Turkish gov’t confusing minds as PKK leader calls for disarmament
Abdullah Öcalan’s March 21 message, sent from İmralı Island prison where he has been kept since 1999 and read in Diyarbakır addressing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which he founded in 1978, to take a decision to leave arms and shift to a non-violent strategy was something that the Turkish government had been expecting for more than six months.
It was President Tayyip Erdoğan who had initiated the talks between the government and Öcalan when he was the prime minister in 2012 via Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan. It was Erdoğan who approved the mediating role of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) between the government and the PKK, by shuttling between the government people, İmralı, the political and military headquarters of the PKK in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq and the diplomatic and financial center in Brussels.
When Erdoğan was elected president in August 2014, then-foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu replaced him as the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and as the prime minister. Davutoğlu did not show any sign of hesitation to continue the talks.
Actually the first solid outcome of the talks with the PKK in pursuit of a political settlement to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem came under Davutoğlu’s term. It was him to make the official - i.e. something more than an intelligence agency effort - decree on Oct. 2, 2014.
Declarations of will both by the government and the HDP deputies were read together in Istanbul in February 2015 as another psychological threshold.
There were two left. For the HDP, the formation of an “independent” monitoring group was a must for the start of official negotiations. For the government, as raised a number of times by Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, was a call by Öcalan to the PKK to leave arms, preferably on the festive day of Nevruz, March 21, to boost its public effect.
Öcalan in a way delivered his promise and made the call. But not only has the name of such a monitoring group not been announced yet, also a discrepancy has surfaced between Erdoğan and the government over the formation of the group.
Pervin Buldan, an MP for the HDP active in the meditative talks, had told HDN on March 13 that such a group of 15-16 people was roughly formed and waiting for the approval of the government and they expected the group could join them in talks with Öcalan on March 14, which could be taken as the start of the official peace negotiations.
Akdoğan reacted to that strongly; there was nothing certain yet. And when a group of 5-6 people’s names were leaked to the press on March 20, a day before Öcalan’s message, President Erdoğan said he objected to the formation of the group, which has been on the table from day one.
As soon as Öcalan’s message to leave arms was read, Government Spokesman (and also a Deputy Prime Minister) Bülent Arınç objected to Erdoğan’s objection about the monitoring group, which stole some of the headlines the next day from the important call in Diyarbakır.
In return, Erdoğan slammed the government once again on March 21 evening, saying it was wrong for the government and party members (those were Akdoğan, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and AK Parti parliamentary spokesman Mahir Ünal) to take a picture together with members of the HDP.
Arınç’s reply on March 22 was that the government “loves the president” but has its own “responsibilities,” a very gentle way of saying, “let us mind our own business.”
Those are mind confusing words. Is this a simple “good cop-bad cop” game between the president and the government, since Turkey is heading for the June 7 elections and the AK parti wants to lose neither Turkish nationalist, nor Kurdish conservative votes? Or is this a real rift between them like the one over the resignation of Fidan from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to become a candidate for the elections and the later return to his job due to pressure from Erdoğan on Davutoğlu?
Because it is not possible to think all those developments are independent of the Fidan incident and if so, the Kurdish problem might cause a bit of headache for both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu in the elections.
The Kurdish front, by the way, enjoys the situation. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the HDP, said in an Istanbul rally on March 22 that he did not think the PKK would resume the fight “just because Erdoğan objected” to the developments; the HDP takes the government’s word as it should be in a parliamentarian democracy, not a presidential one, as Erdoğan desires.