What does US sanction for the execution of Abdullah Ocalan say about its "humanitarian"aims in the Balkans?
By Barry Grey
The United States has distinguished itself from its European allies by
condemning the death sentence against Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah
Ocalan handed down June 29 by a Turkish court. While expressing
“concern” over the sentence and some aspects of the show trial of the
PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) chairman, Washington has emphasized
its agreement with Ankara that Ocalan is a dangerous terrorist, and
indicated that it will not stand in the way of his hanging.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit last week praised the US,
comparing its stand favorably to that of the European powers. “They (the
US) have shown a far more understanding attitude than our European
allies,” he said.
Neither the Europeans nor the Americans have clean hands when it
comes to the capture and trial of Ocalan. They are all complicit in the
international manhunt that ended with Ocalan's illegal abduction from
Nairobi last February by Turkish secret police. One European
government after another refused to grant the Kurdish leader asylum after
he was expelled from Syria by President Assad in October of 1998.
They all knew that the military-dominated Turkish regime would stop at
nothing to capture its chief nemesis, and that any trial would be a mere
formality, with a guilty verdict and death sentence certain to follow.
Their complicity renders their statements of moral dissent in the wake
the June 29 verdict less than compelling. Nevertheless, for their own
geo-political and domestic reasons, the governments of the European
Union would prefer to see Ankara accept Ocalan's offer of collaboration
with the Turkish state and put aside the court's sentence.
The US, on the other hand, does not even bother to make a pretense of
moral scruples when it comes to the state murder of a man who,
whatever one may think of his politics and tactics, is seen by millions of
Kurds as the leading partisan in a protracted struggle for national
recognition and basic democratic rights. Washington has admitted to
playing a key role in organizing the kidnapping of Ocalan from the Greek
embassy in Nairobi. It is, moreover, well known that the Clinton
administration pressured Syria to expel Ocalan in the first place, and then
oversaw the manhunt that ended with his capture. In the process
Washington trashed the democratic principle of political asylum and
provided yet another example of the gangland methods that underlie its
In the seizure of Ocalan—which preceded by barely a month the
US-NATO war waged ostensibly for “human rights” and against “ethnic
cleansing”—the Europeans played second fiddle; it was Washington that
called the tune.
The combination of venom and hypocrisy that characterizes the US
position was summed up in an editorial published July 1 by the
Washington Post, which often serves as an unofficial mouthpiece for the
State Department. Entitled “A Tough Choice for Turkey,” the editorial
begins by mulling over the possible benefits of accepting Ocalan's
courtroom offer to “serve the Turkish state.” Commutation of his death
sentence might, the Post suggests, provide an opportunity “to tame
militant Kurdish nationalism.”
On the other hand, the editorial continues, no reasonable person could
fault the Turks for hesitating to forego the hangman's option. “Give the
Turks full marks even for weighing” commutation for “a man and a
movement undoubtedly responsible for grave political and personal
offenses,” the Post declares.
Next comes a description of the Turkish judicial and political
process—notorious around the world for its brutality and contempt for
democratic rights—that attains a level of cynicism remarkable even for
the American press: “The Turkish appeals process—through courts,
parliament and president—builds in time and political space to provide
for a measured national judgment on a fundamental issue. It lets the
political society take part in a judicial decision.” (The Solons of the
Washington Post obviously exclude, along with the Turkish military and
political establishment, the 4.5 million Kurds in Turkey from the category
of “political society.”)
The concluding paragraph contains language carefully crafted to uphold
the position of the Turkish regime, which denies the existence of a distinct
Kurdish nationality. “The first requirement is to avoid violence directed
either by or at the minority of Kurdish Turks who belong to Mr.
Ocalan's party. Next must come a dialogue—the United States supports
it—between the two groups of Turks.” (Emphasis added)
In light of this glowing description of the Turkish political system, it
useful to recall the US State Department's own evaluation of Ankara's
record on human rights. The Report on Human Rights Practices in
Turkey issued by the State Department in January 1997 noted that a
state of emergency has existed in the nine southeastern provinces with a
Kurdish majority population since 1984, and acknowledged that the
Turkish government “has long denied its Kurdish population, located
largely in the southeast, basic cultural and linguistic rights. As part of its
fight against the PKK, the Government forcibly displaced large numbers
of noncombatants, tortured civilians, and abridged freedom of
The report estimates that the Turkish military has “depopulated” [the
State Department's own term] 2,600 to 3,000 villages and hamlets, and
“forcibly evacuated” 560,000 Kurds.
No American or NATO spokesman claimed that the Serb military was
guilty of anything approaching this level of “ethnic cleansing” prior to the
initiation of the air war last March. Whatever attacks Serbia carried out
prior to March 24 against Kosovan Albanian civilians in the course of its
war with the Kosovo Liberation Army, they appear to have been on a far
smaller scale than the assault on Kurd civilians carried out by
Washington's NATO ally, Turkey.
What does the Clinton administration's support for the abduction and
likely execution of Kurdish leader Ocalan, and its indulgence toward
Turkey's repression of Kurdish national rights, say about its official
rationale for the war against Serbia?
On June 2, speaking at the US Air Force Academy commencement,
Clinton described the situation in Kosovo as “an effort by a political
leader to systematically destroy or displace an entire people because of
their ethnicity and their religious faith; an effort to erase the culture and
history and presence of a people from their land.”
Obviously, the very same words could be used to sum up the policy of
Turkey toward the Kurds.
On April 15, speaking in San Francisco before the American Society of
Newspaper Editors, Clinton said: “Finally, we must remember the
principle we and our allies have been fighting for in the Balkans is the
principle of multi-ethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy.” As, presumably,
is practiced by the NATO combatant, Turkey!
Needless to say, none of the gentlemen of the press rose up to challenge
Clinton's absurd claims and point out the glaring contradictions in his
justification for the Balkan War. Those who plot American imperialist
policy count on the duplicity and servility of the media, and they have not
Once, however, one is familiar with the facts, it does not require an
extraordinary degree of insight to perceive that US declamations about
human rights and multi-ethnic tolerance are mere window dressing for the
ruthless pursuit of imperialist interests around the world. Washington
allies itself with Kosovan nationalism and goes to war with Serbia
because it considers the Yugoslav state to be an obstacle to the
realization of its strategic interests in Europe, the Middle East and Central
Asia. It supports the murderous regime in Turkey and sanctions its
suppression of Kurdish rights because the Turkish state serves US aims.