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What Was It All For?

Ankara's recently acknowledged talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan have spawned more questions than answers. Waves of speculation abound over the terms of the talks, the motives behind them, and their possibility for success. True, the talks at Imrali are a nascent development; however the Turkish media is already reporting that the date of a PKK withdrawal and disarmament is already set for some time this spring thus implying that many of the terms of the "roadmap to peace" have already been ironed out. In regards to the terms of the dialogue, the Turkish government has demanded that the PKK disarm and has even offered to facilitate their exodus from the country. Ocalan's demands however remain more unclear. Reportedly, Ocalan's demands do not include any of his previously held separatist objectives. They are allegedly limited to greater cultural rights, constitutional reform and greater regional autonomy. It is also speculated that the deal will include his transfer from his prison on Imrali into house arrest.

Assuming that Ocalan truly speaks for the PKK and these are the extent of his demands then the Kurdish Independent politician Ahmet Turk was apt in his assertion that "Ocalan's demands aren't challenging for the state." This is evident in the widespread support AKP enjoys from oppositional parties on the principle of the talks including the CHP and BDP. Nothing so far disclosed from the talks is particularly controversial. In fact, only MHP has been outspoken against the negotiations. Ocalan's demands appear especially limited when you consider the price that the Kurdish independence movement has paid for a seemingly minimal political reward. This is not to trivialize a long desired increase in cultural and constitutional rights for Kurds. However, the 35-year-long conflict has cost and estimated 28,000 lives of Kurdish fighters, lives presumably sacrificed for the PKK's original separatist goal or at least more than is being offered now. It seems now that these lives were sacrificed instead for only the most basic of cultural and political freedoms and the improved comfort of Ocalan.

AKP's motives for the talks are intuitive; domestic peace benefits their regional aspirations, concessions made to Kurds will help garner electoral votes and undermine BDP popular support, and being the party to finally solve the "Kurdish Problem" would be a momentous political achievement with implications both in Turkey and abroad. But what is the PKK's motive in such a move? The PKK enters into these indirect negotiations from a position of relative strength. Their Syrian offshoot, the PYD, controls significant territory in the north of Syria and have a legitimate chance for political autonomy. As a whole, Kurdish empowerment in the region is at its height with the both the PYD and KRG inching closer towards economic and political independence. Why then would the PKK now betray its hard fought original goals of independence and settling for a political consolation prize? True, the PKK leadership gave up outright separatist goals after Ocalan's capture, but surely they desired more than is being offered presently. Could it be that incarceration at Imrali has rehabilitated Ocalan and drastically changed his political goals, abandoning violence for peace, or is Apo simply selling out his cause for a comfier bed?

Neither of these explanations due justice to the unprecedented shift in tactics and philosophy that such a disarmament would signal. It is not surprising then that the KCK came out today and adamantly denied any withdrawal, attributing its reports instead to "psychological warfare" on the part of the Turkish state. Strategically, the KCK's comments make sense. Why now at a time of regional Kurdish empowerment would the PKK choose to withdraw without achieving their long desired political demands?

Perhaps Ocalan hopes the basic political concessions being offered at Imrali will serve as a starting point from which to achieve an autonomous Kurdish state. But the concessions of "greater cultural and constitutional rights" hardly even amount to the autonomy and independence that the PYD and KRG are headed towards. Assuming the PKK actually disarms, which I don't foresee, Ocalan would be making a strategic gamble, giving up the PKK's coercive capacity to influence politics. It is well known that the PKK uses their weapons and terror in order to threaten not only Turks, but Kurds into supporting their cause. It seems then to me that a PKK disarmament is unfortunately extremely unlikely. In disarming, Ocalan would be giving away the house for the most limited political and personal goals, leaving Turks and Kurds alike to wonder: What was it all for?