'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
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003