Turkish president hints at dialogue for Kurdish woe

Turkish president hints at dialogue for Kurdish woe

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish president hints at dialogue for Kurdish woe

Hailing the end of hunger strikes, Gül calls for Kurdish issue talks. Daily News Photo

xpressing his satisfaction with the ending of the 68-day hunger strike in Turkish prisons, President Abdullah Gül has said it is time for a Parliamentary debate to speed up efforts for a resolution to Turkey’s decades old Kurdish issue.

“You can voice the most extreme opinions in Turkey … Within this environment, other means become totally illegitimate. I believe we can resolve our problems with more discussion and more gathering,” Gül said at a joint press conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

“Our problems should be solved without resorting to violence. The harder the solution is, the more there is violence, arms, terror, blood,” he said.

CHP voices similar stance

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu voiced similar hopes over Parliament’s role in resolving the Kurdish issue.

“The demands [of inmates] were heard with the hunger strikes. This indicates Parliament’s failure and Turkey’s democratic deficit. I hope there will not be a political environment in Turkey for staging hunger strikes any more. I hope Parliament will be an instrument for a resolution [to the Kurdish issue],” Tanrıkulu said while in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

Hundreds of prisoners, as well as many people outside, launched a hunger strike on Sept. 12 to demand an end to the isolation of the convicted leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently serving a life sentence on İmralı island. Öcalan’s lawyers have not allowed onto the island for the past 15 months.

Protesters also demanded an end to restrictions on the use of mother tongues – Kurdish - in court and in education.

The decision for an end to the strike came after a call from Öcalan to hunger strikers in prisons across the country on Nov. 17. The call was conveyed by his brother, Mehmet Öcalan, who visited the PKK leader Nov. 17 in his prison on İmralı Island for the first time in months. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said a well planned and well coordinated effort by government officials had played a role in ending the hunger strikes on their 68th day.

The government has always attached importance to dialogue in resolution efforts for the Kurdish issue, he added. Government officials continued their talks with Öcalan during the hunger strikes, one of which took place after the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) congress on Sept. 30, Atalay said, also hinting that the talks touched on wider issues related to the Kurdish issue. “Talks with İmralı Island are not only related to this [hunger strike] process. State officials met with [Öcalan] previously, and his brother also went to the island to meet with him. We are maintaining our attitude for a fundamental resolution to the [Kurdish] issue.”

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin echoed the deputy prime minister, saying talks with Öcalan would continue. “Intelligence agencies and security forces hold talks [with Öcalan] when deemed necessary in the fight against terrorism. Talks were held when deemed necessary in the past, and will be held in future as well. There is not a new situation,” Ergin told reporters in Ankara.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) condemned government efforts, likening the strikes to “a scene of a theater play.” “The next stages will be a cease-fire and final stage will be democratic autonomy,” MHP deputy Parliamentary group chair Oktay Vural said.

Health Minister Recep Akdağ, speaking about the medical condition of those who staged hunger strikes, said no inmates were in a life-threatening situation and that a scientific commission had been formed to carefully monitor the nutrition of inmates.

‘Willing for a solution’

Convicted leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan is willing to solve the Kurdish issue through democratic means, according to his brother, Mehmet Öcalan.

“If the government takes positive steps, my brother will be ready to contribute [to the solution process]. He is willing to solve the issue through democratic means,” Mehmet Öcalan said. “No one should take advantage of the point we have reached. All parties should be careful and fair. The Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] encouraged me to visit [İmralı] island. We met with the families of hunger strikers and then decided to go there.”

Mehmet Öcalan said his brother “seemed fine even though he is living under harsh conditions” and added: “He expressed his sorrow over the hunger strikes, adding that the problem could be solved if everyone does their own part positively. He also said the relevant parties should behave with conscience.”