Ankara, Turkey
Ankara, Turkey

Negotiating With PKK: Lessons Learned? – OpEd


By Mehmet Yegin

Turkish government initiated a new round of negotiations with PKK terrorist organization through its leader Abdullah Ocalan in jail. This initiative raised hopes for peace after decades of long bloody attacks. Thus, the initiative is endorsed by a broad spectrum of political actors. The main opposition party, Republican Peoples Party declared support for the efforts. The Kurds were already vocal via civil society organizations in their demands for PKK lying down weapons. Even the most sensitive groups like families of the members of security forces who lost their lives in the battle with PKK and veterans gave positive signals.

This positive environment should not be missed since readiness for negotiation is equally important with (some argue even more important than) hurting stalemates and ripe moments. Besides, it is crucial to be extremely cautious for not to cause a lasting disappointment among public as well. In this short comment, we will go through the existing literature on negotiating with terrorists and Turkey’s experiences with the PKK in order to assess the negotiations with PKK. There are three important issues that have to be evaluated for the process: readiness of the terrorist organization to the negotiations, dealing with the spoilers and promotion of non-violent means for demands.

Is PKK a negotiable partner?

The readiness of the Turkish government and public for the negotiations is mentioned above. Yet, it takes two to tango. Stacie Pettyjohn argues that in order to talk and negotiate with a terrorist organization its leaders should be ready to compromise and leave violence behind. Otherwise, if the leaders of a terrorist organization “remain committed to achieving an absolute victory, negotiations will be considered a futile policy, one that will only lead to further violence.”

Thus, in order to succeed in negotiations the leaders of terrorist organization should not be fixated to their initial causes. William I. Zartman makes a similar grouping with absolute; contingent or instrumental terrorists for negotiability of a terrorist organization. In the light of these perspectives we need to answer whether PKK left its aim to establish an independent state or not. If the PKK and its offshoot organizations’ member statements are only tactical rhetoric the negotiations may not yield expected fruits and may end even worse. If otherwise then we may expect the negotiations to be a path for peace.

Spoiler attacks and “Don Corleone rule”

One of the most important obstacle for a successful negotiation process is spoiler attacks by the terrorist organizations. Any PKK attack at military outposts or in the cities may cause a crisis. Indeed, the Turkish security forces conducted successful operations against the PKK terrorist organization in recent times. The recent PKK attempt to attack at Cukurca was a huge failure for the PKK. PKK attacked with nearly 100 militants but lost 12 of its militants in the end. Yet, Turkey’s experiences tell us nearly after all peace processes PKK conducted a huge attack. Thus, such attack is always possible.

These attacks during negotiations may increase tension and anger in the public that makes impossible to continue the process. After all destruction made by attack PKK sources may claims that the attacks are carried out by either uncontrolled elements or TAK which banner is mostly used when PKK does not want to claim the attacks.

It is not a valid excuse to be accepted since it is not job of the Turkish government to solve the internal problems of the PKK as well. Thus, any attacks that sabotages the process either from hawk wing, or TAK or any other group should be under PKK’s responsibility. In epic film, the Godfather, Don Corleone makes sure any attack to his son by saying “If my son is struck by a bolt of lightning I will blame some of the people here.” So anything done by the hawks of PKK, TAK or foreign agents in PKK is the responsibility of the organization.

PKK as a highly centralized organization has the ability to control these attempts and punish uncontrolled ones or traitors strictly. PKK leaders, committed to the negotiation process are supposed to obtain a firm stance against such attacks. Here, PKK leaders reactions to the spoiler attacks may serve as a litmus test for their commitment to the process as well.

Promoting non-violent means rather legitimizing terror

The aim of the process is to bring the actors using violent means to achieve their goals to a non-violent position. In order to achieve that goal certain mechanisms may be set to bring the violent actors to express themselves in non-violent ways.

During all through the process we should keep in mind not to portray use of violence as a legitimate way of pursuing goals. Strictly speaking the negotiation process is not about creating empathy in the public about terrorist attacks. Thus, the media has to act carefully and responsibly for not to portray terror as a legitimate way to demand rights. Otherwise it may cause further complications rather than helping for healing.

Indeed, the negotiation process itself is the ultimate way of suggesting that there is no need for use of violence. As Andreas Bock argues along with the negotiation process it becomes impossible to argue for having “no other choice than to use deadly force” in order to pursue political objectives.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

One thought on “Negotiating With PKK: Lessons Learned? – OpEd”

  1. This article is full of crab. First of all, the article starts with a such sentence ”…The Kurds were already vocal via civil society organizations in their demands for PKK lying down weapons”, is a total wrong in approaching for a peaceful and democratic solution of Kurdish issue.

    The writer also giving a lot of false information as well. He talks about an attack of the PKK in cukurca area. This was a retaliation against the attack carried out by the occupier Turkish state army in the district of Lice/Amed, on 31 December, 2012, where as a result 10 Kurdish Freedom Fighters lost their life. The day, Turkish authorities stated about new peace process. Even, people in the region claimed that there were traces of usage of the chemical weapons against the freedom fighters.

    Shortly, this article do not present anything helpful for such a solution. Basically, the writer is becoming the mouth-peace of the present policies of the government, and do not show any sincerity and will for such a solution.

    I also strongly condemn JTW to open its pages for people as such, Mehmet Yegin, and several other Turkish writers, who are writing articles here to only mislead the public.

    By the way, while the Turkish PM talks about how much they are serious about the new opening of talks, the military and political operations are still continuing. There are air-bombardments, and specially targeting the civilians. Just couple of days ago The Kurdish Youth Center in the Village of Zergele, in the Kandil area has been bombarded and demolished. Also, the main road has been hit by a rocket while the civilian cars were passing by. Luckily nothing happened to any of the civilians.

    Thank you and hoping that JTW do not open its spaces for such misleading writers after all. And, hoping the JTW approaches to the Kurdish issue more of on a equal basis. Naming people as ‘terrorist’ is not an approach to solve the issues, is more like a trying to hide your acts of Terrorism against millions.

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