A year has passed since Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan declared at the southeastern provincial capital ofDiyarbakir that his militants would end the armed struggle and withdraw from Turkey to the Kandil mountain bases in northern Iraq. This historical declaration was read out in Kurdish and Turkish during the Newrouz celebrations in Diyarbakır in front of a massive crowd of more than one million people.
This also marked the start of the Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation process and an end to Kurdish separatist terrorism. Exactly a year later Öcalan's second message was read out again at the same square to a massive enthusiastic crowd and this timeÖcalan was making it clear that the Turkish government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains the best address for the Kurds to complete the reconciliation process with success and thus tacitly served notice that in view of the latest political developments and turmoil in Turkey he sees eye to eye with Erdoğan and whoever tries to play foul with him should understand that they are hurting the Kurdish cause.
Öcalan, currently serving a life sentence at the İmrali top security island on charges of treason, has proven in the past year that he remains the leader of the PKK and that he has a special place among the Kurdish masses especially in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
Skeptics had claimed the PKK leadership holed up in the Kandil mountains would sooner or later defy Öcalan and resume terrorist attacks.
But that never happened and on the contrary Öcalan sent messages and commands to Kandil via intermediaries keeping thePKK under tight reins. The Erdoğan government on its part preferred a "wait and see" policy observing the withdrawal of the PKK militants from Turkey to Iraq while continuing its dialoıgue with Öcalan. The reconciliation process survived several jolts in the past year and thanks to Öcalan and the goodwill of people close to him as well as the cool headed approach of the Turkish government the process remained oın track.
Öcalan and the PKK did not exploit the Gezi Park incidents that started as environmental protests but soon turned into violent street incidents.
It also did not try to exploit the December 17 corruption operation against four ministers which later turned into a campaign to topple the Erdoğan government. On the contrary Öcalan in his Diyarbakir message was quite clear that he and his followers would strongly side with Erdoğan. Öcalan signalled that the incidents targeting the government show that there is a showdown between the forces who want a democratic country and those who want to restore the old system of in Turkey. Öcalan told the Diyarbakır crowd "we now face the burning question: Are we to continue our journey with coups following one another or with a full and radical democracy. The developments since last Newrouz show we are at the crossroads. Either the regime which is based on plots and coups that serves the 200 year old capitalist modernity will be restored in Turkey or a democratic constitutional regime will be established based on wide ranging reforms that define Turkish-Kurdish relations."
So Öcalan has put himself and his Kurdish movement among the ranks of the Erdoğan front in the fight between the government that wants to build a new Turkey and those who want to restore the "old Turkey" where incidentally Kurdish rights are denied...
Öcalan did not mention the controversial European Human Rights Court ruling that has objected to the life imprisonment of the PKKleader without any parole. He could have used the occasion to rally suppoırt for his freedom and create problems for the Erdoğanadministration but he did not.
The fact that the Gülen religious community opposed the initial peace process that was launched by Turkish Intelligence chief HakanFidan, the fact that followers of Gülen were highly critical of Erdoğan's peace overtures to the Kurds, and the fact that prosecutors and judges refused to release Kurdish deputies from prison and send them to the Parliament showed that Öcalan regards the Gülenmovement among those who want to restore the "old order." Öcalan has clearly placed his bet on Erdoğan in the fight with the Gülen community and the anti-government opposition movement. "Until now we followed the process of dialogue and that was important. During this process both sides tested the goodwill, realism and adequacy of each other. The government has tried to drag its feet, try to move on its own, try to escape undertaking legal arrangements and prolong the process but despite this both sides have emerged displaying determination to proceed with the peace process."
So Öcalan says he expects the government to go beyond the democratic reforms already enacted last month and legislate the legalframework of the peace proıcess. But of course that is easier said than done. After the local elections the government will sit down to the task of doing damage control after the destructive campaigns that have been launched in the past month. Then it will be confronted with a hostile opposition bent on destroying it as it faces the crucial presidential elections. Critics also say Öcalan remains a prisoner of the government at İmralı and may not have said what he wanted to say to the Diyarbakır crowd. However,they seem to forget that Öcalan is calling the cards in Diyarbakır and not the government. If he wanted to say something in his message and the government opposed it he would simply refuse sending his message this year and all hell would break loose not only in Diyarbakır but all over Turkey.