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Dead process?

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Northern IraqJuly 24, 2013

After the PKK called for a ceasefire with Turkey in March, fighters withdrew to northern Iraq as part of a peace bid with Ankara. DW spoke to Sabri Ok, chief executive member of the Kurdish umbrella organization KCK.

Kurdish fighters . Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza
Image: DW/K. Zurutuza

DW: What's your assessment of the peace process?

Sabri Ok: The process is walking on just one foot and that's hardly possible. We hope that (Turkey's) AKP government will assume its responsibilities but, so far, we have seen no sign of good will. This is a process of three stages: the first one included key decisions such as the ceasefire declaration and the withdrawal of our forces. Now we should be moving to the second stage of the process in which Ankara should fulfil the agreement but we have seen no tangible moves yet.

What moves should those be?

A wisemen commission was set up. After a thorough evaluation of the Kurdish issue on the ground they forwarded their suggestions to Ankara which included, among others, the release of Abdullah Ocalan, the right of the Kurds to receive education in their mother tongue and the Constitutional recognition of the Kurdish identity. In the short term, it also mentioned the release of ill prisoners as a humanity act. There was also the removal of the 10 percent election threshold - the biggest one in Europe. For the time being, Ankara has not yet made a move toward peace between Turks and Kurds. Moreover, it has increased military presence and keeps building dams in Kurdish soil.

How long is the Union of Kurdish Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) prepared to wait?

Our patience has a limit and we have little time. Nonetheless, the process won't come to an end from our side because we have already taken every agreed step. Our leader has recently said that if no step is taken by Ankara by October 15, the ceasefire will be broken. I mentioned before that time is not on our side because our leader's (Abdullah Ocalan - the ed.) health is fragile and he has repeatedly requested that an independent medical commission should visit him. Numerous organizations have asked the government to allow the visit but there's been no answer yet. We are very sensitive regarding this issue.

Can you give approximate figures for the number of fighters that have already pulled back to this area?

We don't approach the issue in numbers but as a decision we took and fulfilled. The withdrawal began on May 9 and our fighters have been progresively pulling back ever since. The last group arrived from Dersim - southeast Turkey - a few days ago after walking for 56 days. Every battalion has been constantly monitored by drones until they reached these mountains.

Sabri Ok is executive member of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) in Kurdistan, the PKK's umbrella organization. Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza, DW Mitarbeiter, Nord-Irak, Juli 2013
Sabri OkImage: DW/K. Zurutuza

Rumour has it that many of those fighters are bound for Syrian Kurdistan to join the local Kurds in their struggle.

That's just speculation from those who don't want the process to advance and who want to put hurdles to a democratic settlement of the Kurdish issue. I want to make it very clear: all the fighters that have moved back from North Kurdistan are based here, in the Qandil mountains.

There seems to be a de facto ceasefire between the Kurdish fighters and Tehran. What's your stake in that?

It's true. The PKK interceded between the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan and Tehran and, today, the PJAK (Kurdish rebel group - the ed.) have positioned themselves in self-defence and they are not conducting any operations.

Does that mean that the Kurdish issue is solved in neighboring Iran?

Absolutely not, but we think that the Kurdish question in East Kurdistan can be solved through other ways rather than the military one.

Cemil Bayik, recently elected as the new head of the KCK, is said to be a hardliner. Can this affect the peace process at some point?

I want to make clear that our movement is just one spirit and that there's been no change in our strategy. Changes are necessary in every organization, the odd thing would be not bringing them about.

The PKK's mountain stronghold in northern Iraq. Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza, DW Mitarbeiter, Nord-Irak, Juli 2013
The fragile peace process could unravelImage: DW/K. Zurutuza

Syrian Kurds have opted for a "third" way - neither with the opposition nor with Damascus. Is it realistic to stand alone in the ongoing war?

We don't regard the third line as utopian but as a reality. It's a line of struggle that has led to visible results. Our leader spent 20 years among the Syrian Kurds and he influenced our people there. They have a high level of political understanding as well as strong ties with our leader. We do believe that they have followed the right path by sticking to their own struggle. It's their right to rule themselves in their own land, not violating the rights of other people but defending their own. In recent days there have been intense clashes with Ankara-backed Islamist groups, because Turkey doesn't want any Kurdish entity to (be) set up in Syria. Our people are vowing for brotherhood between communities Alevites, Armenians, etc and to get rid of groups like Jabhat al Nusra (extremist rebel group - the ed). Turkey should not see the Syrian Kurds as a hostile neighbor.

What's the KCK's position regarding the recent demonstrations in Taksim Square?

At the beginning it was an environmental protest against the government's plans for the park which, by the way, were pioneered by Kurdish MPs. That first spark brought together all those sectors who were against the AKP's policies. There was no need for Ankara to respond with such brutality because it was the people's right to show their rejection in a democratic way. We regard these demonstrations as a bridge that brought Turkish and Kurdish people together. It's a healthy habit to express their rejection without fear because that was unheard of until now. I strongly believe that protests should continue in a democratic and peaceful way.

Sabri Ok is executive member of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) in Kurdistan, a Kurdish umbrella organization founded by the PKK.