The Turkish government's change in tone regarding the hanging of Abdullah Ocalan is evidently motivated by their eagerness to join the European Union (EU). Such a change, although it may lead to the cancellation of Ocalan's execution, falls short of proving that the Turkish government's concern for human rights is genuine in the least.
Since his arrest in Kenya by Turkish officers, Ocalan has repeatedly called for the halt of military resistance by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which he leads. He has also invited the Turkish government to join the Kurds in bringing peace back to the warring county, which has resulted in the death of over 37,000 since 1984. Although most of the civil war victims were reportedly Kurds who were killed by Turkish Army strikes on their villages, Turkey insisted on stripping itself of any responsibly, pointing the finger thereafter on Ocalan and the PKK as solely responsible for Turkey's misfortune.
Turkey's problems are many. They range from economic backwardness, governmental corruption, and outside conflicts, to civil war and natural disasters. Turkey's portrayal of Ocalan and his party as the one responsible for Turkey's hardships is similar to The United States' framing of Osama Bin Laden as the godfather of world terrorism. But such framing overlooks the fact that Ocalan represents a consequence of injustice rather than a cause.
Perhaps the Turkish government's refusal to acknowledge or take responsibility for its actions throughout its dispute with the Kurds is the behavior expected of most governments once faced with a similar dilemma. Its intention to proceed with the same violent and uncompromising policy, however, will harm its national unity in a time when it is most needed.
Executing Ocalan will not ultimately profit Turkey. The issue in fact goes beyond Ocalan's fate. The issue at stake is Turkey's firm belief that its military might is the answer to any predicament it may face. The frequent violations of Iraq's sovereignty by the Turkish army, the threatening Syria with military strife and its repeated episode of military assaults on Kurdish areas are all reflections of the Turkish government's confrontational policy. Such a policy, though it pleases Turkey's regional alliance partner, Israel, alienates Turkey from most of its neighbors -- especially the Arab and Muslim world where it has always belonged and identified. In the meantime, Turkey's chances to blend with Europe are grim and will remain conditional.
Turkey's fear of losing the opportunity of a closer relationship with Europe was indeed the reason that motivated Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's recent announcement that his country might abolish the death penalty. He was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that EU membership and capital punishment were a "contradiction." Ecevit's remarks were backed by the Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel himself, who warned that hanging Ocalan would stand in the way of Turkey's long-sought candidacy.
Yet making such pledges or even carrying them out are not sufficient enough for the Turkish image to be polished. Ocalan's execution is not the core of the Kurdish problem, although it represents an important symbol. Therefore, in order for Turkey to demonstrate sincerity, it must introduce an alternative approach in solving its problems, national and regional.
Assuming that Turkey has succeeded in eliminating most of the PKK's military capabilities, nothing will prevent the resumption of serious violent clashes but uprooting the entire problem. While the many years of fighting have proven that even the sophisticated Turkish military machine cannot silence Kurdish demands of equality and justice, a just peace is doubtful. Turkey's disregard of Ocalan and the PKK's call for a truce will give birth to a new version of an old reality, more and more violence.
"If the process continues on this path -- meaning Turkey's disregard of Ocalan's peace pledges -- our party will not remain without response and will actively use its right to legitimate defense," the PKK declared in a recent press release distributed to various news agency. That declaration is an indication of what awaits Turkey if it bypasses the Kurdish offer for peace. Turkey's undermining of the PKK's military capabilities is unrealistic. Kurdish resistance and consistent demands for rights have survived due to the people's determination to honor and value their cause. The same environment that nourished the PKK can in fact give birth to others with similar outlooks and goals. Such a possibility appears to be turning into a reality, for in late November, a newly formed Kurdish group, PKK-Fighters for the Revolutionary Line, called upon the Kurdish people in Turkey, saying, "get organized and arm yourselves."