End of hunger strikes may revive peace talks
For a long time, a technical problem occurring on a boat shuttling between a port in a western city and İmralı island -- where outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan is serving his life sentence -- was cited among the reasons behind the lack of meetings between Öcalan and his lawyers. Whenever the lawyers or pro-Kurdish deputies were unable to travel to İmralı to meet with the PKK leader on an authorized visit, the blame was put on a sudden technical failure that allegedly occurred on the boat. This excuse put forward by the state was, of course, unconvincing and not serious.
Nevertheless, we learned last Friday that the Ministry of Justice replaced this boat with a brand new one. And in the afternoon of that very same day, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) -- some of whose members also went on a hunger strike several days prior and more than two months after hundreds of Turkish Kurdish prisoners started a hunger strike on Sept. 12 -- made contact with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to arrange a meeting between Abdullah Öcalan and his brother, Mehmet.

Mehmet Öcalan traveled to İmralı with the new boat in the morning of Saturday, Nov. 17. Late in the afternoon, Mehmet conveyed his brother Abdullah's message to the public -- namely, that he had asked the prisoners to end their hunger strikes.

Through his brother, Abdullah Öcalan said, among other things, that he does not find hunger strikes in general a correct type of action.

"However, the hunger strikes reached their target," he added in his message, as quoted by Mehmet.

While Öcalan said the hunger strikes have reached their goal, the hunger strikers did not appear to be satisfied with only one of the conditions being met by the government that paved the way for defendants to make their defense in court in Kurdish. The hunger strikers said they would only end their action once their other two conditions were met, too: ending a ban on Öcalan's meeting with his lawyers and accepting education in Kurdish.

Kurdish as an optional course has already been included in this year's school curriculum, while education in Kurdish is a matter that should be addressed in the new constitution currently being drafted.

Nevertheless, ongoing talks between the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and Öcalan, as well as between Justice Minister Ergin and BDP deputies, have apparently resulted in Abdullah Öcalan's call on the hunger strikers to end their action before the remaining two other conditions set forth are met.

Hundreds of prisoners ended their hunger strikes on Sunday, the 68th day of their action.

It is now highly speculated that Abdullah Öcalan may be allowed to meet with his lawyers after an almost 15-month ban for such meetings taking place, as an attempt to meet another condition of the hunger strikers, which is to end the isolation imposed on Öcalan.

Will the end of the hunger strikes be followed by the revival of peace talks similar to the one conducted in Oslo in 2010, which was, however, undermined by various circles when the transcript of talks between MİT officials and PKK operatives was leaked to the media in 2011?

Cevat Öneş, a former deputy of the MİT undersecretary who is actively involved in conflict resolution studies on the PKK, told me that the end of the hunger strikes may be followed by a process of a dialogue between the PKK and the state, which may culminate in a cease-fire.

Öneş believes that efforts initiated by the state (MİT), the BDP represented in Parliament and by those PKK factions that he thinks are supporting a peaceful resolution to end the terrorism problem paved the way for an end to the hunger strikes, signaling the start of a new atmosphere of dialogue on the Kurdish question.

The government has already taken legal steps in easing the Kurdish question and should announce a package of confidence-building measures (CBMs) and a roadmap that will include the government's already declared steps to reduce violence in addressing the Kurdish grievances, Öneş says.

Among the topics the CBMs should cover, says Öneş, are changing the wording in the new constitution to Turkish citizenship, so that Kurds will not be alienated as the current one characterizes the citizens as being solely members of the Turkish nation; maintaining the Turkish language as the official language of the nation, while pledging that Kurdish will be taught at schools; and cleaning the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) from anti-democratic elements to expand the scope of freedom of expression. In addition, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in particular, should distance himself from security-centric policies on the Kurdish question as well as from his nationalist rhetoric.

Despite the fact that Erdoğan provoked the hunger strikers with the negative tone he used against both the PKK and the BDP, blaming them for blackmailing the government during the process of hunger strikes, his ministers, such as Justice Minister Ergin and Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bülent Arınç, played key roles in facilitating the end of the hunger strikes. This gives strong indications that the government is seeking the revival of peace talks with the PKK.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-20 12:00:01
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