Wednesday, 2 March 2011

PKK Announces Partial Suspension of Ceasefire

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has announced the partial suspension of a unilateral ceasefire announced in August 2010. The militant Kurdish group, which has been fighting for an independent Kurdish State in southeastern Turkey since 1978, said on February 28th that it will “follow an active-defence strategy” but would not launch unprovoked attacks against military targets or strike civilians.

The PKK statement, carried by a Kurdish news agency, laid the suspension of the ceasefire at the feet of the Turkish government. A tentative period of bridge-building towards the country's large and often disaffected Kurdish minority was launched in 2009 by the AKP government in Ankara. The Kurdish opening, however, has gradually stalled amid domestic opposition, a spike in PKK violence, and contradictory signals from the AKP.

The halting of the ceasefire follows January rumours that talks between Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's ideological leader, who has been in a Turkish jail since 1999, and the government had faltered. Öcalan had stated that he would make an announcement on the ceasefire in March, and appears to have become dissatisfied with the government's approach to the Kurdish issue. Although the PKK statement was not made on behalf of the movement's jailed leader, his influence remains enormous and it is implausible that a decision on the ceasefire would have been made without his blessing.

The fact that the PKK have not announced a wholesale return to violence suggests that this is a shot across the bows. In mid-June the country holds general elections which could see the AKP's dominance of Turkish politics severely tested. One factor in this will be the success or otherwise of Kurdish politicians, who could seriously dent the government's political majority in the southeast. Most are running as independents, since the main Kurdish party, the BDP, is unlikely to cross the 10 per cent vote threshold needed for parliamentary seats.

A resumption of full-scale violence would alarm moderate Kurds in the southeast who oppose the PKK and reinforce the AKP's support base. A carefully calibrated threat, however, could simply emphasise that the government's 'Kurdish opening' has failed to deliver greater cultural autonomy and political representation – undermining government support. Indeed the PKK statement referred to the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold, and insufficient progress on cultural and language issues, as reasons to suspend the ceasefire.

The PKK's announcement is therefore closely connected with domestic politics in the run-up to the election. Expect a slight uptick in attacks but without a return to the urban terror campaigns, attacks on energy infrastructure and widespread fighting that accompanied earlier ceasefire breakdowns.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Hurriyet, Today's Zaman

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

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