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Date: Thu, 7 Jan 1999 14:52:59 -0600 (CST)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <helsinki@compulink.gr>
Subject: Greece: Ocalan and Greece's Turks; Old Calendarists; Expulsion
Article: 51511
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.3197.19990108121608@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Ocalan, the Kurds of Turkey and the Turks of Greece

By Nafsika Papanikolatos, Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece 27 December 1998, AIM Athens

The recent debates provoked by the presence of the leader of the Kurdish PKK Abdullah Ocalan in Italy revealed once again the international community’s weakness to agree upon the interpretation of the principles of liberty, equality and solidarity. The solution to the multiple and often-opposing ideas that governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have about human rights and the obligations emanating therefrom appears very distant. But it is even more complex to understand the position taken upon this issue by minorities themselves.

As it was often recalled these days by some shrewd observers, the tragedy of the Kurdish people has much to do with the fact that they inhabit regions that both international and national interests are not going to give up in the name of human rights. These are the lands of oil, of water and the crossroads of drug smuggling. Too many antagonistic economic interests have rendered human rights’ justice invisible here. In addition, the Kurdish people so far have had the most authoritarian, incompetent and shortsighted leaders, who have led them to internal divisions and civil wars rather than strategically minded opposition against their oppressors in Turkey, Irak, Syria or Iran. This is a complex, contradictory and ambiguous reality, which requires the involvement of the international community. The latter may not be able to provide a solution: that one depends uniquely on the ability of the Kurdish population and its leaders to comply to and to take advantage of all the existing human and minority rights international conventions and agreements. However, the international community must make sure that these conventions and agreements are respected and acknowledged by all partners involved. Therein lies its role of an intermediary, of the protector of the very principles it pretends to acquiesce to.

From that point of view the defense of the non-extradition of the PKK leader to Turkey, in spite of the fact that he has been involved directly or indirectly in numerous violations of human rights against the Turkish and the Kurdish populations, is a position in defense of the principles of human rights. It is clearly a position which recalls that in the Kurdish conflict both parties have not respected the principles of human rights; that there is no state of law in Turkey, which can provide independent justice; that the rights of a minority have been violated and entire villages eradicated; that international human and minority rights conventions have been ignored; that the perpetuation of death penalty in a so-called modern state is contrary to the principles of human rights. This is also a message to all minorities and all states: that they must abide by international principles of justice. Abdoullah Ocalan, like Pinochet, Karadjic, Mobutu or Amin, and many others, can be judged and must be judged for the crimes they have committed against humanity. However, it is only the International Criminal Court that can judge them by ruling not in the name of national interests but in the name of human rights interests.

If the Ocalan case has shown once again that the international community is still unable to decide in common in the name of human rights; it has also proven the incapacity of some minorities to judge autonomously and not to become spokespersons and defenders of the national interests of the so called mother country. Furthermore, it proved that those minorities which are more likely to take upon themselves such an ambiguous and contradictory role, are those whose identity is denied by the majority and by the laws of the country in which they live.

Proof of this is the position taken by the Turkish minorities of Southeast Europe, namely Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. Both in Bulgaria and in Macedonia where the Turkish minority is recognized officially, no personality and no organization of the Turkish minorities in these countries has called publicly for the extradition of Ocalan to Turkey. In Albania, where there is no Turkish minority, but there are several pro-Turkish political groups, particularly those supporting Berisha, none of them expressed itself publicly in favor of the extradition of Ocalan to Turkey. On the contrary, in Greece, one finds the same logic of non recognition and violation of the rights of the Turkish minority as in the case of the Kurds of Turkey, though in Greece those violations are by far less numerous than the ones in Turkey. Several Turkish minority representatives did not hesitate to call for the extradition of Ocalan to Turkey.

At no instance did it occur to them that by taking such a position they were in fact legitimizing their own oppression by the Greek authorities and the non-recognition of their identity. It did not occur to them that the Ocalan case, irrespectively of the person himself, raised the question of the responsibility of the international community in promoting and protecting human and minority rights, and that this was an issue concerning them directly. Lastly it did not occur to them that minority Turks (as well as other minorities) in Greece should express their solidarity to the minorities of other countries (including Turkey) rather than to the mother nation representatives of oppressive nationalisms. Apparently the minority Turks are unable to realize that their brethren are merely related to them nationally but cannot really defend their human and minority rights since this will conflict with Turkey’s national policies towards minorities. The fact that the Turkish minority of Greece alone, a non recognized minority, took such a stand, should also lead the Greek state to question to what extent its policy of non recognition has contributed to the development of such reflexes by the overwhelming majority of cadres of the Thrace minority in contrast to what happens in the (self-determined and recognized as) Turkish minorities of the neighboring countries.

Interestingly, the journalists of minority newspapers and radio stations who signed a statement to express their support for the extradition of Ocalan to Turkey voiced their disapproval of the, certainly inadmissible, beating of Turkish journalists by Kurdish demonstrators in Italy. However, their argument was not very persuasive since it did not seem to be a manifestation of their commitment to the principles of human rights. The same journalists never condemned publicly the almost simultaneous and much more serious violations of the freedom of the press in Turkey. Between 19-21 November 1998, for example, police broke into all ten offices of the pro-Kurdish daily paper Ulkede Gundem. This incident led to arrests and in many cases continuing imprisonment of many journalists and in partial seizure of equipment. A month earlier, the publication of the same newspaper had been banned for 30 days. Of course the list is endless and need not be continued here; yet, none of these same journalists who suddenly became so outspoken about the harassment of Turkish journalists, ever questioned publicly the much more serious violations of the rights of journalists in Turkey.

On the contrary, both the journalists from the minority as well as the minority MPs signatories of statements supporting the extradition of Ocalan, when they were criticized by the Greek press, often unjustly, unprofessionally and not always for the right reasons, responded very defensively and often abusively towards their critics. On the one hand, no reader of a Greek newspaper had an opportunity to learn the exact arguments of these minority Turkish and who in fact signed them. On the other hand critical Athenian journalists concluded that the Turkish identity is necessarily nationalistic and incompatible with the principles of human rights. As if all those who dared not sign such statements (one MP and two journalists), and we say dared since they ended up being condemned as black sheep who disgrace the minority, did not have a Turkish identity, which of course they do.

The Ocalan issue has caused many problems to the West obliging it to take a stand upon an issue that in theory is clearly a human rights issue: the resolution of the Kurdish problem. Its challenge further on shall be to disentangle national and economic interests from human rights interests. On the other hand, and in particular for Greece, the Ocalan issue strangely enough proved once more the negative effects that the non recognition of its national identity has on the Turkish minority. Instead of proving its capacity to decide and speak autonomously, as a unique and independent entity, it let itself be dragged by the mother country’s nationalism. It proved once again the immaturity and dependence of its cadres and its leadership, at an instance where they had nothing to loose by taking a human rights stand and everything to gain by supporting it. Let us hope that the Greek government will reflect upon this situation by questioning the motivations of that attitude of the Turkish minority in relation to its own policy of non-recognition of its national identity. If so, it may overcome what has up to now been a dialogue of deaf nationalisms between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority, which has been creating major impediments to the welfare of the minority as well as the international image of Greece.