Southeast Turkey: Ceasing fire. Again.


Speculation has been mounting that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, is on the verge of unilaterally declaring a ceasefire.

Abdullah Öcalan

Kurdish political figures in Turkey and Iraq’s president have both called for it, and they were joined earlier today by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in a Turkish prison for seven years but still remains an influential figure among many Kurdish militants.

An end to the bombing is of course what any sane person would want. It might even be the only course of action left to the PKK; it lost what little sympathy it had over the summer when it blew up minibuses in Turkish tourist resorts or bombed bus stops in Kurdish towns. What is less clear is whether this ceasefire will last.

There have been two PKK ceasefires before. The first was announced by Ocalan himself in 1993, while he was still riding high in Lebanon, while the second was immediately after his capture six years later. The latter of these held for a few years into the new century, until fighters declared the government hadn’t done enough to increase the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

In a way, the fighters were right. ‘Enough’ had not been done – it was after all only with EU-orientated reforms that such changes as Kurdish broadcasting were grudgingly introduced. But where the fighters were wrong, so desperately wrong, was in their choice to resort to violence again. Since then there have been countless bomb attacks on police stations and military outposts. Tens of soldiers and officers were killed, with each death helping to fuel a resurgence in Turkish nationalism.

There is nervous talk of offering an amnesty to some PKK leaders, including Öcalan, in return for an end to the bombing. Nervous, because no Turkish political leader would ever openly advocate it. But there are some both in government and opposition who privately accept it is the only way to end the bloodshed. Those same people have come to accept that Turkey’s Kurdish population should be further embraced, not distanced, as a result of PKK militancy.

There are of course circles that would be outraged at the mere idea of talks of any kind with the PKK. But even Turkish generals have admitted that the PKK threat cannot be elimated by purely military means. Öcalan is far too high profile to ever be released from his prison island in the country’s northwest, but other wanted militants aren’t. If allowing them back to their homes in southeastern Turkey will stop the attacks, then so be it. It is not as if those militants would suddenly be living in full liberty; more likely they’ll be watched by the state from a certain distance for the rest of their lives. But if it stops the killing, then it has to be done. And if the PKK is on the verge of declaring a ceasefire, then that is precisely what has happened.

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Last modified: Saturday 18 April 2015

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