Ocalan’s Capture Bodes Well for Turkey
The Nation
February 28, 1999
The February 15 capture by Turkish security forces of the country’ s most wanted terrorist, Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, from Nairobi is apparently paving the way for final settlement of the Kurdish issue. For this, the credit goes to Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who, after Ocalan’ s arrest, has offered amnesty to Kurdish militants and pledged rebuild the areas in southeastern Turkey which have been destroyed due to 15 years of militancy by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Ever since 1984, when PKK terrorism started, Turkey has been finding it difficult to develop these regions. The reason has been continuing insurgency by PKK there—which has claimed over 30,000 innocent lives since then. Turkey’s developmental GAP project, to build Ataturk dam on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, has been in jeopardy in recent years due to PKK terrorism. The project is aimed at irrigating southern and south-eastern regions of the country, where most of Turkey’s 12 million Kurds live.

Ocalan’s capture is no doubt a big blow to PKK terrorism. So is Ecevit’s quick offer of amnesty to PKK militants in line with the Repentance Bill, which is before the Grand National Assembly. With the already announced “massive government investment” in the predominantly-Kurdish dominated regions, hopes for a prosperous future there have revived.

Some 20 millions Kurds reside in five countries—Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. Centuries on, the Kurds have never lived as one nation. Even in each of the five states, they are divided among themselves. For instance, in Iraq, they are being led by two rival parties, which until recently have been at war with each other. Both the parties have been helping Turkish army’s fight in northern Iraq against PKK militants.

Thus, PKK’s idea of establishing a separate state of ‘Kurdistan’ was inherently irrational. First, it had no appeal among most Turkish Kurds enjoying credible participatory role in the country’s state and government affairs. Secondly, it amounted to disrupting the territorial integrity of not just Turkey, but four other states of the Middle East, West Asia and Caucasia. Thus, both legally and morally speaking, PKK’s cause is wrong. It is unfortunate that some European government, particularly Greece, have in recent years used the Kurdish question to deny Ankara membership of the European Union.

Now with its chief leader behind bars, PKK will never be able to wage as much terrorism as it has since 1984. Prime Minister Ecevit’s offers of amnesty to PKK militants and of investment for the development of Kurdish regions aside, Turkey may need to crush the remnants of Kurdish militants, if they refuse to surrender.

Since Ocalan, commonly know as Apo, was abandoned by Syria in October 1998, he had been running from pillar to post to get political asylum. No country wanted him, for fear of being branded as a state sponsoring international terrorism. Twice he went to Russia, but Moscow refused. For five weeks, he stayed in Rome, but the Italians finally refused. He tried his luck in entire Europe, but failed. And, finally, it was Greece, where part of the top government leadership tried to help him first in Athens and then took him to Kenya.

Thanks for the intelligence help Turkey received from friendly countries, the Greeks could not succeed in “covering up” their link with the PKK leader, whose days had in fact been numbered since Syria abandoned him. “My mother is Turkish…. I love Turkey... (I want to) render services for Turkey... Let there be no torture”. These were the video-taped words of Ocalan. Such disgusting TV appearance by a man, whom some of the European nations used to call as a revolutionary Kurdish leader, soon after his arrest might have shocked many of his militant Kurdish followers. The Ocalan affair offers an important lesson: that issues involving ethnic or racial difference can only be politically settled. And anyone who tries to seek their solution through militancy eventually meets a miserable fate. That was the fate of Ocalan, whom not just his own nation but no other country in the world would welcome. Even his country’s biggest enemy would not accept him.

It is perhaps more than a coincidence that whenever Ecevit leads Turkey, Ankara’s foreign policy becomes proactive and delivers sound diplomatic dividends. It was under his premiership in 1974 that Turkey had landed its forces in Cyprus to save Turkish Cypriots form Greek genocide. 25 years after, it is again Turkey under Ecevit that has not let Greek designs to exploit the Kurdish card against Turkey. Each time, the consequence for Greece, Ankara’s arch rival, have been grave. If the 1974 Turkish operation proved good for the Greeks, as it led to the fall of military junta’s rule and the start of civilian governance, the Ocalan affair has put the present Greek government of prime minister Coasts Simitis in deep political trouble. Three of his cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister and the intelligence chief have been sacked for “mishandling” the Ocalan case.

The capture of Ocalan, who is now jailed in a Turkish Marmara Sea island’s Imrali prison, establishes beyond doubt how closely Greece was aiding and abetting PKK terrorism in Turkey. Te Maroon Berets, Turkish army’s elite commandos who captured Ocalan from Nairobi in ‘Operation Safari’ have found from his possession a Greek Cypriot passport on which he traveled to Nairobi on February 2. The passport, with Ocalan’ s photo on it, belongs to a known Greek Cypriot journalist Lazaros Mavros, who was also leading the Kurdish Solidarity Committee in Greek Cyprus. While Glafkos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot leader, is finding it hard to “cover up” the passport affair, the latest episode establishing direct Greek Cypriot collusion with the PKK leadership provides enough justification for the Turkish Cypriot stand that the greatest obstacle to Cyprus peace settlement is the militant attitude of Greek and Greek Cypriot leaders.

For its part, Athens is finding it hard to get rid of the Kurdish stigma. The biggest mistake that its government leadership made, statedly without the knowledge of Prime Minister Simitis, was to bring Ocalan to Athens from St Petersburg in Russia. The person who gave him refuge there, with the knowledge of foreign minister Pangalos, was no less than the Greek naval Commander, Andonis. Ocalan was brought to Athens in the hope of Europeanizing the Kurdish question—a goal the PKK leader had been attempting to realize personally since his abandonment by Syria. He had come to Rome with the same mission, but failed–as none of the European states was prepared to “import” the Kurdish problem.

It was only after the Greek foreign ministry and intelligence realized that it would be difficult for them to exploit the Kurdish question against Turkey while keeping Ocalan in Athens that they decided to send him to their mission in Kenya. From February 2 until the day he was captured, which is 12 days, Ocalan lived at the residence of Greek ambassador in Nairobi, George Costoulas. A couple of Ocalan’s compatriots, who remained in Greek hands in Nairobi, have now been brought to Athens. So far, the “mishandling” of the Ocalan affair has only cost Greece politically at home, the repercussions on the external front are also expected to be grave. Turkey has asked the international community to declare Greece as a state sponsoring international terrorism, as it has been caught “red-handed” doing so. Turkey’s message to European nations demanding a “fair” trial for Apo is that they should “mind their own business.”

International terrorism has been a sensitive subject in recent times, especially for the Americans. For the Untied States, Ocalan has been a terrorist, and his PKK a terrorist organization. It is from the Americans, therefore, that the Greeks should expect some more condemnation on the matter. For the international community, there is no greater proof of PKK’s terrorism than thousands of innocent Turkish lives lost as a result, and also the militant manner with the which Kurds have reacted all across Europe after Apo‘ s arrest.

As for Ocalan, the Turkish government has completed investigations against him and recorded a 36-page confession by him, in which he has expressed no remorse for his terrorist acts. The PKK leader has a team of Turkish defense lawyers. Ocalan is accused of direct involvement in numerous antistate terrorist acts. The charge against him is that of treason. The trial, as Ecevit himself has stated, will be “quick”.

Ecevit’s handling of the Ocalan affair is winning him tremendous appreciation from the national media. Despite being politically in turmoil in recent years, Turkey continues to a country with extreme feelings of nationalism and respect for republicanism–two everlasting consequences of great leader Kamal Ataturk’ s revolution over 75 years ago. It was no surprise then to see all the Turkish newspapers and TV channels celebrating the arrest of Ocalan. In recent year, the Turkish leadership has started to act boldly on the diplomatic front, in a manner that is commensurate with its size, defense potential, international status and regional strategic potential. In October 1998, the Turkish threat of war brought the country’s old rival, Syria, to its knees. Earlier this week, President Suleman Demirel, while visiting Jakarta, issue a similar warning to Greece: that Turkey deserves the right to respond in all possible manners against a country supporting terrorism from its terroritory. What Athens does to rid itself of the continuing Kurdish stigma, is yet to be seen.