Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Hopes of peace in Turkey's 25-year conflict

A recently announced peace initiative by the Turkish government has raised hopes that an end to the country's 25-year conflict with Kurdish rebels may be in sight. The BBC's Iain MacInnes travelled to the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey to gauge the mood.

Seydi Firat
Seydi Firat has been involved in PKK peace moves

In 1999, Seydi Firat was part of a peace group which crossed from Iraq into Turkey under the orders of Abdullah Ocalan the arrested leader of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).

"In one way or another, everybody got harmed in this period," he said.

"Now, I think, we have to sit down and talk to each other to prevent it going on like this indefinitely."

Mr Firat returned to same spot on the Iraqi border to welcome a new peace group last month, 10 years since he gave himself up.

The new group were also acting on Abdullah Ocalan's orders - eight Kurdish rebels were joined by 26 other Kurds, including refugees from a camp in Iraq.

They were responding to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's peace initiative, designed to offer greater rights to Kurds.

Sebirya Turk
We want peace, despite our pain, and despite the fact that thousands or millions of our people have lost their lives
Sebirya Turk

"God forbid, there is no bigger agony than losing your son. We don't want anybody to have such a grief. No mother can put up with such a pain," Mr Erdogan told parliament.

At the heart of Mr Erdogan's plans and the very inspiration for peace are mothers - although any peace will come too late for two mothers whom I met in south-east Turkey.

Sebirya Turk lost two sons as a result of the conflict. Both sons "went to the mountains" - in other words they joined the PKK. She is desperate for peace.

"We want peace, despite our pain, and despite the fact that thousands or millions of our people have lost their lives," she said.

"We do not want deaths to occur on both sides any more."

Who is to blame?

Zeliha Coban's son Ibrahim was only one month from completing his national service in the Turkish army, when he was killed in a gun battle with the PKK.

Zeliha Coban
Zeliha Coban's son died fighting against the PKK

But she is very clear about who is to blame.

"We don't have any problem with Kurds," she said.

"They are brothers too. In our martyrdom there are 3,000 martyrs. There are Turks, Kurds, Alevis and Sunnis.

"We don't have a problem with Kurds. Our problem is with PKK and 'Apo'."

Apo is the nickname given to Abdullah Ocalan, who for many years has been in solitary confinement on the north-eastern Turkish island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara.

Sincerity questioned

As part of the peace plan, the PKK leader is being moved to a new prison building, where he will be joined for the first time by other inmates.

No concessions should be made to Apo, according to Zeliha Coban, and instances like this add to her concerns that peace cannot be achieved.

CHP VP Onur Oymen
Onur Oymen says peace moves by the PKK are to be welcomed

"I think that peace is not possible. Because, there is a treacherous person in front of us. I am not calling him a human being, not even an animal. If I say an animal, that would be an insult to the animal."

Amongst nationalist politicians, there is also debate as to how sincere the PKK is about the peace process.

"If the PKK's aim is to give up arms and to stop terror, then of course we, as the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), would welcome it as a very positive development," CHP Vice-President, Onur Oymen, told me.

"We would of course be happy if the PKK gives up its arms without any precondition. However, current developments are not the right steps in the right direction."

Clear influence

Many suggest that the spur for the government's peace moves is Turkey's long-standing bid for membership of the European Union.

Towns like Diyarbakir are sensing greater hope

The thinking goes that if Turkey can improve relations with the Kurds and with its neighbours, it could ease the path towards eventual EU accession.

Whatever the reason for the new movement there is no doubt that a difference is being felt, especially in the South East, in towns like Diyarbakir.

People are feeling more hopeful, despite the pain and sadness of the years gone by.

The government says it will not discuss peace with Abdullah Ocalan, but with the clear influence he still has over PKK rebels and supporters, there is a feeling that he holds the key to ending the conflict.

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