Peace talks go on between Ankara and PKK


“This has been going on for 30 years and we see now that guns, the conflict, has not been a solution”, says 40-year-old Doğan Doğan of the decades-old conflict between the Turkish state and the militant nationalist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

On the TV in Doğan’s barbershop, a news anchor reports on the ongoing peace talks between Ankara and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been incarcerated in a special prison in Imrali Island since 1999.

"If this [peace] process is not stopped, I believe and I hope inshallah [God willing] at the end it will be successful".

The Kurds make up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s 75 million-strong population. They mostly live in the south east of the country, and have for decades asked for more political and social rights.

Doğan, like many Turks, he refers to Öcalan as “the baby killer”. For them, he is responsible for the more of 40,000 deaths the conflict has caused, though most of those killed have been Kurdish militants and civilians. Many Kurds affectionately call him "Apo", meaning "uncle" in Kurdish.

"I am very surprised how this people follow Öcalan with enthusiasm, somebody like him," says Sedat Bacik, 48, another worker in the barbershop.

"We were people who could not even stand to hear the name of Abullah Öcalan in the past", Bacik goes on. "But now we are all convinced this thing will not end with guns and we have reached a point in which we accept this".

"If this is going to end it, of course we support the talks, there is no question about that", agrees Mehmet Tekcan, a 47, who sits in the barber’s chair. "My nephews, my friends, they are going to do the military service and I do not want them to be killed".

The anchor on the TV starts talking about the killing of the three high profile Kurdish activists, who were found dead in Paris on Thursday.

The three victims have been named as Sakine Cansiz, 55, a founder member of the PKK now living in Europe; Fidan Dogan, 28, president of a Kurdish lobby group; and Leyla Soylemez, a young Kurdish activist.

The killings have caused a stir on both sides. "I think it was a conspiracy by the countries who support PKK", says Bacik. "I think this was done by someone who is not happy with the negotiations".

Tekcan agrees. But he also considers another possibility: "There are members of the PKK who are asking for money by force from citizens and, if [the conflict] ends, it will affect them in a bad way… ".

Not far from there, Hakan Mermertaş, a 30-year-old Kurd, is tending to the family business, a convenience store. He says Öcalan should be released from prison if the talks are to succeed, “Öcalan should leave the prison and stay in house arrest, because he is considered a leader by both Kurdish politicians… and people in Qandil [the PKK headquarters in the mountains in northern Iraq]".

Mermertaş, who moved to Istanbul from his village near Diyarbakır in 1996, says the continued arrests and detention of Kurds undermines the peace talks. He claims his father was beaten up by Turkish soldiers in front of him and his brothers.

"I do not believe [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, he is a hypocrite,” says Mermertaş. “If he were serious about this, he would have stopped the arrests of [Kurdish] politicians and the military operations. Because if these continue, then it leads to the death of PKK members, then they attack back and this leads to death of soldiers. There's no way you can find a solution as long as the operations continue".

Sidam Dikman, an 18-year-old Kurd from the historic city of Mardin, enters the store. He speaks shyly: "I think somebody is trying to sabotage the process", he says referring to the killings in Paris, "and I think it is the 'Deep State'".

The so-called ‘Deep State’ is alleged to be an underground, ultra-nationalistic group that has been trying to influence Turkish politics for the last decade in order to keep the country united and secular.

"The government looks like it is trying to solve this but the ‘Deep State’ does not actually want this problem to be solved, they may think Kurdish people will ask for, or get, our own government or even get independence," says Dikman.

Dikman, who has been living in Istanbul for four years, says one of his uncles had been fighting for the PKK when he was killed in 1993. He says he has been arrested four times himself, and that every time the police ask him for his identification, he is interrogated and made to strip off his clothes. "What we want is freedom, nothing else", he says.

Outside, it is very cold following a bitter weather spell that has brought heavy snowfall. Sedat Demir, a 33-year-old Kurd, is selling bags and mobile phone cases in the street. "I am just a normal person, I do not know about politics", he says.

He arrived in Istanbul 15 years ago from his hometown near the border with Iraq. Like Dikman, he claims the police regularly detain him and interrogate him when they see his identification. If the negotiations succeed and the fighting stops, he says he would go back to his hometown. "We just want peace", he says with a tired smile.