Ocalan `our best hope for freedom'

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The Independent Online
"HE WAS OUR LEADER and our best hope for freedom," says Mehmet Yilmaz, one of the few Kurds in Istanbul willing to talk about Turkey's capture of Abdullah Ocalan.

Mr Yilmaz, a short man with a heavy beard, watched last week as the guerrilla leader was humiliatingly paraded in front of Turkish flags on national television.

"All we want is freedom and political rights. We want to live like humans but the world won't let us," he said .

Mehmet Yilmaz is not his real name: he says if he gave his name he could be arrested. He claims to have been tortured in the past on suspicion of links with Mr Ocalan's Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). He denies the links but he is a supporter of the organisation.

"I'm angry with Europe", he says, "They let us down. We've been crying out for our freedom for years but the world won't give us our rights. Last week the Israelis killed Kurds. This proves the Kurds will always be killed by all governments." Three Kurdish demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli security guards when they tried to occupy the Israeli consulate in Berlin.

"It's clear that there was an international plot to seize Abdullah Ocalan," says Mr Yilmaz. He believes that the CIA and the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, were involved in Mr Ocalan's capture, despite US and Israeli denials.

Kurds fleeing the fighting between the PKK and security forces in south- east Turkey have given Istanbul the biggest Kurdish concentration anywhere. But few were willing to talk about Mr Ocalan's capture. "What do you expect?" says Mr Yilmaz. "They've arrested a lot of people. Nobody knows where it will end."

Turkey has almost silenced the Kurds with mass arrests in the wake of Mr Ocalan's capture. Over the weekend the number in custody was reported to have reached 1,000.

The Istanbul headquarters of Hadep, a legally recognised Kurdish political party, are surrounded by police armed with machine-guns. While protest has been rife elsewhere, in Turkey it has been limited to sporadic street violence.

"People here are too scared to talk. The police arrested one of my friends yesterday," said one Kurd living in the gecekondus, the desperately poor shanty towns where Istanbul's destitute live. He says he came here after security forces burned his village in the south-east.

"The Kurds are always either killing or being killed," says Mr Yilmaz. "The Kurdish people want peace, but there is no answer when we ask for our rights. There is only one way: to fight." Mr Yilmaz angrily rejects the suggestion that Mr Ocalan is a terrorist: "Isn't it clear that he's a leader fighting for his people's democratic freedom? They say he killed 37,000 people but that's not true. It's a war. The government has all sorts of weapons but the Kurds have only their hearts. I think if anyone calls him a terrorist they are practising terrorism against the Kurds."

Mr Yilmaz is unimpressed by the Turkish government's offer of partial amnesty for PKK guerrillas who surrender. "There are thousands of guerillas in the mountains. They will fight to the end. They will never give up their freedom."