In light of tragic murders, PKK and Turkish state must hold firm to unique peace passage
In the same vain as previous hopes and initiatives to end Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) hostilities and resolve Turkey’s age old Kurdish dilemma, any step forward has often been met with two steps back. The Turkish failure to acknowledge its Kurdish reality and its instance on a military solution has left this dilemma in somewhat of a vicious cycle. An insurgency nearing almost 3 decades, deaths of over 40,000, the destruction of villages, not to mention the billions of dollars of military expenditure and the considerable polarisation of Kurds and Turks, tells its own story.
Previous attempts at achieving elusive peace with the PKK were thwarted by Turkish nationalists unmoving on Kemalist ideology and out-dated policies, and Kurdish rebels unwilling to back down on what they saw as minimal demands.
It is no surprise that with the prospect of peace growing between the Turkish government and the PKK and the announcement in the Turkish media of an agreed roadmap between imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish interlocutors, a great cloud was quickly placed on the talks by the tragic assassination of Sakine Cansız in Paris, one of the founding members of the PKK, along with two colleagues, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez.
Any recent air of optimism or aura of hope was quickly overshadowed by the cold-hearted murders as sentiments soon turned to anger, mourning and outrage.
While the question of the culpable and the motives behind the killings naturally dominate the topic, the timing of the incidents speaks volumes. Whether instigated within the PKK or by Turkish nationalist wings, the end goal is the same, to disrupt and derail the peace process.
Unsuccessful Oslo based talks between the Turk- ish Intelligence Services (MIT) and the PKK were shrouded with an element of secrecy, but the fact that the latest initiative to break the deadly stalemate was openly discussed and acknowledged by Turkish officials, offered fresh hope and signalled that Turkey was willing to present true overtures and solutions this time and not just rhetoric.
Behind the scenes, Turkey will have always known that cutting the branches of the Kurdish struggle would have been fruitless without cutting the root. However, Turkey remained obstinate on its out-dated ideologies and could not differentiate the Kurdish problem from what it deemed as a terrorist problem.
The armed struggle may have been a tool that has allowed the Kurds a voice at the negotiation table, but it has failed to adapt to geopolitical realities. In the midst of the Arab Spring, grassroots of democracy in the Middle East and a rapidly changing national and strategic outlook for the Kurds, the climate has drastically shifted.
Kurds have new tools and new ways to promote their cause and Turkey can fail to listen at its peril. The Iraqi Kurds, now key strategic political and economic partners of Turkey, have newfound prominence and practical independence while the Syrian Kurds are afforded opportunities that were unthinkable merely a few years ago.
The admission by French President Francois Hollande that he had regular contact with one of the slain, much to the dismay of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resonates loudly. The Turkish Kurds whether officially or not, enjoy relatively good support from the European communities. The PKK may be on the EU blacklist, but no doubt European politicians in some form or another have symphasised with their cause, if not their tactics. Simply put, the Kurds have more than a strong diplomatic platform now to lay down their arms and end unnecessary violence.
Peace, a resolution to the Kurdish question and a true reconciliation between Kurds and Turks can only serve both nations and the greater good of Turkey.
The Kurds have come a long way and must seize the initiative as much as Turkey must match intent with practical deeds and real compromise. Halfhearted measures suit no side, and any delay to the peace process will merely mean more years of fighting and an eventual return to the negotiation table.
Whether today or tomorrow, the Kurds and Turks have no choice but to sit down and enter dialogue. Anything else simply delays the inevitable.
The tragic death of Sakine Cansız and others need urgent answers; none more so than from the French government on whose soil the crimes were committed. But both the PKK and Turkish government must ensure the voices of moderation prevail.
It is very easy to swing back to the realms of violence and shy away from peace at this sensitive conjecture but this is exactly what the perpetrators of the murders want. The peace process is not at the stage of fully-fledged ceasefire negotiations and can easily evaporate before any real substance is built.
Cansiz did not have an active role in the PKK command, although she continuously supported the rebel cause. He death was more symbolic as a female revolutionary, an icon of resistance and determination and of course as a founding member. It was designed to stir emotion more than deprive the PKK of a leader or handicap the movement.
Elements within both the PKK and Turkish state have reasons to derail the peace process. Ocalan is without a doubt the most influential figurehead of the PKK, but he has not been in active command for almost 14 years. Like any rebel movement, the PKK has its divergent branches and differing ideological and political stances, and Ocalan will not necessarily hold sway over all components.
After nearly 30 years of fighting and countless sacrifices, elements within the PKK will be weary of “selling out” to the arch enemy. For every willing negotiator and moderate voice in the PKK, there are those that prefer to fight to their last breath.
As for Turkish nationalists, the PKK has been a card that they can use to justify the outdated policies of the state, repression of the Kurds and to label the Kurds as the “bad guys”. The PKK has been a means by which Turkish military hawks can justify billions of dollars of expenditure and keep intact Kemalist foundations.
Certain elements within both the PKK and Turkish state have more to lose in peace than in war.
Even Iran and Syria, potential suspects that should not be discounted from the murders, have plenty to lose with peace between PKK and Turkish state. The PKK has been like a wildcard used by various regional actors. The best example is how the PKK struggle was significantly revived as both Damascus and Tehran were keen to punish the influential support of Ankara in the Syrian uprising.
The PKK even has political roots in Syria via the PYD, which has alarmed Turkey, as Syrian Kurds rise to prominence has hit the international spotlight. Peace with the PKK not only gives Turkey reassurances from within but also outside its borders. For the PKK, peace may safeguard and even enhance political gains of their brethren in Syria.
It is of extreme importance that as well as the French government, the Turkish government show their willingness to carry out a thorough and transparent investigation into the killings. The Turkish government must show its hands are clean before it resumes its position at the negotiating table.
The PKK must refrain from accusations and any harming of the peace process while the picture around the murders become clearer and should conduct its own investigations.
A portrait of one of the founding members of the PKK, Sakine Cansiz, is displayed at the Kurdish Culture Institute in Paris on Jan. 10.