'Time for the guns to go silent': jailed Kurdish rebel leader hails 'historic truce' and urges ceasefire with Turkey

 

Diyarbakir

A historic truce between Turkey and separatist Kurdish rebels was announced today, signalling a possible end to a 30-year conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), called for the rebel group’s fighters to withdraw from Turkey – where they have fought a guerrilla campaign against the state since 1984.

In a written statement read out to a crowd of hundreds of thousands celebrating Kurdish New Year in the city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, Öcalan said it was “time for the guns to go silent.”

“A new phase in our struggle is beginning. Now a door is opening to a phase where we are moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle,” he said in the statement read to a sea of Kurdish flags, before calling for the estimated 3,500 PKK fighters currently within Turkey to withdraw to their bases in Northern Iraq.

Turkey is home to some 15 million Kurds who have long sought an independent state in the Kurdish majority areas that cover eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and northern Syria. Turkey has been accused of committing human rights abuses against the minority population, a persistent accusation that has stalled the country’s entry to the European Union. In recent years, the PKK’s demands have softened to calls for greater autonomy, the right to education in their own language and better conditions for Öcalan, who is kept largely in isolation.

Turkish authorities have been negotiating with Öcalan since October last year in an effort to find a solution to the decades-old conflict. Although the PKK — labelled a terrorist organisation by the US and the EU — have announced unilateral ceasefires in the past, these were largely ignored by the state. Greater hopes are placed on today’s announcement, however, because it came as the result of indirect talks between Öcalan and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan called the announcement a “positive development” today, but said the important part would be its implementation. “We want to see how Öcalan’s declarations will be met as soon as possible,” he said, adding that military operations against the group would stop if it withdrew from Turkey.

Öcalan, who has been detained by Turkish authorities on the prison island of Imrali for almost 14 years, is viewed as the unquestioned leader of the PKK – the Kurdish armed movement he founded in 1978. He has maintained his control over the organisation from his prison cell, issuing orders and statements that are carried out by the organisation on the ground. His influence was clear to see in November last year when he called for an end to a hunger strike being carried out by dozens of Kurdish activists. The order was obeyed immediately.

Among the throngs that lined the streets Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in Turkey, there was both hope and scepticism.

“They have made promises before but didn’t keep them,” said 41-year-old Mizgin Candemir, referring to the Turkish government’s previous efforts at reaching a peace. “So I need concrete steps first before I believe Erdogan is serious about this.”

Sitting in a large field behind the stage upon which Öcalan’s words were read, Mehmet Ozan, 35, said: “I want the freedom to be able to teach Kurdish in schools. But the most important thing is to reach peace. No more bloodshed on both sides of the conflict.”

The military leader of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, said that he ”very strongly“ supported Öcalan’s announcement.

”All of Turkey, Kurdistan and the world must know this: as the PKK movement, we are ready for war and for peace,“ he told the Kurdish Firat news agency.

But there are signs that not everyone will welcome a ceasefire. On the eve of Öcalan’s announcement a number of bombs were detonated the Turkish capital, Ankara.  Mr Erdogan blamed on a left-wing group which opposes the talks with the PKK, and promised to push ahead with peace efforts.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future