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Weary of War, Turkish Kurds Try Talking

If a cease-fire brings a political accommodation for Turkey's Kurds, it could lead to similar reconciliations for Kurds in Iran and Iraq

By Jim MuirSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 12, 1993


IN a remote mountain valley a few hundred yards across the Iraqi border into Iran, Comrade Cicek sits near her tent encampment with some of the 400 women guerrillas she helps train for the task of liberating Kurdistan.

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Cicek - her name means "flower" - is 26. She has been a Kurdish guerrilla for seven years. Her commitment is obvious. She has an 11-year-old son whom she has left in Syria to be brought up by the PKK, the radical Marxist Kurdish Workers' Party. She rarely sees him, or her husband, who is also a PKK fighter.

Such dedication is the norm here, and it starts young. Sitting nearby is Sozder, a 13-year-old who joined the PKK three years ago.

"I don't feel like a child. I don't miss my toys. These are my toys," she says, nodding to her 8.5mm Beretta and the inevitable AK-47 assault rifle she cradles.

"I could never be a housewife," Comrade Cicek says. "My aim is to fight on until we achieve a free Kurdistan."

But she and hundreds of other PKK guerrillas may be disappointed in their quest for that far-reaching goal.

Their revered leader, Abdullah Ocalan, known to follower and foe alike by his nickname Apo, recently launched a peace initiative that could end the PKK's eight-year secessionist insurrection against Turkey through a political accommodation with the Ankara government.

Turkish leaders have shown signs of taking the initiative seriously, and are looking at ways to accommodate Kurdish aspirations without compromising the country's unity and integrity.

Such a peace would mean tranquillity and a better deal for Turkey's 12 million Kurds, whose identity has been denied for decades by Turkish authorities and whose areas in the southeast of the country have fallen into economic neglect. Shelving the dream

For the PKK, a peace accord with Turkey would not only mean giving up the unrelenting armed struggle it launched in 1984, unleashing a cycle of violence and repression in which more than 5,000 people have died. It would also mean shelving the dream of a free, independent Kurdistan embracing all the region's 20 million Kurds, who are divided mainly between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Pan-Kurdism has always been at the center of the PKK's philosophy.

But Kurdish leaders in Iran and Iraq express hope that an agreement in Turkey could become a model for peace negotiations in their countries.

Mr. Ocalan announced a unilateral halt to hostilities with Turkish government forces from March 20 through April 15, and indicated that if Ankara responded positively, he might extend the truce indefinitely and would seek a settlement within Turkey's borders. That is now expected to happen, given the initial success of the cease-fire and the interest Turkish leaders now show in addressing the Kurdish issue.

"We are very much prepared to turn to political methods," Ocalan told a news conference in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. "As for [Turkish] unity, I must say that we are not in favor of separation from Turkey for the time being. We are realistic on this issue. And this is not just a tactical ploy."

The PKK truce was timed to cover the Kurdish New Year, Nowruz, which in recent years has been an occasion for violent antigovernment Kurdish demonstrations and clashes with government forces in the southeast.

Nearly 100 people died in such disturbances last year. This time, Nowruz passed March 21 with only scattered incidents. Since then, the general level of violence has dropped sharply, reinforcing the impression that the PKK enjoys a high degree of influence in Turkey's Kurdish areas.

"Even if it is unilateral, the fact that the guns have been silent has created a new climate of hope," says Hashim Hashimi, the Kurdish mayor of Cizre, a town in southeastern Turkey where roughly 40 people were killed in Nowruz violence last year.

While Ankara's response has yet to crystallize, government leaders and security chiefs have held numerous meetings and made public comments indicating willingness to explore a new deal for Turkey's Kurds.