Twenty two years ago today, an international conspiracy, led by the US, refused Abdullah Ocalan political asylum and deliver him into the hands of the Turkish state. This was not a one-off political aberration. The selfish national interests and imperial rivalries that underlay those events still direct international politics and are dictating responses to Turkey’s current aggression, against the Kurds and more broadly. It was under a Democrat president, Bill Clinton, that the PKK was put on the US terrorist list and that Ocalan was captured. 22 years ago, Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, was Clinton’s special national security advisor. US policy is to attempt to separate the Kurds from the PKK and from Ocalan, and other Western countries follow the US lead.
Central to their plans is their insistence that Ocalan and the PKK should be denounced as terrorists. Challenging this, Belgium’s highest court judged last year that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist organisation but as a party in a non-international armed conflict. The PKK is in a struggle for freedom, and a negotiated agreement with Ocalan is the only realistic chance for a peaceful resolution to this struggle. He is recognised as their leader by millions of Kurds and has been ready to talk about peace for a very long time.
For 22 years Ocalan has been kept in virtual isolation, contrary to international Human rights legislation and to Turkey’s own laws. However, protests against his continued imprisonment are about even more than the human rights of an individual.
Ocalan’s imprisonment and isolation deprives the Kurdish community of their widely acknowledged leader and of the opportunity for a peaceful settlement to Turkeys Kurdish question – a settlement that would allow Kurds to live in peace and dignity. Preventing the opportunity for a settlement has been disastrous for Kurds in Turkey, and also for their non-Kurdish neighbours, for Kurds everywhere, and for wider peace in the middle east and beyond.
His incarceration is also depriving the world of an opportunity to engage with a hugely important contributor to human thought and political ideas. Ocalan has almost achieved the impossible in producing many long and vital books despite the restrictions imposed on him, but his ability to read, write and – above all – to communicate with the outside world has always been severely curtailed, especially in recent years.
You don’t have to agree slavishly with his every word to appreciate the importance of Ocalan’s contribution to reviving progressive thought and practice. He has inspired a new emphasis on democracy and helped cut across patriarchy. We can see these ideas creating new forms of social relations in Rojava and in Kurdish organisations in Turkey. Imagine if he were free and able to take part himself in the discussions and debates and developments around his theories.
In normal years, the anniversary of Ocalan’s capture is commemorated in Europe by a long march of people from many countries converging on the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This year, although some marches are taking place, activities have been severely curtailed. In the UK activists have contributed to the march by taking their banners and scarves out into those local areas where they are allowed to walk – and recording their activities in this video.
You can read more about Ocalan’s imprisonment and the way the Turkish government exploits it politically here.
Sarah’s most recent Kurdish news review looks at the latest manifestation of Turkey’s anti-Kurdish and expansionist policies, in which the US is heavily complicit, and also at solidarity action.
And here are links to some interesting upcoming meetings
7pm (UK) 15 February
‘After 22 years of isolation in İmralı: The time has come – freedom for Öcalan!’
5pm (UK) 17 February
Centre for Kurdish Progress
‘European security, Turkish foreign policy and Article 5 of the NATO Treaty’
5pm (UK) 26 February
Centre for Kurdish Progress
‘Online Talk with Houzan Mahmoud about her new book “Kurdish Women’s Stories”’