Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan called for a “new format” in the stalled peace process with Turkey on Sunday after the Kurdish movement stopped the withdrawal of its fighters last week citing Ankara’s failure to meet the conditions of a nascent peace agreement.
Öcalan issued a statement—released by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)—calling for “thorough negotiations” to restart the peace process. The latest statement comes after secret meetings between Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MiT) leader, Hakan Fidan, and Öcalan in Imrali Island where he is currently being held.
While Öcalan remains head of the PKK, day-to-day running of the group is currently held by military commander Cemil Bayik, who was recently elected to lead the group at its Mount Qandil base in Iraqi Kurdistan. Bayik has issued escalating threats to the Ankara leadership over the stalled peace process, warning that the PKK will send its fighters back to Turkey if the Erdoğan government refuses to implement the provisions of the peace agreement.
For their part, the Turkish government refused to comment officially on Öcalan’s statement. Deputy chairman of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, Hüseyin Çelik, told Turkey’s Today’s Zaman: “In the statement, there is nothing solid. It’s not something that’s worth commenting on.”
A source close to the PKK leadership, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that Fidan “briefed Öcalan of a group of decisions that the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government intends to issue next week to resolve the Kurdistan issue,” adding that, “Öcalan expressed his acceptance of the reforms that the government plans to carry out within the framework of the peace process.”
The BPD delegation that visited Öcalan on Sunday revealed that the PKK leader’s message to Ankara and the Mount Qandil leadership stated: “If we could manage to overcome difficulties with my proposals and views, then we can make progress [in the settlement process] with thorough negotiations which would have evolved into a new format.” However the statement did not explicitly state that the PKK would restart its withdrawal from Turkey, with some analysts viewing this as implicit support for the halt of the withdrawal until Turkey meets the PKK’s demands.
A second source in the PKK leadership, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “The peace process is facing many complications; most importantly the Turkish government’s failure to respond to Kurdish demands, which represent the primary motive behind the PKK leadership’s entering the peace process.”
“We have not seen any of our imprisoned fighters being released [by the Turkish government], including dozens who are injured. While we have not seen any definitive steps by the government to allow the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools, nor have we seen any move to abolish the village guard system,” the source said.
The PKK leadership source added, “On the contrary, we have seen the government taking advantage of our withdrawal to strengthen their military position in these areas, while we have not seen them take even one step towards amending the law.Therefore, halting our withdrawal of fighters is a clear warning to the government that this peace process must be accelerated if it is to succeed.”
For his part, leading Kurdish MP Ahmet Türk, who has played a key role in mediating between the PKK and Ankara, stated that “the halt of the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Turkish territory does not mean the termination of the peace process. Instead, this is a sign that there are many obstacles and complications that deter the process and the Turkish side must address these issues to ensure that the peace process endures.”
“We cannot separate the issues of self-rule and accepting the Kurdish as an official language as being separate from a peaceful solution…because these demands are natural rights that are guaranteed by national law, and they should not be treated as an isolated issue,” he added.