Turkey’s relations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) entered a new phase on 15 July when Turkish President Abdullah Gül approved a law aiming at accelerate the peace process with the organisation. The PKK is still labelled as a terrorist one by Ankara, the European Union and the United States. The decision may have large electoral benefits for the incumbent President less than a month before the presidential election.
Favouring peace talks with PKK
President Abdullah Gül approved the reform package that had been agreed on in Parliament on Thursday 10 July by a large majority of 237 votes against 37. The “Draft Law to End Terror and Strengthen Social Integration,” aims at solving the thirty-years long opposition between the Turkish government and the PKK. The latter has been advocating for the creation of an independent Kurdistan through armed insurgency since 1984.
Nevertheless, peace talks have been on the rise for the last years, especially since Ankara has resumed its relations with the PKK’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan in 2012. Öcalan, who has been in jail for 15 years, called in 2013 for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of PKK forces from Turkey.
The law passed yesterday goes further into implementing peace negotiations. Its six articles provide legal immunity for state officials involved in negotiations with the Kurdish Movement, and authorizes the government to take all “security, disarmament, and human rights, as well as political, legal, socio-economic, psychological and cultural” measures it considers legitimate to end the PKK’s violent actions. It also aims at facilitating the militant who lay down their weapons’ reintegration within the Turkish society.
Abdullah Öcalan welcomed the bill, while underlining it should be accompanied by legal and social improvements through the establishment of “commissions and monitoring boards”. Number two of the PKK, Cemil Bayık, however deplored that Ankara “still considers the [Kurdish] issue as a matter of security, [insisting] on military and intelligence methods rather than politics and human rights”. He added that the priority should be given to resolving the Kurdish question, rather than the terrorist one, notably through the release of Abdullah Öcalan and other political prisoners.
An asset for the presidential election in August
Turkey’s 74,5 million population includes 15 million Kurds, who represent an important source of electoral support, raising criticism from the opposition who perceives the law as a way for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to gain the Kurds’ support a few weeks before the presidential elections. The AKP announced on 1 July that the current Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan would indeed be the party’s candidate to become the country’s next president. In power since 2002, his government favoured cultural and language rights for Kurds, notably by allowing Kurdish to be taught in Turkish universities in 2009 and in schools in June 2012 . Their votes will be essential in case of a second-round-run although Erdogan is already given a strong lead in the latest opinion polls.
N.B. The conflict has already killed 40,000 people and the imprisonment of hundreds of Kurdish activists under the anti-terror laws. Today, more than 50 court cases are still ongoing in Turkey against activists belonging to the Kurdistan Communities Union, an umbrella organisation that gathers political and armed Kurdish groups, among which the PKK.
Author : Laura Gounon