“Those who control the present control the past”*
In 1969 when I was posted to Ankara, the word Kurd was almost a taboo in Turkey. Kurds were called mountain Turks. But the truth was brought home to me very vividly a few months after my arrival when after a long tour of the Black Sea coast including Samsun, Trabzon and cutting via Erzurum (cold and gloomy) and Bingol I and family drove into Diyarbakir, with its black rock walls, the largest Kurdish city (although some people claim that Istanbul, a mega polis of 12 million, might have surpassed it in the number of Kurds). After installing my family in the hotel I came out to look for a restaurant. Lo! I was surrounded by five six young boys singing Kurdish songs and repeating ‘Kurdum, Kurdum’ (I am a Kurd, in Turkish).
I visited Diyarbakir a few times more, the last time in 1997.
Turkey’s Kurdish problem is as old as the establishment of the secular Republic by Kemal Ataturk. The Kurds have inhabited the east and south east of Turkey much before the Turkish tribes started arriving in from central Asia in 11th century. Even now the percentage of Turkish citizens who came from Turkistan in central Asia would be less than 15%.
As late as around 1980 a Turkish minister was charged when he said that there were Kurds in Turkey and he was a Kurd. It was in end 1980s that president Turgut Ozal publicly proclaimed the presence of Kurds in Turkey and admitted to his own part Kurdish blood. It is suspected that he was poisoned by those who believe in the unitary state since he was trying to find a solution to the vexing problem which had enflamed a few years earlier.
The current Islamist AKP has instituted an enquiry into Ozal’s death. Hopefully it will not be to further humiliate the proud Turkish armed forces, which along with Republican Peoples Party established by Kemal Ataturk and virulently pan Turanian party, the MHP (National Action party) oppose concessions to Kurds on even matters of culture and language. The continuing AKP tirade and actions against the military could one day lead to a blowback. In Sunni Muslim states, the struggle between the ruler and cleric continues (Prophet Mohammad was both the religious leader and the military commander) at the moment the military is on the back foot in Turkey as well as in Pakistan and Egypt.
The Kurdish rebellion against the state was led by Abdullah Ocalan (Ojalan) and began in early 1980s with the Marxist Kurdish Labour party (PKK) as the vehicle.
Part I, below covers the period from the beginning of the insurgency and the capture, sentencing and imprisonment of Ocalan in 1999.
*During the rule of the secular parties in Turkey until 2002, history of Turkey during its Anatolian past was not highlighted and of the Byzantine/ Roman etc. era glossed over. As if the history began with arrival of the Turkish tribes into Anatolia in 11th century. Since the arrival of Justice and Development party (AKP) in end 2002 and Islamisation the republican era is being glossed over.
Abdullah Ocalan and Turkey’s Kurdish Problem
Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocala (c=j), sentenced to death for treason on 29th June 1999 after a trial by a Turkish Tribunal at the Imrali island (where coincidentally Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his two colleagues were hanged after the 1960 military takeover), represents the violent face of resistance since millennia by a minority tribe, community or a nation against forced assimilation by majority ethnic, linguistic or religious groups. In view of Turkey’s laws, its judicial system and the fever pitch passions aroused against its enemy number one, with masses baying for Ocalan’s blood, the death sentence was not surprising. Since 1984, Ocalan led PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) rebellion for a Kurdish state in South and East of Turkey has already cost over 45,000 lives, mostly Kurds including 12000 female cadres and also includes over five thousand soldiers. Thousands of Kurdish villages have been bombed, destroyed, abandoned or relocated and millions of Kurds have been moved or migrated to shanty towns in South, East and West wards. Added to the migration for economic reasons, half the Kurdish population now lives in Western Turkey, making disentangling of the two communities extremely difficult. With 1/3rd of Turkish army tied up in South East, the cost of countering the insurgency has mounted to $6 to $8 billion per year, shattered the economy of the region and brought charges of police and military brutality and human rights violations in the West to which Turkey is linked through NATO and OECD. It has also harmed its chances of joining EU, with which it has a Customs Union. The consequences of Ocala’s sentence carried out or not will be a major defining moment in the history of the Republic. Already April 1999 Elections have highlighted an upsurge of nationalism and a swing for ultra-nationalist National Action party (MHP), giving it second slot from nowhere and the top slot to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s Democrat Left Party (DSP) for his Government’s successful hounding and capture of Ocalan, further polarizing Turkey’s already fractured polity.
The problem was brought to a head when late last year Turkey, hoping to give a hammer blow to the Kurdish rebellion, threatened war on Syria to force out Ocalan and PKK, sheltered in Syria as a lever against Turkey for denial of its fair share of Euphrates waters and irredentist claims over Hatay province annexed to Turkey in 1939 (but still shown within Syrian maps). Egypt and others including Iran helped defuse the situation but a somewhat isolated Syria had to expel Ocalan, who first went to the Russian Federation and then to Rome looking for asylum. The Italians instead arrested him on a German warrant. But sensing further mayhem and the strife it would create among its Kurdish and Turkish population, FRG got cold feet and did not extradite him. Nor was he extradited to Turkey causing bad blood between Turkey and EU. In mysterious circumstances with some Greek assistance Ocalan then disappeared looking for a safe haven but found none. He was eventually apprehended in Nairobi on 16 Feb 1999 by Turkish agents assisted by other countries and brought handcuffed to a rapturous Turkey. His capture was followed by violence and demonstrations in Turkey and Europe, where Kurds number 850,000 among 4 million Turkish immigrants (3 million in FRG alone of which nearly half a million are Kurds).
Majority of Kurds in Turkey would be satisfied with cultural autonomy but the hounding of Ocalan, touched an emotional chord uniting Kurds all over the world against their persecution over millennia and suppression of their aspirations for autonomy and freedom, dashed time and again. The Kurdish nation totaling over 25 million straddles mostly the mountainous regions of Turkey (14 in 70 million), Iran (8 out of 70 million), Iraq (4 out of 20 million) and with more than half million in Syria and another half million in Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Kurds are an Aryan Iranian people caught up in ethnic upheavals and intermingling of Aryan, Turkic and Semitic races going on since two millennia from the Eurasian steppes to the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Arabian Sea. But Kurds have lived in the region since they shifted from the steppes in 2nd millennium and some can perhaps claim Kassites and Mitannis as their forefathers. Most descend from the Iranian Medes. They were mentioned as the Kurduchoi who had harassed Xenophon and his Ten Thousand retreating towards the Black Sea from Babylon in 401 BC.
Turks started moving into Anatolia only in 11th Century after the Byzantine defeat at Manzikert. In spite of the long stay in the region, the Kurds, most Sunni Muslims, have failed to carve out a kingdom, barring petty dynasties at Diyarbakir and Kermanshah region during 10th and 11th centuries and some principalities during early 19th century. Salahaddin remains their greatest medieval hero. They have been kept divided, abused and exploited as pawns by the ruling Persian, Turkish or Arab empires and colonial powers, enjoying autonomy only when the Empires were weak. Sunni Ottomans granted them autonomy and used them to guard the frontiers against Shea Safaris of Iran. Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria might have adversary relations with each other but when it comes to Kurds they close ranks but throughout history whenever suppressed the Kurds become outlaws and take to the mountains.
Belonging to Iranian family, Kurdish is spoken in 5 dialects and many sub-dialects but the divisions are reflected not only in the dialects or the countries the Kurds inhabit. Differences among them have persisted throughout history .In North Iraq the Kurds are split among Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Jalal Talebani and Kurdish Democratic Movement (KDM) of Masud Barzani who have been fighting each other since decades. But the Iraqi Kurds, even when divided have nevertheless, enjoyed some semblance of autonomy first under the British mandate, then the leftist regime of Brig Kassem and even under the kid glove and poisoned sword treatment of Saddam Hussain, with an almost free hand during Iran-Iraq War and then US led protection after the Gulf War. Thus in spite of the Kurdish identity having been suppressed in the unitary Turkish state, the idea has been kept alive across in Iraq.
The Iranians have manipulated Iraqi Kurds as had the Russians the Iranian Kurds during the 2ndWorld War encouraging them to declare the Mahabad Republic, which after the Russian withdrawal in 1946 was annihilated. Iran gives shelter to Iraqi Kurds and PKK and supplies them with arms. In return after the 1979 Khomeini revolution the Iraqis supported Iranian Kurds. But unlike Iraq, Iran and elsewhere, the Kurds of Turkey are the best integrated with other citizens. Many have moved west wards in recent decades, making Istanbul, with over 1 million Kurds one of the largest Kurdish cities. Unfortunately the Kurds have been subjected to growing harassment and discriminations since the Kurdish insurgency began, although they enjoy equal legal rights. Ataturk’s right hand man Ismet Pasha, later President had Kurdish blood as did President Turgut Ozal. The former Foreign Minister and the Parliament Speaker Hikmet Cetin, a full blooded Kurd is another of many such examples of prominent Kurds in Turkey.
However, the 1990-91 Gulf War proved to be a water shed in the evolution of the Kurdish problem. The current nebulous and ambiguous situation in North Iraq came about when at the end of the War, US President George Bush without perhaps consulting the coalition’s Arab Allies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait encouraged the Kurds (and the hapless Shias in South) to revolt against Saddam’s Sunni Arab regime. Turkey, as it would have given ideas to its own Kurds, Saudi Arabia and others opposed the creation of a Kurdish state in the north and a Shia one in south Iraq. The latter would have only strengthened Shia Iran. The hapless Iraqi Kurds and Shias paid a heavy price. In the background of the 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds and international media coverage of their pitiable condition, escaping Saddam Hussein’s forces in March 1991 led to the creation of a protected zone in North Iraq patrolled by US and British warplanes. The Kurds have since even elected a Parliament, which did not function. But Barzani and Talebani ran almost autonomous administrations in their areas; much too Turkish disquiet as this also allows PKK a free run. An attempt by PKK in 1993 to have an understanding with Barzani, who is sympathetic to PKK, soon came apart. Many times Iraqi Kurds have cooperated with Turkish military in its many punitive forays against PKK in North Iraq. But the attitude of Iraqi Kurds to PKK, in spite of differing outlook and philosophy remains ambivalent but their natural sympathy cannot be in doubt.
President Turgut Ozal, confident after turning around the Turkish economy, perhaps looking for a larger role in the region by bringing Iraqi Kurds under Turkish control, softened the rigors against his own Kurds. He publicly proclaimed in1991 that there were 12 million Kurds in Turkey and allowed them use of Kurdish in speech and music. Earlier in 1989 acknowledgement of his Kurdish ancestry had ended the legal taboo on the use of word “Kurd” since 1924. The Kurds had to be called Mountain Turks. On this writer’s first visit in 1969 to Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city, he was soon accosted by urchins singing Kurdish songs and muttering defiantly ‘Kurdum !Kurdum’ (I am Kurd ) As recently as 1979, when a former Cabinet Minister for Public Housing said that there were Kurds in Turkey and he himself was a Kurd, he was charged and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment. In 1924 the Kurds were also debarred from adopting Kurdish names so they take on Arabic ones. They, therefore, found Turkish protests hypocritical when Bulgaria forced its Turkish origin citizens to take on Bulgarian names in late 1980s.
Not only Ozal but many Turks remain fascinated with the dream of ‘getting back’ Ottoman province of Mosul and Kirkuk; which were included within the borders of the Republic by the National Pact of 1919. The oil rich Mosul region was annexed to Iraq by the British in 1925 much to Turkish unhappiness after the ceasefire. At the same time Turks remain equally apprehensive of an evolution of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq which will act as a magnet for its Kurds. In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War Turkey lost out much instead of gaining. The closure of Iraqi pipeline, economic sanctions and loss of trade with Iraq, which used to pump in billions of US dollars into the economy and provide employment to hundreds of thousands, with 5000 trucks roaring up and down to Iraq, has only exacerbated the economic and social problems in the Kurdish heartland and the center of the rebellion.
Who is Abdullah Ocalan!
Nicknamed Apo (uncle in Kurdish), Ocalan was born in 1949 at Omerli, a small town on Euphrates in Urfa (ancient Edessa). His family took the surname of Ocalan (avenger) having rebelled against Ataturk’s Republican Turkey in 1920s. One of seven siblings, Ocalan claims a Turkish grandmother and some Arab blood too and was greatly influenced by his strong willed mother. With mixed population in South Turkey, many people speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic.
More fluent in Turkish than Kurdish, Ocalan was a bright student and after the usual religious education in the village Mekteb, at which he excelled, he won a scholarship to the prestigious Political Science Faculty at Ankara, a breeding ground for Turkey’s intellectuals, civil servants and even politicians. In the heady days of early 1970s after the Paris students uprising it had become a center of leftism. To begin with, Ocalan was an admirer of Ataturk but the total suppression of ethnic or cultural pluralism as if Kurdish history and identity did not exist and a spell in jail, following a crackdown on radical students after the 1971 military intervention, where he held discussions with similar minded Kurdish students, turned him into a hardened Kurdish nationalist.
Ocalan took the first tentative steps in 1974 to initiate a Kurdish liberation movement with 6 others at Ankara. But PKK (in Kurdish - Partia Karkaran-e Kurdish) - an alliance of workers, peasants and intellectuals for a democratic independent Kurdistan based on Marxist – Leninist principles was officially founded with 12 others in the village of Lice in Diyarbakir on 27 Nov 1978 . The circumstances of its origins, tribalism, feudalism, the grinding poverty of the region compared to the growing prosperity in Western Turkey makes Marxism an abiding ideology which attracts poorer but educated youth of both sexes. The first attack, unsuccessful, was made in 1979 on a Kurdish MP Mehmet Bucak, now a pro-establishment anti-PKK Kurdish clan leader? But the real violent incidents, which brought recognition to PKK were carried out in 1984 in Sirit and Hakkari near the Iraq-Iran border in which two soldiers and a dozen civilians were killed and PKK propaganda was broadcast. From a few hundred in 1984 the number of PKK cadres has now gone up to many thousands and had peaked in the first half of 1990s when PKK was churning out 300 fighters every quarter. If the state has used all brutal power at its command the PKK has fought back savagely by killing government village guards, teachers, doctors, village headmen, apart from innocents and the military and police soldiers. Brutal reprisals and killings by security forces brought in thousands of volunteers to PKK.
Ocalan left Turkey for Lebanon just before the 1980 military intervention preceding which in two years of almost total anarchy, over five thousand people had been killed in clashes between leftists and rightists (grey wolves) –the latter now form the MHP cadres and were then encouraged by the establishment to counter communism. The military junta feared that Islamic revivalism and Kurdish nationalism will undermine the state. So it banned many political parties and debarred politicians, came heavily on media, politicians, students and Kurdish radicals. But the prisons proved to be academies for new recruits to the PKK cause. Ocala first contacted PLO leftists but was soon adopted by the Syrians, who provided him a residence in Damascus and the Beck valley for training his cadres. He spent some time in GDR, but mostly functioned from Syria and Lebanon
APO turned out to be a ruthless and cruel leader, with a charismatic hold over his followers and in spite of never returning to Turkey, he is revered by his dedicated followers and feared and obeyed by most. Except for 1993 cease-fire interregnum the PKK-State violence increased from 1991 and continued unabated till 1996 reaching peaks during the 1992 Nauru and after the break down of March 1993 cease-fire. But in spite of the success of the Turkish forces in curbing PKK, in areas bordering Iraq and Syria i.e. Mardin, Nusaybin, Cizre and around Diyarbakir, Tunceli, the Turks dare not venture out after the dusk.
The roots of the Kurdish problem
The roots of the Kurdish problem lie buried deep in the Turkish psyche. The seeds were sown during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Turkish Republic after the 1st World War. The Ottomans granted religious freedom to its Christian, Armenian and other millets with autonomy in their personal laws and education. Turks complain that the Christian West used the stick of religion and nationalism in Eastern Europe to break up the Empire during the 19th and early 20th century. The first to leave were the Balkan Christians and in late 19th century it was feared that even the Kurds might desert like the Egyptians. But the last straw was the revolt by Muslim Arabs, for the Ottomans always were Muslims first and then Turks. In fact the word ‘Turk’ until Ataturk endowed it with dignity – How happy is he who says he is a Turk - now written all over Turkey - was used as a term of contempt by the Ottoman elite.
Hence Turks manifest a pervasive distrust of any cultural or autonomous movement that might lead to fragmentation of the unitary Republic. It revives memories of western conspiracies against Turkey and the ungratified 1920 Treaty of Sevres forced on the Sultan by the First world War victorious Allies which would have divided Anatolia providing outright independence to the Armenians and autonomy to Kurds leading to independence and zones of influence for France, Italy and Greece. The Ataturk led War of Independence and a new Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 did away with any division and there is no mention of Armenia or Kurds in it–not even their language Kurdish but it permitted Geeks, Armenians and others to speak their tongues.
To begin with Ataturk himself had talked of Turks, Kurds, Lazes and others but a dramatic change came over in 1923 -24 and he opted for a unitary state - Perhaps, because of the British detachment of the Mosul region, ambivalent attitude of many Kurds and minor revolts after the Treaty of Sevres. Free from fissiparous forces he wanted to concentrate on modernization and reforms, many against religious obscurantism. In 1924, he abolished the Caliphate and the Kurds were just turned into non-persons; their language, music, dress and culture, even use of Kurdish first names made illegal. The conservative Kurds led by Sheikh Said, a follower of Nakshbandi sect (as are many present day Islamist leaders like former Prime Minister Necemettin Erbakan) who had earlier enjoyed almost total autonomy and religious freedom in their domains rebelled against the ungodly laic state in 1925. The fledgling Republic, under pressure from the radicals, suppressed ruthlessly with ‘exemplary ‘punishments the rebellions, some of which lingered on into 1930s e g in Tunceli. (Dershim). The influential Kurdish families were relocated to Western Turkey, which were rehabilitated back only after the introduction of multi-party democracy and slackening of unitary state’s heavy hand in 1950s.
Turkey’s Constitution describes itself as a Laic state, which according to many is more Jacobin than genuinely secular. It is based on nationalist philosophy of Zia Gokalp, himself a Kurd, who unfortunately used for laic /secular the word “la din” i.e. anti- religion. After the founding of the Republic the Christian minorities of Turkey were exchanged with Turks from Greece and the remaining squeezed out later. Few left in South East are leaving now. So the concept of secularism in Turkey has somehow become anti- religion and negative and tends to become anti this or anti that and intolerant.
The Sunni dominated police establishment have regularly harassed the Shiite Alexis, ironically perhaps the original Turcoman who helped conquer Anatolia and now the Kurds. But perhaps the problem lies in the fatal belief of the establishment; a curious amalgam of military led secular elite and Sunni dominated interior ministry organization to resolve problems by force as a compromise might be seen as weakness. It considered Islamic revivalism and Kurdish rebellion as two major threats to the security, stability and integrity of the State. But left of Center Social Democrat Party (SHP) then led by Ismet Pashas’ intellectual son Erdal Inonu (who became Deputy PM in Suleyman Demirels’ coalition Government (in 1991-95) had come to the conclusion in 1990 based on a study that neither Kurdish nationalism nor Islamic fundamentalism posed a threat to the Republican order. (But since end 2002 when Islamists AKP un expectedly won a thumping almost two/third majority with only 37 % of the votes cast, Islamisation of the secular republic has begun). Many other subsequent reports had also confirmed the same conclusions, underlining that most Kurds want respect for their identity, use of Kurdish language for education and Television and cultural freedom.
Apart from foreign hands, especially of the neighbors, the Kurdish problem has now acquired complex dimensions attempts to even look at the problem dispassionately have come to naught. Unfortunately Ozal, who helped bring out the problem into the open died in April, 1993. Had he lived on he might have found a solution as he had wanted to do - ‘a last service to the nation’. Soon after his death, the unilateral cease fire by PKK, tacitly observed by the Government, broke down when in May, 1993 near Bingol 33 unarmed soldiers were massacred by PKK. At first the situation was not clear but PKK countered that the State had not keep its ‘promise’ and had continued to lean heavily on militants and Ocalan owned it. New Prime Minister Tansu Chiller’s probing attempt in 1974 to look at the Basque model was brushed aside by the military Pashas and President Demirel, who has shown much less vision than Ozal in handling the problem.
Many analysts feel that under the pretext of guarding Ataturk’s unitary state, any solution to the problem has been thwarted by the vested interests, which have also been cited as the main obstacle for keeping the Islamists out of power as the secular elite does not wish to share the cake with the rising conservative classes from the heartland of Anatolia and elsewhere, who support Islamic parties. There is also considerable leakage in the billions of dollars spent in security operations against the Kurds and scandals crop up from time to time. Like rebellions elsewhere PKK has been accused of making money from the drug trade (also from donations, extortions and taxes in Turkey and Europe) but many in the establishment have also been accused of the same charge, with scandals cropping up from time to time. Many, including politicians talk of the long shadow over democracy of Turkish military, the self-styled guardians of Ataturk’s unitary and secular state, making political solutions difficult.
The Kurdish problem also affected adversely Turkey’s aim of becoming full member of EU, although it might not be the real cause. Apart from the fear of 70 million Muslim Turks having a run of their countries, European diplomats in private confess that they were happy to have Europe’s border at Bosporus and would not like to extend it to states ruled by the likes of Saddam Hussein, Ali Khameini and Hafez El-Assad. Because of Turkey’s continued importance for NATO , PKK’s Marxist philosophy and Soviet support earlier, PKK remains an anathema to USA but Europeans with Kurdish populations in their countries are more sympathetic to their plight. Peaceful espousal of the cause has been allowed by Europeans in spite of Turkish protests but when the Kurds have resorted to violence and started attacking Turkish interests as in 1993, they have come down heavily. Europe has provided a safe haven to expelled and persecuted Kurdish MPs and others. Many Europeans Parliamentarians and others have extended vocal support to the Kurdish cause raising Turkish heckles and accusations of western conspiracy. Mrs. Dannielle Mitterand was a very steadfast supporter and helped organize in 1989 the first international conference on Kurdish problem in Paris. But compared to say Kosovo, Europeans in general and USA in particular have been soft on Turkey’s human rights record, because of the need to humor an ally, who is also a useful buffer against the volatile Middle East and for its links and influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Forming 20% of the population, normally 80 to 100 Kudish deputies get elected in a house of 550, but their cause is not taken up by their parties and they are not allowed to form a Kurdish party to ventilate their grievances politically. Such attempts lead to harassment, removal of immunities, jailing and even killings of MPs and their supporters. Kurdish parties like HEP (Kurdish Labor party), DEP (Democracy party) and HADEP (People’s Democracy party) were obstructed and suppressed and their members harassed, jailed and even killed. Many times the radicals across the board set the Agenda discouraging any peaceful and meaningful discussion of the problem in the Parliament or outside. Since early 1990s attempts to explain the Kurdish view-point through media by newspapers like Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda), Ozgur Ulke (Free Country) and others have been stopped through harassment, imprisonment and even outright murder of journalists and distributors with connivance or help from the establishment. Mainline media was punished for writing about Kurds, their problems and even mishandling of the rebellion. When Urfa born Kurdish singer Ibrahim complained that he could not sing in his mother tongue he had hell to pay .Kurds and even Turks including famous writers like Yassar Kemal continue to be harassed and imprisoned for writing about Kurds and their problems.
But the Government statements and action before and after the verdict of death for Ocalan showed caution and circumspection maintaining that the law take will take its course. The Parliament even replaced the Tribunal’s third military judge with a civilian one. Although the death penalty remains on the statutes book, since 1984, of many scores convicted to death not one has been hanged.The Ocalan verdict would have been challenged in the Supreme Court and then go for ratification via its Judicial Committee to the Parliament and finally to the President. And then an appeal can be made to the European Court. Any show of leniency in the highly charged atmosphere seemed improbable, but with time consumed in legal formalities it might be possible to let Ocalan live on. Making him a martyr would have been is a terrible mistake, apart from re-igniting the insurgency.
Unlike the violent protests in Turkey, Europe and elsewhere against Ocalan’s capture, the reaction after the verdict was muted and peaceful barring some violent acts in Turkey. No doubt, Ocalan was in custody and promised to work for peace and bring down PKK fighters from the mountains. Unlike some others (reportedly ZA Bhutto) awaiting a certain death sentence, from the glass cage, Ocalan’s sober performance was admirable. He came out as a cool and unperturbed leader ,clear and consistent in his defense Apart from 1993 conditional cease-fire, he had offered the olive branch many times in 1994 and 1995. The first offer was made in an interview in mainline Hurriyet newspaper in 1990. After the rapturous joy in Turkey at Ocalan’s capture and an orgy of celebrations after the death verdict led in many cases by those who had lost a dear ones in the war against PKK, there was a feeling of the night after the binge, some signs of rethinking, even some softening of attitude towards the Kurds.
Poet philosopher PM Ecevit was opposed to death sentence in principle. He initiated steps for Repentance Law to pardon PKK cadres not involved in violent acts. The insurgency became much degraded on the ground. Ideological benefactor former USSR no longer exists. Syria was more interested in peace with Israel although its grouse about Euphrates water still remains. Greece burnt its fingers in the Nairobi incident. There has also been a chorus of demand from the West including USA against the hanging But political parties took rigid and some irreconcilable positions. There was always a danger of politicians outdoing each other in whipping up national fervor for short term political gains, specially the Ultra-nationalist MHP which recently rose like Phoenix. Many a times even when politicians had wanted to calm the situation the establishment puts spanners in the path e.g. the continued harassment in 1993 even when the state had tacitly accepted the PKK cease fire and the creation of the Hezbollah with its murderous squads in East against PKK, halted only when it started expanding to the West.
And the Republic instead of resolving problems politically resorts to legal measures i.e. closing down political parties; not only Islamic but others, even the one founded by Ataturk after the 1980 intervention and military takeovers or extra-constitutional means like military threats to force out elected Governments as in 1971 and 1997 was it confident enough and ready to address the underlying, social and economic causes of the rebellion i.e. the Kurdish aspirations for cultural autonomy and economic development of the region. Many analysts feel that after 75 years, the Republic has matured enough and is strong enough to resolve problems politically Turks must think and decide that while the Empire was built on the loyalty to the Turkish house of Osman and Islam, the Republic as a secular unitary state, with some loosening of state’s heavy hand and Jacobin attitude having taken place since 1950s, perhaps time has come for more flexibility in resolving problems through discussion and mutual accommodation. But many a times the Turks have the habit of turning logic upside down.
However Turkish PM Bulent Ecevit persuaded even his ultra nationalist coalition partner, National Action party, baying for Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan’s head, to delay sending for the Parliament’s consideration his death sentence, pending disposal of his appeal in European Human Rights Court, which might take up many years. A death sentence can be executed only after Turkey’s Parliament and President approve it. But while still on the statutes, not a single sentence has been carried out since 1984.
Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul. More than 1,000 Turkish military personnel are stationed on the island to guard him. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey in August 2002. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated articles 3, 5 and 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights by granting Ocalan no effective remedy to appeal his arrest and sentencing him to death without a fair trial. Ocalan's request for a retrial was refused by a Turkish court.
This piece was written in 2002 while I was resident at Bucharest. Part II will cover the effects of 2003 US led illegal invasion of Iraq and emergence of north Iraqi Kurdistan as an autonomous if not an almost independent entity and AKP’s effort to negotiate the problem with Ocalan following the foreign aided uprising in Syria, with Ankara taking a prominent role encouraged by US, UK and France and financially supported by petro and gas dollars from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Watch this space.