By Kani Xulam
May 30, 1999
In 1870, when Germany declared war on France, Alsace and Lorraine, among other things, became the spoils of war. In the Treaty of Frankfurt on May 10, 1871, Paris agreed to the secession of its two provinces. For years after, the French media referred to the lost provinces as the two daughters of France. The inferences were clear. Germany had these daughters by force. Paris vowed to take them back. France needed allies. Serbia, Russia and England were cultivated as friends.
On August 4, 1914, Germany, fearing a two front attack by Paris and Moscow, attacked France. For four years, Europe lost the flower of its youth. Until America intervened, Paris ran the risk of being overrun by the Germans. When Germany sued for peace, France had the German delegation sign the Armistice Treaty in a railroad car in Paris. Alsace and Lorraine were reunited with France. This time, it was the Germans who felt the sting of humiliation.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and made plans to invade France the railroad car opprobrium of 1918 figured prominently on his mind. After the fall of Paris, he forced the French side to sign for peace at the same railroad car on June 22, 1940. For the Feuhrer, it was revenge pure and simple.
There is quite a distance between Paris and Imrali, the latter an island prison in the sea of Marmara in Turkey, but I think of these two unlikely of places side by side these days. Nations often resort to symbolism and sometimes at great cost for future generations. What the French and Germans felt in Paris in 1918 and 1940, respectively, were vicarious victories. What the Turks may do to the sole Kurdish inmate at Imrali prison, I am afraid, is going to be no different.
The little island of Imrali first became famous in the contemporary history of Turkey in 1961. One year earlier, the military had overthrown the democratically elected government in the country. After a sham trial, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, his finance and foreign ministers and the president of the country were found guilty. The gallows were erected. The president, due to his age, was spared. The three ministers were hanged.
Since last February, the island of Imrali has been playing host to another high profile politician. This time, the accused is Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader who knew how to start a war, but was unable to put an end to it alone. He spoke of peace, reconciliation and a genuine democracy. Turkey had more to gain from portraying him as a terrorist, separatist and baby killer. The world kept its distance from the conflict. But it did not shy away from supplying both sides with deadly weapons.
France and Germany after two costly wars have come to learn how to live together. The venom they possessed for one another is now replaced with understanding and friendship. History reminds them of their foolish lapses into the abyss. The future propels them to share a common destiny.
On May 31, 1999, a Turkish State Security Court will start the trial of Abdullah Ocalan. The 139-page indictment charges the defendant for violations of article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code. The article states, “Anyone who commits a deed that seeks to divide or entrust a portion of the country to the custody of another state will receive the death penalty.” The State Security Courts have three judges. Two are civilians and one comes from the military. It may not be written in the books, but the latter has more power over his civilian colleagues.
A cursory glance at the media coverage of the event leaves one in no doubt that the trial will be farcical. Agence France-Presse, on May 22, 1999, filed a story from Istanbul with the following title, “Fairness of trial may be in doubt, but outcome is certain”. The choice of the spot has already preordained the upshot. The Turkish press speaks of Ocalan’s execution as a certainty.
Mr. Menderes who was executed on Imrali on September 17, 1961, was honored by Turgut Ozal, the late President of Turkey, as a martyr of democracy. This time, the execution of Ocalan will expand the sphere of war between the Turks and the Kurds. Last month’s election results proved the alienation of the Turkish and Kurdish communities. The Turkish heartland voted predominantly for the chauvinist, Nationalist Action Party. The Kurds, denied a voice in the national politics because of an arbitrary % 10 hurdle, won the local elections in the southeast, the Kurdish stronghold.
On April 26, 1999, the Interior Ministry in Turkey distributed a circular to the state owned Turkish radio and television company, TRT, and Anatolia news agency, AA, banning them from using 37 “hazardous words”. A sampling of them reveals the lengths to which the Turkish authorities will go to muffle the Kurds and their culture. Those of us who thought, after years of denial, we were finally the “Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin” are no longer so. The state owned media has a new name for us: “Turkish citizens who are described as Kurds by separatist circles”. No wonder, the Kurds in Turkey feel the same, i.e. they owe their existence to Ocalan.
Looking at Turkey from Washington, DC, I have never understood why the Turkish authorities would spend millions of dollars to have their students learn English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, all foreign languages, and at the same time waste billions into a military campaign to have us Kurds forget our language, Kurdish. As we enter the new millennium, Turkey may have the dubious distinction of being the sole country that invests in ignorance. Another thing, will the island of Imrali be a symbol of national humiliation for the Kurds with costs for future generations or will our Turkish oppressors treat Mr. Ocalan with magnanimity for the sake of peaceful coexistence? I hope the latter happens; I am afraid Imrali will follow in the footsteps of Paris with accompanying rivers of blood, sweat and tears.