Rebels of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party said today they will abandon their 14-year-old insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey in response to an appeal from their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Kurdish activists described the announcement as a turning point that marks a shift of their struggle for ethnic and political rights from the military to the political domain. They also held it up as proof that Ocalan, from his prison cell on an island south of Istanbul, continues to wield authority over the 8,000-member guerrilla movement he founded and has led for more than two decades.
The leadership council of the rebel party, known as PKK, said in a statement: "Our party openly declares its full compliance with comrade General Chairman Abdullah Ocalan's Aug. 2 statement and will carry out all of its activities on this basis."
On Tuesday, the PKK leader issued a statement from prison through his lawyers urging members to abandon their armed campaign against the Turkish state. "The fighting [between the PKK and the Turkish army] constitutes obstacles to the development of human rights and democracy," he said. "The violence, which has occurred primarily because of the Kurdish problem, plays a basic role in this."
But Ocalan, 51, stopped short of asking his armed followers to surrender altogether, saying they should withdraw outside Turkish territory by the end of the month. Blamed by the government for the deaths of more than 30,000 Turkish citizens, Ocalan was convicted of treason and condemned by a Turkish court in June to hang. His case is before an appeals court, which analysts here believe will uphold the sentence.
Vural Savas, Turkey's hawkish chief prosecutor, called on the court today to do just that, but the Turkish parliament and president also must approve the sentence before it can be carried out.
Turkish officials dismissed Ocalan's call as a further attempt to save his life, saying they will not negotiate with a group and a leader they condemn as terrorists. "The state needs no help in finishing this struggle," said President Suleyman Demirel. "Orders such as 'Carry on the struggle' or 'End it' in no way affect the state's determination in ending this struggle."
His comments were taken as an expression of determination to press ahead with Turkey's relentless military campaign against the rebels. But analysts said that with today's rebel announcement, the government will come under greater pressure to rethink its policy.
"Turkish officialdom," said Dogu Ergil, a leading expert on the Kurds at Ankara University, "has now been robbed of the argument that it is fighting against terrorists and will now have to face up to the Kurds in the arena of international diplomacy, which is far more dangerous, in fact."
Harold Hongju Koh, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, is traveling here, and a statement from him seemed to bear that out. "The United States has long maintained that there can be no purely military solution to Kurdish issues," he declared. "Any enduring solution must lie in the expansion of democracy."