'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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
gaming
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

Investigo: Group Financial Controller

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Business / Operations Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well-established and growi...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible