The never-ending war and Öcalan’s insistence on peace

Yeni Yaşam Newspaper presents a summary of the Turkish state’s statements to bring “to an end” the dialogues and the attempts to make peace with the PKK, which was established 43 years ago.

The Kurdish question is an issue inherited by the Republic (of Turkey) from the Ottomans. Since the founding leaders of the republic aspired to be a nation-state and their project excluded all other ethnicities the Kurdish question became a harder problem. We see this in the Kurdish rebellions throughout the history of the republic.

Of course, there were many rebellions during the Ottoman Empire, but these were mostly related to the conflicts between the Kurdish authorities and the centre, and the loss of life did not amount to an attempt to destroy an ethnicity. Through these rebellions the ideas regarding the Kurdish national consciousness began to emerge.

When the republic was established, there was an opportunity to build it as a Turkish and Kurdish republic. The Kurds accepted the call for joint struggle raised by Mustafa Kemal, but the leaders of the republic took this togetherness as a tactical manoeuvre. When the promises for the autonomy and the recognition of the Kurds were not kept, rebellions were triggered and what has been going on for around 40 or 50 years is a reflection of that.

The first ceasefire and Turgut Özal

We can talk about an exception here: Turgut Özal, who served as the 8th President of the Republic of Turkey from 1989 to 1993 after previously twice serving as the Prime Minister of Turkey. During the 1990s, when the war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reached its 10th year, the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan announced a ceasefire for a month in a press statement in Lebanon’s Bari Elyas town. Öcalan added that if the state would comply with the ceasefire, its duration might be longer. It was notable that Celal Talabani was among those who attempted the press conference. This ceasefire was a surprise for the public opinion, but the negotiators had been going back and forth between Ankara and Öcalan for a while in order to prepare a ceasefire.

The dialogue of Özal-Öcalan

Together with the efforts towards negotiations by the journalist Cengiz Çandar, who had been the advisor of both Turgut Özal and Celal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (YNK), an ceasefire agreement was reached. Hatip Dicle, who was among those present in the second press conference after the extension of the ceasefire, said to the Mesopotamia Agency (MA): “17 March 1993 was a ceasefire for a month. Özal transferred the following message to Mr Öcalan through us, through Mam Celal and the journalist Cengiz Çandar: ‘Yes, this ceasefire is of great importance, but the duration of a month does not mean much. You should declare it for an indefinite period of time’. We went to Damascus, when there were two or three days left for the press conference in order to evaluate this with Mr Öcalan. I was in that committee to transfer him the message. On 16 April 1993 Mr Öcalan extended the ceasefire indefinitely. It was directly Özal himself who empowered his hand. Numerous politicians, such as Kemal Burkay, the leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Party (PSK) and Mama Celal were there for that meeting. By 16 April we were about to come back to Turkey with a great enthusiasm. However, before we left, we went to a restaurant in Damascus with Mam Celal. Mam Celal probably listened to an Arab radio and told us: ‘Oh my, I have some bad news for you. They announced the death of Özal in Turkey'”.

Dicle also cites Öcalan’s views on this occasion: “Mr Öcalan said: ‘Probably the state killed Özal, because this is an Ottoman tradition. When someone loses, they never tolerate it. The peaceful stand of Özal and his being open to political solution was probably taken as a defeat by the deep arm of the state and that is probably why he was killed”. (MA, 9 October 2020)

Soldiers would not recognize the ceasefire

The soldiers did not comply with the ceasefire announced by Turgut Özal, and have therefore lost a great many lives. Necati Özgen, the Corps Commander of the time, who talked to Hürriyet’s Saygı Öztürk in an interview many years later, said, “No one gave me the order of ceasefire and I did not give the order of a ceasefire to anyone”. (Saygı Öztürk, 33 Bullets, page 63).

A dark moment

40 days after Turgut Özal died, the roads were blocked in Elazığ-Bingöl and 33 soldiers were killed by a firing squad. Öcalan referred to this as a dark moment later on. Therefore, the attempts of ceasefire and peace were interrupted. After two years of a fierce war, on 15 December 1995 the PKK announced a ceasefire again, but through a military operation called the Steal Operation. Federal Kurdistan was subjected to many military interventions and the second ceasefire attempt was in vain.

The dialogue with Erbakan

When Necmettin Erbakan served as the Prime Minister of the 54th government of Turkey, which was a coalition government formed by Welfare Party (RP) and True Path Party (DYP), and was known as Refahyol, he contacted Öcalan through negotiators. In this period, when letters were exchanged, Erbakan was in dialogue with Öcalan for the peaceful solution of the question. The dialogues were carried through Alev Alatlı and İsmail Nacar, but when Erbakan was forced to resign from the government the process was interrupted again.

The peace process

Öcalan initiated the attempts for peace at the beginning of the İmrali period. On 1 September 1999, the International Day of Peace, he declared a ceasefire again and called on PKK members to leave beyond the borders. This process took five years as the state never took any further steps. By 1 June 2004 the ceasefire was interrupted again. Later on, Öcalan proposed a “Plan for Peace” for the government and developed the “Roadmap for Peace” until 2005. The response of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was to legislate a repentance law named the “homecoming law”.

A single sentence in the constitution

In 2008 Öcalan said, “If a solution is desired, then a constitution can be developed, with which the Kurds can also come to terms. They can invite the PKK to be a part of the development of this constitution”. According to Öcalan, a single sentence in the constitution could be enough. That sentence was: “The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey accepts the existence and self-expression of all languages and cultures in a democratic way”. This sentence would have opened a path: “If this sentence goes into the constitution, the PKK would lay down arms within two months and the rest would be shaped by the democratic laws. This is possible and we can stop the blood flowing”. However, there was no attempt to bring about this solution. On the contrary, Abdullah Gül, the President of the Republic of the time said, “We have everything on the table for the cross-borders operation and the Prime Minister has approved that”.

Oslo negotiations

In 2009 Öcalan announced the “roadmap” for his solution project. Öcalan called on the AKP and said, “The solution would be developed only if there is a democratic negotiation, be brave about it, open the way for a democratic solution. Open up the path to democratic politics. Open up the path to peace. Open up the path to democratic negotiation”.

Negotiations between the PKK and the state were officially started in September 2008, and lasted about a year. It turned out that international institutions were intermediaries. It should be noted that since the meetings were held in Oslo, the Norwegian state was aware of all. The first meeting between the Turkish state and the PKK was held in September 2008. The second or third was held in March 2009. There were negotiations in May after the elections. Then there were talks in July. The Oslo talks in 2009 also corresponded to the process when Öcalan prepared and proposed a roadmap to the Turkish state. At that time, he was appearing with the MIT Deputy Undersecretary team. Then, in August 2009, after the roadmap was given to the state, Hakan Fidan participated in the talks. At that time, he was attending the talks as the Deputy Undersecretary / Prime Minister Representative. Öcalan presented the roadmap in August, but there were yet again no further steps from the state party. The process ended after 11 soldiers lost their lives in a clash in the Diyarbakır countryside.

Habur process

In parallel with the Oslo process, new steps were taken in Turkey as well. Upon the call from Öcalan, 33 PKK member entered Turkey from the Habur Border. There were 50,000 people in Şırnak’s (Şirnex) Silopî district to welcome the newcomers. The whole region welcomed them with great enthusiasm. This portrait and the criticism rising from the nationalist opposition wing frightened the government and they took a step back.

In 2011 Öcalan wanted to come to a definite end within the perspective of the roadmap for a democratic constitutional process, which was terminated by a police operation, known as Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Operations, resulting in the detention of ten thousand people. Öcalan said, “They have been under the burden of a fierce war since July 2011. They conducted the final liquidation operations. The team, who convinced the prime minister to do this, said, ‘We will end the PKK in 2011’. On this basis, they took ten thousand people behind the bars under the name of KCK operations”.

On 24 July 2011 Öcalan’s last meeting with his attorney took place, and on 22 November all his attorneys were detained. This policy was maintained throughout 2012 and until 2013.

Dolmabahçe Consensus

Since the beginning of 2013, Öcalan declared “Democratic Liberation and Free Life Process”. During this period, the most comprehensive meetings were held between the state delegation and Öcalan, in which the PKK was also involved. Negotiations launched with the state delegation. Solution protocols were discussed on the island of İmralı for days. The solution protocol written by Öcalan was announced by the state and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) delegation in Dolmabahçe on 1 March 2015.

The ten articles of the Dolmabahçe Consensus:

1 – The content of democratic politics should be discussed.
2 – The national and local dimensions of the democratic solution should be defined.
3 – Legal and democratic guarantees of free citizenship.
4 – Topics regarding the relation of democratic politics with the state and society and the institutionalisation of this.
5 – Socioeconomic dimensions of the solution process.
6 – Democracy-security relations in the solution process should be handled in such a way as to enhance the public order and freedom.
7 – Legal solutions and guarantees for the issues of women, culture and ecology.
8 – A pluralistic democratic understanding regarding the recognition of the concept of identity should be developed.
9 – Democratic republic, common homeland and the concept of nation should be defined based on a democratic criteria and preserved in the pluralistic democratic system with legal and constitutional guarantees.
10 – The new constitution should be designed to serve the internalisation of all these democratic moves and transformations.

The Dolmabahçe process lasted until April 2015, and when the practical steps defined by the Dolmabahçe Consensus were about to be taken, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “I do not recognize this consensus”. By the end of this process, an absolute isolation was imposed upon Öcalan. In a family meeting held after the 15 July coup d’etat attempt, Öcalan announced in a statement, “I still continue to work on the peace projects. Talk to me for a democratic solution and peace. If there is such an intention, we can solve this problem in few months with our peace projects. I would play my role if they are sincere about a democratic solution and peace”. However, the powers that be never responded to these calls, deepening his isolation.

Official statements declaring the end of the PKK since 1984

Since the PKK launched armed actions in 1984, state officials have often promised to end the PKK in a week or a few months. The coup leader Kenan Evren called them “a few looters”. President Özal made similar statements supporting an end to the PKK. Then he realised that the problem could not be solved with violence and sought peace. After Özal, there was a period of bloodshed. During the tenure of Tansu Çiller, nearly seventeen thousand civilians were killed at the hands of the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organisation (JİTEM) and similar structures. Çiller frequently made remarks signalling the end of the PKK.

Süleyman Soylu took over the Ministry of Interior from Efkan Ala on 1 October, 2016. Since he took over the post, Soylu has said, “The PKK will not see the spring and April, and its name will not be mentioned again”.

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The never-ending war and Öcalan’s insistence on peace

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