[quote style=”1″]”Let guns be silenced and politics dominate. The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders … It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” – Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the PKK[/quote]
Thursday was Nevruz, the traditional Kurdish New Years. In the past few decades the holiday has taken on extra meaning, as Kurdish rebel groups would use the celebration as a time to make announcements or enumerate their goals. This past Nevruz announcements were again made; however, this time Members of Parliament read out the message to tens of thousands in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It was a hopeful message of a possible peace with the PKK.
In both Turkish and Kurdish the MPs read aloud a letter by Ocalan calling for the end to almost thirty years of guerrilla war between Kurdish forces and the Turkish military that has left around 40,000 people dead. Ocalan, the figurehead of the PKK, has been in jail since 1997 for high treason and has apparently been in negotiations with the Turkish government for the past three years.
This is not the first ceasefire that the PKK has announced, although there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. For one, the general demands of the Kurdish people – specifically linguistic rights – have been slowly, but steadily, being met over the past ten years or so. The ceasefire is also only the first part of a four part peace process which includes: a truce, judicial reforms, democratization, and finally complete disarmament of the rebel force. Ocalan has also called for all PKK fighters to leave Turkey for Northern Iraq. The ruling AK Party in Turkey is also wagering a lot on successfully completing these talks – politically, the will is there.
Some people, both Turks and Kurds, may look at the final prospect of peace a little jadedly. It is a long history of violence to swallow up and put aside. Some others may not have much faith in the final outcome until peace has been totally achieved. I had dinner with a coworker and her friend last night. The friend had been planning on going to Diyarbakir for a dance night, but decided against it due to the distance.
“It’s a little dangerous, isn’t it?” my coworker asked.
“No, there is peace now,” her friend responded.
“There is peace now,” she echoed back, with perhaps a note of cautious optimism. Or maybe just with a view of realism. After thirty years of low intensity fighting, the idea that there might suddenly be peace – like that – is indeed a little hard to wrap your mind around. Especially when the other numbers are considered: 40,000 dead and almost $300 billion spent by the Turkish military.
Hopefully the process works. Both Ocalan and Prime Minister Erdoğan seem to be staking their political futures on the process achieving some sort of lasting peace. In the end, though, I am hopeful. Despite what ever vitriol there may be between the more extreme of either side, every Turk or Kurd I have ever met has referred to the other group as their brothers, or partners.
It is a good time to be in Turkey.