ANKARA — The jailed leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has called on armed militants to withdraw from the Turkish territory, a move that could end the three-decade-long conflict that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives.
On Thursday, Kurdish parliamentary deputies Pervin Buldan and Sirri Sureyya Onder read out Abdullah Öcalan’s message in Kurdish and Turkish in the predominantly Kurdish city Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.
“We are at a point today that guns will be silenced and thoughts will speak. It is time for armed elements to move outside [Turkey’s] borders. This is not an ending but a new beginning,” Öcalan wrote. The jailed PKK leader’s message came amid an ongoing peace process initiated by the Turkish government to end the conflict.
“Today a new era is beginning. A door has been opened from armed struggle to democratic struggle,” he said in his message that was addressed to more than 1 million people gathered to celebrate the Kurdish New Year, Nevruz. “It is time for unity. Turks and Kurds fought together in Çanakkale [during World War I], and launched the Turkish Parliament together in 1920,” the message said.
Under orders from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s secret services late last year resumed peace talks with Öcalan. Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union recognize the PKK as a terrorist entity.
The plan aims to disarm the rebels who use bases in Turkey, northern Iraq and Iran as a springboard to launch attacks on security forces in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Looming local and presidential elections next year, parliamentary elections in 2015 and the risk of renewed clashes as summer approaches mean Erdogan will need to initiate comprehensive reforms swiftly to broaden Kurdish minority rights. Erdogan’s government also is seeking ways to push through Parliament a constitution that would enable Erdogan to take charge of a new executive presidency.
In return, Erdogan’s government hopes Öcalan will set in motion steps toward a cease-fire and a subsequent withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkish territory. The PKK has said that it may agree to a peace deal if Ankara granted Kurds local autonomy and broader political rights and guaranteed safe exit for its fighters possibly to third countries.