The jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, has urged rebels in Turkey to hold a congress on disarmament. The move is aimed to end 30 years of conflict between Kurds and the Turkish state.
The statement from Ocalan was read out by Sirri Sureyya Onder, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) on Saturday, in a press conference held jointly with Turkish authorities.
"I call on the PKK to hold an extraordinary congress in the spring months to take a strategic and historic decision to abandon the armed struggle..." Onder said quoting Ocalan (pictured above) and adding "this statement is a historic declaration of the intention to replace the armed struggle with democratic politics."
The fighting between the PKK and Turkish government has resulted in the killings of more than 40,000 people since 1984.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies including the United States. A ceasefire between the PKK and Turkey was declared in 2013 and negotiations have been ongoing since then, but violence has continued to erupt sporadically since then.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan, who attended the Saturday press conference alongside Onder after the two sides met briefly in Istanbul, emphasized the importance of a ceasefire.
"We have reached an important and historical phase in the peace process," Akdogan said.
Abdullah Ocalan has been in prison since 1999 and in talks with the Turkish government since 2012. His statement also included a list of 10 measures the Kurds want the government to agree on to secure peace, including a new Turkish constitution.
According to HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas, whose deputies have been attending meetings in Ocalan's island prison near Istanbul and the PKK's headquarters in northern Iraq, the disarmament congress would be held after a consensus was reached on the measures outlined in Ocalan's statement.
An estimated 15 million Kurds live in Turkey.
se/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)