Kurds Take Their Case to Europe Rebel Leader Abdullah Ocalan, Arrested in Rome Last Week, Is at the Center of New Political Strategy for the Kurds

By Sami Kohen, | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

Kurds Take Their Case to Europe Rebel Leader Abdullah Ocalan, Arrested in Rome Last Week, Is at the Center of New Political Strategy for the Kurds


Sami Kohen,, The Christian Science Monitor


First, the Irish Republican Army agreed to a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, paving the way for April's peace agreement. Next, Basque separatists called a truce in September and are preparing for negotiations with the Spanish government.

Now, another rebel group is trying a more mainstream, peaceful approach. Turkey's Kurdish rebels are moving their struggle for self- rule from the mountains, where Turkish government troops have dealt them a severe blow, to the capitals of Europe, where they expect to get political support.

At the center of the struggle is Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who was arrested at Rome's airport Nov. 12. "We have abandoned terrorism and are ready for a peace accord," Mr. Ocalan told the newspaper La Repubblica. "My presence here testifies to a change in the strategy of the Kurdish national movement." Turkey has requested Ocalan's extradition, creating tension between NATO allies Italy and Turkey, and igniting Kurdish political action in Europe. Ocalan and his PKK are accused in Turkey of a 14-year campaign of violence resulting in more than 30,000 deaths. The campaign was launched from neighboring Syria, which last month expelled Ocalan. (This fall, two new generals in the chief of staff's office, Atilla Ates and Huseyin Kivrikoglu, have called for increased pressure on Syria.) After leaving Syria, Ocalan then went to Russia before ending up in Rome. The Italian government is now considering what to do with the PKK leader. Turkey maintains that under existing international accords, Italy should return terrorists to where they caused violence. But Italians say their own procedures forbid the extradition of terrorists or criminals to countries where the death penalty is still in force. The Turks have prepared a bill abolishing capital punishment, which is expected to be passed rapidly by Parliament. But in Italy, strong voices favor giving Ocalan political asylum, although Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema says Ocalan has to prove he has renounced terrorism to gain asylum. Many in Italy are prepared to consider Ocalan not as an ordinary terrorist, but rather as a liberation fighter. That is exactly in line with the PKK's new strategy of appearing in the European and international platform as a political movement. Though the strategy is different, the PKK's aims are largely the same: to gain ethnic rights and independence for Turkish Kurds, who are part of a larger Kurdish group in the region. (See story, below.) Kurds across Europe have taken up Ocalan's cause, with an estimated 10,000 protesting in Rome Tuesday for political asylum. …

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