Sunday, 11 March 2007

Istanbul: Abdullah Öcalan protest

... or, "watching me watching you watching me watching you watching them".

In many cities, in many countries - from Cizre to Istanbul to Helsinki and beyond - there were protests about the alleged poisoning of Abdullah Öcalan.

In the photo above, neatly divided into two by the telegraph pole, on top of the building on the left, there are two men in black, one of whom can just about be seen to be using binoculars.

If you follow the line of the building from those two along past the telegraph pole, half-way between the telegraph pole and the yellow building another two figures can just about be seen (maybe only as a black blob). All four of these are snipers, part of the security force monitoring the protest.

In the photo above, as in every other one I've taken of the massive security presence in Istanbul, the three-or-four-deep line of heavily-armed police/security doesn't show up very well and they somehow manage to blend into the background, something they could never be accused of doing when you're actually there.

In the photo below, the central mass of people (around another telegraph pole) is the crowd of protestors demanding that Abdullah Öcalan's human rights are respected. (I didn't see the full force as I was only passing by, but it may well have outnumbered the protest[...] that it was watching).

[Updated on the 12th of March 2007]

In 2000, the BBC reported that Öcalan was "reported to be suffering from serious respiratory problems.... aggravated by damp, stuffy conditions in his death row cell on the prison island of Imrali in northwestern Turkey."

The "International Initiative: Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan; Peace in Kurdistan" claimed that:
During the debate on the lifting of the death penalty in 2002 one argume[n]t was, öcalan would not be killed "just once, but every day". In 2003 the then secretary general of the National Security Council, Tuncer Kilic, declared that they would "kill him piecemeal".
(I haven't been able to find any other sources apart from a reprint on the Caravan, despite also Googling variations upon Kilic, Kılıç, Ocalan and Öcalan with öldüreceğiz, öldürürüz, katledeceğiz, katlediriz, mahvedeceğiz and mahvediriz (which are translations of "we will kill", although they translate back as "we will kill", "we will murder" and "we will wipe out" respectively), so I can't verify this quotation.)

Since then, too, it has been claimed that "he was being threatened and had received death letters". In this context (between confirmed and alleged suffering), it is somewhat plausible that he would be being poisoned.

The Kurdish Aspect and the Gulf Times both carried the Agence France-Presse (AFP)'s 3rd of March story, "Kurds issue warning over Ocalan 'poisoning'":
The lawyers said laboratory tests on hair samples from Ocalan, 58, indicated the presence of what they described as toxic metals, including levels of chromium seven times higher than normal and high levels of strontium.
Still, as A. İhsan Aydın and E. Barış Altıntaş (in (the Google cache of) Today's Zaman on the 10th of March 2007 and the Journal of Turkish Weekly's reprint) noted, "[i]t was not clear how the lawyers had acquired the samples or what prompted the test", which doesn't mean they couldn't have managed to acquire samples, but does mean the truth of the claims is questionable.

Contributing to this uncertainty, according to Aydın and Altıntaş,
In an e-mail message sent to Today's Zaman on Friday, Dr. Pascal Kintz wrote, "I never said Öcalan was being poisoned; I only made mention of intoxication."
The International Initiative reproduced copies of Dr. Pascal Kintz's analysis finding "chronic intoxication" of the "unknown subject" and Dr. Jan Alexander's analysis labelling it "systemic exposure".

Discussing the test results, Aydın and Altıntaş relayed that:
Prof. Dr. Gülber Uçar, who heads the Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Ankara (FABAD), also stressed that scientists do not observe a distinction between poisoning and intoxication.... but added that given the graveness of the accusation: "If a person is being poisoned, the test results would be obvious. There is not much room for speculation in positive sciences."

Director of the Center for Drugs and Poisons at Dokuz Eylül University, Yeşim Tunçok, also expressed that it was very hard to trace the relation between "poisoning" and "toxic levels."

"If the doses found are to be above a certain level, they could be potentially harmful. However, small dosages of many chemicals found in foods and insecticides could pile up over a long period, making it impossible to specify the reason...." Tunçok explained.
If when Uçar says, '[i]f a person is being poisoned, the test results would be obvious', he means that the person's deliberate poisoning or incidental intoxication would be obvious (because he says that scientists do not or cannot distinguish between the two), he says nothing at all. It sounds like Uçar is contradicting himself, saying that scientists could distinguish between intoxication and poisoning and implying that Öcalan wasn't poisoned.

As Tunçok says, however, 'small dosages... could pile up over a long period, making it impossible to specify the reason', so, the test results - not simply the distinction between normal and abnormal chemical levels, but also the distinction between incidental intoxication and deliberate poisoning - would not be obvious.

Aydın and Altıntaş also noted that:
In the following days, Aysel Tuğluk, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), warned on Friday if the poisoning claims held any truth, there would be "unimaginably heavy consequences" for Turkey.
Today Zaman's 12th of March story, "Öcalan poisoning claims intentional", repeated Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek's claim that, "[b]y bringing up these allegations of poisoning they wanted to launch a campaign against Turkey abroad". The German Press Agency (DPA)'s story on the same day, 'Medical tests "show Ocalan not being poisoned" in Turkish prison', recorded that,
The Istanbul Criminal Medical Laboratory carried out a number of
tests on samples of Ocalan's blood, hair and urine, announcing on
Monday that the tests for poisoning all came back negative.
So, now there are contradictory, unverifiable test results from both sides; however, it is only the Kurdish side who have called for "an investigation into the claims be carried out by a team of representatives from independent domestic and international organizations", which could prove - or disprove - their claims. It might be argued that they expected the Turkish state to ignore or refuse those calls, but it remains possible that Abdullah Öcalan has been being poisoned.

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