Kurdish politician Pervin Buldan (right) reads Abdullah Ocalan's message to a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Diyarbakir. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region on Thursday welcomed a truce declared by the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its decades-old armed struggle against Turkey, calling the move a “positive step” and pledging to help both sides achieve a lasting peace.
In a statement on the Kurdish New Year Abdullah Ocalan, who has been imprisoned on Turkey’s Imrali Island since being captured in 1999, called on PKK fighters to withdraw from Turkish territories to their cross-border mountain bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"We encourage and support this and any other steps from either the PKK or the Turkish government in order to solve the Kurdish issue in a democratic and peaceful way," the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said in a statement.
"We hope all the parties will commit to the efforts of peace and ending violence and will give these efforts a chance to succeed," it added.
Earlier Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir to hear Ocalan’s calls, read out by Pervin Buldan, a politician from the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has been mediating the peace talks between Ocalan and Ankara.
"We want to rapidly solve the arms problem without losing time or another life," Ocalan said. “Now it is time for our armed units to move across the border. This is not an end but a new beginning,” he added. “This is not abandoning the struggle, but a start to a different struggle."
Ocalan also called on the Turkish government to take the necessary steps to solve the Kurdish issue peacefully.
"Now a door is opening to a phase where we are moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle," Ocalan said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the gesture but called for concrete steps, saying “what is important is its implementation.”
Muhammad Faraj, head of the Kurdistan Islamic Union in Iraqi Kurdistan, also welcomed Ocalan's call as a step forward. "Ocalan has passed the ball into the Turkish court,” he said.
The PKK, which now operates from rebel bases in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, has waged an armed struggle against Turkey for autonomy and greater Kurdish rights for three decades, costing more than 40,000 lives.