Leaving issues of morality and capital punishment to one side, the death penalty will help Kurd extremists far more than it will help the Turkish government. Admittedly, Ankara can win applause from the voters - always a tempting option for any government - by hanging Ocalan. For Turks, the violence used by the PKK in recent years justifies any kind of lethal revenge.
Martyrs are, however, just what extremists need. The IRA received a boost from the death in jail of Bobby Sands. Repression rarely benefits the oppressor in the longer term - as the example of Kosovo has vividly demonstrated. Ocalan may merely be grandstanding when he suggests that "thousands of people" will carry out acts of terror if he is executed. The general point is, however, valid. Margaret Thatcher complained about "the oxygen of publicity" for terrorists.
In reality, the oxygen of repression is much more powerful. Only two years ago, Albanians in Kosovo supported peaceful means to achieve change. But that gave way to widespread support for the armed struggle of the Kosovo Liberation Army. In that respect, Slobodan Milosevic has become the patron saint of the KLA.
Turkey is in danger of achieving the same aim. Turks aspire to live peacefully in their own country - a laudable aim. But their government must understand that such an aspiration is easier to fulfil if an attempt is made to understand the concerns of the other side. The policies towards Kurds in recent years have been brutal. More than 2,000 villages have been destroyed and two million have been forced out of their homes, in an apparent attempt to counter the Maoist dictum about villages being a friendly sea in which guerrillas can swim like fish.
Turkish fears about the creation of a Kurdish state are understandable. There is obvious potential for regional instability if millions of Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran break away to form a separate Kurdistan. State-sponsored violence is, however, no way to stop such change .
Turkey has long complained about being treated like a pariah in its attempts to join the European Union. And yet, the hanging of Ocalan would only reduce its chances further. Spain and Britain - to take two obvious examples - have learnt that dialogue and flexibility reduce the power of political violence more effectively than hordes of soldiers and armoured cars. Turkey should not be afraid to learn those lessons.Reuse content