Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan called on his followers to lay down their arms in late February in a crucial step toward rapprochement with the Turkish government. Wikistrat asked Dr. Soner Cagaptay what the motivations of both parties are to do a deal.
Turkey’s Plan A on the Kurdish issue is to placate the PKK, an approach solidified in 2012 when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched official peace talks with the group’s leadership, bringing about a respite from fighting. Maintaining this peace is especially important for Erdoğan’s AKP, which has been running the country since 2002 and faces parliamentary elections in June. If Turkey remains peaceful, the popular AKP will likely soar to another electoral victory. With no other elections until 2019, Erdoğan and the AKP would rule Turkey until the end of the decade.
Peace is a strong incentive for Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s founder and ideological leader, who is effectively conducting the PKK’s side of the talks through his lawyers from his solitary-confinement cell on İmralı island, in the Marmara Sea, where he has been jailed since 1999. As indicated by his role in the talks, Öcalan still wields strong influence over the PKK and he well understands that peace would be his get-out-of-jail card. He is therefore expected to continue using his influence to ensure the current calm.
Dr. Soner Cagaptay is a Wikistrat Expert. He has more than ten years of experience in academia and of professional work dealing with Turkey, the Balkans and other international issues. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkey Research Program.