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Ocalan Seeks To Avoid Gallows

June 23, 1999

MUDANYA, Turkey (AP) _ In his closing statements to a Turkish court, Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan warned Wednesday that if Turkey ignores his call for peace and sends him to the gallows ``thousands of people will start the terror machine for me.″

Ocalan’s chilling threat comes just days before a Turkish court is expected to decide whether to convict the rebel leader and sentence him to hang for leading a 15-year guerrilla war.

Throughout the trial, which began May 31, Ocalan has offered to talk peace and bring his guerrillas down from their hideouts in the rugged mountains of southeastern Turkey. He has warned of massive carnage if he is executed.

``The time has come, and in fact is passing, to give up the armed struggle,″ Ocalan said Wednesday, speaking from inside a bulletproof and bombproof cage in a courthouse on the prison island of Imrali.

Ocalan has admitted to having led the PKK rebels and the court is almost certain to convict him of treason, which would automatically lead to a death sentence. A verdict could come as early as Thursday, although there is speculation that the judges will order a brief recess before making an announcement.

If Ocalan is convicted, the death sentence must be automatically appealed. It must also be endorsed by parliament and approved by President Suleyman Demirel. Turkey has not carried out an execution since 1984, although several dozen people have been sentenced to death.

``My determination to end the armed conflict is not aimed at saving myself,″ Ocalan said. ``It means an escape from a dangerous and meaningless stalemate.″

Turkey regards Ocalan and his Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK as a terrorist organization and is almost certain to ignore his pleas for peace talks.

During the last few years, the Turkish military has forced Ocalan’s guerrillas from towns and villages into the barren mountains, where they are bombarded by helicopter gunships and warplanes.

Although the PKK poses little threat to the stability of southern Turkey, Ocalan’s warnings of terrorist attacks are likely to be taken seriously.

More than a dozen Turks were killed in attacks that followed Ocalan’s February capture in Kenya. Kurdish protesters also rioted in several European capitals.

``What if he is hanged?″ Ocalan asked rhetorically. ``Thousands of people will start the terror machine for me. I don’t want this.″

He added that the ``PKK can carry on for years with its experience in providing logistics, arms, financial aid and recruits.″

Ocalan made his final statements before a court that for the first time did not have a military judge on the three-member tribunal. Parliament amended the constitution on Friday to remove military judges from all state security courts. The military judge was replaced by his civilian substitute.

The move came amid strong European pressure on Turkey to reform its legal system.

The trial has been an extremely emotional event in Turkey, where the guerrilla leader is widely blamed for all 37,000 deaths during the conflict. Inside the courthouse, two mothers of soldiers killed fighting Ocalan’s rebels fainted as the rebel spoke, state television reported.

Ocalan said his uprising began ``in an atmosphere of oppression that went as far as banning the (Kurdish) language.″

The guerrillas draw their support from Kurds in the impoverished southeast. Many of them resent Turkey’s refusal to recognize Kurds as an ethnic minority, like Greeks, Armenians and Jews. The government has banned broadcasts and teaching in the Kurdish language. Speaking Kurdish was only legalized in 1991.

There are some 12 million Kurds in Turkey, about 20 percent of the population.

After Ocalan’s statements, his lawyers opened their arguments for his acquittal. They were expected to finish their defense Thursday.

The judges will then ask Ocalan for his closing words before announcing the verdict.

There is overwhelming support in Turkey for hanging Ocalan. At the nearest port to the prison island, Mudanya, hundreds of people gathered Wednesday chanting: ``Imrali will be Ocalan’s grave.″

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