The Kurdish Question’s Resolution Process: Why Did It End?

By Amed Dicle
Translated by

The original title of the article below, which was written in Turkish is ‘What was spoken between Öcalan and the state in Imralı’.

The Democratic Regions’ Party delegation’s visit to Imralı Island to meet with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in January 2013 signalled a new stage, in what is termed as the ‘resolution process’ of the Kurdish question; one in which it would become open to public opinion. This heralded the beginning of what was the ‘most optimistic’ period of meetings, which had been continuing intermittently since 1993, between the Turkish state and Öcalan. According to many the historic message from Öcalan at the 2013 Newroz had progressed the ‘process’ to a point of no return.

However things did not turn out as expected. Three years have passed since then and the situation has been reversed.

The Turkish state, under the governance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), pacified the PKK’s armed forces in North Kurdistan (SE Turkey) and transferred the war to Rojava (Western Kurdistan-Northern Syria). Taking advantage of Öcalan’s struggle for peace the AKP calculated the PKK’s total disarmament. The AKP insisted that the PKK completely disarm before they would talk about the Kurdish people’s rights. Conversely the Kurdish movement asserted that the political foundations for a resolution and Kurdish rights needed to be guaranteed before discussion of disarmament. For these conditions to come to fruition Öcalan called on the PKK’s armed forces to retreat; he later regretted this and was self-critical. Following this call a process of unilateral ceasefire became active.

But the AKP’s plans were not successful; the state could not get the PKK to disarm. Later the AKP’s position on Kurdish rights changed from engagement to ‘There is no Kurdish issue/question.’ Moreover the steps for a political solution and democratisation expected by the Kurdish movement were not taken. And the terrifying war, which Öcalan had warned about on many occasions, began on 24 July 2015, when the Turkish army bombed the Qandil Mountains.

So, what stage was the resolution process at and what was the perspective of both parties when this happened?

The answer to this question can be found in a book recently published in Europe. Published by Mesopotamia Publications, ‘Democratic Liberation and Constructing A Free Life (Imralı Notes)’* is a record of the meetings from 3 January 2013 to 14 March 2015 between DBP-HDP delegations and Öcalan on Imralı Island. There are also four separate messages Öcalan sent to different organisations in the book.

The book is imperative reading to understand the background of discussions at Imralı and also Öcalan’s thoughts on the Kurdish question, the chaos in the Middle East, Kurds, Turks, women, youth, religious groups and peace.

It does not include a record of Öcalan’s meetings with the Turkish state’s delegation because these are stored in the state’s archive. However the book does include the contributions of members of the state delegation present at meetings with the HDP delegation.

Discussions, which shed light on the current situation, are present, especially at the end of the book. There are strong signs from what Öcalan says that he foresaw and warned about the impending war.

For example, exactly a year ago on 9 January 2015, a historic meeting takes place in Imralı. At the table representing the Turkish state is Undersecretary for Public Safety (KGM) Muhammed Dervişoğlu. The HDP delegation is at the table too. According to the record this is how the meeting begins:

Dervişoğlu invites Öcalan to the table; they eat lunch and have a short discussion about the food after which Öcalan says, “Yes, taking into account the time we have let’s begin this important meeting.”

Dervişoğlu responds, “We might be sitting at a modest table. However this is a historic meeting. The modesty of the table is our fault. Work to build a space where larger groups can have meetings is continuing upstairs.” (Erdoğan later denied the existence of this larger table, which was made ready for meetings thereafter.)

Öcalan, “If the number of people in the delegations grows this area will not be enough. However today’s meeting is important, it will determine a lot.”

Further discussions in this first meeting revolve around methodology and approach and information about bilateral steps that need to be taken.

A few days before this meeting with Öcalan the HDP delegation meet with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Deputy PM Yalçın Akdoğan, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and KGM Muhammed Dervişoğlu are also present. The HDP delegation cite the content of this meeting to Öcalan on 9 January, followed by a question from Öcalan:

Are they resolute? For example is the Prime Minister resolute, did you feel this? What are your thoughts?

The HDP delegation’s response is: “It is our joint thought as a delegation that the government does not have a clear attitude. It is a risk to say they are resolute. They are hung up on the issue of public security (disarmament), they are prioritising this above all else.”

It is HDP MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder who says this on behalf of the HDP delegation, to which Dervişoğlu responds: “Did the PM, as the person responsible for this issue, not convey resoluteness to you? Did he not say there was no objection to negotiations?”

Önder’s response is, “Yes, he said they were resolute regarding meetings and that the process could progress to negotiations.”

Öcalan makes an assessment following this dialogue and says; “I will not say anything about the PM’s intent. But we are faced with a Prime Minister who is overly romantic. He does not have enough experience and his approach is superficial. Dervişoğlu’s presence is important for me. We are going to explain what democratic autonomy is. What public security will entail; what autonomy and security is, all these concepts and theories need to be clarified. The Kurdish reformation, democratisation, local democracy, municipalities, elections, all of these will be discussed on a conceptual and theoretical level.”

Following a long assessment about these issues, Öcalan recalls the process begun with former Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal in 1993, and asks for their resoluteness to be communicated to Davutoğlu saying:

“We had the intent to resolve this issue in the past as well. We began with Özal but Özal was killed. There are also thousands of provocations now. Tell PM Davutoğlu and Deputy PM Akdoğan about this. Davutoğlu is inexperienced he doesn’t know history. Akdoğan doesn’t know either. They are approaching the matter in a superficial way and trying to profit from it.”

In the rest of this section Öcalan recounts the steps taken by the Kurdish side for a resolution and lists the things the state has not done. Dervişoğlu intervenes and makes his discomfort with the PKK apparent by saying: “Qandil is saying ‘don’t do anything’ on the wireless radio we can hear but also secretively sending orders to the youth in Cizre and telling them to ‘do it’. Everyone needs to be sincere regarding this.”

Öcalan’s response to this criticism is: “I keep saying a communication channel with the PKK is important for this reason. Nine channels (with different parties) need to be opened for negotiations.”

Öcalan continues listing the steps not taken by the government. Dervişoğlu comments on this and says: “In all your assessments you have not spoken about a single positive thing that has been done. A new image of Öcalan has been created. Public opinion sees you and the work being done here in a completely different light.”

Öcalan’s response is clear: “We have done everything we could here. My words are very clear. You have not even released a single terminally ill prisoner.* Even in this regard you have not taken steps. Even Israel released hundreds of people in return for one soldier.”

Without touching on the issue of terminally ill prisoners Dervişoğlu says: “I am responsible for negotiations based on the framework law (for negotiations) that was discussed here. The security forces are pressuring the government. Public security (PKK disarmament) is a necessity for the PM. Do you not have a concrete message for Qandil (PKK)?”

Öcalan: “For public security you must not put the cart before the horse but the horse before the cart. You want us to put the cart before the horse.”

Dervişoğlu asks again: “After this meeting, when the PM asks me what concrete things have been said, what can I tell him?”

Öcalan relays his message: “Tell the PM that we will play our historic role in relation to public security. But this cannot happen now. We will make an effective call at the final meeting. I need another two weeks. We need to make sure that we use the time and mechanism well. Also tell Interior Minister Mr. Ala that the current detainments and arrests are unacceptable.”

These discussions were on 9 January 2015. Exactly 25 days later the HDP and state delegations went back to Imralı Island to meet with Öcalan again.

The meeting on 4 February 2015 took place at the new table and space in Imralı. Public Security Undersecretary Dervişoğlu said he wanted to convey three issues to Öcalan:

“Firstly there are developments contrary to the spirit of the resolution process. Secondly the government is resisting the security forces’ operations (against the PKK). Thirdly the Monitoring Committee/Delegation will be present at the next meeting.”

With this information Dervişoğlu confirms that the government has accepted the Monitoring Committee. This is an important point because President Erdoğan later denied the existence of this committee as well.

Öcalan’s response to Dervişoğlu is:

“Yes, let us emphasise once again that today’s meeting is important. I see the point we are at as a short breather in a 55-year marathon. This table is a breather. I still have concerns however. For me the fact that the table exists is important not the space or the size of the table. This is a table of principles; principles for the democratic future of the state and society. The trait of the principle is that you cannot compromise with the principle. I don’t know how aware the AKP government or our friends are of this. But my actions have all been geared towards preventing the table from being knocked over; this is how it will continue to be.

23 days after this discussion another meeting took place on 27 February. The agenda of this meeting was the content of the Dolmabahçe Agreement/Declaration.* The state and HDP delegations visited Öcalan once again on 14 March following the Dolmabahçe statement. The names to be included in the Monitoring Committee were clarified at this meeting. Also the content and form of the negotiations were determined. Öcalan’s words to the delegation were telling, “Do not come to the next meeting without the Monitoring Committee,” he said.

Immediately after this Erdoğan said, “There is no Monitoring Committee, no table,” and ended the meetings. On 5 April the HDP delegation visited Öcalan just to discuss the 7 June general election. This was the last meeting with Öcalan; since then all channels of communication have been closed.

* The book’s original title in Turkish is, ‘Demokratik Kurtuluş Ve Özgür Yaşamı Inşa (Imralı Notları)’

* It was agreed that the government would release terminally ill Kurdish prisoners as a sign of goodwill.

*The Dolmabahçe Agreement/Declaration was a 10-article list of priorities for the resolution of the Kurdish question. It was declared at the Dolmabahçe Palace on 28 February by the Turkish state and HDP delegations.