Standing behind bulletproof glass in a Turkish courtroom Monday, Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan looked like a broken man. And if the translations of his comments to the court were accurate, then he sounded like a broken man as well.
According to a variety of news sources, Ocalan was apologetic and accommodating, something altogether different from the images provided by the Turkish media of a rabid terrorist, hell-bent on spreading death and destruction. This is not to say Ocalan is innocent of all charges leveled against him. In fact, he may very well be guilty of leading a campaign of terror that has resulted in the loss of quite a few innocent lives. But standing at the mercy of a Turkish court, there is some doubt as to whether a conviction of Ocalan would come with all the fairness and due process expected of a legal proceeding.
But Ocalan is not the issue. He never has been the issue.
The matter at hand is the self-determination of the Kurdish people. Ocalan simply happens to be an instrument of that self-determination.
The proverbial "rock and hard place" have plagued the Kurds for over 40 years. When European powers went about the task of slicing and dicing the Near East into neat little nation-states, they conveniently left the Kurds as a people without a home.
By all rights the Kurds should have had a patch of land to call their own. They are ethnically and linguistically different from the peoples with whom they currently share territory. But then that would have created just a little too much stability in the region. And in the world of geopolitical gerrymandering, it's never good to have too much stability in one place.
So is the solution to create an independent Kurdistan, carved from present-day Turkey, Iran and Iraq? Probably not. Or at least that is not the ideal remedy. Such a solution would serve no purpose other than further dividing and splintering Muslim peoples into diminishing concentric circles of exclusion. Muslims have quite enough of this in the world already.
On a practical level however, there has to be some sort of respite afforded the Kurds. Surely they don't deserve the treatment they have received from the likes of Saddam Hussein or the Turkish military.
Of course providing such respite would entail implementing things such as diplomacy and negotiation, two tried and true elements of establishing peace that neither Turkey nor the Kurds seem open to at this point. But one thing is clear, Turkey had best be careful how they treat Mr. Ocalan, lest they desire a martyr and prolonged conflict on their hands.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com