The answer to the question of whether Turkish government officials had a meeting with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), still hangs in the air with conflicting reports and statements.
The alleged meeting between government officials and Öcalan took place in İmralı island prison on 28 March, journalist Murat Ağırel said on Halk TV on Friday night, citing sources in the Turkish bureaucracy.
“The sources you can ask about this meeting is limited. They do not want to say anything about its content,” Ağırel said.
“We do not know what they talked about inside. It is reported in the press that some offers have been made, but they were not accepted. When I asked them, they said it was a meeting within this direction.”
Ağırel’s comments confirmed those of Kurdish journalist Amed Dicle, who said on 10 April that in the run up to Turkey’s 14 May elections, government officials had tried to establish indirect contact with the PKK leadership located in northern Iraq, as well as to hold meetings with Öcalan, but had failed in getting the desired results.
“We know that in the last one-and-a-half to two years, there has been very heavy communications traffic from Ankara to İmralı,” Dicle said, referring to İmralı Island Prison, where Öcalan is imprisoned.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) brought forward Dicle’s claims on Tuesday, following the detentions of more than 100 Kurdish politicians, journalists, lawyers, and members of civil society organisations over terror related charges.
“What do you think Erdoğan wanted by sending a delegation to İmralı,” Demirtaş asked on Twitter, referring to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“When he couldn’t get what he wanted, it seems he once again started accusing us of collaborating with “terrorism”,” Demirtaş added.
In response to Dicle’s claims, İbrahim Kalın, the top aide of Erdoğan, on Tuesday denied that the government officials had a meeting with Öcalan, saying, “these are allegations put forward by certain circles in order to gain political advantage for themselves”.
“Öcalan has not been allowed to meet his family and lawyers for more than two years. It means that, since Erdoğan could not get what he wanted from Öcalan, he is blocking his contacts with the outside world,” Demirtaş said in an interview with Cumhuriyet daily on Friday.
“Journalist Amed Dicle, who expressed that claim, would not have said so if he was not sure. The same information has also been confirmed by my sources,” Demirtaş said.
According to the politician, who is jailed in the Edirne prison in northwest Turkey, since the government could not persuade Öcalan, they reverted to increasing their pressure on the Kurds and added the Kurdish-Islamist Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par) to the People’s Alliance, the election alliance led by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The election-based cooperation negotiations between the AKP and the Hüda-Par became public in mid-March, and Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu, the leader of the Islamist party, announced their decision to field their candidates under the AKP list on 24 March, four days before the date journalist Ağırel claimed the meeting between government officials and Öcalan was organised.
Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ also refuted the allegations about the meeting on Saturday.
“Let them reveal whatever they have in their hands. When they cannot find any political issue to exploit, they say things like a meeting will be held. It is very clear, it is a lie, a lie, a lie,” Bozdağ said.
The claims about a possible meeting between the government and Öcalan raised suspicions about a potential government attempt to persuade the PKK leader to intervene in the direction of Kurdish votes in 14 May elections, as the Erdoğan government made a similar move in 2019.
Just a few days before the re-run of the Istanbul mayorship elections in 2019, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported a statement from Öcalan, calling on Kurdish voters to remain neutral in the mayoral race.
A month before the re-run of Istanbul elections in June, the Turkish officials also allowed Öcalan to meet his lawyers for the first time in eight years.
The last time the PKK leader, who has been kept in isolation in İmralı prison since 1999, had contact with the outside world was in March 2021 in the form of an interrupted phone call with his brother.
The Kurdish voters are expected to play a crucial role in 14 May elections, as the opposition’s presidential candidate can declare victory against Erdoğan if he secures the support of the Kurdish voters.
The HDP announced its support for Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential race on Friday, but Öcalan, who remains the supreme leader of the Kurdish political movement, might have a profound effect on the votes of Kurds in Turkey if he declares his position.