PKK supporters in Turkey hold up a portrait of their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. Photo: AP
- Despite a recent rise in violence in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, there is still hope for negotiations between Kurdish militants and the Turkish state, according to a leading think-tank.
However, both sides must show more genuine public commitment if peace is to be achieved, and only then can they combat a shared enemy in Islamic State, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says in its latest report.
Violence flared across Kurdish areas last month, with some 40 people killed during riots by Kurds angry at the government for not doing enough to help their kinsmen in the Syrian border town of Kobane, which has been under a weeks-long siege by Islamic State (ISIS).
Four Turkish soldiers were killed in less than a week by suspected Kurdish militants and the Turkish military carried out air strikes on insurgent targets inside Turkey for the first time in two years. The unrest has emerged as the most serious threat to a shaky peace process launched by Ankara two years ago.
“The peace process to end the 30-year-old insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) against Turkey’s government is at a turning point. It will either collapse as the sides squander years of work, or it will accelerate as they commit to real convergences," the ICG said.
“But despite a worrying upsurge in hostilities, they currently face few insuperable obstacles at home and have two strong leaders who can still see the process through. They must do more to define common end goals and show real public commitment to what will be difficult compromises,” it said.
Until last month, Turkey had enjoyed a period of relative calm since talks began and particularly following a unilateral ceasefire call by the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in March 2013.
However, more recent posturing and complacency on both sides, as well as the effects of Syria’s civil war continuing to reverberate across the frontier, have resulted in an increase in harsh rhetoric, which the ICG said “must end to build up trust”.
“Both sides must put aside external pretexts and domestic inertia to compromise on the chief problem, the Turkey-PKK conflict inside Turkey. Increasing ceasefire violations, urban unrest and Islamist extremism spilling over into Turkey from regional conflicts underline the cost of delays,” ICG said.
“Without first achieving peace, they cannot cooperate in fighting their common enemy, the jihadi threat, particularly from the Islamic State,” it said.
Turkey has been reluctant to help Kurdish fighters in Kobane out of fear of emboldening the PKK in Turkey, because of the two groups close links. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angered Kurds on both sides of the frontier by equating the town’s defenders with ISIS.
The PKK has warned that the peace process would be over if Kobane was allowed to fall to the jihadists. Under international pressure, Turkey has since given passage to Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga fighters to help defend the town. It is also giving refuge to some 200,000 refugees from the area and is treating wounded fighters.
For lasting peace to be achieved, the ICG said, the process needed a more comprehensive agenda, a more urgent time frame, better social engagement, mutually agreed ground rules, and clear and objective monitoring criteria.
It called on the PKK to uphold the ceasefire and condemn violence carried out by affiliated groups, and urged Ankara to avoid statements “aggravating Turkey’s Kurds” and threatening “a return to heavy-handed security measures”.
Some 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since the PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 to try and carve out an independent Kurdish state. The group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, Washington and the European Union, has since relaxed their demands to more Kurdish rights and autonomy.