Ocalan's execution will trigger 'new uprising' warns PKK

June 23, 1999


Ocalan's execution will trigger 'new uprising' warns PKK

By Norm Dixon

The presidential council of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on June 10 warned the Turkish government and military that the Kurdish people would launch a "new uprising" if PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is executed.

Ocalan is being forced to participate in a carefully stage-managed show trial in Turkey. Prosecutors have demanded the death sentence if Ocalan is found guilty by the juryless, three-judge court on charges of "terrorism" and "treason". The trial, which began on May 31, was adjourned on June 8 until June 23.

From the moment Ocalan was kidnapped by Turkish special forces in Kenya on February 15 — with the help of US and Israeli intelligence services — the Turkish regime went to extraordinary lengths to prevent Ocalan communicating with his lawyers, his organisation and supporters. The clear aim was to prevent the formulation of a political defence strategy that would highlight the Kurdish people's right to national self-determination.

The Turkish authorities also set out to break Ocalan psychologically. After his capture, an obviously drugged Ocalan was paraded before the press bound and gagged in front of the Turkish flag.

He was then transported to the prison island of Imrali, which was cleared of its population of 250 common prisoners, and kept in isolation in a tiny cell with no natural light. Ocalan was under constant surveillance by mute, balaclava-clad soldiers. For the first 10 days of his detention, he was continuously interrogated without access to defence lawyers.

Defence lawyers and the PKK warned that Ocalan's treatment was affecting his mental state.

Even after access was finally granted, Ocalan's lawyers were not allowed to meet with their client in private to prepare his case. Ocalan was denied pens and paper and access to legal documents. His lawyers have been physically and verbally attacked by right-wing mobs and, on at least one occasion, by police as they attempted to travel to Imrali for the token 20-minute weekly meetings with their client.

Such harassment and humiliation have continued during the trial. Ocalan is confined to a bulletproof glass box and can communicate with the chief judge only via a microphone. He is unable to hear the proceedings or the arguments of the defence.

Proceedings have been dominated by the presence of disabled Turkish soldiers and the relatives of soldiers killed in the war against PKK fighters. The judges have allowed the 20 or so hand-picked relatives, and their lawyers, to viciously abuse and threaten the defence. Press and television coverage has focused on the emotional and chauvinistic outbursts of the relatives as they demand that Ocalan be executed.

On the fourth day of the trial, Ocalan's lawyers boycotted proceedings in protest at the harassment after they had been thrown out of their hotel on the mainland because its owner was threatened. No other hotel would give them rooms. They returned only after the government found rooms for them in a state-run guest house.

A request by the defence that the relatives of Kurds killed by the Turkish army also be allowed to attend the trial was rejected by the judges. More than 30,000 Kurdish civilians and rebels have been killed by the Turkish military since 1984, while around 5500 Turkish troops and pro-Ankara village guards have died.

While journalists attending are not allowed to take anything to the island, not even pencils, families of dead Turkish soldiers are permitted to bring photos of their dead, which they brandish during sessions. The families participate in the proceedings draped in the Turkish flag. On at least one occasion, the officials have had to physically prevent family members and their lawyers from attacking the defence team.

It is against this background that Ocalan's testimony should be judged. According to press reports, Ocalan declared in his opening statement to the court that, if his life was spared, he was ready to "serve the Turkish state" to bring about "peace and brotherhood" on the basis of a "democratic republic" that respects the Kurdish people's language and cultural rights. He warned that, should he be executed, "5000 suicide bombers are ready to die for me".

According the New York Times' Stephen Kinzer, one of only 20 journalists allowed to attend the trial, Ocalan said: "We want to give up the armed struggle and have full democracy, so the PKK can enter the political system. From this moment on, I don't want a single soldier or PKK militant to die. Barriers against the expression of Kurdish language and culture should be removed. The best policy would be to give the Kurds linguistic and cultural freedom. Kurds should not hesitate to use this democratic chance in the best way possible. I call on the state not to block the way ... I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed."

According to Kinzer, Ocalan also said: "I can bring the fighters down from the mountains in three months. The state cannot do it. Let us join together to end this danger. The PKK should see that the only solution is living together in a single country, together without weapons ... The best shelter for Kurds would be a democratic republic."

On June 2, the PKK presidential council issued a statement that endorsed Ocalan's call for a "democratic republic" but refused to lay down arms. It noted that Ocalan had been "held for three and a half months in conditions of intense psychological pressure and continuous interrogation ... The trial itself quite clearly reflects a situation of intense psychological pressure."

Despite these "stringent and negative conditions", the statement said that Ocalan's offer to work towards a democratic state was "mature, respectful and responsible".

The PKK warned, "If the Turkish republic and the various interlocutors in the region and the world think this is weakness, they will be badly mistaken. We ... are ready to fight on in the same way we have for 15 years. However, we say 15 years of war is more than enough."

On June 3, Ocalan proposed that, if the Turkish government was prepared to cooperate, he would suggest to the PKK that it take part in a peace conference. However, the Turkish military's general staff, in a statement issued on June 7, rejected out of hand any talks with the PKK.

In its June 10 statement, the PKK presidential council said: "President Abdullah Ocalan has presented a project of some considerable extent for a Democratic Republic of Turkey. He has shown the correct way for the freeing of Kurdish society and the resolution of the Kurdish question ... on the basis of peace and fraternity ... Our party will support and participate in any new steps taken towards negotiations on that basis."

However, the PKK warned: "The Kurdish people clearly understand that the execution of president Apo [Ocalan] demanded by the prosecutor at Imrali means, in reality, a demand for the execution of all of us as a people, a new genocide. There can be no doubt that the Kurdish people will resist such genocide to the bitter end. Let us make it clear: a death sentence at Imrali after a 15-year uprising will mean the beginning of an even greater and continuous uprising [into] the 21st century."

Meanwhile, between May 31 and June 12, according to the Turkish military, 55 Kurdish rebels have been killed in clashes in the south-eastern provinces, near Turkey's borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria. Dozens of Turkish troops have also been killed.

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