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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 11:30 GMT
Hate-figure and hero
Abdullah Ocalan gives a speech
Abdullah Ocalan: Turkey's most wanted man for two decades
By regional analyst Pam O'Toole

Abdullah Ocalan's supporters call him "Apo" - the Kurdish word for "uncle".

The Turkish state calls him "child murderer" and "terroris".

In Turkish, the name Ocalan itself means "he who takes revenge".

The leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has been stirring up strong emotions in Turkey since 1984, when the organisation launched its armed struggle for an independent Kurdish state in the south east of the country.

Abdullah Ocalan came from a humble background; son of a poor peasant family in the south-eastern village of Omerli.

He became involved in politics while studying political science at Ankara university, setting up the PKK with fellow students.

He left Turkey before the military coup in September 1980 and has remained in exile since then.

But it was not until his party took up the gun that he achieved international prominence.

Tens of thousands of PKK guerrillas took on the second largest army in Nato.

30,000 deaths

More than 30,000 people have been killed in the 16-year-old conflict, including soldiers, guerrillas and civilians.

At the height of the PKK's strength in 1992, Ocalan pledged: "Even if 100,000 people die this year, our movement cannot be disrupted."

But in recent years, he has changed his approach.

He dropped his insistence on an independent Kurdish state, saying he would settle for autonomy for Turkish Kurds.

As the PKK became weakened militarily, his calls for a political settlement to the Kurdish conflict became louder and more frequent.

When he was forced out of his long-term base in Syria last autumn, he fled to Europe, announcing that he wanted to transform the PKK from a military to a political organisation.

He criticised what he described as extremist actions by elements within the PKK.

His comments fuelled existing rumours about splits within the PKK, some of whose commanders were said to be unhappy with Mr Ocalan's dictatorial methods.

Confused supporters

His arrest, in Kenya in February 1999, prompted Kurdish demonstrations across Europe.

Many Kurds were indignant about the way in which the Turkish state paraded their captured leader before TV cameras.

A boy with a toy gun at a protest by Turkish families of soldiers killed by Kurdish rebels
A boy with a toy gun at a protest by Turkish families of soldiers killed by Kurdish rebels
But his sometime rambling performance in the witness box caused confusion among his supporters.

While the Kurdish diaspora in Europe remains enthusiastic about his calls for a political settlement, some PKK guerrillas are questioning whether they should continue to support a man who may be more interested in saving his own skin than the Kurdish cause.

However, if the death sentence handed down to him by the Turkish court is carried ou t- such doubts could be forgotten.

Abdullah Ocalan could once more become an untarnished Kurdish hero.

If Turkey does not accept his offer - and there is no indication it will - his followers could well be tempted to avenge his death.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris
on the rise of the PKK
The BBC's Paul Moss
"Frightening, even as a child"
News and background on Abdullah Ocalan

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