THE CHOICE before Turkey seems simple. If the Turks hang Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan -- now convicted of treason, separatism and responsibility for the death of thousands -- they may bring on a new wave of war and further distance themselves from Europe. But if Turkey accepts his courtroom bid to reinvent himself as a democratic politician ready to "serve the Turkish state," then an opportunity to tame militant Kurdish nationalism comes into view.
Still, the Turks can be forgiven for wondering if they are not being called on -- by people who will not share the consequences of failure -- to take heavy national risks. This is not a reason to reject the Ocalan option. But it is a reason for others to respect their hesitation to accept as political interlocutors a man and a movement undoubtedly responsible for grave political and personal offenses. Give the Turks full marks even for weighing an option that many who would thrust it on them would themselves reject.
The Turkish appeals process -- through courts, parliament and president -- builds in time and political space to provide for a measured national judgment on a fundamental issue. It lets the political society take part in a judicial decision. It is also a way to stave off the renewed war-making that would increase the military's already excessive weight on the Turkish political scales. Mr. Ocalan and his Kurdish comrades must demonstrate that Mr. Ocalan's professed readiness to shrink Kurdish demands from outright independence to expanded political and cultural rights is not just courtroom gimmickry.
The first requirement is to avoid violence directed either by or at the minority of Kurdish Turks who belong to Mr. Ocalan's party. Next must come a dialogue -- the United States supports it -- between the two groups of Turks. The trial can yet launch a search for the conciliation that has so far eluded Kurds and non-Kurds alike.