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Turkey

New chapter in PKK-Turkey ties?

The recent release of eight prisoners held by the PKK is seen as a move that may mark a change in the decades-long conflict between Ankara and the PKK. Deutsche Welle's Karlos Zurutuza was at the event.

The venue was the tiny village of Sergele, an idyllic mountain village where minarets and churches rise up under the imposing snow-capped peaks of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

The release of the eight prisoners - six soldiers, a policeman and a civil servant - came after jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said last month that he hoped "to see prisoners meet their families."

"They are five Turks, two Kurds and an Arab. They are healthy and in good condition," PKK fighter Bahtyar told Deutsche Welle.

"It's a decisive moment for us, not just for the Kurds from Turkey but for the Kurdish nation as a whole," added Bahtyar. The Kurdish fighter from Turkey said he had spent 18 years in the Kurdish guerrilla group. "I was just a kid when I arrived."

Between 30 and 40 milllion Kurds are today divided by the borders of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Half of the whole Turkish population lives on Turkish soil, where the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK has been fighting for almost three decades against Ankara in a struggle for rights and recognition.

The Turkish delegation arrived in a convoy of seven armoured car escorted by Kurdistan Regional Government security agents.

Heval Dersim, a senior commander of the PKK's armed wing, received the envoys from the other side of the border. The group was made up of members of the pro-Kurdish Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), a Turkish top NGO leader and a senior officer from the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq (KRG).

"The eight of Sergele"

The prisoners release took place in Sergele, a mountain village in the border between Turkey and Iraq
Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza, Sergele, Iraqi Kurdistan, March 2013

The release is seen as a gesture of good will

"Today we are handing these eight men to the Turkish government on the orders of Abdullah Ocalan. This is a humanitarian gesture and proof of our good will toward peace between Ankara and us," Dersim said.

BDP representative Adil Kurd began his speech by thanking the Kurdish Regional Government for organizing the meeting and called for a cease-fire between both sides.

"We want to come back to this gorgeous mountains for a picnic, and not with weapons," he said.

His call for peace was also echoed in the statements of KRG representative, Hussein Haleb. "From this place we vow for peace, not only for the Kurds but for all the people in the world."

Faruk Ünsal, chairman of the Turkey-based NGO Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People, underlined the humanitarian spirit of the meeting.

"We have come to these wonderful mountains to bring these men back home to their families," he stated. "We are all brothers, we should not shoot each other."

Dressed in brand new dark jackets, plaid shirts and trainers, the eight prisoners remained in line, stoically listening to the speeches. The expressions in their faces ranged between astonishment and anger, but also visible relief now that their ordeal was about to end.

One of them told Deutsche Welle that they had been treated properly and lamented that, despite having a radio, they could hardly receive any news due to the mountainous surroundings. Another one even dared to thank the PKK in what he said was "a clear move toward peace."

The road to peace?

The eight prisoners stand in line before their liberty is granted
Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza, Sergele, Iraqi Kurdistan, March 2013

It's hoped the move will trigger lasting peace

After the prisoners' release, the guerrillas relaxed and were more willing to speak to the media.

Zulkuf, a PKK fighter from "somewhere in North Kurdistan (under Turkish control)" said he was glad that some progress had been made. "After such a long war both sides should silence the guns and trust each other," he told DW.

When asked about the treatment of the prisoners, the guerrilla claimed that they had been treated "fairly and with dignity, yet within the dire conditions of life in the mountains."

"They've spent all this time in caves because of the continuous Turkish bombings. We had no other option," explained Zulkuf. "One of them had been held captive for 19 months and it took us 40 days to bring the last prisoner since we caught him in Diyarbakir - around 1,000 kilometers east of Istanbul," he recalled. He also confirmed to DW that there were no prisoners left in the hands of the PKK.

In a further sign that the peace overtures are more than just lip service, PKK leader Ocalan on Thursday called for a ceasefire and that all weapons be handed over before August.

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