Abdullah Ocalan: Symbol of 100 years of Kurdish resistance
Since his kidnapping by Turkish military intelligence in Nairobi in 1999, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, endured nearly 23 years in prison. For much of that time, he was confined to the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara, with no contact with family or friends.
His jailers hoped that by slamming the prison doors, the world would forget Ocalan existed. But for millions of Kurds and their supporters around the world, Ocalan is a living symbol of resistance to a century of oppression by the Turkish state.
According to the Turkish government, Ocalan is a terrorist. The Australian Government agrees, list the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The list was originally compiled in 2005 by the coalition government John Howard after a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the autocratic Turkish leader. It has been renewed periodically since then, including by Labor governments. The inscription was made for purely opportunistic political reasons. The government’s justifications just don’t match up.
The PKK is not and has never been a threat to the security of Australia, or that of anyone outside the Turkish state. Several European jurisdictions, including the highest Belgian court, have decided that the PKK cannot be treated as a terrorist organization. Instead, it is party to an armed conflict with the Turkish state.
Under Ocalan’s leadership, the PKK launched an armed struggle against the Turkish state in 1984. Since then it has declared several unilateral ceasefires, and in 2013 Ocalan was allowed to join peace talks. He continues to advocate for a peaceful solution to an intractable conflict.
Originally formed as an orthodox Marxist-Leninist party with the goal of creating an independent Kurdish state, the PKK has since taken a different approach under Ocalan’s intellectual leadership. Ocalan argues that given the ethnic plurality of Turkey and the Middle East, the solution to the century-old oppression of Kurds and other non-Turkish populations lies in what he calls “democratic confederalism” — full autonomy for all peoples.
This change, however, did not cause the Turkish government to reconsider its determination to maintain Turkey as the ethnically pure politico-cultural body envisioned by Kemal Atatürk at the time of the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Since then, the people Kurds suffered cultural and, at times, physical genocide.
In recent times, the Erdogan government has stepped up repression both inside and out Turkish state borders. Thousands of Kurds were arrested and many were killed, especially members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party. Towns in heavily Kurdish areas were bombed.
The Turkish military has also invaded and occupied the predominantly Kurdish regions of Rojava in northeast Syria, ethically clearing towns and villages and collaborating with Islamist terrorists, including ISIS. Kurdish-speaking Yazidis across the Iraqi border have also been targeted by Turkish troops.
Yet world governments and much of the media continue to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Kurds have a well-known saying that they have no friends other than the mountains. But they have many friends around the world, including in unions, left-wing parties and ecologistsand other civil society organizations: people who have seen the injustice suffered by the Kurdish people and who are determined to help end it.
The key to fighting such oppression is to demand that governments remove the PKK from the terrorist list and call for the immediate release of Ocalan, so that he can lead the struggle for peace with justice for the Kurdish people. of Turkey and neighboring states.
Prison didn’t break Ocalan, or stop his brain from working. In his prison cell, he wrote a flood of original books and articles dealing with many aspects of Kurdish freedom and broader human emancipation.
Central to this is her insistence that “a society can never be free without the liberation of women”. His motto is that “we must believe above all that the revolution must come, that there is no other choice”.
[John Tully is a historian and activist with Australians For Kurdistan.]