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Western Press Review: Doubts About Ocalan's Execution

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff



Prague, 30 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Much of today's commentary in the Western press focuses on the death sentence handed down yesterday in Turkey by a court judging Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Most commentators acknowledge the severity of Ocalan's crimes but urge Turkish authorities not to carry out the sentence.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Turkey has a chance of opening a new chapter in its relations

Britain's Financial Times says in an editorial that both the court's death sentence and "the stream of clemency appeals from West European countries [were] entirely predictable." It notes that "Europe has diminished leverage on Turkey these days," but argues that if its "appeals are heeded, Turkey has a chance of opening a new chapter in its relations with ... Kurds and its neighbors."

The editorial goes on: "The month-long trial has seen a slight shift of Turkish opinion in favor of sparing Mr. Ocalan's life. Some newspapers now argue that executing him would be bad for Turkey's image, and counterproductive in wooing the hearts and minds of Turkey's Kurds."

It concludes: "If Turkey really wants to wean the Kurds away from [Ocalan's Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK], it must do more to help them with economic aid and perhaps some autonomy ... But just as the Turks should not use the PKK to demonize Kurds, so the West, and Europe in particular, should not exonerate the PPK just because it is Kurdish."

GUARDIAN: Turkey should make it clear that the sentence will be commuted

The Guardian says flatly that "Ocalan must not hang." Its editorial continues: "Ocalan is a deeply unsavory character with much blood on his hands ... All the same, Turkey -- which has eschewed capital punishment since 1984 and as a member of the Council of Europe is committed to its abolition -- should now make it clear that the sentence will be commuted."

The editorial argues: "[Commutation] would send a signal that the government of Bulent Ecevit wants to close this inglorious and damaging chapter of the country's recent history. But most importantly a unilateral decision to show mercy would create the best possible launch-pad for a new (in fact, unprecedented) national dialogue with, and about, Turkey's 12.9 million Kurds."

The Guardian adds: "This is what Ecevit and his government, in the national interest, should now do: First, end the offensive restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and names, and on Kurdish-run education and media. Second, Abolish ... legal prohibitions on Kurdish political activity ... Third, encourage ... a discussion of Turkey's national identity ... Fourth, release those Kurds now in jail for non-violent, political offenses ... [And] fifth, create a forum to discuss some form of autonomy or self-government for the southeast region (which has a majority Kurdish population) with a unified Turkish state."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The death sentence against Ocalan now offers the chance for a new path

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung carries a commentary from its correspondent in Istanbul, Wolfgang Koydl, who says that "the whole affair is really about the fate of the Turkish republic. On trial as much as Ocalan," he continues, "was the entire republican system conceived by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, and the direction it will take in the next century. Will Turkey be a xenophobic, suspicious middle-level power in the Middle East or a self-confident member of the Western community? ... Turkey [today] is farther than ever from Ataturk's ideal of a modern, efficient society."

Koydl also says: "The death sentence against Ocalan now offers the chance for a new path ... The state itself appears prepared to put Ocalan's fate in European hands -- the Europe which, in the eyes of many nationalist Turks, has effectively acted as an accomplice of the PKK terrorists. The signals are unmistakable ... President Suleyman Demirel and Premier Ecevit have indicated they may allow the European Court of Human Rights to hear the case."

He concludes: "The message is clear and the EU, after so many mistakes, must be careful to handle this one properly ... There must be a quid pro quo: namely, Turkey's being moved up the list of candidates for EU membership. This would bring Turkey closer to the goals set out for it by Ataturk three-quarters of a century ago. And then the 30,000 people who have died in the dirty war in the country's southeast would not have died in vain."

AFTENPOSTEN: The Kurdish problem is far from solved

In Norway, the daily Aftenposten urges Turkey to reconsider the court's verdict: "Before the sentence is carried out, there is going to be a legally protracted period during which both Turks and Kurds should think things over. Turkey has not carried out capital punishment for the past 15 years. The Turkish authorities may be doing themselves a favor if they do not resume the practice."

The paper's editorial continues: "Though Turkey has had some success in its fight against the PKK, the Kurdish problem is far from solved. By showing some kind of magnanimity toward Ocalan, Ankara can capitalize on the [internal] splits within the PKK and extend a hand to those Kurds who have not engaged in violent action but who demand greater cultural and political rights."

The editorial sums up: "There is no reason to make a martyr out of Ocalan. [This is] a great challenge for Turkey that will strongly influence its relations to both Europe and the U. S. The Kurdish problem is one of the reasons the European Union has kept Turkey at bay. The U.S. has supported Turkey because of its strategic significance. But that support is not unconditional."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The Turkish parliament should change the death sentence to life imprisonment

The Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende says that "for reasons of principle, the Turkish parliament should change the death sentence to life imprisonment. No society," it believes, "has the right to end its citizens' lives."

The paper's editorial continues: "From a Turkish point of view, the sentencing of one of this century's most brutal terrorists is a victory in the struggle against the PKK. But Turkey faces a dilemma. If the sentence is carried out -- for which there is overwhelming support at home -- Turkey's position [in the international community] will be shaken. The country will be unable to retain its membership of the Council of Europe and its application for EU admission will recede to the distant future."

The editorial goes on: "The Turkish government must [also] start a serious dialogue with the [country's] Kurds. Its chief aim must be to halt the discrimination against them, and to grant them the kind of autonomy they so ardently desire." It concludes: "Turkey must stop considering its struggle against the PKK as an anti-terrorist action. It is a question of extending Turkish democracy over the whole country [and to every citizen]. Unless this happens, more cases of the Ocalan type will occur."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES DALSACE: Turkey continues to carry the burden of its own history

In France, the influential provincial daily Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace runs a signed editorial by its foreign editor Jean-Claude Kiefer. He says: "Turkey, unhappily, continues to carry the burden of its own history. It suffers from a lack of democracy. It suffocates under the rule of military caste too involved in civil society ... [Its] army lost its soul in the infernal cycle of terrorism [by] and repression [of the Kurds], which ended in the death of thousands in southeast Anatolia..."

But Kiefer goes to say: "That does not mean that Ocalan is an innocent victim. The PKK has shed blood blindly both in Turkey and throughout Europe -- including perhaps Sweden, where it has been linked to the assassination [several years ago of former prime minister] Olaf Palme [who supported the Kurdish cause]."

Like Wolfgang Koydl, Kiefer believes that "Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe that wishes to remain so, will not execute the sentence ... [In any case, the EU has to reconsider its interdiction] on Turkey becoming a member of the Union ... Turkey should no longer be reproached [for being an Islamic state. It is, in fact,] a lay society that happens to have given the vote to women before France did."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Europe should encourage Turkey to implement liberal reforms

The Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial urges the West to "help Turkey help the Kurds." The paper writes: "There can be [no] dispute that Ocalan was guilty as charged ... or that his trial was fair. A report for the Council of Europe, not known for its lenient attitude toward Turkey, even said so."

The WSJ continues: "It would nevertheless be a good time for Turkey to make some magnanimous gestures toward its Kurdish community ... In its largely admirable effort to make equal Turkish-speaking citizens of a nation composed of many ethnic groups, Turkey has often gone too far ... With the drain on state finances caused by the PKK war hopefully over, the Turkish government might even be able to control its deficit spending and associated inflation, giving Kurds (and other Turks) a shot at a better life."

The editorial concludes: "Europe [should not] chastise Turkey for refusing to legitimate a terrorist [that is, Ocalan]. Instead, Europe should encourage Turkey to implement liberal reforms that [now] finally look possible."

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