On Peace Talks and Assassinations: The Imrali Process in Turkey


With the new year, the Turkish state has begun new negotiations with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the PKK, including finally ending the long isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. There has never been so much outspoken support by Turks for negotiations with the PKK in Turkey, and last year’s Kurdish hunger strikes revealed the political power of the Kurds. The talks have unofficially resulted in a road-map that will lead to disarmament of the PKK, in return for increased rights for the Kurds.

But what have these “peace” talks really accomplished? And what could their implication be for the marginalized Kurdish community? Although the willingness to meet with Abdullah Öcalan and the opening of a political process is a positive development, the Turkish state still has leaps and bounds to go before it proves that it is truly willing to allow Kurds to claim their rights in Turkey, and that it will respect and treat Kurds with equality. The BDP is cautious about the negotiations, saying that the Turkish state will have to prove its commitment to negotiations before a ceasefire and disarmament can be enacted. “The conditions between the parties are just not equal,” BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas told fellow lawmakers on Tuesday.

The BDP is demanding a stronger commitment from Turkey before fully accepting a ceasefire, including the release of Abdullah Öcalan, the release of thousands of Kurdish detainees imprisoned for ties to the PKK, and the recognition of the Kurdish minority in the Turkish constitution. But even if Turkey affirms its dedication to a peace process today, how would the situation change for Turkey’s Kurds?

Just yesterday, 9 January, three Kurdish women, including a founding member of the PKK, were assassinated in Paris in cold blood. There names are Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez. The investigation is pending. Turkey must stop vilifying the Kurdish community in Europe if negotiations in Turkey are to continue. The Kurdish community cannot represent themselves with agency and equality if they are continually persecuted and censored. From the RojTV trials in Denmark to the assassination of these women in Paris, it is clear that Turkey’s racist influences reach far beyond its borders. The murders of these women must be investigated thoroughly and justice must be served.

The mass trial of over 46 Kurdish lawyers, journalists, and other professionals continues. They are being charged under Turkey’s broad terrorism and criminal laws, and the evidence against them is often distorted and was obtained from overly invasive surveillance methods. Overall, over 8,000 defendants have been accused of terrorism under the broad-reaching KCK trials, where anyone loosely affiliated with the PKK or advocating for Kurdish rights is at risk.

There is as of yet no guarantee that a terrible massacre like the one that happened in Uludere on December 28, 2011, will never be repeated. The Turkish government has issued no formal apologies and have been uncooperative with an investigative committee. The victims of the Roboskî massacre were innocent civilians, not even armed rebels, and yet their death remains unjustified and unaccounted for.

All of this, and even more injustices against Kurds such as censorship, racist attacks, and the denial of the language and cultural rights, do not mean that the current peace negotiations cannot be fruitful. On the contrary, these issues cannot be fully resolved without a political discourse and dialogue.

Turkey obviously has interests in ending the conflict with the PKK, which is why it is beginning these negotiations. As the negotiator with the greater power, the Turkish state is able to dictate how and when these negotiations take place. It is not because Turkey has suddenly woken up to the urgency of the issue of Kurdish rights. There are a variety of reasons for the current negotiations, including containment of the Syrian issue and upcoming elections next year. This why these negotiations are not a guarantee a better situation for Kurds. As long as political interests hold higher sway than a commitment to social justice for all, Kurds in Turkey will continue to be victims of the institutionalized oppression Turkey has enacted against Kurds for decades.

With these concerns in mind, here is a hope for a legitimate discourse and a true change for the better for Kurdish rights.