DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — The jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on Thursday called for a cease-fire and ordered all his fighters off Turkish soil, in a landmark moment for a newly energized effort to end three decades of armed conflict with the Turkish government.
Since its start late last year, the peace effort has transfixed a Turkish public traumatized by a long and bloody conflict that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives and fractured society along ethnic lines. While there have been previous periods of cease-fire between Turkey and Mr. Ocalan’s group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., never before has there been so much support at the highest levels of both the Turkish and Kurdish leadership.
“We reached the point where weapons should go silent and ideas speak,” Mr. Ocalan wrote in a letter read out to jubilant crowds gathered in the Kurdish heartland here in southern Turkey. “A new era starts when politics, instead of guns, comes to the forefront.”
For the Turkish government, seeking peace within its borders is a step toward realizing its ambition to be a regional power broker. For the Kurds, the call for peace carries with it the hope of more rights under a new constitution and the freedom to express a separate identity within a country that for decades denied their existence, forbade them to speak their language and abused their activists.
The declaration by Mr. Ocalan was seen as a critical confidence-building step in the peace process. It brought ecstatic celebration among the huge crowds gathered outside Diyarbakir to celebrate Nowruz, the traditional spring festival. Lawmakers read out statements in both Turkish and Kurdish as waves of yellow, red and green, the traditional Kurdish colors, rippled through the masses.
The deal is far from done, however. Notably, while Mr. Ocalan called for militants to retreat to bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, he did not order them to disarm. And a long process of constitutional reform and negotiations over Kurdish prisoners lies ahead.