Ankara: Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan today called for Kurds to hold a historic congress to end a decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish authorities that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
In an eagerly-anticipated message for the traditional Kurdish New Year, Ocalan however stopped short of setting out a clear road map for disarmament of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels as had been anticipated in some quarters.
In the message read out by a pro-Kurdish lawmaker to hundreds of thousands of supporters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Ocalan said that the armed struggle had been “painful” and could no longer be maintained.
“A congress should be organised to bring an end to the 40-year struggle against the Turkish Republic,” Ocalan said.
The message was read out by lawmaker Sirri Sureyya Onder of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Ocalan is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara following his sensational arrest by Turkish agents in Kenya in 1999.
He said the congress which would likely involve all the Kurdish political forces in Turkey, would decide “a social and political strategy which will determine our history”.
Ocalan said that the congress whose timing was not made clear would usher in a “new era” in relations between Turkey and the Kurds.
The Turkish government welcomed the message, with Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc describing the statement as “positive in every way”.
The written message had been delivered by Ocalan to a group of HDP deputies who visited him on Imrali on Thursday.
However Ocalan, who in February had called on the PKK to lay down their arms, did not specifically mention disarmament in this message.
The PKK has largely observed a ceasefire since 2013 but attempts to find a permanent deal have stalled over the issue of the withdrawal of PKK fighters and weaponry from Turkey.
Ocalan is known to his followers as “Apo” (“Uncle”) and remains the main leader of Turkish Kurds despite his incarceration.
However the PKK’s military leaders, who are based in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, have argued their should be no disarmament before a final settlement.
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