Germany and days in Rome - VIII

The Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan, who went from Moscow to Rome on November 12, 1998, was facing 66 difficult days. The position taken by Germany was to determine the course of the Rome process.

A Russian plane landed at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome around 22:00 on November 12, 1998. Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan was entering a NATO and European Union member country for the second time after Greece. This would offer a tremendous advantage to tell the Western world about the struggle he had been engaged in for years, yet it was also a disadvantage that the Turkish state was seen as the "outpost line" of NATO and cooperating with the West.

The Kurdish People's Leader, who went to Italy with the help of two pro-Kurdish- deputies from the Communist Party-Reconstruction, showed the fake passport in his pocket to the Italian border police after getting off the plane and said, "I am Abdullah Öcalan, I am seeking political asylum in your country." Rather than examining his asylum application, the police detained him because Germany had issued an arrest warrant for him years ago. The news of his detention in Italy was delivered to Germany a few hours later.

The same night, during the first hours of November 13, 1998, the investigation unit number 8, which was carrying out the night shift of the Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe, started to scrutinize Öcalan’s file that had been forgotten on the shelves for many years and began to prepare the extradition request for Abdullah Öcalan. Developments in connection with this move would become the most important factor that would determine the course of the conspiracy. Another curious fact was that Necati Bilican, the Chief of Police of the Turkish state, was in Germany that morning. There was a joint drill on international legal assistance and search for individuals, which was attended by Bilican and his delegation, who were in Wiesbaden at the invitation of the German Police Chief.


Already on the morning of 13 November 1998, while the joint drill was continuing, German intelligence officials informed Bilican that Abdullah Öcalan had been "caught" in Italy. Bilican immediately conveyed this to Ankara. Bilican was to recount that moment at a press conference he held at noon: “We were watching a drill. A German officer came and said "Öcalan was detained in Rome and he is currently in a hospital, but we do not know in which hospital he is, we are trying to figure it out". I asked, "Is Öcalan injured or sick?" The officer replied that ‘he might have been brought to the hospital as a precaution after he was caught. We are surveilling him from here.”

The Kurdish People's Leader was taken to the military hospital (Celio Hospital) in downtown the same day because of a heart condition. He was then taken to Palestrina Hospital, 40 km away from Rome, for security reasons. The capitals of Europe were alarmed for those first few days as the Kurdish People's Leader was held in the hospital during which the newspapers appeared with headlines "Kurdish leader Öcalan in Rome". Meanwhile, the people of Kurdistan living in Europe were going to Rome and organizing their first big demonstration on 14 November 1998 in the dooryard of the hospital where the Kurdish People's Leader was held.


Abdullah Öcalan made the following statement on MED TV that day: “I am in Italy within the Italian government’s knowledge. I understand the sensitivity of our people, but it would not be right to make a positive or negative evaluation now. It is too early for any evaluation. The necessary procedures have been launched for me to stay in Italy based on my political identity. I want my people to pay attention to the developments and be patient.”

The same day the extradition request of the Ankara regime was immediately rejected by Italy on the grounds that there is capital punishment in Turkey, So what would Germany do? German media covering the Kurdish People's Leader in headlines since his arrival in Rome, was also asking the same question. The Federal Attorney General that coped with the request for extradition on 13 November sent the file to the Federal Court for a decision. On November 16, German Interior Minister Otto Schily went to Rome in a hurry and met with Italian Interior Minister Rosa Russo Iervolino. The main topic was the extradition procedures of Abdullah Öcalan.

One faction within the German state was in favor of bringing the Kurdish People's Leader to Germany and prosecuting him. One of leading figures of this faction was the social democrat politician Otto Schily. Schily, who had been the attorney of the German Red Army Faction (RAF) militants who were on trial since the mid-1970s, would later become one of the best adherents of German state. In an interview he gave to the weekly newspaper Zeit in 1996, Schily insisted that Germany should issue an international arrest warrant for Abdullah Öcalan and threatened the Kurds living in German cities by saying, "If I receive such an opportunity, I would ransack Germany."

In fact, when Schily was the Minister of the Interior between 1998 and 2005, the German state's policy of criminalization towards the Kurds was to reach its peak, and many Kurdish organizations were to be closed one after another. Otto Schily, who had not yet completed his first month in the ministry, was in pursuit of Abdullah Öcalan.

Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State James Rubin, who was trying to determine the course of the conspiracy against the Kurdish People's Leader by making critical moves, would make the following statement to the press on 16 November 1998, the day when German Minister Schily was in Rome: “We consider Öcalan’s arrest as an important step in the fight against terrorism. We appreciate the action of the Italian government. We believe that Öcalan should be extradited and brought before justice. We want Turkey, Germany and Italy to work together over the issue.”


Clinton administration was in fact intervening between Germany, Turkey and Italy saying that "Resolve this problem in the most appropriate way among you". Rome’s political landscape was perhaps never shaken that much in its recent history: On the one hand, the negotiations with Germany was continuing, on the other hand, the Ministry of Interior was examining Abdullah Öcalan's asylum request. The expected statement would come from Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema. The Italian Prime Minister reamrked that if the PKK stayed away from violence, they would grant asylum to Abdullah Öcalan.

D'Alema's words literally felt like a bomb in Ankara, and Italian goods were boycotted in racist demonstrations in Turkey's major cities. Curiously first call to boycott came from the Turkey Chambers and Stock Exchanges Association and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. The same day, racist attacks against Kurds took place in many centers as if a button were pressed. Those who were particularly attacked was a small group of people demonstrating for the Kurdish People's Leader in Taksim, Istanbul.

That day, Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Sezgin was also in Rome to attend the Western European Union meeting. Sezgin's first job was to meet with German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. The statements made by the European ministers after the meeting were hinting the next stages of the events. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “Öcalan should not be returned to us as an alternative to Turkey,” while Belgian Foreign Minister Erik Derycke said, “We do not want to see Öcalan in Belgium, we already have many problems with the Turks and Kurds living in our country. We do not want to see a new problem”.

Boasting its democracy, rights and freedoms, Europe did not want the Kurdish People's Leader. The German Social Democrat-Greens government was also at the center of these developments. Examining the file prepared by the Federal Prosecutor's Office on 19 November 1998, the German Federal Court issued a new arrest warrant, including the extradition of Abdullah Öcalan. This was an update of the German arrest warrant issued for him on January 12, 1990 for the first time.

In the new decision, Abdullah Öcalan was held responsible for the violence that emerged in the protests after the PKK ban was declared in 1993 and the "highway" incidents in 1995. Now, not only because of "murder", but also from "leadership of a terrorist organization", Germany wanted him from Italy.


Klaus Grünewald, Head of "Extremist Foreign Organizations" Department of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, on 22 December 1995; then, in mid-1996, the former Internal Affairs Senator of the State of Berlin, the ruling party CDU Deputy Heinrich Lummer, met with the Kurdish People's Leader, and the tensions between the PKK and Germany were "subdued". Even in 1998, the Federal Prosecutor's Office announced that the trials, known as "PKK cases" in their country, would be handled within the framework of "criminal events" instead of the "terrorist organization". However, this decision, which did not change much in the essence of the trials, was symbolic and in 2010 it was changed by the Ministry of Justice and thus the trials against Kurds would again be reviewed within in the scope of "foreign terrorist organization".

Relations between Germany and the Kurdish Freedom Movement had been carried out in a certain balance since the negotiations in 1995 and 1996. This was changed when Abdullah Öcalan set foot in Rome. Germany was facing a dilemma; The German judiciary wanted the Kurdish People's Leader, but the government was taking things slowly. The court decision that would pave the way for the extradition of Abdullah Öcalan from Italy remained stuck with the Ministry of Justice.

Thereupon, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema took to the capital, Bonn, on 27 November. D'Alema was hopeful, if Germany accepted Abdullah Ocalan his burden would be relieved and he could get rid of pressures by Turkey and the United States. More than 50 thousand Kurds and their friends who gathered near the prime ministry building in Bonn called out to European countries: "The Kurdish People's Leader is not alone".

Speaking to the press after the two-hour meeting with D'Alema, SPD's Prime Minister Gerhard Schröder said, "We do not want Abdullah Öcalan", referring to huge Kurdish and Turkish populations in his country. Schröder added that “In order to reach an international solution to the Kurdish problem, the foreign ministers of Italy and Germany will come together and prepare a program to resolve the problem. Öcalan should also be tried in a European court”. No step was to be taken for that initiative to solve the Kurdish problem Schröder had spoken about, and for Abdullah Öcalan to be tried in Europe.

At the same press conference, the Italian Prime Minister would make the following statement: “The prosecutor's office will not open any investigation against Öcalan since he has not committed any crime in our country. I hope an international solution will be found for his trial. "

Following this statement by Germany, which failed the D'Alema government, Abdullah Öcalan's difficult days in Italy were to start.


The Kurdish People's Leader, in his interview published in the issue of Stern magazine dated January 15, 1999, gave the following answer to a question by the German journalist, "Germany did not accept your extradition, did this surprise you?": “It didn't surprise, but the reason surprised me. It is not that they don't want to judge Apo, but because if they do, the problem will get worse, more harmful for Germany. In fact, such a trial does not have much basis, it really does not have any legal basis. They wanted this very much, but they did not want to do it because of the inconveniences that would arise. This reason seems a little strange to me and is wrong. In fact, Germany is responsible for this situation. Insistence on this deadlock is closely linked to the German approach. Germany pushed the issue on Italy. Italy realized that it could not offer a solution, and thus the problem got worse. Italy employed its own legal apparatus to aggravate the problem and did not want to take political initiative.

Why does Germany not want to see its responsibility in making the problem worse? More importantly, why doesn't it want to meet with us for a positive solution, more precisely, to solve the problem in a positive way? Why does Germany avoid any dialogue, why is it postponing the problem with its ban on PKK while the problem is getting so severe, reaching a level that threatens Germany's internal law and democracy? Here lies the negativity of Germany, here lies the injustice.

Germany is still delivering all kinds of economic and military tools to Turkey. Politically, in fact, it is not repressing Turkey to offer any kind of solution. PKK is constantly being suppressed. The statements given briefly do not have much practical value and I do not think that there is a desire to assume a serious responsibility. If it were so, Germany could have used my presence here as a good opportunity, and could have at least contribute to the prevention of these problems and the initiation of a political process in Europe. Germany has this power, it could have resisted Turkey’s blackmail, but tried it. "