The ecstatic reception among Turkey’s Kurds for the PKK’s declaration of a ceasefire this week gives Abdullah Ocalan’s announcement the fairest of winds. In a letter from prison to mark Kurdish New Year, the PKK leader wrote: “We have reached the point where weapons should fall silent and ideas should speak.” The Turkish Prime Minister conditionally promised no new military operations.
Ceasefires have been declared before, but there are compelling reasons for more optimism this time, and not only because of the clear desire of Turkey’s Kurds for peace after almost 30 years of intermittent war. For once, the stars in Ankara and Diyarbakir seem to be in alignment. Both the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the PKK have an interest in exploring the prospects for peace. The hope must be that this truce solidifies into a permanent settlement.
The Turkish parliament is finalising a new constitution. Mr Erdogan – for his own obvious purposes – wants to remove the military, once and for all, from the political arena, and formalise the existence of an unambiguously civil state. Mr Ocalan wants the Kurds to have guaranteed rights within Turkey. The Prime Minister needs the votes of Kurdish MPs to pass the new constitution. For once, the requirements of the central government and those of the PKK are not necessarily at odds.
Most promising, however, is the bigger picture, where their interests still more persuasively coincide. With Turkey’s ambition for EU accession essentially on hold, Mr Erdogan turned to regional diplomacy, with overtures described by some, both positively and negatively, as neo-Ottomanism. He was aided by the trade opportunities in post-war Iraq , but far more by the ferment accompanying the Arab Spring.
Seen from Ankara, however, that same ferment presents dangers, specifically from the national aspirations of Kurds, whether in Iraq, Iran, or Syria. If Ankara wants to keep Turkey together in its current borders, it must accord the Kurds rights and recognition in their own country. This is why Mr Erdogan needs to look favourably on Mr Ocalan’s overture, but also why a lasting agreement has acquired new urgency.