In what could prove to be a historic day for Turkey and the decades-old Kurdish issue, fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) started withdrawing from Turkish soil and returning to bases in the mountains of northern Iraq.
The withdrawal that started is perhaps the most concrete step taken so far as part of a recently-launched peace process between Turkey and the PKK.
Turkish security forces manned checkpoints along the mountainous border with Iraq, keeping watch as the agreed pullout started by the first small groups of up to 2,000 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters.
The withdrawal, ordered late last month by top PKK commander Murat Karayilan, is the biggest step yet in a deal negotiated by the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan with Turkish officials to end almost 30 years of conflict.
The PKK has accused the army of endangering the pullout with reconnaissance drones and troop movements they said may trigger clashes. But there was no sign of military activity in the grey skies over southeast Turkey.
"I can say the withdrawal began today based on the information we have," pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-leader Gultan Kisanak told Reuters. "Local sources report that the armed PKK militants are on the move."
As the PKK's fighters depart Turkey, some important questions trail after them. Considering the PKK, by committing to a withdrawal and now executing it, has made a major concession to Ankara, what concessions can we now expect Turkey to make to the Kurds? Obviously, some major political reforms, particularly those granting the Kurds more political and cultural autonomy, will be demanded, but how much can Ankara really deliver on that front? (This issue becomes all the more central as Syria's Kurdish region moves towards greater autonomy, something which will very likely inspire Turkey's Kurds.) And, as the PKK fighters move back to their bases in northern Iraq, just what will be their future? Some kind of amnesty program, which will allow many of them to return to Turkey unarmed, has to be devised, but so far there has been little indication of how that issue is being dealt with as part of the peace process negotiations.
The PKK, it should be noted, previously staged a withdrawal from Turkey, in 1999 after its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured by Turkey. The difference this time -- and it is a significant one -- is that the withdrawal is not a unilateral action, but rather part of an ongoing negotiation between the Kurds and the Turkish state. Still, like in the previous withdrawal, the militants are leaving with their weapons, clearly reserving the option to return to fighting if the peace process between them and Turkey falters.
For now, the ball is in Ankara's court. With the PKK having delivered on its promise to withdraw, the Turkish government must now come back with substantive reforms. Failure to do so will likely result in an outbreak of even greater violence.
- United States Shouldn't Have Gone to Bat for Egypt's Morsi
- Then What in Syria?
- The Monotonous Middle East
- Public Opinion in Arab World Turns Against Iran
- Turkey Finds That Trouble Knows No Bounds
- Iraq: Mission Failure
- Iraq Can't Avoid Syria Contagion
- Sectarian Pressures Tearing Up the Sykes-Picot Map
- Saudi Arabia takes tentative steps to end child marriage
- Who are Turkey's Agents Provocateurs?
- US and Russia must work to stop snowballing Syrian crisis
- Syria: Russia's Big Test
- Syria's Religious War
- Back to the Future for Syria
- Hoping for Change in Syria
- A Grass-Roots View of the Syrian Uprising
- Is America About to Checkmate Russia in Syria?
- US Weighs Syrian Intervention, Despite Consequences
- Date with History... Cairo's First Revolution
- Obama Got Ahead of Himself with 'Red Line' Talk on Syria
- Palestine After Fayyad: The Choice Between Cooperation and Conflict
- Turkey: PKK Fighters Begin Their Withdrawal to North Iraq
- The Path to Follow after Syria Crosses the Red Line
- Redlines and the Problems of Intervention in Syria
- Leadership, Not Locusts, is Egypt's Greatest Plague
- Iran's North Korean Nuclear Future
- Iran: Birth Control Flip Flops
- Saudi Arabia: Cyber-savvy Youth on the Rise
- Syria: Chess Match Turned Free-for-All
- Iran's Regional Quagmire
- The Saudi-Iranian Rivalry and the Future of Middle East Security
- Iran's Internal Politics
- Iran's Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons in a Regional Context
- Israeli Apology to Turkey Big First Step But Not Sea Change
- Israel's Insightful Cynicism
- Settlements Still Blocking Middle East Peace Agreement
- With Bus Segregation Israeli Apartheid Becomes More Blatant
- Is Egypt Being Primed for a Coup?
- The Somaliazation of Syria
- Western Intervention in Syria Long Overdue
- Promoting Peace, But Fueling War in Syria
- Flight of Fancy
- Would the Turkish Model Work in Arab Spring Countries?
- Kerry Talks Regional Issues With Gulf Arab Leaders
- Export Oil, Import Water: The Middle East's Risky Economics
- Syrians Risk Their Health to Keep Warm
- Evidence of Syrian Cluster Bomb Use
- Syrian Rebels Capture Most of Key City
- Iranian Nuclear Program World's 'Greatest Challenge'
- Self-Interested Leaders Roil Chaos in Middle East
Originally published by EurasiaNet.org, "Turkey: PKK Fighters Begin Their Withdrawal to North Iraq"