Resistance and repression continue in Kurdistan

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Resistance and repression continue in Kurdistan

By Norm Dixon

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has responded to the abduction of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, by vowing to escalate the struggle for national self-determination. This was the decision of more than 300 delegates who attended the party's sixth congress, held clandestinely in northern Kurdistan (south-east Turkey) recently. Ocalan was unanimously re-elected PKK president.

The congress vowed that the PKK would ensure that popular protests and uprisings within Turkey are intensified "to a level able to defeat the enemy". PKK members and supporters in other countries were urged to organise peaceful mass actions.

The Kurdish newsagency DEM, based in Germany, reported on March 3 that PKK fighters had killed 29 Turkish soldiers in clashes in the previous 10 days. The Turkish government had earlier reported the deaths of 16 guerillas but said nothing about government casualties.

DEM reported on March 7 that Kurdish guerillas shot down a US-supplied army helicopter in the south-eastern province of Hakkari, killing 20 soldiers on board. DEM also reported the deaths of another eight Turkish soldiers in Siirt province on the same day. The Turkish military denied the reports.

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was taking no chances when he visited Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkish Kurdistan, on March 7. More than 3000 police and soldiers were deployed to protect Ecevit and eight government ministers.

Meanwhile, the Turkish regime's repression against Kurdish people continues. The government is also attacking democratic rights throughout Turkey.

On March 2, justice minister Selcuk Oztek ordered a crackdown on media coverage of the events surrounding the seizure of Ocalan and the April general elections. Oztek warned that prosecutors would strictly enforce draconian laws against "separatism". Action will be taken, he said, "against those conducting political or cultural separatism, and who publish messages, press statements or images which constitute a crime".

On March 4, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused the Turkish government of limiting coverage of Ocalan's trial and developments in Turkey's Kurdish south-east. RSF reported that some reporters were beaten or arrested while attempting to cover unrest in Kurdistan. Reporters from left-wing and pro-Kurdish publications were singled out, RSF said.

On March 8, police in the western city of Izmir arrested 230 people who attempted to mark International Women's Day. Those detained were members of the legal Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HADEP) who had organised the IWD events.

In the city of Izmit, east of Istanbul, 90 people were detained on March 7 after they protested against the detention of 18 people over a statement issued by trade unions in connection with IWD. Turkish authorities claim that IWD protests in the past have become pro-Kurdish processions.

Since the kidnapping of Ocalan, independent sources estimate that more than 2000 people have been arrested in Diyarbakir, including senior trade union officials and officials of the Turkey Human Rights Foundation, who reported being tortured and beaten.

On March 8, the Constitutional Court rejected a government motion to bar HADEP from standing in the April 18 general election. The court is yet to rule on an application to outlaw HADEP over alleged links with the PKK.

HADEP will not disclose the identity of most of its 5000 local, regional and national candidates before polling day because it would place their lives in danger. HADEP vice-president Ali Hidir Dogan said known candidates had been threatened by police and fascist gangs. Candidates were being arrested with increasing frequency.

In what appears to be a crude disinformation campaign, pro-military newspapers are publishing lengthy "confessions" by Ocalan. Despite it being illegal to publish leaked statements of detainees awaiting trial, Ankara has refused to confirm or deny the published statements or to take action against the newspapers.

Ocalan, kidnapped in Kenya by Turkish commandos on February 15, is being held incommunicado on a remote prison island. He is being interrogated continuously by the military and is believed to be under the influence of forcibly administered drugs. Ocalan's lawyers say he is being tortured psychologically; they have been allowed to visit their client only once — for just 20 minutes.

A few brave commentators have pointed out that Ocalan's "confessions" seem to be almost word-for-word transcriptions of Turkish authorities' accusations. They include statements about the PKK being funded and trained by the Greek government, and the unlikely claim that Italy's intelligence service supplied the PKK with landmines.

Other "leaked" statements are designed to demoralise and disillusion the Kurdish people. One headline had Ocalan pleading: "Don't hang me, I'll tell you everything".

The unauthenticated statements are being used to whip up a chauvinist witch-hunt. "We have been receiving a steady stream of death threats ever since several leading dailies began publishing so-called confessions from Ocalan claiming that our organisation is linked to the PKK", Husnu Ondul of the Turkish Human Rights Association told the March 5 Washington Post.

Many of Ocalan's lawyers are members of the association. Ocalan's lead lawyers, Ahmet Zeki Okcuoglu and Hatice Korkut, have been threatened and assaulted. Turkish police have refused to provide them with security.

Organisations and individuals that newspapers claim Ocalan is implicating include: the Islamic human rights group Mazlumder, HADEP, prominent Kurdish businessman Halis Toprak, Kurdish pop star Ibrahim Tatlises and Necmettin Erbakan, former Turkish prime minister and leader of the Islamic Welfare Party.