Ankara seeking to revive Kurdish peace process with delegation to İmralı - columnist

Ankara is preparing to send a civilian delegation, including a human rights activist, to visit the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as part of an effort to revive the Kurdish peace process ahead of the next elections, T24 news site columnist Murat Sabuncu wrote on Friday.

The delegation, which is set to include legal expert and human rights activist Eşber Yağmurdereli, will follow a long-requested visit with Abdullah Öcalan by his family members, Sabuncu said, citing undisclosed sources, effectively breaking the long-time isolation of the jailed PKK leader.

Öcalan, who has been jailed on treason charges since 1999 after Turkey removed the death penalty, has been barred from meeting his legal representatives since 2011 with one exception, and has had only limited family visits since the collapse of a peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK in 2015. Öcalan’s isolation has sparked protests by thousands cross the country, including hunger strikes.

Ankara is seeking ways to launch a new initiative for the Kurdish problem, according to Sabuncu, which will “not be short-sighted and encompass the period following the elections scheduled for the summer of 2023.”

The PKK has fought a separatist war in Turkey’s southeast since the early 1980s.After tens of thousands of casualties from both parties and huge economic loss in the region for decades, then-prime minister Erdoğan initiated a process of talks between Turkey’s intelligence service and the PKK leadership in 2009.

An intensified conflict ensued following the collapse of the peace process, causing hundreds of civilian deaths, forced migrations and the demolition of town centres in southeast Turkey.

Sabuncu highlighted reports surrounding the significance of the Kurdish electorate, some 20 percent of Turkey’s population, which has become a pivotal demographic for President Erdoğan, who is faced with waning support ahead of the next polls. 

Erdoğan’s approval rating stood at 42 percent in May, according to a survey by  Turkish pollster Metropoll, while 60 percent expressed disbelief that the president could solve the country’s economic issues.  

Turkey is experiencing its worst economic crisis in almost two decades. The country is battling runaway inflation - a staggering 73.5 percent - and the central bank's reluctance to raise interest rates are sparking fears of another currency crisis after the lira lost 44 percent of its value in 2021 and is down more than 20 percent this year.

Sabuncu’s claims of plans for a renewed Kurdish peace process follow those of Ayhan Bilgen, head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) breakaway, the Voice of Turkey Party (SES Party).

The former HDP mayor of Kars province earlier this month said that Ankara was exerting efforts for the revival of the peace process, which included the jailed PKK leader, Kısa Dalga news site reported. Bilgen said Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was working to convince its coalition partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on the matter.

“Those who think the next elections will be easy for Turkey’s opposition should think again,” Sabuncu wrote. “Erdoğan will put up a struggle until the very end.’’

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