Voice from grave airs a Kurdish solution: Ozal letter published advocating forced migration to defeat PKK

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IT IS a tragic paradox for Turkey that the most coherent set of ideas yet on how to escape disaster in its Kurdish war could only be publicly articulated by somebody who was already dead: the taboo-breaking late president, Turgut Ozal.

Appearing like a letter from beyond the grave, Ozal's last testament on the Kurdish question, published in Istanbul yesterday, was sometimes shocking; advocating, for instance, the wholesale transfer of Kurds from mountain villages to starve out the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas.

But whoever leaked the document clearly wanted to air Mr Ozal's appeal to reason and calm at a time when Turkish nationalist feeling is rising dangerously in response to the perception of a growing Kurdish threat.

Hurriyet newspaper published the full text of what was a letter in February from Mr Ozal to the then prime minister and current President, Suleyman Demirel. 'The Turkish Republic is facing its gravest threat yet. A social earthquake could cut one part of Turkey off from the rest, and we could all be buried beneath it.'

In his six-page letter, Mr Ozal noted that support for the rebel PKK had risen dramatically. It was working in towns, cutting country roads, collecting tax, organising courts, deflecting army conscription and presenting itself as an alternative authority.

'Locals want help from the state, but are under threat from the terrorist organisation on one side and the actions of some security personnel on the other,' wrote Ozal. 'The way things are going, citizens of Kurdish origin loyal to the Turkish state, whether in the south-east or the west, are alienated . . . Kurdish nationalism is growing.'

A solution might take 10 years and would require everybody to keep their cool, said Ozal, who died in April this year. The Kurdish insurgency began under his rule as prime minister in 1984 and 10,000 people have been killed in fighting, murders and massacres since then.

Ozal said that Turkish and foreign specialists should be consulted to fill the great information gap that is a striking cause of the conflict, an ignorance that is due in large measure to the sensationalist and state-influenced prejudices of Turkish media. He then recommended a thorough reform and updating of security forces fighting the rebels.

The current Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, has already started work on this. But she has not started to tackle another problem raised by Ozal, the lack of co-ordination between the branches of the state fighting the rebels.

Ozal said that 150,000 to 200,000 Kurds should be transferred from the mountains to the west. It was clear they would be given no choice, but he said they should be given good jobs and other incentives. Dams should be built in valleys so that they could not return, he added.

The idea is not new. Kurdish nationalists say about 1,000 villages have already been forcibly evacuated, and many of them burned. The Kurds number about 12 million of Turkey's 60 million people.

It was Ozal who granted Kurds the right to speak their language in 1991, but he made no specific mention of the cultural and political rights that the PKK and most Kurds say they want. But Ozal repeatedly urged that 'everything should be discussed in a free, unprejudiced way. To stop debate and hide reality will not lessen the problem, but will aggravate it . . . Unless we find a solution, we will have lost the chance to become a great or even a mid- range state. We may even be gravely weakened.'