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.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
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

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits