Country's Kurds hope for breakthrough on PKK anniversary

Kurds around the world celebrate the 25th of the PKK’s armed campaign as the Kurdish movement’s leader is due to propose a peace plan to Ankara.


In the Kurdish community, all eyes will be turning to the small island of Imrali, in the sea of Marmara, on Saturday. Little would normally draw anyone to this arid rock in the middle of nowhere, but it is where Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has been held in a high-security prison for the past ten years. On August 15, Ocalan will unveil a road map to peace and reconciliation between the Turkish state and Kurds.

Kurds around the world have been eagerly awaiting the document. For a couple of weeks now, Turkish authorities and the Kurdish minority have relaunched talks in “good conditions”, according to writer and journalist Ahmet Gulabi Dere, a member of the National Congress of Kurdistan, a federation of about 140 Kurdish movements in Turkey and around the world, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

On August 5, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to meet Ahmet Turk, the president of Turkey’s main Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, for the first time in two years.

Besir Atalay, Turkey’s interior minister, was recently asked to oversee talks between Kurds and the state.

“The Turkish government is trying to catch up because it knows that Ocalan is about to release his road map and it has fallen behind with talks,” says Dere.

25 years of conflict

Abdullah Ocalan did not randomly choose August 15. On this day, Kurds mark the 25th anniversary of the start of an armed campaign against Turkey. In 1984, PKK militants staged an attacked on Turkish military barracks in the towns of Eruh and Semdinli.

At least 45,000 people have been killed in the two-and-a-half-decade-long conflict.

The historic day remains etched in Memet Ulker’s memory. Ulker, president of the Cultural Centre for Kurds in Paris, recalls feeling very proud when he heard the news of the attack on Turkish television.

Today, however, he lives far away from his homeland. Memet was forced to flee Turkey in 1980 following a military coup d’état on September 12. The crackdown on Kurdish militants accentuated under military rule.

“The language, the music, the Kurdish culture was banned in Turkey, so on August 15 I felt proud and happy like thousands of other Kurds living in Turkey and in exile,” said Ulker.

Ulker admits a kinship with the PKK. He says he wants Ankara to recognize the Kurdish population and dreams of an autonomous Kurdistan in Turkish territory.

Kurds in Paris often gather at the cultural centre. Sitting in one of its salons, a group of men catch up on the latest news from their native land over a cup of tea. Some come here to reconnect with their culture, read the Kurdish news daily Politika or watch video clips on Kurdish music channel MMC.

The 25th anniversary is monopolising the news coverage on the Kurd network Roj TV and even the pages of the Turkish daily Hurryet.

Erdan, a 27-year-old Kurd at the cultural centre, said that August 15 is “a day of cultural renaissance for the Kurds”.

“Our parents paid a heavy price in this fight,” he said.

“If the Turkish government wants to find a solution, it needs to negotiate with Ocalan,” he added.

Ojalan’s lawyers visited him on August 14, and they probably have in their possession the famous road map that will made public on Saturday.

A new landmark

Ahmet Gulabi Dere predicts that Saturday will be a landmark for Kurds: just as the August 15 of 1984 marked the launch of the armed struggle, this August 15 will mark the onset of a new era of struggle marked by moderate views and pacifist methods.

But what of the road map? While waiting for it to be revealed, speculation is rife, with many people projecting their hopes and fears onto it.

There are fears of seeing the Turkey divided, such as those voiced by some Hurriyet editorialists and the Milliyetci Hareket Partisi, a nationalist and virulently anti-Kurdish party.

Ulker said that Kurds hope someday to see their people and culture officially recognized by Turkey. Although Ankara has expanded the civil rights of Kurds in recent years (granting access to private schools, allowing TV broadcasts in the Kurdish language), much remains to be done.

The PKK abandoned its separatist aspirations in 1993, and today asks only for political autonomy and certain cultural rights, for example the right to use Kurdish first names.

Dere said that Ocalan’s road map could provide the foundation for a truth and justice commission, like those in Rwanda or South Africa. It would also provide a progress report on the armed conflict — the PKK’s ceasefire lasts until September 1 — and raise the issue of providing amnesty for Kurdish combatants.

The document and the European Union’s ongoing discussions with Ankara on accession to the union could make it possible to involve the EU in a resolution of the Kurdish question.

Dere, responsible for relations between the National Congress of Kurdistan and the EU, says that “hypocrital Europe has not until now played the role it should have.”

“This road map will move things forward,” he said. “The Kurdish question is a problem for Europe, too.”

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