There is nothing but speculation with regard to why the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is willing to put down arms and pursue a political struggle for Kurdish rights. While it remains difficult to actualize one possibility or the other, a political pursuit may indeed be of greater value to the Kurdish struggle since the world is aware more than ever of Turkey's militant mentality and violations of human rights.
On Wednesday, February 9, the PKK released a statement re-affirming its past intent to struggle for Kurdish rights within the "framework of peace and democratization." Although the decision was declared earlier at the PKK December conference in Iran, the recent statement asserts such intent and once more confronts the Turkish government, which finds itself unable to give a convincing answer to the Kurdish peace stand.
The PKK is also changing the names of both its political wing and armed wing. The political wing, formally known as the Kurdistan National Salvation Front, will now be called the Democratic People's Units. On the other hand, the Kurdistan People's Salvation Army will be called the People's Legitimate Defense Force. While it is important not to overlook the removal of the word Kurdistan from both titles, the name change shouldn't be overrated either. The PKK is certainly making a sound decision in attempting to pull the ladder from under the Turkish government's feet, who justifies its aggression and discrimination against Kurds by claiming that the latter is eager to divide the Turkish territorial unity. It is becoming crystal clear that the PKK is kicking the ball to the Turkish government's side. Turkey's official reaction has been very consequential, and silence or short comments are no longer enough.
Some argue that the PKK's major shift from a military struggle for liberation to peaceful struggle and non-violence is a clear indication of the hard hit suffered by the rebels as they failed to stand up to the Turkish military might. There is little doubt that the Kurdish fighters in southeast Turkey have suffered considerable losses on the battlefield. These losses can be attributed to the Syrian withdrawal of its support of the fighters -- under Turkish military pressure of course -- and to the kidnapping of the PKK number one leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The capture of Ocalan has caused a reaction filled with despair and discouragement among most Kurds, including the PKK fighters. However, international sympathy is changing the results of the game, turning the Turkish military gain into a political loss.
It is not sufficient enough to explain the PKK's change of tactic as a result of military losses. The Kurdish fighters, for the last 15 years, were always the ones who paid the heaviest price in the battlefield. Suffering greater damage is an expected component of any freedom movement's quest toward its aspired goals. In fact, most of the 37,000 recorded causalities in the 15-year military dispute between Turkey and the PKK were Kurds.
One of the PKK's primary motives for its struggle is to center the world's attention on the Kurdish cause and suffering. To a large extent, they have succeeded in doing so. Strange enough that success wasn't done directly through their armed struggle, but through Turkey's own conduct. While arrogantly celebrating the capture of Ocalan, airing the operation time and again on national television, Turkey failed to realize that they were creating and idol of the image of their worse enemies in many spots around the world.
Only, one year after the shrewd scheme used to bring Ocalan to court, Turkey might be wondering whether such an act was within its best interests. After all, the world is extremely sympathetic with the Kurdish cause. Human rights organizations are keeping a closer eye on the Turkish government's violation of human rights. Turkey's position and interests are threatened, especially its quest for equal status in Europe. And most of all, the PKK and imprisoned Ocalan are the ones who are perceived as peace makers after Turkey's considerable success at presenting them to the world as a group of terrorists with no aim but death and destruction. Who has benefited more of the capture of Ocalan? Without a doubt, Turkey was the bigger loser.
Turkey has done very little to adjust its distorted image. The Turkish image was shaped as a result of its attempt to play the role of another Middle East bully on its neighbors, and of course after its undemocratic conduct with the Islamic movements and the Kurds. The PKK's offer is therefore a golden opportunity for the Turkish government to present to the world a new Turkey, a Turkey that longs for peace and reconciliation, and a Turkey that possess the courage to restore justice to those in need for peace and justice.