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 Jailed Kurdish PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan calls for ceasefire

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Jailed Kurdish PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan calls for ceasefire  21.3.2013  


Millions of Kurds are waiting to hear the announcement by Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. Diyarbakir, Turkey's Kurdish region. March 21, 2013. Photo: ANF  See Related Articles

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the BDP, gestures during a rally to celebrate Newroz in Istanbul, March 17, 2013. A picture of Ocalan is seen in the background. Photo: Reuters

March 21, 2013

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey's Kurdish region,— Jailed Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan called Thursday for a ceasefire, telling militants to lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkish soil, raising hopes for an end to a three-decade conflict with Turkey that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

"We are at a stage where guns should be silenced," Ocalan said in a letter written from his isolated island prison cell and read out to a vast crowd in the mainly Kurdish southern city of Diyarbakir by a Kurdish lawmaker.

"We are at a stage where our armed elements should withdraw from Turkey," said the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), adding that it was "time for politics to prevail."

Öcalan's message in Kurdish

BDP deputy Pervin Buldan finished reading PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's message in Kurdish.

Now BDP deputy Sirri Sureyya Önder is reading the same message in Turkish. First though he saluted the crowd in Kurdish. It is almost impossible for Önder to go on as the crowd is wildly chanting and shouting.

"Happy Newroz to all the oppressed in search of freedom", said the Kurdish leader and added "greetings to all those who celebrate Newroz today on the way to democratization and liberation". The Kurdish leader went on saying that "political oppression and benefits have subjected the people of Mesopotamia with the support of Western intervening powers. The peoples of Middle East and Asia are awakening now and saying no to the wars waged against them".

"Millions of people taking to the Newroz areas today demand peace and solution. This struggle which began with my individual rising is against the oppression, injustice, oppression and ignorance".

"A new door is being opened from the process of armed conflict to democratization and democratic politics. We paid a high price but none of the sacrifices of struggles of kurds went for nothing"

The PKK leader is saying that a "new phase is now beginning". The message begun with the Kurdish leader saluting the people celebrating Newroz. "One of the most ancient peoples in Mesopotamian and Anatolian territory". Öcalan said that the western imperialism created artificial borders between the peoples of the Middle East in the last century and aimed to make peoples kill each other.


“This fight is against injustice, reactionism and exploitation, not against any society or culture. We are waking up for a new Turkey, for a new Middle East”, said Öcalan and underlined that “A new process is beginning”........

The ceasefire call caps months of clandestine peace talks between Turkey's spy agency and the state's former nemesis Ocalan, who has been serving a life sentence for treason on Imrali island off Istanbul since 1999.

Abdullah Öcalan, who founded the PKK in 1974, has a high symbolic value for most Kurds in Turkey and worldwide.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ocalan, both appear to have staked their political futures on the renewed push to end the 29-year armed campaign for self-rule.

Erdogan has said he was putting his faith in the peace process "even if it costs me my political career", in the face of charges by the nationalist opposition that he was guilty of "treason."

The peace talks were launched last year after a dramatic upsurge in attacks by Kurdish militants against Turkish security forces.

Ocalan's announcement was timed to coincide with Kurdish New Year, or Newroz, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered for celebrations in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.

"We will wake up to an actual New Day, the Newroz of the new era tomorrow," prominent Kurdish lawmaker Selehattin Demirtas said on Twitter on Wednesday.

From the early hours, people from across Turkey had poured into the main square in Diyarbakir, adorned with red, yellow and green Kurdish flags, to hear Kurdish lawmakers read Ocalan's letter both in Kurdish and Turkish.

"I believe in peace," said Ahmet Kaplan, an elderly farmer from a village near Diyarbakir. "I have a son in the mountains and one in the army. It has got to stop, we need an end to mothers' tears."

A giant placard above the stage in Diyarbakir read "Democratic solution, freedom for our leader Ocalan" as thousands waved banners chanting "In peace as in war, we are with you, chief!"

"The light of Newroz burning for peace," declared the headline in the mainstream Sabah newspaper, headline, referring to a celebratory ritual where young men jump over flames in a sign of courage and fertility.

"Turkey will turn a new page on the historic Newroz, the most critical junction in the peace process," it said.

A solution to Turkey's ingrained Kurdish problem could etch Erdogan's name in history, in much the same way the abolition of slavery enshrined Lincoln's memory for Americans a century ago, wrote Murat Yetkin, editor-in-chief of the Hurriyet Daily News in February.

Ocalan — known as "Apo" or uncle to Kurds — has said he wants peace for the "democratization of entire Turkey."

The ceasefire call is likely to be in return for wider constitutional rights for the up to 15 million Kurds in Turkey, as well as the release of thousands detained over links to the PKK, which is regarded as terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

Ocalan is likely to call for monitoring commissions to ensure safe passage for fighters withdrawing into northern Iraq, despite assurances by Erdogan that "nobody will be hurt."

The ceasefire will also test Ocalan's influence over the PKK after years of being cut off from the outside world since his jailing in 1999.

At least four previous ceasefire attempts called by Ocalan were rejected by Ankara or torpedoed by hawkish rebel groups, triggering increased violence in the country.

Asked if the new peace process would be successful, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters "there are no guarantees."

In a sign of goodwill, the PKK last week freed eight Turkish prisoners it had been holding hostage for some two years.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country. By 2012, more than 45,000 people have since been killed.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey.  A large Turkey's Kurdish community, numbering to 25 million, openly sympathise with PKK rebels.

The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

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