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Can Ocalan Rein In the PKK?

Any agreement between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan on the Kurdish issues will be complicated by Turkey’s policies toward Syria and Iraq, writes Denise Natali.
Demonstrators hold flags with portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Strasbourg February 18, 2012. Thousands of demonstrators protested in support of Ocalan, who was captured on February 15, 1999, and is currently serving a life sentence in Turkey. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler (FRANCE  - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Despite the assassinations of three PKK representatives in Paris, Ankara is pressing ahead with its dialogue with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in an attempt to end its Kurdish problem once and for all. The assumption is that by dealing openly with Ocalan, who controls a relatively monolithic PKK, the group’s militants will disarm willingly. A more inclusive negotiating process that engages Kurdish political representatives and Turkish civilian leaders also is expected to encourage a settlement and sideline PKK hardliners.

The problem is that the PKK represents more than Ocalan and Kurdish national rights in Turkey. Since Ocalan’s arrest in 1999, the radical nationalist group has expanded and entrenched its networks across regional states and continents. It has also become lodged in Middle East uprisings and regional proxy wars that have given local leaders new forms of support, prestige and opportunities to mobilize. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s challenge, therefore, is not only using Ocalan as a peacemaker, combating terrorism and creating conditions inside Turkey to appease Kurds, but also ameliorating relations with regional states that are empowering the PKK and its party offshoots.

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