There is still hope for a Kurdish peace

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The news that three Kurdish women, including a co-founder of the PKK, were found shot dead in a Parisian Kurdish centre, has stolen headlines in Turkey and across the world.

As with all attacks of this kind, there is plenty that is not yet known. We do not know who carried out the shooting or why they did it. French police have launched an investigation. We can only speculate over whether it is connected to events in Turkey: it emerged recently that the government has been holding talks in secret with Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the PKK who is serving a life prison sentence, to try and bring an end to the violence in the southeast.

It was Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who revealed the negotiations had been happening, after spending much of the last year dishing out some of his harshest rhetoric against the PKK and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy and Party (BDP).

Today, at least one senior figure in his party tried to dismiss the Parisian shooting as an “internal conflict” within the PKK. But Mr Erdoğan still had his newfound statesman’s hat on: “We need to wait for light to be shed on the incident,” he said. “This could be an internal conflict; however, we are engaged in a struggle to end terrorism and we want to make progress, but there some who do not wish for this. It [the shootings] could be a provocative move by them.”

Tonight, there is much commentary in the Turkish and foreign press about the shootings and the implications they may have for the peace process. Many critics – and some BDP politicians – have warned there could be revenge attacks against Turkish figures.

However, there are two points that distinguish this event from, say, 2011’s catastrophic air strike on Kurdish civilians. First, Turkey – through Bülent Arınç – has expressed its sorrow. The deputy prime minister said it appeared to be an extrajudicial execution and he condemned it, thus quickly voicing the outrage that needs to be heard. This is not a trivial point: in too many past cases, Turkey’s leadership has failed to react quickly enough to tragedy with a basic human response.

Second, it looks like the peace talks will continue. Before the Parisian shooting, Mr Erdoğan had spoken of a two-pronged approach: “continuing the military operation in southeast Turkey against the terrorists, while simultaneously holding talks with their political wing”. It is hugely encouraging that the prime minister is again persuaded of the need to involve the BDP in peace talks. Just like in Northern Ireland, direct talks are the only way to end such a bitter civil war.

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Last modified: Monday 7 October 2013

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