Kurdish youth: 'There are a thousand Apos left'

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

Images of the cruel treatment of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan by the Turkish government — without a peep of protest from the self-proclaimed champions of freedom and human rights in Washington, Europe and the capitalist media — are aimed at demoralising and humiliating the Kurdish people. It is no coincidence that Ankara has launched a wave of repression against Kurds in northern Kurdistan (southern Turkey) and southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq).

Ocalan is the only prisoner in an isolated island prison closed to all air and sea traffic, where he is being "interrogated". He is being held incommunicado and was denied access to his lawyers for 10 days. Ocalan faces the death penalty if convicted of "treason" and "terrorism".

Ocalan will be tried by three State Security Court judges. At least one judge will be a military officer, and there will be no jury. These courts have been denounced by Amnesty International and other organisations for often paying lip service to the rights of the defence and allowing into testimony statements extracted by coercion and torture.

Turkey's chauvinist mass media are continually showing images of Ocalan, handcuffed and blindfolded, being pushed around by commandos making sarcastic remarks. It is obvious that Ocalan, who has a heart condition, is disoriented and distressed. Ocalan's Dutch lawyer, Britta Boehler, said on February 20 that she was sure her client would be tortured.

The Turkish regime has closed the borders to the country's south-east, refusing to allow journalists to enter the region where Kurds account for 80% of the population. The region is under martial law and is occupied by more than 200,000 Turkish troops and police.

News of Ocalan's seizure by Turkish commandos in Kenya on February 15, and Ocalan's public humiliation, have triggered widespread resistance in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. More than 1000 demonstrators have been arrested, according to Turkey's independent Human Rights Association.

Security forces opened fire on 100 protesters in the small town of Kiziltepe on February 19, killing one and wounding five. Protesters were also killed by troops in the south-eastern province of Mardin, in Batman in the south-east and in Mersin in the south.

On February 22, Kurdish shopkeepers in Diyarbakir, the main city in the south-east, closed their doors for three days in protest at Ocalan's kidnapping. The traders ignored soldiers' orders to open their shops.

In an attempt to lure Kurdish fighters to surrender, Turkey's PM Bulent Ecevit announced that a "repentance law" would be introduced after Turkey's April 18 general election. Lenient penalties and job training will be granted to fighters who turn themselves in and inform on their comrades.

Defiance

Ocalan's arrest and the wave of repression seem to be galvanising youth support for the PKK. The mood of defiance was captured well in a report by Reuters reporter Jon Hemming, writing from Kiziltepe on February 22. "Before Apo [Ocalan's nickname, which means "Uncle"] was caught some of the Kurds did not really care. They maybe denied they were Kurdish", one young man told Hemming, "but since he has been caught, everyone has become Kurdish. Everybody is angry."

"The Turks think it's all going to finish now but it is just starting", warned a youngster named Ali.

'They have caught one Apo but there are a thousand Apos left", said another youth, Halit.

Turkish authorities have arrested more than 1500 members of the legal Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HADEP) since Ocalan's arrest. The repression is a crude attempt to cripple HADEP and prevent it from winning a majority of votes in the south-east in the general election.

Protests have also been reported in Istanbul and other major Turkish cities where significant numbers of Kurdish workers live.

Up to 10,000 Turkish troops, backed by helicopter gun ships and warplanes, penetrated 15 kilometres across the border with Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels. The Turkish military claims to have killed 10 "terrorists". Ecevit announced a "partial withdrawal" on February 21.

Unprecedented support for Ocalan and the PKK has also been expressed among Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. On February 19, 1000 Kurds rallied outside the United Nations office in Tehran. There were also protests in Urumiyeh, in Iran's Kurdish north-west.

On February 22, Turkey closed a border crossing with Iran in response to protests inside Iranian Kurdistan, and Iranian police blocked a large protest in Sanandaj which violated a ban on demonstrations by the local governor.

In Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on February 19, 3000 local and Syrian Kurds chanted, "Ocalan, Mandela of the Kurds". In Sulaimanya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, on February 21, 4000 Kurds marched to the UN's northern Iraq office. In Armeia, on February 24, 1000 Kurds marched in Yerevan.

European crackdown

European governments have also cracked down on Kurdish activists. Kurdish and Turkish "guest" workers are super-exploited by Germany's capitalists. The government and bosses in Germany — and other parts of Europe — see the organisation of Kurdish workers by the PKK as a threat.

German Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, echoing his Christian Democratic Union opponents, has threatened Kurds who protest with deportation. Interior minister Otto Schily said he planned to tighten the law to make expulsions easier to obtain.

German police have arrested seven people who they claim are "key PKK figures". They are accused of inciting the many occupations of buildings associated with the Greek and Kenyan regimes in the wake of Ocalan's abduction. More than 2000 Kurds were arrested in Germany during the actions.

In "democratic" Germany, the PKK is outlawed. Despite this, German intelligence agencies claim the PKK has 11,000 members and 40,000 sympathisers within Germany's 400,000-500,000-strong Kurdish population.

"The Workers' Party was once marginal", Barbara John, Berlin's commissioner for the affairs of foreigners, told the February 19 New York Times, "but the various Kurdish associations have gradually been drawn toward it ... It is now the undisputed representative of the fight for autonomy."

The Belgian government on February 22 threatened to take action against the Kurdish satellite TV station Med-TV. Med-TV is watched by Kurds throughout Europe, the Middle East and Kurdistan. Watching it is illegal in Turkey.

The Belgian interior minister accused Med-TV of inciting violence against Turkey. Station chief Hikmet Tapak denied the charge, countering that the station merely reported the PKK's statements as it does those of other parties.

Meanwhile, in Germany on February 20, 7000 Kurds and their supporters mobilised in Bonn to protest the killing of three demonstrators by guards at the Israeli embassy earlier in the week. In Stuttgart, 3000 people attempted to march despite their protest being banned; 30 were arrested.

On the same day, 10,000 marched in Paris, 6000 in Stockholm, 4000 in Geneva, 3000 in Strasbourg, 3000 in Vienna and several thousand in London. On February 22, 4000 Kurds marched in Copenhagen. On February 24, 35,000 Kurds and their supporters marched in Rome and 10,000 marched in Berlin. German policedetained 44, mostly for displaying symbols of the banned PKK.

US complicity

Further evidence has emerged of Washington's key role in the abduction of Ocalan. Three Greek ministers were sacked by Prime Minister Costas Simitas as it became clear that they had conspired with the Turkish, Kenyan and US governments. PKK leaders charge that Simitas too was part of the conspiracy.

Serafeim Findanides, editor of the Greek daily Eleftherotypia, told the British Guardian on February 19 that Ocalan had been flown to Greece by a group of socialist MPs on February 2, after he had been turned away from Russia. Simitas immediately ordered Ocalan to be expelled and the news leaked to the CIA.

Findanides said: "At first, Washington wanted Athens to hand Ocalan straight over to the Turks. When [the Greek government] said it couldn't do that, the bargaining began and Kenya was chosen as a face-saving solution."

In an interview with the pro-military Turkish daily Hurriyet on February 19, Ecevit all but confirmed that the US tipped off Ankara of Ocalan's presence in Kenya. When asked if the information came from Washington, Ecevit replied: "I can't give a country name. But you can make your own guess."

The New York Times on February 20 published a detailed account of Washington's role. It stated that US intelligence agencies tracked Ocalan's every move following his expulsion from Syria last October. US pressure forced "nation after nation to refuse [Ocalan] sanctuary and to drive him into an increasingly desperate search for a city of refuge".

US agents in Kenya, reported the Times, "quickly discovered that Ocalan had arrived in Nairobi ... They placed the Greek embassy under surveillance and monitored Ocalan's cell phone conversations ... the surveillance information gave Turkish commandos the chance to capture Ocalan with the help of Kenyan security officers."