Pushing ahead with its stalled reform process and expanding the Kurdish minority’s cultural and political rights would boost Ankara’s flagging bid for European Union membership, taking the "historic opportunity" of which the president spoke in May.

Ocalan’s lawyers have contacted academics and journalists this month to sound them out on his "road map" which he plans to release on Aug. 15, the date on which the PKK made its first armed attack in 1984. Ocalan is in solitary confinement on a prison island.

The government is likely to reject his proposals to end a 25-year separatist conflict that has killed 40,000 people and ravaged the economy of the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Turkey has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with a group which the EU, the United States and Turkey all brand a terrorist organisation.

"The government will want to do something before then (Aug. 15) because they don’t want to give the impression of dealing with Ocalan," respected political commentator Rusen Cakir told Reuters.

He said NATO-member Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan discussed steps to solve the Kurdish problem at a ‘mini-summit’ with ministers last week.

Cakir’s words were echoed by political analyst Dogu Ergil who said, "They may preempt the process and the government may declare a roadmap before Ocalan."

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, "The Kurdish issue will be solved in Ankara, not in Imrali," referring to the prison where Ocalan is being held.

MORE REFORMS?

Erdogan’s AK Party, which first came to power in 2002, has taken steps to improve the lot of the country’s 12 million Kurds, a sixth of the population. The EU has long demanded that Turkey expand minority rights for Kurds and other groups.

Analysts have suggested the government could further ease restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and take steps to encourage separatist Kurdish militants to surrender — steps now even favoured by the military, which in the past has been hostile to any settlement.

The government is also reportedly making preparations to transfer cellmates to Imrali after the EU had expressed concern about Ocalan’s isolated incarceration.

But Kurdish politicians want more radical reforms.

At the start of this year, the state broadcaster launched the first national Kurdish-language TV station in what it billed as heralding a new democratic era. It had previously allowed private schools to teach Kurdish courses.

The government has pledged to increase investment in the energy-to-irrigation Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP) and there are also plans to open Kurdish departments at some universities.

Expectations of fresh reforms have been encouraged by an article published last week in Star newspaper by political scientist Yalcin Akdogan, an adviser to Prime Minister Erdogan.

He said reforms could include the establishment of private Kurdish television channels and the employment of Kurdish speaking civil servants. The restoration of Kurdish names to towns and villages and an end to a ban on Kurdish language election campaigning could also be considered.

The Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), facing a closure trial on charges of links to the PKK, is demanding Ocalan’s release, autonomy for the mainly Kurdish southeast and an end to operations against Kurdish guerrillas.

Such demands would be flatly rejected, according to Akdogan.

"It will harm rather than benefit the process if they approach the subject with tactical positions and populist, opportunist or exploitative attitudes," he said.

In the meantime, fighting between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK guerrillas has been at relatively subdued this year.

Air raids against PKK bases in northern Iraq are believed to have weakened them as a fighting force in the last two years, with Turkish forces benefitting from sharing U.S. intelligence and close regional cooperation with neighbouring Iraq.

The PKK last week extended until September a unilateral ceasefire by the militants. (Editing by Louise Ireland)

 

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