What was read out yesterday was a declaration of peace and unity for Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Anatolia. I listened to the “historic” declaration expected from Abdullah Ocalan on a live transmission from NTV. Everything was momentous yesterday [March 21]. All leading Turkish television channels were transmitting the Nowruz celebrations in Diyarbakir of more than a million people with PKK flags and posters of Abdullah Ocalan live for several hours.

The declaration from Imrali of the man sentenced to life in prison was read out first in Kurdish and then in Turkish by two parliamentarians. This was at the top of the news in national and international news channels until midnight, ushering in a truly “historic Nowruz.”

Ocalan’s declaration made a mockery of all the speculations, leaked news and comments of recent days. To make sure that the declaration was indeed consequential, I had a look at ANF, the Kurdish news agency, reading its Kurdish version, which read: “Ocalan: A new era is beginning.” The subtitle was the part Ocalan emphasized, “The time has come for democratic politics.”

It was important to understand how a vast political movement, especially its armed wing, assessed the declaration and which aspect of the declaration it saw as being the most significant. The movement’s members interpreted Ocalan’s remarks on the “beginning of a new era” as signaling “the beginning of a democratic political era.” It is true that what made this declaration “extraordinary” was the part that expressed “the end of one era and start of a new one.”

The phrases “Today, a new era is beginning” and, “a door is opening from the process of armed resistance to the democratic political process,” marked the end of an era and the beginning of another one.

He defined the “new era” with stronger emphasis: “Guns must be silent now. We are at the point where we will let ideas and policies speak out. Witnessed by millions who heard my appeal, I am saying that a new era is starting; not weapons but politics are now at the fore. We have commenced a phase of armed elements withdrawing beyond the border.”

What we have to understand from these words is that Ocalan has concluded that “the underlying reasons of armed struggle the PKK has been carrying out in Turkey no longer exist. From now on, demands will be expressed through democratic politics.” It is in this way that he is closing one historic era for the PKK and the Kurds and is opening a new one.

One can find a more poetic elaboration of this point in the parts where he addressed the Kurds and the Turks:

“For Kurds, the Tigris and Euphrates are the brothers of Sakarya and Meric [major rivers in western Turkey]. The Agri and Cudi mountains are friends of Kackar and Erciyes [mountains in central Turkey]. Halay and delilo [Kurdish folk dances] are relatives of horon and zeybek [Turkish folk dances]. Turkish people who have been living in Anatolia from time immemorial should know that their coexistence with Kurds under the colors of Islam for about thousand years has been founded on brotherhood and solidarity. Turks and Kurds who were martyred at Canakkale [Gallipoli], fought together in the War of Liberation and established the 1920 Assembly together.”

When read carefully, Ocalan in his declaration that closed the doors on “an independent Kurdistan or a Kurdish nation-state” also sets out his objection to a “Turk nation-state”:

“This is not an end but a new beginning. This is not giving up the struggle but  launching a different struggle. To opt for an ethnic and single national entity is a non-human approach that denies our origins and soul. To put together a democratic country where all peoples and cultures are equal and free that befits the history of Kurdistan and Anatolia is our common responsibility. On the occasion of this Nowruz I am calling on Armenians, Turkmens, and Assyrians, Arabs and others as much as the Kurds to see the light of freedom and equality for themselves from the fires burning today.”

Looking from this perspective, what was heard at Diyarbakir yesterday and witnessed by millions could well be called “a declaration of peace and unity for Mesopotamia-Kurdistan-Anatolia.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the declaration by saying, “I find the appeal and invitation positive. The messages at Diyarbakir match our messages,” but he also expressed a reservation: “Of course, what is important is their application.”

Was there any missing element in Ocalan’s long-awaited declaration? Yes, there was.  He did not give a timeline, a calendar or indication of a method for “withdrawal beyond the borders” that was marked by the prime minister as vital and “evidence of the beginning of the process.” He did not once utter the words “cease-fire” and “non-hostility.”

In a nutshell, all these monthlong speculations, including mine, were left hanging. Is it conceivable that the date of withdrawal, its calendar and its methods were not discussed in the months long discussions at Imrali? Certainly not.

Then what? This either means that Ocalan and the government have not agreed on a timeline, calendar and method or Ocalan and his organization, especially Kandil [military command] have not reached a detailed accord on scheduling and methods. Perhaps Ocalan is “holding his cards close to his chest” and not showing his hand. This will have to be dealt with in the negotiations process. He may wish to see the steps the state and the government will take.

I also noted that in his declaration he did not use the past tense by saying ”An era is finished, and a new one begins.” It may be significant that he chose to say, “A new era is beginning, a new page is opening.”

So? We are only at  the very beginning, and there is a long and tough road ahead. Perhaps the biggest banner in Diyarbakir unconsciously reflected this reality. It said: “No peace unless the leader is free.”

What is clear is that as of yesterday we will be searching for a solution through dialogue and negotiations in an environment where the guns are silent.

Just think, a couple of months ago we could not even dream that Newroz 2013 would be celebrated like this in Diyarbakir.
By: Cengiz Çandar. Translated from Radikal (Turkey)