Kurdish PKK Leader Officially Calls for End to Hostilities in Turkey

AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici
AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

For the Kurdish New Year, rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan asked his followers to end a rebellion against Turkey. The conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK) and Turkey is over three decades long.

“I call on the P.K.K. to convene a congress to end the 40-year-long armed struggle against the Republic of Turkey and to determine political and social strategies and tactics in accordance with the spirit of the new era,” he wrote in his message, which was read aloud by Sirri Sureyya Onder of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

The PKK was founded in 1978 and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., NATO, and European Union. It was formed, among other rebel groups, to fight for an independent Kurdistan or at least greater autonomy in Turkey, and its ideology is largely based in Marxism.

The conflict has led to almost 50,000 deaths. Turkish authorities and the CIA captured Ocalan in Kenya in 1999. A peace process started in 2012 in which the Turkish government pushed Ocalan to disarm the PKK. Ocalan never did, but since the PKK took up arms against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, this has helped partially shed “their pariah status” with some Kurds. The organization helped save the Yazidi minority and retake the city of Kobane.

“Our movement’s painful struggle has not been in vain, but it has also reached a stage where it cannot continue as is,” continued Ocalan. “History and our peoples demand a democratic solution and peace that matches this era’s spirit.”

At a rally in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the two sides need to “bury the hatred, the cultural of hate, violence, guns.” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc announced the government will “establish an independent committee to monitor the peace talks.”

Tensions spiked in October when the Kurds protested Turkey’s inaction for their rights and against the Islamic State in important Kurdish towns like Kobane. In July, an Islamic State fighter claimed Turkey helped finance the terrorist group, which could explain Turkey’s hesitance to fight against the terrorist group. Over 40 people died in 30 cities. After the PKK threatened to break the ceasefire, Turkey allowed the Kurdish fighters “to cross into” Kobane “through Turkish territory.” This eased the tensions and helped Kurds remain optimistic.

“There is a lot of stress among Kurds about the peace process,” said Eren Yakut, a 40-year-old Kurd. “Clearly, Ocalan wanted to tame those feelings, but obstacles keep emerging all the time. I’m trying to remain hopeful.”

But not every Kurd shares Yakut’s feelings.

“These peace talks are just to keep the Kurds busy, the peace is not happening,” said Asime, an 18-year-old Kurd. “We won in Kobani, this is our advantage. After seeing what is happening in Syria, I started feeling more Kurdish than ever before, I started to think we should have our own piece of land.”