Turkey has seen a dramatic rise in violence over the past year with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgents launching more and more brazen attacks, including suicide bombings and kidnappings, which have in turn drawn a harsh military response.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday some 500 militants had been “rendered ineffective” – killed, wounded or captured – in the last month alone.
While such numbers cannot be independently verified, the International Crisis Group has said the last 15 months are the deadliest period since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.
“Our quick formula is this: Without placing any conditions, both sides must take their fingers off the trigger,” Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), told reporters in Ankara.
“You may call it a mutual ceasefire. We are not choosing a name for it, but all military activity must stop. We are not saying the army has to disarm, we are not saying anything like this. We are saying they should not point their weapons at each other.”
If this can be ensured, he said, there could be a revival of talks between both sides with the BDP acting as an intermediary. Recordings leaked last year showed senior Turkish intelligence officials had held secret meetings with the PKK in Oslo, something unthinkable only a few years ago.
The PKK, which has been fighting for a Kurdish homeland since 1984, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
But faced with a rising death toll among its security forces and broad public support for a harsh military response, Ankara has shown no inclination over the past year to make concessions.
“If a terrorist lays down his weapon, he should know that the operations in this country will stop. As long as there is a weapon in the terrorist’s hand, there will be no end to them,” Erdogan said in a speech on Monday.
“Despite all these despicable, treacherous attacks, we are continuing and will continue our struggle against the separatist organization in the most determined manner.”
After a clear victory in last year’s election, Erdogan raised hopes of an end to fighting when he vowed to push ahead with cultural and political reforms for the Kurdish region, reversing assimilation policies that had bred resentment.
Kurds make up roughly a fifth of Turkey’s population but for decades an avowedly nationalist state refused to recognize their existence and banned their language and culture.
However, Kurdish politicians say Erdogan’s reforms, particularly a loosening of restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, have not gone far enough to prevent large numbers of Kurdish youths joining the PKK in frustration.
The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people, hampered economic development in one of Turkey’s poorest regions and added to instability in a region bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.