Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani played a key role in starting the historic peace talks between Turkey and its separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), said a Kurdish official involved in the negotiations.
PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been jailed on Turkey’s Imrali island ever since he was captured in 1999, called on his fighters last month to lay down their arms, ending a three-decade war that has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives nationwide.
“Barzani was able to untie the knot between Ankara and Imrali,” said Muhammad Penjweni, a member of the Kurdish National Congress (KNK), which has close ties to the PKK and Ocalan.
Penjweni said it was Barzani who convinced Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to start direct negotiations with Ocalan. He told Rudaw that he accompanied Barzani five months ago to the Qandil Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the PKK’s leadership is based.
“Barzani told the PKK leadership in Qandil that he would convince the Turkish government to directly negotiate with their imprisoned leader if they, in return, give him assurance that they would trust and abide by his decisions,” Penjweni said.
Barzani warned them that he is not willing to start a process whose end result he is not sure of,” Penjweni said.
He added that the talks got rolling after Barzani suggested that Erdogan bring Ocalan on board to try and end a hunger strike by hundreds of Kurdish inmates, launched in Turkish prisons last September to demand an end to Ocalan’s solitary confinement, and permission to use the Kurdish language in Turkish courts.
“Even though the Turkish PM didn’t have much faith in the plan, he still sent someone to Ocalan to convince him to call on the prisoners to end their strike,” Penjweni revealed. “To Erdogan’s surprise, the plan worked and the prisoners ended their strike,” he said.
Similar peace talks failed five years ago, after three years of constant negotiations involving the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT), Ocalan and the PKK leadership in Norway.
This time, hopes are high for a new era of political dialogue, and a solution for the long-standing conflict.
In a joint intelligence operation 14 years ago, Ocalan was captured in Nairobi, and returned to Turkey where he was sentenced to life in prison for treason.
“Just a few days before he was captured, Ocalan and I were together in Italy where he briefed me about his plan to go to South Africa to see (former South African leader) Nelson Mandela,” Penjweni disclosed.