For The Los Angeles Times
The Turkish government’s enemy No. 1 has spent the last two decades in physical isolation on a prison island off the coast of Istanbul. But Abdullah Ocalan’s influence extends to Kurds across the Middle East.
Statements by the 71-year-old — carried out of Imrali island by sporadic visitors — have been published in best-selling books, and inspired both war and peace. Now, there are signs Ankara may be turning to him to broker a new peace with Kurdish separatists, not just in Turkey, but also in neighboring Syria.
On Wednesday, Turkish officials said they had lifted restrictions on visits to Ocalan. The announcement followed a visit to Ocalan by his lawyers, the first such meeting Turkish authorities have allowed in eight years, and came amid the largest mass hunger strike in Turkey’s history. More than 3,000 people have participated for months, and eight have committed suicide after calling for Ankara to allow Ocalan regular visits.
For the recent visit, Ocalan’s lawyers underwent three separate body searches before taking a 2 ½-hour boat ride to Imrali to meet Ocalan, who was dressed in a dark blue jacket, velvet pants and linen shirt. The meeting, said Rezan Sarica, one of two lawyers who attended the May 2 session, was akin to what detainees at Guantanamo Bay have gone through — their lawyers sent to an isolate island lockup and not allowed to bring any paper or documents with them, or record what was discussed.
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