BEIRUT — A jailed Kurdish militant leader called Thursday on guerrilla fighters battling Turkey’s government to lay down their arms as part of a cease-fire, a development that could mark the beginning of the end of decades of bloody conflict that have cost some 40,000 lives.
“Let guns be silent and politics dominate,” Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned head of the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), said in a message read at a massive rally in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters reported. “The state has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders. … It’s not the end, it’s the start of a new era.”
The Turkish press was heralding the statement as the start of a cease-fire and the possible negotiation of a comprehensive peace plan between the PKK and the Turkish government. Many in Turkey hoped the message could signal a transformation from armed conflict to political negotiations between the government and representatives of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
The message from the imprisoned Ocalan was read out during celebrations of the Kurdish New Year in Diyarbakir, where live video footage showed tens of thousands of ecstatic people waving Kurdish flags and rejoicing at the announcement.
Word had been circulating for days that Ocalan, imprisoned since his capture in Kenya in 1999, was going to make a major statement calling for a truce.
The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known to have been involved in talks with Kurdish representatives.
Kurdish activists are reportedly seeking a degree of autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority and linguistic and civil rights for Kurds. The changes may imply a change in the nation’s constitution, the Turkish press has reported.
The PKK took up arms in 1984.
Earlier this month, Kurdish rebels in Turkey released eight Turkish hostages in what was regarded as a sign of good faith after Ocalan called for a prisoner exchange with Turkish authorities.
There was no word on whether Ocalan, co-founder of the PKK, would be freed as part of any peace deal. He is serving a life sentence for his alleged involvement in violence against the Turkish state.