TURKEY: Kurdish rebels extend cease-fire pending 'positive steps'
Is this uncharted territory in the 26-year war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish government?
On Thursday evening, leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the acronym PKK, held a news conference near one of their bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq to announce a one-month extension to their cease-fire with Turkey.
The original ceasefire began on Aug. 13 after nearly three months of heavy violence that left at least 100 Turkish soldiers dead. The decision to renew might be attributed to the rebels’ continued hope that Turkey will make positive steps towards peace, such as stopping air bombardments and releasing of political prisoners.
But in the past Turkey has continued military operations, ignoring the PKK cease-fires.
Kurds are the Middle East's largest ethnic group without a homeland. The PKK was founded in 1978 by Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan and has been fighting an armed separatist war against Turkey since 1984.
The party is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The call for the extension of the cease-fire reportedly came from Ocalan, who was captured by authorities in 1999 and has since been imprisoned in Turkey.
After decades of fighting Turkish forces, the PKK may also be hoping that even discussion of an unlimited cease-fire would give it some much-needed political capital among Turkey's Kurds. Murat Karayilan, the PKK's acting leader, seemed to speak more like a politician than a war leader, calling for the building of confidence.
"If real efforts at peace that build mutual trust take shape over the next month we will turn this into an unlimited cease-fire," he said. "If not, we will reevaluate".
But the PKK’s conditions for the cease-fire are no short order. Among its demands are the stoppage of all Turkish military operations against the group inside and outside Turkey, an end to shelling and aerial bombing of villages in the Qandil Mountains, and the release of political detainees, Karayilan told reporters at the mountain conference.
Despite positive media chatter surrounding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s revitalized interest in a permanent peace, the one-month extension is still a long way from signaling that the PKK is ready to lay down its arms and bring the conflict to an end.
Nonetheless, all eyes are on Ankara to make the next move.
-- Asso Ahmad in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan and Patrick Gallagher in Beirut
Photos: Members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, gather with journalists in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq for a press conference. Credit: Asso Ahmad