Monday, December 13, 2010

Öcalan’s olive branch

His surprise move is Abdullah Öcalan’s latest attempt to approach the Gülen movement. In a recent meeting with his lawyers on the island of İmralı, where he is imprisoned, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader said the following: “I have never denied their [the Gülen movement’s] existence, and expect them to do the same.

Both we [i.e., the PKK] and they are important actors in the Middle East. If these two dynamic powers build a mutual understanding of each other and stand in solidarity, many of Turkey’s problems can be resolved.”

This is an unusual extension of an olive branch and became visible with Öcalan’s three lawyers meeting with Hüseyin Gülerce, a columnist with the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, in the town of Yalova after these remarks.

In his column yesterday in the Zaman daily, Gülerce confirmed the event and gave further details. It is well known that our colleague is a highly respected opinion maker who is close to Fethullah Gülen, though he is keen to remind us that he has never been a spokesperson of the Gülen movement of volunteers. But it is also well known that his views weigh heavily in that domain.

Gülerce wrote that he had put forth two conditions to the lawyers for a lasting solution of the Kurdish problem, which he calls the greatest challenge before Turkey: sincerity and (rhetorical) style. He explained it in the following words:

“There are representatives and spokespersons of the PKK on the mountains, in İmralı, in Europe… There are countries that do not wish to see a stabilizing, strengthening Turkey. Inside [Turkey] there are those who make huge profits through human, weapon and drug smuggling. The situation is truly complicated. That is why sincerity is a must. Unless the conscience of Turks and Kurds plays an active role, a solution becomes even more remote. Style is also of vital importance. Bullying and pushiness are known to be obstructive elements. Just as some wise men enter into the process, a spokesperson of, say, the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP], can mess a lot of things up with words.”

Gülerce wrote that he had told the lawyers a solution must be built on democratic ground -- based on the rule of law, equality, freedom of expression, conscience and belief, and through Parliament. Gestures should suggest opening doors to peace.

In a surprise response, one of Öcalan’s lawyers asked Gülerce: “What if a BDP delegation visits the cemeteries in Çanakkale [Gallipoli]?” To which he responded, “That is what I mean by gestures.” When Gülerce complained to them that the BDP is unable to be a “party of all of Turkey,” they responded that “that is exactly what our ‘client’ says all the time.”

The meeting was, as reported by the Taraf daily yesterday, followed by the same group of lawyers meeting with some “officials,” again in Yalova. The contacts were also reported by the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency.

What does it all mean? First, it has become clear that Öcalan has engaged in some serious rethinking after the critical Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting and the referendum in mid-September. Until lately, he seemed convinced that the real counterpart would be the state (and the military). No longer. He realizes that the AK Party government is an increasingly powerful player whose basic instincts are constantly pro-solution and whose investment in infrastructure in the region has a strong impact on the “locals.” The new olive branch extended to Gülen’s movement of volunteers is also a reflection of the realization that a solution can be sped up and consolidated by this pious, widespread and benevolent civil society formation.

At this critical stage, where Turkey is pacing towards a critical election in June, after which a full-scale debate and a “conclusion” on a brand new constitution seems inevitable, the involvement of the Gülen movement is crucial, as much as Kurdish political figures’ cautiousness to keep guns and mines silent. In this context, Öcalan’s recent remarks on extending the “cease-fire” until June, and not March as previously reported, are positive signs. At the moment, the primary duty is to avoid any provocation, big or small.

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