Turkey’s armed Kurdish rebellion is poised to enter a historic ceasefire today, the Kurdish New Year, at the command of a man only a handful of people have seen since 1999.
After months of meticulous planning with the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has outlined a “historic” call for a ceasefire to be made today, Kurdish lawmakers told reporters on Monday.
Ocalan’s text is expected to be delivered to Kurdish lawmakers, who will read it to millions gathering in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir during the traditional Newroz, or New Year, celebrations.
The document Ocalan penned on his prison cell traveled through the Qandil Mountains, European capitals and Ankara, seeking consultations with fellow Kurds at each stop to reach a “peace roadmap.”
After response letters got back to Ocalan in Imrali Prison, the Kurdish leader said it was time to “solve the issue of guns with haste and without a single life being lost.”
His rebellion against Ankara since 1984 has cost 45,000 lives, but until a year ago, the man branded a “terrorist chief” was the least likely peace negotiator for the state.
Late last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the rekindled peace talks public, saying the state sometimes resorted to Ocalan for mediation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that he founded in 1978.
Yet the nationalist opposition was swift to slam the talks, with Nationalist Movement Party Chairman Devlet Bahceli accusing Erdogan of “treason” and “selling out the country to a bunch of bloody bandits.”
Last week, the PKK released eight Turkish prisoners it had held hostage for about two years.
Erdogan said he would take the plunge “even if it costs me my political career,” rejecting claims that Ankara was making concessions to Ocalan so he would call a ceasefire that would eventually “fizzle.”
“We hide nothing from anybody,” he said on television on Tuesday. “We might be talking and explaining too little, but that is because of the sensitivity of the process.”
If the ceasfire call is made, it will be at least the fifth from Ocalan. Ocalan’s last call an end to the crisis came in 1999 shortly after his incarceration, but hundreds of PKK members were hunted by the Turkish Army before they could cross the border into northern Iraq.
This time, Ocalan is expected to call for several committees to be established to monitor the ceasefire and rebel departures to avoid a similar crisis, despite Erdogan’s guarantees that no militant would be “touched if they leave the land.”
Kurdish activists and lawmakers expect today’s call to go further and outline a political plan that will set out details of the ceasefire and ensuing withdrawals, in return for wider constitutional recognition and language rights for Turkey’s Kurds.