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Friday, 28 May, 1999, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
The story of Ocalan's arrest
Schoolgirls with flags
Schoolgirls in western Turkey celebrate Ocalan's capture
By Jeremy Bowen in Turkey

It looked like a movie. And it read like a book, the kind that foreign correspondents buy at the airport or try to write - except that if the capture of Abdullah Ocalan was fiction, it might be a bit hard to believe.

Ocalan blindfolded
Turkey proudly put Ocalan on display
Imagine how it must have felt for Mr Ocalan.

He left the Greek Embassy in Nairobi, where he thought he was safe, for the airport where he thought he was flying to political asylum in Holland.

Instead he was abducted, bound and blindfolded, and brought back to be put on trial for his life in Turkey.

Captured on video

He has been on the run for years, a man whose anger is legendary, who dealt with Kurdish dissenters as brutally as he dealt with Turkish soldiers. But now he was trussed up, banged to rights, surrounded by Turkish special agents hooting and high-fiving each other like basketball players who've just slam-dunked their way to stardom.

We can picture the scene on the plane, because Turkish military intelligence released the video that one of its agents made on the way back. The agents, still wearing black balaclavas, celebrated while Mr Ocalan lay on the seats next to them.

Island fortress

When they took his blindfold off he looked so groggy that I wondered whether he had been drugged.

Island prison
Ocalan is being held on an island prison
Then he landed back in Turkey, a small plane on a foggy airfield that looked like the last scene in Casablanca - only Casablanca was a romantic adventure, and this was much more sinister. Turkey's most wanted man was on his way to a fortress island in the sea of Marmara.

He faced 400 pages of charges. They ranged from treason and revolt against the state, to mass murder, kidnapping, leadership of a terrorist organisation and even refusal to do his military service.

If he escapes the gallows, he might spend the rest of his life in prison.

European shockwaves

I detect some satisfaction here about the way that Mr Ocalan's arrest sent shockwaves across Europe. Many Turks still feel angry about the way that they have been rebuffed time and time again when they have tried to join the European Union.

Now the rich western European countries were getting a taste of the Kurds. There was not much sympathy here. Poor babies, chew on that, now you have got some idea of what we have been going through.

Greek crisis

The political crisis the arrest has touched off in Greece, Turkey's oldest enemy, has caused even more pleasure. Just as Mr Ocalan's arrest is something to boast about here in Turkey, in Greece it is a national humiliation.

Traditional music in Kayseri, central Turkey, to celebrate the arrest
After all, was he not under Greek protection when he was taken in Kenya? The Ankara papers have recalled with relish some of the anti-Turkish remarks, including allegations about Turkish honesty and sexual practices that they say were made by the now-resigned Greek foreign minister.

This was a week when patriotic Turks watched a lot of their enemies get their come-uppance. And they were not interested in listening to foreign do-gooders bleating on about human rights either.

'If you shelter terrorists...'

I went to see the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit. He was prime minister 25 years ago when Turkey invaded Cyprus. One of the papers here splashed the headline, thanks again for Cyprus, Bulent - and thanks now for Mr Ocalan.

Mothers in graveyard
Mothers of soldiers killed while fighting the Kurds celebrate in an Istanbul cemetery
The prime minister looked very satisfied when I asked him about the political crisis the Mr Ocalan affair has touched off in Greece. Well, he said, if you shelter terrorists, what do you expect?

The overwhelming majority of Turks were delighted about the arrest - and everybody was talking about the video pictures of the humbling and humiliation of a man who used to look more like a demon. A football team on television paraded round their stadium with a big Turkish flag. This was a nation whose chest was puffed up with pride.

Kurdish grievances remain

But what about the Kurds, who make up more than 20% of the population of this country? Whatever they thought about Mr Ocalan, and the war he fought for 15 years against the government in Ankara, his arrest will not make their grievances go away.

Police with riot shields
Police in Istanbul on alert during Kurdish demonstrations
It is hard to understand why it is still illegal in Turkey to be educated in Kurdish, or to broadcast in Kurdish. Perhaps this should be a moment for a new start. The Turkish Government could start talking to a new generation of Kurdish leaders, who do not believe in using violence.

But that is not going to happen. Why, the argument goes, must we make concessions when we have scored a famous victory?

News and background on Abdullah Ocalan

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