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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing