DAVID MORGAN shows how the death sentence on PKK leader Ocalan looks set to provoke a new Kurdish uprising if it ends in execution.
Macabre scenes in Turkey greeted news of the death sentence pronounced on Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan on 29 June, a verdict that came as no surprise to anyone closely following what has been a farce of a trial. Turks, whipped up into the frenzy of a lynch mob by the Turkish media since Ocalan’s capture in February, paraded through the streets brandishing the hangman’s noose.
As soon as the Imrali Island military court revealed the verdict, prosecuting counsel and the handpicked audience of Turkish military families immediately stood to attention and sang the national anthem. Triumphalist celebrations were held across the country.
So far the Kurdish response, to an outcome that was a foregone conclusion all along, has been restrained. They were waiting to see whether Turkey actually carries out the verdict. So far there have been a few sporadic attacks inside Turkey but security measures have been stepped up in reparation for more intensified resistance.
There was a spontaneous march to the US Embassy in London and a brief sit down protest in Oxford Street as soon as news of the verdict broke. In Germany there was a spate of firebomb attacks on Turkish businesses. Mass rallies were held across Europe on 4th July, ironically American Independence Day, including one of some 15,000 in Trafalgar Square consisting almost exclusively of Kurdish protestors.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leadership had earlier warned Ankara that an execution of Ocalan “would mean the start of a new uprising”. It described the verdict as a clear rejection of Ocalan’s peace offer and as an attack on all Kurds. Any execution would be seen as a declaration of war by Turkey.
The PKK interpreted the choice of date as a calculated insult to the Kurdish nation because it was on the same day, 29 June, that Kurdish leader and martyr Sheikh Said was executed in 1925 by the then new Turkish Republic.
The PKK declared that the Western powers who stood aside while Turkey was going through the motions of a trial bore a great responsibility for the outcome and warned them even at this late stage to put pressure on their Turkish ally to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
It called for mass protests from Kurds everywhere, but stated that it would maintain its restraint in preparation for further developments.
The case will now go through a lengthy appeal system ultimately to the European Court which could take about a year if the Turkish parliament approves the final verdict. The European Court will have to judge whether the trial was fair “in Turkish terms”, but no Kurds have any faith that they can obtain justice under Turkish law.
It might be hard to see how the Ankara regime can now fail to implement the death penalty given the expectations that it has unleashed among ordinary Turks. However, there are clear signs that the authorities are changing tactics, with newspapers starting to debate the wisdom of executing Ocalan.
The PKK has warned that there will be thousands of Ocalans to take his place and indications are that the more astute members of the Turkish military, the people who actually run the country, are advising on calming things down.
Looked at objectively, it does not appear in Turkey’s interests to execute Ocalan: it would be blocked from joining the European Union since all European states are opposed to the death penalty; it would spell disaster for Turkey’s already damaged tourist trade and it would lead to a potentially uncontrollable uprising among the Kurds who constitute 20% of the population.
Turkey simply cannot financially afford its current level of arms expenditure and the continuing distortions of its economy. It has just agreed an anti-inflation plan with the IMF that entails radical structural reforms, meaning in effect privatisation.
Furthermore, it is perfectly likely that the preferred option of the US-engineered conspiracy is to keep Ocalan alive as a pliant prisoner to destabilise and divide the Kurdish movement. The British Foreign Office has said that the details of the trial remain “entirely a matter for the Turkish authorities”, but there is no doubt that the imperialists are advising their Turkish allies in private.
The mood of vengeance and hatred against all things Kurdish generated by the spectacle of Ocalan, described as “Turkey’s most wanted man”, standing in the dock has further brutalised an already depraved Turkish society. The regime is playing a dangerous game whose consequences for Turks and Kurds alike could be disaster.
No only has it heightened tensions between Turk and Kurd unlike anything witnessed in recent years, it has led to the rise of some very right-wing forces in Turkish politics. The governing Democratic Left Party (DSP) of Bulent Ecevit and the neo-fascist Nationalist Action Party, MHP linked to the death squads and paramilitary Grey Wolves, were immediate beneficiaries of this new mood in the country.
The interior ministry recently issued new restrictions on the press with a list of 37 forbidden words and phrases. From now on it is no longer permitted for the state-run Anatolia news agency and Turkish television to use “citizens of Kurdish origin”, the official term for Kurds; they are now simply “Turkish citizens described by Kurds in separatist circles”.
“Guerrilla” and “rebel” must be replaced by “terrorist, brigand or highwayman”. Iraqi Kurds, whom Ankara has so far been keen to win over, are now to be termed “Northern Iraqi clan leaders”.
Repressive measures have intensified across the country; the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) which had swept the board in local elections in many southeast cities on 18 April, has continued to face savage attacks.
HADEP was blocked from campaigning properly in the election, its entire leadership had been arrested on treason charges and successive raids had been made on party offices across the country. Election rallies and meetings were banned by police and villagers had been warned not to elect HADEP candidates.
When visiting the industrial town of Batman before the election, I was informed that villagers had been told that none of their products would be sold in the market if HADEP people were successful. Victorious HADEP mayors are now being removed from office by the courts on charges of PKK links.
It has also been reported that Turkish troops used deadly chemical weapons in an attack in May on a Kurdistan People’s Liberation Army (ARGK) guerrilla unit hiding in a cave in the Sirnak province.
Empty shells and the mutilated bodies of 20 victims had been collected to be made available for inspection by the world’s media and international organisations. ARGK, the PKK’s military wing, called on the UN to assess the evidence of what appears to be a major escalation in the war crimes committed by the Turkish army.
Thousands of Turkish troops are once again on the move into Northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK guerrilla units.
Turkey is continuing its destruction of Kurdish villages this time via so-called economic development; some four thousand villages so far have been evacuated and burned down. It plans to construct a massive series of dams under the GAP project in the southeast, the latest at Ilisu will flood another 70 towns and cities. One of its aims is the eradication of all traces of Kurdish civilisation.
It is clear that this will not be halted unless Turkey is forced to do so. Unfortunately Britain at present is intent on providing funding for the dam construction with £200 million from the export guarantee scheme of the Department of Trade.
Whether it decides to keep Ocalan alive or execute him, it is a certainty that Turkey will not so easily reverse its genocidal war against the Kurds.
From the dock it was reported that Ocalan had offered to bring the PKK forces down from the mountains to lay down their arms. It was interpreted as Ocalan begging for his life.
His 110-page defence statement, now available in English translation, includes many points that appear to suggest that he is being manipulated by the Turks for their own ends. In the courtroom he apparently admitted to all the charges laid against the PKK and commented “there are more besides”. None of this can be taken at face value and the Kurdish view is to treat every alleged statement with the highest degree of scepticism.
What should never be forgotten is that while he is in detention Ocalan is a political prisoner at the mercy of his Turkish captors. Since no independent observers have been allowed to examine closely his treatment there is no way of knowing Ocalan’s state of mind but it is obvious that he is not able to act like a free individual.
Turkey thinks that now Ocalan is in detention the Kurdish liberation movement will simply evaporate. The Turks are seeking to sow dissension and confusion among PKK supporters using the captured Ocalan as their propaganda weapon.
Turkey and its allies in the West are however simply deluding themselves if they really believe that the PKK will go away quietly. It will be a disastrous miscalculation for the Turkish people if they underestimate the strength of the Kurdish masses and the ability of the PKK leadership to renew itself.
The PKK are fighting not only for Ocalan as a person, but for the whole Kurdish people with the aim of a free and independent Kurdistan. The PKK heads an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement with legitimate demands. Ankara and the West more than anyone else need to understand this.
The mass protests that have taken place across Europe and the Middle East since Ocalan’s capture show that the PKK has immense forces to draw upon. The current mood among the Kurds is one of militant determination to fight for the rights that have for far too long been denied them. It is all fertile ground for the PKK to develop into an unbeatable force.
The Kurdish movement must extend its links with other progressive forces and its natural allies on the left. The growing trade union and political support in Britain is a positive development as is the growing unity among the Kurds themselves in groups like the newly founded Kurdistan National Congress.
The recent election of Feleknas Uca a young Kurdish woman to the European Parliament for the German PDS, is an important advance. Kurds will have to fight on all fronts in the coming period. She has said that she will do all in her power to raise the Kurdish issue in Europe. At 23 she is the youngest person in the European Parliament and the first Kurd ever elected to such a position.
On 5 July another young Kurdish woman with explosives strapped to her body launched a suicide attack on a Turkish police station. Both the political and the military options are open to the Kurds.
Whatever road the Kurdish movement takes depends entirely on the response of Turkey and the West. So far they have simply tried to eliminate the PKK and ignore the Kurds’ legitimate demands. It will no longer be possible to do this.