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Turkey

Why PKK Ceasefire Could Spark True Peace Between Kurds And Turkey

After jailed rebel leader Ocalan's call for Kurds to lay down their arms, a closer inspection of his words show real signs of hope to end three decades of bloodshed.

A young boy holds a flag with Ocalan's face at the Newroz celebrations
A young boy holds a flag with Ocalan's face at the Newroz celebrations
Murat Yetkin

ISTANBUL - Thursday's historic address from the jailed Kurdish guerilla leader Abdullah Ocalan was not a mere ceasefire, nor a passing order to lay down arms. It was a call to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to bid farewell to arms, and end a 30-year period of war and bloodshed that has claimed over 40,000 lives.

On Mar. 21, the day that marks the Kurdish spring holiday of Newroz, Ocalan addressed millions of his followers through letters that were read out at a Turkish government-backed event in the southeastern Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. It was the first time the leader made an address with full support from both Turkish and Kurdish leadership.

Let’s take a look at Ocalan’s rhetoric in the letter. Not only did he call for an end to the armed struggle, but he also called to enter a new era of “democratic politics.”

“Let the weapons fall silent and let the policies speak up,” he said. But this phrase has been uttered before. Not by Ocalan but by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been repeating these words for the past two years.

Ocalan, who has spent the past 14 years in solitary confident on the island of Imrali, used a direct quote from Erdogan to reaffirm the joint aspirations in this peace process.

The missing word

Peace talks have been carried out in the past between Turkey and the PKK, but this is the first time that the Turkish government has made the process public. For Kurds, the process comes with hopes and demands for rights under the Turkish constitution, and freedom to express their identity within the country.

There are some other important details within Ocalan’s address. He says, “Today we wake up to a new Turkey, a new Middle East and a new future.”

Now, for the Kurds there is still something missing in this equation: Kurdistan. For years the PKK has been fighting for autonomy and Ocalan previously had ambitions to carve out an independent region from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. But in this letter the word is only used once in a different context. It is used to describe a geographical region like “Anatolia,” and is not described as a separate political entity. Now it seems Ocalan’s aim is to have ‘modernist democracy’ instead of a separate political entity.

Ocalan said his call was “Not an end, but a beginning.” Erdogan has welcomed Ocalan’s address, calling it “positive.” The Turkish Prime Minister announced that once the militants drop their arms, Turkish military operations would also be halted.

Having successfully passed the critical Newroz threshold, there is a lot for both the government and the PKK to do in order to secure this peace process. A series of confidence-building measures will be needed in order to bring an end to a painful chapter in Turkey's history.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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