Protesters carry banners reading, "We fight for Life, we die for Peace" as they march to protest operations against Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) during a demonstration in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Selahettin Celik, a former founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), says that the group’s declaration that it is halting a pullout of fighters from Turkey should not be seen as a re-declaration of war.
But he warns that, “In the end the war may be resumed anyway.”
The PKK’s commander, Cemil Bayik, announced last week that he was stopping the withdrawal of fighters from Turkey, which began in early May as part of a peace process to end the group’s three-decade separatist war, in which an estimated 40,000 people have died.
Bayik said the decision was taken because Turkey had failed to deliver anything concrete in return for the withdrawal.
“Turkey has not taken any steps to solve the Kurdish question and will not do so. It is clear how the Turkish parliament acts against the Kurdish identity and Kurdish language,” Celik says, echoing comments by the PKK commander, who accuses Ankara of not living up to the terms of the peace process.
Some Turkish media see the PKK’s decision to end the peace deal as a lever against Turkey, aimed at pressuring Ankara to ease off against the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
The PKK leadership, including its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, was for years based in Syria, enjoying the backing of the ruling regime.
The group denies having any more links with Damascus, but Turkey has always accused the Assad regime of using the PKK as a tool to pressure Ankara.
In the Syrian civil war, Turkey backs opposition rebel forces that are fighting to oust Assad and has asked for the president’s resignation. On the other hand, the PKK stands accused of backdoor deals with Damascus through its Syrian arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which stepped in after the start of the 2011 civil war to take control of Syria’s Kurdish regions from regime forces.
“Even if the PKK takes up arms again, I don’t think they can have a considerable impact on the situation in Syria,” Celik says, adding that most likely Iran and Syria are demanding that the PKK up the pressure against Turkey.
Celik believes it is this heat that is behind the PKK’s decision to halt its pullout. “But that should never mean ending the peace process,” he counsels.
After years of negotiations between Turkish intelligence officials and Ocalan, both sides finally agreed on a peace deal. The PKK agreed to withdraw its fighters and Turkey pledged to address the cultural and political rights of more than 15 million Kurds, easing up on decades of oppression that have included jail terms and fines even for speaking the Kurdish language.
Celik advises that the PKK should not take the peace process as a zero sum game.
“The PKK can organize demonstrations in the cities, strengthen its foreign relations and clarify its intentions to the public,” Celik suggests. “What they are doing right now isn’t enough.”
Meanwhile, says Celik, the PKK has to be patient if it wants to see the peace process through. He says that Turkey is currently busy with the crisis in Syria and soon will be preoccupied with its own local elections.