Peace in Turkey

March 23, 2013 - 3:09:29 am

Months of clandestine peace talks between representatives of Turkish government and the state’s former nemesis Abdullah Ocalan, whose movement Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies, are coming to fruition. The jailed Kurdish rebel chief on Thursday called for a new ceasefire, asking his fighters to lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkish soil. The development is the most significant to happen in recent Turkish history. The armed Kurdish struggle for independence has been the bane of Turkey for 29 years, which has claimed the lives of 45,000 people. Bringing this conflict to an end will be no mean achievement and the chances are that they will come to an end. And it will be written in Turkish history in golden letters.

“We are at a stage where guns should be silenced,” Ocalan said in a letter written from his prison and read out by a pro-Kurdish lawmaker to hundreds of thousands gathered in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Kurdish people are excited at the prospect of peace and they are solidly behind their leader. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan too has the will and clout to arrive at a peace deal.

The peace deal, once it happens, will be a feather in Erdogan’s cap. Erdogan has emerged as the most powerful and longest-serving prime minister in Turkey’s recent history and will earn himself a lasting legacy if he succeeds in forging a peace deal. After a decade at the helm of government as head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), he has been described as the most influential leader since the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He has been credited with bringing stability to the country after years of rocky coalition governments, building the country into a regional political and economic power. He is also considered as the architect of the economic miracle in Turkey which followed financial meltdown in 2001. His humble beginnings -- who once sold lemons on the streets of Istanbul to fund his schooling – have made him popular and helped win him a place in the hearts of ordinary Turks.

At least four previous ceasefire attempts called by Ocalan were rejected by Ankara or torpedoed by hawkish rebel groups, triggering increased unrest. But Erdogan decided to choose peace. He once said that he was ready to drink poison for peace, when his rivals accused him of negotiating with terrorists. 

Both leaders need to continue their efforts, and not rest until they have achieved their objectives. A peace deal that comes as a lasting solution to the conflict must be signed at the earliest. It’s not easy, but achievable, given their determination.