A massive funeral ceremony was held on Thursday in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, which has the largest Kurdish majority in the country for three PKK activists gunned down at the Kurdistan Information Center in Paris. They were buried in their hometowns the next day.
Tens of thousands of people participated in the Diyarbakir event. Independent observers estimated the crowd at least 50,000. Before the gathering there were strong fears of possible provocations that could set off bloody confrontations between the security forces and demonstrators. Anxiety was more pronounced than ever before because the funeral observance coincided with talks at Imrali Prison between the Ankara government and the PKK’s founding leader, who is serving a life sentence aimed at getting the PKK to give up arms. Practically all observers in Turkey agree that the objective of the Paris murders was to torpedo the Imrali talks.
If blood had been shed in Diyarbakir, especially by security forces, just as we were all wondering whether the Imrali talks would become true peace negotiations — that would have been the end of our hopes.
Fears did not materialize at Diyarbakir and the ceremony ended without any incidents. Another fear of Ankara was the possibility of demonstrators displaying separatist slogans and banners and causing allergic reactions to the Imrali talks in the nationalist Turkish public opinion in the west of the country.
Apart from covering the caskets with the illegal PKK flag, nothing happened to annoy the Turkish public opinion; as such, the first provocation attempt against the Imrali talks by committing three murders failed.
Turkish security forces acted responsibly. The first condition to prevent an outbreak of clashes is to keep the security units far away from the crowd. That is what they did and people hardly noticed their presence.
On the other hand, the Kurds also acted responsibly, maturely and in a very disciplined manner. The crowd at Diyarbakir simply did not resort to excesses.
Ocalan posters that appear at every Kurdish demonstration were not there this time. The crowd filling the square was carrying only the photos of the Paris victims. They were careful not to allow the observance turn into a political demonstration. Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish parliamentary Peace and Democracy Party; Ahmet Turk, the co-chair of the Democratic Community Congress, which is the umbrella organization for Kurdish civil society and political groups; and Osman Baydemir, the mayor of metropolitan Diyarbakir, were careful not to accuse the Turkish state of responsibility for the murders in their addresses to the crowd. These three leaders spoke of peace and the readiness of the Kurdish people for peace.
Demirtas said: "Today, families of our three comrades are not taking an oath for revenge. When will the government understand this dignified attitude?”
At the end, the two sides of the Kurdish issue of Turkey, the government and the Kurdish movement, successfully passed the test imposed on them by the provocation of a “third party.”
A statement by Ahmet Turk, a veteran Kurdish politician and member of Parliament from Mardin, two days before the Diyarbakir observance could have had a part in this positive turn of events.
Contrary to some Kurdish leaders who initially accused the Turkish state, he pointed to Iran as the source. This is what he said to reporters at the Parliament in Ankara: "This time I don’t think it is the Turkish state. We should not ignore international forces that don’t want Turkey to be the sole international power in the region. If Turkey can solve its Kurdish issue, it could become the sole power in the region. This is why Iran could be behind it. It happened before.”
Daily Radikal attributed these comments to MP Turk: “Syrian intelligence works in tandem with the Iranian intelligence. Syria, too, could benefit from this crime. I am not basing myself on information, but I believe it was Iran’s work. Of course, when saying it was the Iranian intelligence service, it is possible that it did it on behalf of another secret service. We don’t know.”
These comments pointing to Iran might well have rescued Turkey from being the target of Kurdish anger and thus enabled an incident-free observance.
Turkish and world public opinion must have seen from the funeral at Diyarbakir that the base of the Turkish Kurdish movement is extremely politicized, disciplined and organized. When necessary, they can even refrain from carrying the posters of their traditional leader, Ocalan. They also know how to adopt peaceful expressions in lieu of radical slogans and actions that emphasize armed struggle.
But this should not give a misleading impression that the PKK is more than ready to give up its arms. The PKK beyond Turkey’s borders has secured the support of three capitals that have declared their enmity to Turkey, thanks to its misguided foreign policy. This gives the PKK unprecedented strategic depth. It has no problems with recruitment. It has solid popular bases in four countries where Kurds live. It can recruit militants from these four countries and move its forces easily between them. It has a level of mobility that no other non-state political actor in the region can have. Finally, it is not under heavy time pressure to achieve peace.
Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007.