NEWS ANALYSIS: Ocalan Sentence Fuels Conflict With Turkey's Allies
- By Louis Meixler
- Jul. 01 1999 00:00
ANKARA, Turkey -- In sentencing Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to death, a Turkish court has put the country on a collision course with its European allies.
European leaders issued a chorus of appeals Tuesday warning Turkey that carrying out the death sentence could strain relations and jeopardize its already shaky prospects for joining the European Union. The 15-nation EU opposes the death penalty.
Executing Ocalan has other risks. His followers have said they would avenge his hanging. Putting him to death could also lead to further bloodshed in the largely Kurdish southeast.
Still, there is enormous domestic pressure in Turkey to hang the man whom Turkish media routinely describes as a "baby-killer" and blames for the 37,000 deaths in 15 years of fighting.
Many Turks believe that Ocalan's death would be the final blow to his Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
"The consciousness of the nation is relieved," Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli said Tuesday following Ocalan's conviction. Bahceli's right-wing party has appealed to soldiers and others disillusioned by the violence.
The verdict sparked celebrations among relatives of the war victims at the port of Mudanya, near the prison island where the trial was held. Some held ropes in the shape of nooses. Many wore the red crescent and star Turkish flag across their chests.
"I want to see him hanged with my eyes now," said Huseyin Tamac, whose 21-year-old son was killed in a 1994 clash with the rebels. "Otherwise, I can't believe that he is dead."
It could be months before Tamac's wish comes true. The death sentence is automatically appealed. If the court reaffirms the sentence, as is widely expected, it must still be approved by parliament and President Suleyman Demirel.
Some analysts have said that Turkey may try to delay a final decision until after November, when the country is to play host to the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Diplomats have said that European states have hinted that they may boycott the summit if Ocalan is hanged.
Germany, which holds the presidency of the EU, led appeals from European capitals for Turkey to let Ocalan live.
Switzerland, Norway, Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, Russia and South Africa also called for leniency.
European pressure, however, could backfire in Turkey, where many people are angry at Europe's constant rebuffs to Turkish efforts to join the European Union. EU members have urged Turkey to improve its human rights record.
Bahceli's party, for example, has stressed Turkey's natural allies are the Turkic Central Asian states, not Europe.
Many Turks have also pointed out that Turkey enjoys a close relationship with the United States, which is unlikely to change if Ocalan is hanged.