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Turkey: Kurdish politician urges Ankara to talk to PKK's Ocalan like Sisi and Assad

Former HDP leader says government must seek engagement with PKK leader to prevent a military offensive in Syria against Kurdish militants
A woman holds pictures of former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party HDP Selahattin Demirtas, in jail for a year and a half, and HDP candidate for the upcoming presidential election, during a rally on May 4, 2018 in Besiktas district of Istanbul. (AFP)
A woman holds pictures of jailed former leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party Selahattin Demirtas during a rally on 4 May 2018 in the Besiktas district of Istanbul (AFP)

Imprisoned Turkish politician Selahattin Demirtas on Wednesday called on Ankara to reach out to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as it readies itself for a military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria in response to the 16 November Istanbul bombing. 

Demirtas, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), said the government recently legitimised and normalised engagements with former foes such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Israel, and the UAE.

'We believe it is an extremely objectionable policy for Turkey to impose military operations as the only choice when it comes to the Kurds' 

- Selahattin Demirtas 

Ocalan, the 74-year-old head of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has been serving a life sentence on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul since his capture in 1999.

“We believe it is an extremely objectionable policy for Turkey to impose weapons and military operations as the only choice when it comes to the Kurds,” Demirtas told Turkish opposition news channel Halk TV

Demirtas said he does not see a beginning of a new resolution process by the government for the Kurdish question in the country, yet he still wants to do more than just watch as tensions flare up at the Syrian border and consoling people who lose their loved ones.

He added that some Turkish nationalist leaders in the past proposed to talk to Assad to rebuild the bridges for Turkey’s peace and security.

“We would like to talk to Ocalan, who is in Imrali Island, for the same reason,” he said. 

Life sentence on island

Demirtas on Wednesday made an official request through the Justice Ministry to arrange a video call with Ocalan.  

Ocalan is being kept in near-complete solitary confinement, which was only interrupted in March 2021 with a brief telephone conversation with his brother Mehmet Ocalan. 

The last time Ocalan's lawyers were able to contact him was three years ago, in August 2019. 

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Turkey, the EU and the US designate PKK as a terror group due to its attacks on civilian targets since the 1990s.

The PKK now says it seeks “cultural autonomy” for the Kurdish citizens of Turkey, renouncing its original aim to establish a Kurdish state. Thousands of people have died in bloody clashes in the country between Turkey and the PKK since 1980, and some analysts put the death toll between 40,000 and 50,000. 

After decades of violence, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government began a peace process with Ocalan and agreed a ceasefire with the PKK in 2013.

The ceasefire collapsed after hostilities were renewed in 2015 following the capture of large swaths of territory in Syria by the Syrian Kurdish allies of the PKK. 

The peace process had focused on Turkey ensuring that the outlawed PKK lay down its arms in order to start negotiations, as the government ratified laws for the use of the Kurdish language in education, politics and the media. 

Demirtas has been serving a constantly changing jail time in Edirne since November 2016, on various charges from terror propaganda to instigating violence and insulting the Turkish nation.

Hundreds of pro-Kurdish politicians have been arrested and jailed since the coup attempt in 2016.

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