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
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
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
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,
Kurds across Europe have taken up Ocalan's cause, with an
estimated 10,000 protesting in Rome Tuesday for political asylum. …