On Friday, millions of Kurds celebrated Newroz, the Kurdish new year, in Diyarbakır.
The event has served as a leading indicator of the political psychology of the Kurds and the Kurdish political movement since the 1990s. While tensions and clashes dominated the Newroz celebrations of the 1990s, when the Turkish state viewed the Kurdish question as a national security threat, the last few years have been strikingly joyful as the establishment adopted a more democratic approach and welcomed political representation for the Kurds.
The most notable Newroz in recent years, however, took place last year when the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's letter to the Kurds was recited on March 21, 2013. The state's former archenemy publicly declared his participation in the peace process and presented a groundbreaking roadmap that revolutionized the Kurdish movement's strategy. On that day, Öcalan made the famous announcement: "In the presence of millions who listen to my call, I say: A new era begins as politics, not arms, come to the fore. We have now reached the stage where our armed operatives should relocate outside Turkey's borders."
As Öcalan's words indicated, the ongoing peace process envisioned a significant change in the PKK's roadmap from armed struggle to political struggle.
Although the PKK's operational wing initially accepted the call and proceeded to move militants outside Turkish territory, it nonetheless demonstrated its unwillingness to comply with Öcalan's request citing developments in Syria. The ceasefire, however, continued as Turkey witnessed a full year devoid of armed clashes and blood.
Since the onset of the peace process, delegations from the Peace and Democracy Party paid over 10 visits to Öcalan while the government pioneered efforts to put together "Wise Men" delegations and establish a parliamentary committee to monitor developments. Furthermore, the Parliament adopted a number of reforms including native language instruction in private schools among others.
The talks, however, also proved resilient in the face of two major challenges, the Gezi Park protests and the Dec. 17 operation, both of which mobilized the AK Party's opponents including some individuals with considerable influence over the Kurds who called on the Kurdish political movement to turn their back on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the peace process. In response, Öcalan turned down both requests to firmly stand with the talks. In short, the peace process survived its first year thanks to the determination of both Erdoğan and Öcalan as well as up to 70 percent of the population.
Over the few past months, however, Öcalan has frequently voiced his demand to move talks with the government from dialogue to negotiation and requests that the government puts official guarantees in place to continue talks. As such, Öcalan's second Newroz letter was significant for at least two reasons.
The contents shed light on how the PKK leader viewed the peace process and what conditions he demanded the government meet in order to continue talks.
The following statements in the second letter by Öcalan reflected on the peace process: "Our efforts thus far represented an important dialogue stage where both sides tested each other's goodwill, realism and competence. Despite the government's tendency to take things slow, to embark on unilateral actions, to avoid legal guarantees and to prolong talks, both sides emerge from the quest for peace with determination."
The words showed that Öcalan continues to trust Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party.
Meanwhile, Öcalan put forth his perspective and requests: "Dialogue, while important, is not binding and therefore does not represent an adequate basis for lasting peace. At this point, a legal framework is unavoidable. Peace is more challenging than war but all wars must end in peace. We were not afraid when we resisted and we shall not be afraid when we make truce."
All in all, Newroz reaffirmed Öcalan's confidence in the peace process and in his counterparts to signal the continuation of talks. Popular support for the peace process, coupled with the proven resolve of both Erdoğan and Öcalan, suggest that the talks will survive despite challenges.