ANKARA - Four grandmothers and one grandfather, the youngest grandmother aged 61, the grandfather aged 81, were released from prison in Turkey this week. They were serving two-year sentences for aiding and abetting acts of terrorism. The five still had six months left to serve but benefited from the possibility of commutation under a new Turkish law "for reintegration into society." The legislation is intended to make it possible for people in a variety of categories - accomplices, terrorists without blood on their hands, those who expressed support for the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, which was headed by Abdullah Ocalan, and is considered a terrorist organization - to express contrition and have their sentences commuted. Moreover, the law also provides for reduced sentences for anyone who took part in terrorist attacks and is ready to abandon the path of terrorism.
As it happens, the initiative for the law came from the army, which wanted another, nonviolent track for eliminating what's known as the "terrorist infrastructure." "The military methods chalked up worthy victories, but they are useful only up to a certain point," says a senior figure in the Turkish ruling party, which is led by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "We have to adopt additional methods, provide jobs, make possible good services, and develop human rights and thereby induce people to replace the path of terrorism with other paths. The army understood this well, and the proof is that parliament passed the law with the full agreement of the army."
About 5,000 PKK activists are present in the hills of northern Iraq and another few hundred are imprisoned inside Turkey. The law is aimed at all of them, though mainly at the hard core in northern Iraq. The expectation is that at least half of the organization's activists will want to take advantage of the law. "We are working along parallel lines," a source in the Turkish military explains. "We are not calling off the war against the terrorists. Our forces are operating in northern Iraq and in southeast Turkey, which has recently suffered from acts of terrorism. But at the same time we are opening a new channel of an outstretched arm." This includes the construction of absorption centers in the towns of southeast Turkey, to which those who seek amnesty will come, the authorities hope. There they will be registered, given initial assistance and be directed to jobs and housing. Military prosecutors have been called up specially, in order to examine each case on its merits and decide on the eligibility of the applicants for full or partial amnesty.
"We now understand that a large part of those on our wanted list and those in prison are miserable people, who were forced under threat to cooperate with the terrorists," the military source says. "We know that some of them were arrested because they were informed on by terrorists who wanted to get their sentence reduced." And the editor of the Turkish Daily News, Ilnur Cevik, wrote this week, "It is rather tragic that the grannies and granddads who can hardly walk with a cane are put behind bars, treated like terrorists and are then labeled as a `gang'. Nobody spent any time questioning why [these people] were forced to help the terrorists."
Turkey is hardly a softie when it comes to fighting terrorism. The 30,000 civilians and army personnel killed in terrorist actions and in the war against terrorism in the past 20 years have made Turkey one of the most determined countries anywhere in persecuting anyone who is suspected of being close to terrorists. Thousands of villages in southeast Turkey were razed and their inhabitants exiled to the interior of the country or to special zones. The Turkish law against terrorism is one of the most rigorous in the world. The state spends billions of dollars to acquire sophisticated weapons to pursue the battle against terrorism, and an emergency regime was imposed for years on the country's Kurdish areas, which were considered prone to terrorist activity.
"Now we are trying to examine a broader definition of the terrorist infrastructure," the military source says. "By means of the new law we are trying to eliminate at least the civil motivations of those who become involved in terrorism. I would suggest that our friend Israel also try this path."
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