exceed the 10 percent hurdle, it has vowed to prevent Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) from adopting a new constitution based on Erdoğan’s super-presidential model, together with other opposition parties.
In order to exceed the threshold, the HDP needs votes other than Kurdish ones, especially from the Turkish left and liberals. Bayık’s signal about being tired of war as a political solution may not only help the peace process - it may also help the HDP’s election performance.
Ironically enough, if the HDP’s star rises, the PKK’s star will fall. But the PKK will not necessarily see this as a defeat.