The Turkish Spring

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey today not only to celebrate Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, but to hear a historic message from the jailed leader of the Kurdish PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, which was read to the crowd in Turkish and Kurdish by a Kurdish parliamentarian. (Here is his entire message in Turkish.) In it, Ocalan calls for a ceasefire to the decades-old struggle between the PKK and the Turkish state that has cost more than 35,000 lives. He said the PKK was leaving its armed struggle behind and called for all PKK fighters to leave Turkey. According to news reports, Ocalan’s message said, among other things,

Today I start a new process witnessed by millions of people. The period of democratic rights, freedom and equality starts. Let us silence the weapons. The bloodshed of the Turkish and Kurdish people will end. This is a process whereby Anatolian and Kurdish communities can live together peacefully… Lay down your weapons and exit [Turkish] borders. We are shifting from armed struggle to democratic struggle…

Our fight has not been against any race, religion or groups. Our fight has been against all kinds of pressure and oppression. Today we are waking up to a new Middle East, new Turkey and a new future…

It is time for unity. Turks and Kurds fought together in Çanakkale [during World War I], and launched the Turkish Parliament together in 1920…

The basis of the new struggle is ideas, ideology and democratic politics…

I call on everyone to build democratic modernism to escape these pressures which are clearly against history and brotherhood.

After the PKK force withdraws to its bases in northern Iraq, the next step would be disarmament and reintegration of PKK guerrillas into Turkish society. The AKP government has said it was not considering amnesty for fighters, so it is unclear how this will proceed. Ocalan said the Kurds did not demand a separate independent state, but desired constitutional and judicial changes that would guarantee Turkey’s Kurdish population all cultural rights and give more power to local authorities.

Ocalan’s message comes after months of unprecedented intensive negotiations with the Turkish government. It is not hard to wonder whether the AKP could have taken this step if the Turkish army weren’t so weakened. For decades, indeed until very recently, any negotiation with the PKK and even any indication of support for the PKK or Kurdish rights in general often led to treason charges and jail terms.

This is truly an unprecedented moment and one that should be celebrated in the present context of new wars, violence, and tragedy on almost every border of Turkey. Previous cease-fires with the PKK have failed. Indeed there has been a pattern of regular ceasefires over the winter with renewed fighting in spring, but this IS spring. It feels like spring, the Turkish Spring; it feels real this time.

 

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