The Turkish government sent parliament legislation that protects officials working on negotiations with Kurds in the southeastern region of the country, signaling a major shift in policy.

For years, the Turkish government has opposed Kurdish ambitions both in Iraq and at home. Since the early 1990s, Kurdish people living in southeastern Turkey have struggled, sometime violently, for independence from the central government.

The legislation is an indication that the Turkish government may be ready to end the conflict between the two parties. It could also signal a shift in the way the government views the possibility of an Iraqi Kurdistan.

Since the conflict in Iraq began, analysts speculated whether Turkey would move closer to supporting an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. Some said supporting an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would raise the risk that Kurds on both sides of the border could unite, threatening Turkey's hold on a large portion of its territory. Others suggested that if Turkey united with Iraqi Kurdistan it could benefit economically from increased oil trade.

The Turkish government has sidestepped the question of supporting the Kurdish government in Iraq. But Thursday's proposed legislation could be the first step in kick-starting that discussion. 

The proposed legislation would give legal protection to officials negotiating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK). The legislation is supposed to persuade Kurdish militants to give up their fight. It authorizes “necessary measures for the members of the [PKK] organisation who give up arms to come home and adapt and participate to social life.”