A chance for Turkey’s Kurds

The call from Adbullah Ocalan to disarm is a good opportunity that should not be missed.

Cheering supporters hold posters of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during Nowruz celebrations in southeastern Turkey (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
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Will Turkey’s Kurds ever disarm? That is the question that most Turks will be asking in response to the call by the jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan for the group to prepare for peace. Kurds in Turkey, on the other hand, will have a different question: can the Turkish government be trusted? In both cases, the other side will have to trust a bit, move a bit and hope for the best. Otherwise the 30-year conflict between the Turkish state and separatist Kurds will never end.

The latest – and most promising – stage of this conflict came in the past two years, after then-prime minister, and now president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved official talks between his government and Ocalan, who is currently serving a life sentence in Turkey for treason.

In response, Ocalan declared a ceasefire in a struggle that has claimed more than 40,000 lives. That ceasefire still holds, just, but the end game for both sides remains opaque.

From the Turkish perspective, the Kurds must disarm. This is what Ocalan is proposing, an end to the military war and a move to, as he put it this week, “a democratic solution”. What the Kurds will ask in return is unclear. A 10-point proposal released earlier this year was vague.

Distrust, even hatred, of the PKK runs deep in Turkey; many Turkish families have lost members to terrorist attacks. Many Turks do not believe that the Kurds will ever give up their idea of creating the nation-state of Kurdistan, which would incorporate some land from Turkey’s south-east. The newly-emboldened Syrian and Iraqi Kurds across the border have only encouraged this perception.

There are those in Turkey’s government who would happily sabotage any deal with Ocalan. But Mr Erdogan must rein them in. The proposals for Kurdish disarmament remain the best option to end the conflict; there are, currently, no others. Thus both sides must grasp the moment. Solving one part of the Kurdish question will be a step forward, especially at a time of so much regional conflict.