Conviction of a terrorist

Ocalan: Turkey should end cultural repression of Kurds that provokes rebellion.

June 30, 1999

ABDULLAH Ocalan, who led the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for 21 years and its violent rebellion for 15, would be convicted in any country, under any legal system. As it happened, he was condemned to death for treason in an extraordinary trial in his own country, Turkey, to which he was kidnapped from exile.

That Ocalan is a mass terrorist is beyond dispute. So is his standing as a freedom fighter for oppressed people.

Almost immediately, yesterday, foreign governments protested his death sentence. This is beside the point.

Turkey has not executed anyone since 1984. The sentence will be reviewed by an appeals court. If upheld, it will be examined by a parliamentary commission, which has sat on most of the death sentences before it. A parliamentary vote is needed to carry out the sentence.

The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, disapproves of the death sentence. Britain has released mass murderers and political assassins from its own prisons as a good-faith gesture in the Northern Ireland settlement.

But Ocalan would be condemned to death in the United States. Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for a single act of terrorism, the Oklahoma City bombing. In both countries, the sentences are subject to long appeals.

More important than the fate of Mr. Ocalan is Turkish policy toward its Kurdish minority. If Kurds are given rights to teach and publish their language and to politic as they choose, separatism will fade. But if Turkey cracks down after recent victories against rebels, rebellion will flare anew.

European countries harboring Kurdish and Turkish emigres are worried primarily about strife between those communities within their borders.

What Turkey needs, for its own serene future in or out of the EU, is to treat all citizens, including Kurds, as first-class Turks. If Turkey can manage that, it need not fear other Ocalans taking the place of this one.

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