He is one of three PKK leaders who held talks in Oslo, Norway, with Turkish government envoys between 2008 and May 2011. These talks were totally secret – “we committed ourselves not to disclose any details of these meetings until we had reached a solution”, explains Zubeyir Aydar, one of the three Kurdish representatives concerned, a politician from Siirt and an acting member of the Turkish parliament from 1991 to 1994. Aydar now lives in exile in Brussels, where he chairs the KCK (PKK) ‘parliament’.
It was only after the ruling Turkish government of Reycip Erdogan orchestrated ‘leaks’ in the Turkish press that Zubeyir Aydar agreed to meet with western journalists and, albeit reluctantly, shed some light on the Oslo meetings.
The issue of the safety of the delegations was of the utmost importance and hotly debated even before talks started. The Kurds remember only too well the tragic fate of Dr Ghassemlou, former secretary general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), who was lured into secret negotiations by the Iranians in July 1989. The meetings were so secret that only a handful people were aware they were even scheduled to take place, until Ghassemlou was discovered murdered in Vienna.
“We analysed previous negotiations and had seminars with experts, in order not to fall in the same trap. We concluded that our security should be guaranteed by the presence of an international guarantor. We felt we had to be under the protection of an independent international presence. Zubeyir Aydar refuses to disclose who that guarantor was, confirming only that he had “international status”.
The first preliminary contacts took place in 2006, and were followed by several indirect meetings. It was only at the end of 2008 and in early 2009, that the two delegations met face to face. At that time the Turkish delegation was headed by under secretary Emre Taner, the head of MIT (Turkish intelligence service) until April 2010, when Hakan Fidan took over, assisted by deputy under secretary Afet Gunes.
On the PKK side of the table were Zubeyir Aydar, Musrafa Karasu, a military leader and former member of the PKK presidential council, and Sabri Ok, a high ranking member of the PKK. At the head of the table was the guarantor, who spoke English as can be heard on a recording of the discussions, which was briefly put online on the internet. As a goodwill gesture to help facilitate the success of the meeting both sides agreed to enforce a cease fire before the meeting took place, which was in the event, only partially implemented. An agenda was quickly established after government envoys asked the PKK for details of its demands. The PKK had prepared a list, after more than 50 meetings, with cadres of the party and representatives of organisations from other parts of Kurdistan. This memorandum was then submitted to Abdulla Ocalan, who used it to write his “Road Map to Peace”, a document he completed on 15 August 2009, but that the Turks prevented from filtering outside Imrali prison. It was only after a year and a half, around the end of 2010 that PKK lawyers were able to get hold of a copy of the memorandum and forward it to the European Court of Human Rights.
Zubeyir Aydar reveals how the Turkish government also had parallel negotiations with Abdulla Ocalan : “The same group that was meeting us was also visiting Ocalan in prison. When we requested that our negotiators have direct contact with Ocalan, they did not say ‘No’, however, they would not allow us to see him, saying ‘The time has not come’. And neither they did they give us Apo’s (Ocalan’s) “Road map to peace”. Zubeyir Aydar insists that Ocalan as the president of the PKK, must act as chief negotiator, and be empowered to sign any document that emeges as a result of negotiations.
In his “Road map to peace”, Abdulla Ocalan observes that :
• The solution of the Kurdish question must be achieved through negotiations and dialogue.
• No one must tamper with the borders of Turkey and any solution must be achieved within the borders of Turkey.
• The Kurds must be recognised as a people, with all legitimate rights.
• Democratic autonomy for the Kurds must be implemented in Turkey and this must be written in the constitution.
• A calendar of implementation of these measures should be negotiated.
In May 2011, Ocalan submitted three hand written protocols: The first one deals with the constitutional rights of the Kurdish people, which – according to the protocols – should be drawn up by a joint commission, including representatives of the government and the PKK, and of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the EU, NATO and the UN. Ocalan also asked for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as was established in South Africa. The second protocol aims at facilitating a permanent cessation of hostilities, dealing with is- sues such as the demilitarisation of Kurdistan, the fate of the PKK fighters – their withdrawal to Kurdistan Iraq – and who would be in charge of the security in Kurdish areas. The third protocol raises sensitive political issues: What would be the role of Ocalan, of the PKK and of the BDP (a legal pro PKK party)? The PKK negotiators claim that their interlocutors “came empty handed – they did not make any proposals”. “We proposed 12 amendments to the constitution”, says Zubeyir Aydar, “They never accepted to discuss the constitution. They wanted to convince us to accept minor individual rights – the right to teach our language in schools, for example, and to have a Kurdish TV station”.
While conceding that there was a process of negotiation in 2010-2011, Zubeyir Aydar claims the real aim of the government was to let negotiations drag on while setting up a coalition with Iran and Syria and preparing a military operation to destroy the PKK militarily after the June 2011 Turkish elections. But the subsequent events in Syria led Turkey to indefinitely postpone its big military operation.
So what lesson do PKK leaders draw from these first official negotiations with the Turkish government? Are they ready to met Erdogan’s envoys again?
“We are ready, the doors are open”, answers Zubeyir Aydar, “but the government must answer our protocols, they know they cannot play around with us any more.
And the government negotiators must come to the table with sufficient power to make decisions. Their response every time we make a demand cannot be:
“We must first ask our government”? Concerning Ocalan’s status, Zubeyir Aydar is very clear: “He is the president of our movement and our principal negotiator. The doors of Imrali prison must be open, the government cannot negotiate with us and keep Ocalan in jail”.
We know, from the voice recordings of the meetings which were briefly put online, that Afet Gunes, the MIT Deputy Under Secretary, commented: “All this -amendments to the constitution, the release of Ocalan – represents a very large scale of demands. It is out of the question to get these demands done in three or five months, or even a year”.
A new meeting was planned for 15 June 2011, but the MIT envoys did not show up.
“The main problem, concludes Aydar, is that the Turks do not want to acknowledge that we Kurds are a people. The Turks want to assimilate us. Prime Minister Erdogan says “you can speak Kurdish, but you may not learn it”. In the end, they think that if the war drags on, they can eventually assimilate us”.
After Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was savagely murdered by the Iranian negotiators with whom he had drunk tea and discussed for two days the self-determination of the Kurds, one wonders if the Iranians had decided from the start to kill him, or if they decided to exterminate him after he refused to content himself with half-measures, like the legalisation of his Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Obviously, when Mr Erdogan ordered MIT to talk to the PKK leadership, he had no intentions of doing them harm. He already has the PKK’s “Lider Maximo” securely held in Imrali. So why talk to “terrorists”, why break the “taboo” President Ozal could not do in 1993? Did Erdogan expect that a weakened PKK would accept nominal concessions such as cultural rights? Perhaps the next meetings will tell.