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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK

World: Europe

Hatred for Ocalan runs high

Emotions are high in the city of Erzurum

By Chris Morris in Erzurum

Strong emotions have been provoked by the trial of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish PKK rebel movement.

The Ocalan File
His capture in February led to worldwide protests by his supporters. But in much of Turkey there was great rejoicing. Many now expect the man they hold responsible for thousands of deaths to be sentenced and executed.

[ image: 'The Turkish nation has decided']
'The Turkish nation has decided'
Among the grey mountains of Anatolia, sits the old grey stone city of Erzurum. On a poster still to be found on walls around the city, Abdullah Ocalan is portrayed as a devil, dripping blood onto a small child. "The Turkish nation has decided,'' the poster reads. "He must hang."

It is a sentiment that helped the ultra-nationalist party, the MHP, to make huge gains in April's general elections.

"People in Erzurum are very traditional,'' said the party's provincial chairman, Mustafa Cinar. "Our bond with the Turkish state makes us hate Abdullah Ocalan. It's a natural emotion."

Angry families seek revenge

[ image: The grave of Imam Bey's son]
The grave of Imam Bey's son
Three generations of the Yasayan family have lived in the isolated hamlet of Yikilhan, high up in the mountains.

Imam Bey has lost two of his children and he holds Abdullah Ocalan personally responsible. His son Bilgin was killed by the PKK in 1996, while on military service, and a second son committed suicide after his brother's death.

More than 400 young men from Erzurum have been lost to the PKK. Their angry families want revenge. Conciliation is not on their agenda.

Imam Yasayan says their pain cannot just be forgotten. "If I could catch Ocalan myself, I would take his blood. I'd kill him, and then I'd end my own life," he added.

Nationalist sentiments prevail

[ image: Imam Yasayan:
Imam Yasayan: "If I caught Ocalan I'd kill him"
In the city's market, no one seemed to question the right of the state to send their sons to fight in a conflict which could drag on for many years. They said outsiders did not understand.

In Erzurum and elsewhere national pride is at stake. Nationalist sentiment has been whipped up and channelled into hatred of one man.

Some said they wanted to tear Ocalan apart and hang his lawyers as well. They insisted there was no Kurdish problem - it was just a foreign plot.

A song paid emotional homage to military martyrs, indicative of the strength of feeling about the Ocalan case in a conservative city like Erzurum.

Emotions are just as strong a hundred miles across the mountains, in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country. But they are on the other side of the divide.

That is the dilemma Turkey is faced with. When the Ocalan trial is over, the country will wake up the next morning to find the problem has not gone away.

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