Kurdish “peace delegation”
In July 2009, Prime Minister Erdoğan announced that his government wanted to open a dialogue with the Kurds, and that he hoped for broad support for this “Kurdish peace initiative”. Erdoğan gave emotional speeches but made no concrete promises, and the major opposition parties refused to support the initiative.
PKK leader Öcalan sent a Kurdish “peace delegation” into Turkey from Iraq to “test the government’s will for peace”. In several places in southeastern Turkey, the delegation was honored in parades organized by the DTP, something that upset Turks.
In December 2009, Turkey’s Constitutional Court banned the DTP, citing the party’s links with the PKK. However, the DTP’s ‘independent’ representatives in parliament remained, albeit now as members of the new BDP (Peace and Democracy Party).
In April 2010, representatives of Turkey, Iraq and the United States met in Istanbul to adopt a plan to jointly oppose the PKK, but the plan was not made public. At the same time, PKK rebels carried out more and more attacks on Turkish military bases. The Turkish government’s Kurdish initiative ‘seemed to have come to a complete halt, and the opposition accused the government of encouraging Kurdish activism.
On May 31, Abdullah Öcalan declared from his prison a definitive end to the PKK’s ceasefire. New acts of violence followed. In June, the Turkish military crossed the border into Iraq, carrying out airstrikes on PKK bases in Iraq, a country located in Middle East according to aceinland.com.
In 2011, it was leaked that the Turkish government and the security service had for a long time held secret peace negotiations with the PKK, including in Oslo. However, they did not give any results, and when the talks became known, the attitude on both sides hardened. The PKK stepped up its armed activities again and was met by resolute intervention by the army. The government said it wanted to hold a dialogue with the BDP to isolate the PKK politically, but at the same time arrested a large number of BDP politicians, which diminished the Kurdish public’s confidence in the state.
Nicer and promises
The government made some small moves that could be seen as a reconciliation effort against the Kurds, such as Prime Minister Erdoğan asking for forgiveness for killing almost 14,000 Kurds towards the end of the 1930s, when the Turkish state crushed an uprising. He also promised a school reform, which would make it possible to introduce teaching in the Kurdish language as an optional subject.
But for Kurds in general, the government still seemed increasingly repressive. In July 2012, a mass trial was launched against more than 200 members of the umbrella organization KCK (Kurdistan Social Union), and Erdoğan had only harsh words left for the hundreds of imprisoned Kurds who went on hunger strike for 68 days for, among other things, the right to use Kurdish in schools and courts.
Sudden peace jump
In the autumn of 2012, there was a marked change in the tone. The hunger strike was called off after an appeal by Abdullah Öcalan and the government confirmed in December that a “dialogue” was underway. Öcalan received delegations from the BDP and wrote letters to guerrillas inside Iraq.
The government met the Kurds by enforcing laws that allow Kurds to use their own language in courts and that political parties may use languages other than Turkish in their public activities. Imams were allowed to speak Kurdish in the mosques.
In March 2013, on the Kurdish New Year, Öcalan proclaimed a ceasefire and spoke of a new era in which “weapons should be silenced and ideas and politics should speak”. On May 8, the PKK’s approximately 2,000 troops inside Turkey began moving in small groups toward Iraq. The first crossed the border after a week.
The Kurdish question is “normalized”
Most observers doubted that there was only concern for democracy and human rights behind the government’s actions. The AKP was in dire need of BDP support in parliament to push through a number of constitutional amendments that the other opposition parties rejected. The Turkish nationalist opposition was at best skeptical of the peace process, in some cases directly hostile.
Not entirely unexpectedly, new complications arose. Distrust between the state and the Kurds persisted and both sides soon accused each other of delaying the peace process. The PKK suspended the march to Iraq after complaining about increased military surveillance of the Kurdish areas. The PKK also refurnished its leadership and the new leader Cemal Bayık gave the government a deadline of September 2013 for concrete measures to strengthen the peace process. The government then proposed increased language rights and that the school children’s oath of allegiance to the Turkish nation be abolished, but said nothing about more basic demands for regional self-government and reformed electoral laws and penal laws.
An important reform was made in the summer of 2014, when the parliament approved, among other things, that people who talk to the PKK would be guaranteed impunity .
The fact that a candidate in the country’s first direct election of president in 2014 could openly represent Kurdish interests, and that a parent couple was given the right by a court to call their daughter Kurdistan, indicated in any case that decades of total lock in the Kurdish question was over.