Ocalan on trial, in a box, on ghost island

IT SEEMS like the plot of a thriller. A terrorist leader is on trial for his life, under security so tight that an entire island has been emptied of people and sealed off to make way for him. During hearings, he is forced to sit in a bullet-proof glass box that can withstand the blast from a hand grenade.

But this is what is happening in Turkey, where Abdullah Ocalan, the man behind almost 15 years of bloody Kurdish rebellion, is being tried by the Turkish state he once waged war against.

The tiny island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara, which according to local legend is haunted by the ghost of a former Prime Minister hanged there after he was deposed in a military coup, has become Mr Ocalan's Elba. Every 50 yards along the coast stands an armed soldier, his face hidden behind a mask. Frigates patrol the surrounding waters, helicopters circle constantly overhead. No one is allowed within three miles.

More than 200 inmates were moved from the open prison on Imrali in February to make way for Mr Ocalan, who has been the sole occupant ever since. A holiday camp for Ministry of Justice bureaucrats, the only other facility on the island, has become a temporary home for the judges and prosecutors involved in the trial. The trial has transformed Mudanya, the nearest port on the Turkish mainland, as well. A small town of retirement homes also famous for its olive oil, Mudanya has been invaded by more than 250 foreign journalists, and the "mothers of the martyrs", relatives of soldiers killed by Mr Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who have come to demand his death. At times the protesters have turned angrily on Western reporters, whom they believe to be pro-PKK.

For three months, Mr Ocalan has been in solitary confinement. According to his lawyers, there is a camera in each of the four corners of his tiny cell, and a guard watches constantly through a window in the door.

On Monday he emerged blinking into his glass cage, in a courtroom packed with diplomats, journalists and the "mothers of the martyrs". To be there, they had had to rise at dawn to get through incredibly rigorous security checks. Their fingerprints were checked and their retinas scanned, both before boarding a ferry to Imrali and on arrival. After all this, said a Western diplomat who has attended some of the hearings, the trial itself is strangely free of tension. "Abdullah Ocalan has a curious lack of charisma for a man who has led people into a war," he says. "He seemed rather pathetic really, even slightly unhinged."

Mr Ocalan has certainly failed to stick to the script. Instead of defying the Turkish state he fought for so long, he has asked for the chance to serve it, and stunned the court on the first morning with an offer of peace in return for his life.

His performances in court have been wildly erratic. At one moment he has sounded magnanimous, saying of the peace offer: "I'm not saying this to save myself. I want to prevent the death of a single soldier, a single PKK member." At the next he has been threatening, warning that if he is hanged, the number of dead could rise to 100,000. "I might not be worth a dime," he has said. "But they say 5,000 suicide bombers are ready to die for me." He accepted general responsibility for all the PKK's actions until the moment of his capture, only to deny responsibility for a number of specific incidents he was questioned about.

Privately, Turkish officials suggest the intense security is as much to prevent reprisals from the states Mr Ocalan has given evidence against as to frustrate any escape attempt. And here Mr Ocalan has certainly been obliging to the Turkish authorities, readily testifying that several of Turkey's enemies abroad helped the PKK, including arch-rival Greece. Mr Ocalan has even made confused accusations that Britain tried to exploit his rebels against Turkey.

But while the Turkish press gleefully reports Mr Ocalan's "revelations", the question of whether his peace offer is genuine is unlikely to be tested. Turkey has rejected any talks with the PKK, and while the rebels have endorsed Mr Ocalan's offer, they have ignored his call to lay down their arms. It looks as though the possibility of peace will be just another ghost for Imrali.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusiastic Maths Tea...

    Urgently looking for Qualified Teachers and NQT's

    £110 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Urgently looking for Qua...

    SEN Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

    SEN Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform