Such an agreement would involve a "ceasefire" between the Turkish government and the PKK, after which the PKK would pull its estimated 3,000 members out of
Turkey. The PKK would then disarm. Next, Turkey would allow the PKK's top leadership to find a home in Europe while the group's rank and file would be
allowed to return to Turkey and integrate into civilian life and politics.
In return, Ocalan would get his freedom, most likely entering house arrest. Even if Erdogan publically denies he will make this concession, the writing is
on the wall.
For Erdogan to maximize his gains from the deal, the PKK needs not only to lay down its arms, but also to stay quiet. Fighting with the PKK has resulted in
over 900 deaths since August 2011, according to a tally by the International Crisis Group, constituting the heaviest toll on Turkey in more than a decade.
This makes PKK violence the salient political challenge for Erdogan. The Turkish prime minister has almost all the pieces in place to be elected as the
country's next president. He has defanged the once staunchly secularist Turkish military, eliminated many elements of Turkey's secular state, and
neutralized the formerly anti-AKP business community and media. Still, Erdogan is not guaranteed to surpass 50 percent of the popular vote in the
presidential race, and more PKK attacks will only pull him further from this mark. Hence, Erdogan needs the PKK to stay quiet during the run-up to the
country's election in 2014.
Another factor suggests that these talks may work. This time, Erdogan has chosen the PKK as his negotiating counterpart rather than the Peace and Democracy
Party (BDP), the political wing of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey. The PKK is the mother ship of Kurdish nationalism in the country, out of
which the BDP was born. This is essentially the reverse of the Irish case, wherein the IRA was born out of Sinn Fein. So for Ireland, talks with the Sinn
Fein made sense, whereas in Turkey, the PKK runs the show.
Peace between Ankara and the PKK would have ramifications beyond Turkey. Ankara's support for the Syrian uprising has not been entirely successful, due in
some part to the fact that Ankara abhors the PKK presence among the Kurds in Syria. This has become a wedge issue between Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish
opposition. A Turkish-PKK rapprochement could pave the way for better ties between Ankara and the broader Syrian opposition by bringing the Syrian Kurds
into the fold.
The stumbling blocks are many, however. PKK hardliners, including the group's seasoned leaders such as Cemil Bayik and Duran Kalkan, might refuse to buy
into Ocalan's personal deal to set himself free. This leadership is committed to the maximalist political goals of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey: the
formation of a separate Kurdish state. What is more, Bayik and Kalkan are known to be close to Iran, and Tehran does not want to see a Turkey-PKK deal now.
Ever since Ankara threw its lot behind the Syrian uprising in late 2011, Iran has encouraged the PKK to punish Turkey for its stance against Assad. If the
PKK disarms, Iran will be deprived of this lever.