As PKK Militants Withdraw, Where Will They Go?

As part of the Turkish-Kurd peace process, PKK militants will retreat with their guns, although some fear the conflict hasn’t ended, only changed locations and borders, writes Orhan Miroglu.

al-monitor A Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter stands guard in the Kandil Mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Iraq's Sulaimaniyah province, March 24, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

Topics covered

cease-fire, withdrawal, peace, pkk, kandil, disarmament

May 11, 2013

Thousands of them were killed during internal strife that lasted 40 years. Luckier ones who stayed alive are withdrawing with their guns. There is no mention of disarming in the withdrawal accord; that will come later.

Therefore, this is an incomplete peace. Guns have fallen silent. As they did in Iran, the PKK ended the armed struggle against Turkey. Even this much is enough to turn a new page, but the youth who are citizens of this country are going to leave with guns in their hands. That won’t be easy to explain.

The cards of politics and diplomacy in Turkey and the Middle East will be reshuffled now. The real victims of the games of war are those who are leaving without really knowing what is in store for them. Their mothers and fathers will continue to wait in fear and anxiety. Until when, nobody knows.

Perhaps they will remain at Kandil [the mountain base of the PKK in northern Iraq]. A part of them may end up on the Syrian battle front.  And only a few of them will be quietly going back home.

The tragedy is only changing locations and borders

It is worth thinking about whether disarming could have accompanied the silencing of guns.  What were the reasons that prevented it?  After such a historic step, people should have been able to see the return to their homes of at least those who hadn’t killed anyone; say 500 or 1,000 people who hadn’t committed crimes. If Turkey had been able see such a peace, it would have been possible to be more confident of the future.

These youngsters are not likely to sit at Kandil to wait for a change in election procedures, for the mother tongue education to materialize, say, in the next five to 10 years in the most optimistic of calculations.

There were organizations that went up to the mountains with guns in their hands to give politics and diplomacy a chance, and there were those who demanded land and statehood with their guns. But there has never been an armed organization that has declared it was going to the hills to wait for you to craft a new constitution, particularly if that organization can get 2.5 million votes.

I don’t know what will happen if there is a third world war or the Middle East goes up in flames, but under any other condition it is impossible to return to armed struggle in Turkey. In that case, it is meaningless to keep the PKK units at Kandil for a long time.

If they are not going to fight, what will those units do now?

We get news of PKK leaders moving to Syria from Kandil. If the leader goes, militants will follow; there is no other way.

There are diverse assessments of the process and its aftermath. Some advocate democracy, others worry about themselves.

Seyithan, who changed his mind about going up in the mountains, looks at it very differently. We met him last year at a restaurant on the shores of Lake Mogan near Ankara. He is a Kurdish youth from Central Anatolia. He was captivated by the propaganda of revolutionary popular war and decided to go up to the mountains. He was in Europe at the time; his friends and relatives heard about his decision and persuaded him to change his mind. He returned to his country and found a job at that lakeside restaurant. Seyithan could have been among 1,500 youngsters who lost their lives in last two years or among the units now withdrawing.

We used to chat every time we went to that restaurant. He always asked many questions and I used to tell him that it is around the corner this time, and that this war was about to end.

Last year Seyithan was most curious about the sincerity of politicians and asked my opinion. I used to tell him not to pay too much attention to sincerity. Time was up for the war and guns were no longer a bargaining chip.

On April 23 we went to his restaurant again. He asked me how the process was going. I told him this time it will work. Seyithan did not ask whether democracy or a peace process comes first and what was the give-and-take. He was simply measuring war and peace with the number of human lives that could have been saved. He was silently grieving for the loss of 1,500 young lives.

I agreed with him. If peace is not love for human life and grieving for not protecting those lost lives, then what it is?

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