By Qassim Khidhir
The Kurdish Globe
Message of peace goes undelivered
The Turkish government's refusal to respond to peaceful discourse with the PKK Peace Group sends them home early with nothing to show for their efforts.
The PKK Peace Group left Turkey and returned to Iraq. "The peace process was sabotaged by the Turkish state," said the group upon their arrival to Iraqi Kurdistan Region. As they arrived at the Makhmur Refugee Camp, the group held a press conference in front of the UN office there. The group noted that due to prosecutions and pressure from the Turkish state, circumstances were no longer suitable for them to stay in Turkey. "Our initiative for peace was not responded to by the Turkish side," said the group's spokesperson, Gülbahar Cicek. PKK members who came from Qandil Mountains (a PKK stronghold) stated that they will not go back to the mountains to fight the Turkish army, but they will stay in Makhmur where they will continue their endeavours for peace.
"Erdoğan [the Turkish Prime Minister] has changed his attitude, which was moderate at the beginning. But he later tried to manipulate our return to Turkey and launch it as surrender," said Cicek. She added that another peace group was supposed to come from Europe, but due to the approach of the Turkish government, the plan was suspended.
The group mentioned that although they sent letters to the Turkish President, the head of Parliament, the Prime Minister, and the Chief of General Staff in order to explain the reasons for their return to Turkey, they received no response. They further stated that one of their aims was to reach Turkish people and deliver their peace message, but due to the atmosphere created by Turkish authorities their attempts failed and remain limited to within the Kurdish region.
In October 2009, eight members of the PKK, and 26 refugees including four children from the Makhmur Camp returned to Turkey as a response to a call from imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. The aim of sending exiles back to Turkey was to show sincerity on the part of the PKK in solving the Kurdish conflict in Turkey; it was also a test for the Turkish state to show whether they really have a new approach to the problem as they promised.
Although the decision by authorities not to prosecute the peace group-as happened to other peace groups in 1999--was seen as a gesture of reconciliation by the Kurdish side, the government's approach hardened toward the PKK and Kurds. Police used excessive and disproportionate violence against Kurdish demonstrators, and hundreds of Kurdish children were arrested, sent to prison, and charged with terrorist crimes merely for throwing stones at police. The group members are also charged with disseminating propaganda for PKK, and if found guilty they face up to 20 years in prison.
The leader of the PKK told the BBC it is willing to disarm in return for greater political and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds. Murat Karayilan said he would order his fighters to lay down their weapons, under the supervision of the UN, if Turkey agreed to a ceasefire and met certain conditions. His demands included an end to attacks on Kurdish civilians and arrests of Kurdish politicians in eastern Turkey. "If the Kurdish issue is resolved in a democratic way through dialogue, we will lay down our weapons, yes. We will not carry arms," he said. But his offer of peace was accompanied by a threat. "If the Turkish government refuses to accept that, we will have to announce independence."