Scotland says, ‘Freedom for Öcalan is Freedom for Us All’

These photographs were taken last week in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. They include an MP (SNP), a former MSP (Labour), a city councillor and many trade unionists – and a whole lot of other people from all backgrounds who want to show their support.

The 15th of February was the 20th anniversary of Abdullah Öcalan’s abduction by the CIA and imprisonment in a Turkish jail. Öcalan’s ideas are central to the feminist, secular, grassroots democracy being developed in the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, and his involvement is key to peace in Turkey and the wider area. His significance to the Kurdish struggle is demonstrated by the over 300 Kurds currently on indefinite hunger strike to demand that Turkey complies with basic human rights and allows him visits by his family and his lawyer. You can read more about Öcalan and his importance here.

“Öcalan is a prisoner who is becoming mythical, as Mandela in the twentieth century, so he in the twenty-first. He expresses a series of concepts that in the 21st century are increasingly becoming the building blocks for the political construction of a new world.” Antonio Negri


Actions for Öcalan on the 20th anniversary of his imprisonment

Please show your support on the street or from your own home!

Thursday, Edinburgh, March called by Edinburgh Kurdish Community Centre going from Princes Street outside Waverley Station to the Turkish consulate and on to Holyrood. Gather at 11am

Friday, Dundee, Stall with megaphone and leaflets in the city centre. 1-2pm

Saturday, Glasgow, Buchanan Steps, from 1pm

You can also demonstrate your support by sending us a photograph of yourself holding a sign that reads ‘Freedom for Öcalan is freedom for us all’. (You can send it to,  or through our Facebook page.) Here is a pdf copy of the sign: FREEDOM FOR OCALAN

We intend to make a collage of everyone’s pictures, but please share on Facebook and Twitter too (#FreedomForÖcalan).


This is a call that has been taken up by Unite, the GMB, and other unions, and endorsed by the TUC and STUC. Its importance was recognised by last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala – the biggest trade union gathering in the UK – when they chose it as their international cause.

The republic of Turkey is founded on an ethnic Turkish nationalism that allows no room for the expression of other identities. The large Kurdish minority have found themselves subject to brutal attempts at Turkification, which have outlawed their language and culture and repeatedly subjected them to devastating collective punishments. In 1978, a group of Kurds felt that the wider leftist movements, of which they were part, failed to understand the importance of this cultural suppression, and they established their own Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), under Öcalan’s leadership.

On 15th February 20 years ago, Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was abducted, with the help of the CIA, and brought back to Turkey, where he was condemned to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey ended the death penalty in order to be considered for EU membership. For 20 years he has been held on the closely-guarded island prison of Imrali. He has used that time to develop the ideas that have inspired the feminist, multicultural, grassroots democracy in the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, and to try and negotiate a peaceful and respectful future for the Kurds in Turkey. But in recent years he has been kept in total isolation, denied even the visits of his family and his lawyers.

The PKK has morphed from a Marxist-Leninist separatist movement to a force for local autonomy and cultural freedom, but it is still seen as unacceptable by the Turkish state. While the PKK, like Mandela, has fought a guerrilla struggle, their ideas have also been pursued through constitutional politics. However, even the predominantly-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), which keeps firmly within the legal framework, has faced constant harassment and violent physical attacks – and has seen most of its MPs and mayors arrested.

For millions of Kurds, Öcalan is not only their acknowledged leader, but a vital symbol of their desire for freedom. For everyone who hopes for a better world, he should be acknowledged as the driving force behind the inspiring social and political changes taking place in predominantly-Kurdish Northern Syria. And he is widely recognised as the person who has the support, the will and the ability to negotiate a peaceful settlement, when the Turkish government agrees to engage.

The importance given to Öcalan is reflected in the more than 300 people now on hunger strike to press their call for the end to his isolation. This modest demand simply requires Turkey to follow its own constitution and allow visits from his family and lawyers. These visits are also required by international human rights law, which regards isolation as a form of torture.

This hunger strike was led by HDP MP Leyla Güven, who, on Friday, reaches her 100th day without food. The 14 hunger strikers in Strasbourg and Imam Sis in Wales will then have reached day 61. Most of the hunger strikers are political prisoners who are treated extra harshly. All these people are putting their lives on the line because other forms of campaigning have left the world unmoved.

If you want to give support to the hunger strikers’ basic call for human rights, please check out some suggested actions here.

How the Turkish state treats hunger-striking prisoners

There are currently 295 political prisoners in Turkish jails on hunger strike for an end to Ocalan’s isolation. We have jsut received this list of violations of their rights, as documented by lawyers:

  • Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against all prisoners who were on a perpetual and non-perpetual hunger strike. Disciplinary action was taken against prisoners who were on a hunger strike in Bandirma No.2 Type-T Prison.
  • Adem Arslan who is currently in Edirne type F prison, was forcibly dragged and taken out of his prison cell by soldiers to be taken to his court hearing. Arslan was subjected to physical and verbal assault. In Edirne type F Closed Prison, the prisoners are not allowed to take any forms of medication including Vitamin B Tablets, or any other multi-vitamins.
  • Prisoners Cesim Yildirim and Ersan Nazlier were sentenced to an extra 27 months of imprisonment for continuing with the indefinite hunger strike. Disciplinary actions were also taken against the two prisoners, including all fax and letters sent by the hunger strikes.
  • Ibrahim Kaya who is currently in Kandira Closed Prison, a long term hunger striker, has lost 10 kilos. As a result of hunger strike activities his health conditions continues to deteriorate with every passing day.
  • In most of the prisons any form of medication, such as Vitamin B Tablets and carbonate, is not given to the prisoners. These are vitamins that were already used before going into sick bay. It is reported that the carbonate is needed during the hunger strike because the majority of the prisoners cannot afford to purchase medications.
  • On 26/12/2018 Suleyman Benzer who has started a hunger strike, was put into a single cell after his action. It has been confirm that it is not possible to carry out his basic needs by himself.
  • As the five indefinite hunger strikers refused to be taken into Sick Bay, their daily health check-up is not carried out by the Prison officers.
  • Zerdest Onducu, an indefinite hunger striker who started his strike on 23rd December 2018 was only examined once by doctors in Edirne Type T Prison on 18th January 2019. Health personnel are insufficient in terms of necessary controls in Silivri No. 5 L Type Prison. Regular checks are not being done frequently. Even when these are done they are not being done professionally or taken seriously. A team of medical staff are acting ideologically and they are verbally abusive with their sarcastic attitudes.

A message for the annual International Brigade commemoration in Dundee

As today’s world draws ever closer to that of the 1930s, we look for the current forces of resistance – the Republican Spain of our times. One of the greatest sources of hope, and the most inspiring, must be the Kurdish movement in Northern Syria. Here the power vacuum created by the civil war has allowed the Kurds and their neighbours to establish an autonomous area based around grassroots democracy, women’s rights and a multicultural society. But this area of hope is under threat from Turkey, who have already invaded and taken over the canton of Afrin, and would like to clear the whole area of both Kurds and democracy.

We ask you to commemorate those who fought and died for Republican Spain by giving support to those fighting for a better world in today’s Syria.

The Kurds and their allies, who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, are brave and effective fighters. They have proved themselves in leading the fight against ISIS, but they have no air power. Their urgent demand is for a no-fly zone over northern Syria, and we can put pressure on our elected representatives to make this a reality.

Many of the political ideas that have inspired the society that is being established in northern Syria, and that the Kurds also attempted to put into practice in eastern Turkey, were developed by the hugely respected Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan. On Friday it will be 20 years since Ocalan was abducted, in a plot involving the CIA, and sent back to Turkey, where he has been imprisoned ever since. Increasingly he has been kept in total isolation, denied visits from even his family and his lawyers. This is against the Turkish constitution as well as against international human rights law, which regards it as torture. It is also a major block to any future peace settlement for the Kurds in Turkey, as Ocalan has been a dedicated peace negotiator, with the popular support to make peace a reality

Over 300 Kurds have gone on indefinite hunger strike to demand an end to this illegal isolation. Most are political prisoners in Turkish jails. Others are in different places around the world, including 14 in Strasbourg, where they are trying to put pressure on the European Institutions to censure Turkey (which is a member of the council of Europe) and to visit Ocalan. A hunger strike is an action of last resort, only taken when the world refuses to listen. We can help make their voices heard. We have put together a list of actions that people can do to give support to the hunger strikers and their cause.


No Fly Zone key to future of Northern Syria – Salih Muslim tells Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Kurdistan

Last week Salih Muslim, head of foreign affairs for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the leading political party in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, joined us by Skype for a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Kurdistan at the Scottish Parliament. We were able to get first hand news of the situation in Northern Syria from a key political actor. We heard practical analysis of the military situation, and, crucially, we learnt that their one vital demand is for a no-fly zone to protect them from Turkish attack. Salih stressed that, with this, their own Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) would be well able to protect them on the ground. While the best solution would be for a no-fly zone to be organised by the UN, Salih saw possibilities for it to be guaranteed by other forces – by an international coalition, the Russians or the US. They could even work with the Syrian Government, though without going back to the situation in 2011. Salih reminded us that they have always made it clear that they consider themselves part of Syria, and that they are open for dialogue with everyone. Representatives from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) have been to Russia to present a road map for a democratic decentralised solution for the whole country, but are still waiting for the Russians’ response. They have also sent a delegation to the US.

Trump’s sudden announcement that the US was going to withdraw their troops came as a surprise to the DFNS, as it did to everyone. They have always been aware that the US coalition is not in Syria to protect them, but only a week earlier, US officers in Rojava had told them that their troops wouldn’t leave until Daesh was defeated, the area was stable, and Iran was out of Syria – none of which has happened.

They have a lot of evidence of how Turkey is helping Daesh. Turkey is trying to build a new empire, and the situation in Idlib is especially complicated. Turkey had agreed to destroy Al Nusra in Idlib, but have not kept their promise. Daesh, Al Nusra and Al Qaeda will all take a long time to be defeated, and Turkey is ready to help all these groups.

Asked about Afrin, Salih made it clear that the fight is far from over, assuring us ‘we will get it back for sure’. At present, though, there are some 120,000 people displaced from Afrin living in nearby Shahada, where it is very difficult for them to receive the vital help they need. They are effectively under siege from Turkey on one side and the Syrian regime on the other, and Syria has even blocked medicines from getting through.

Asked about Manbij, Salih explained that the city is protected by Manbij Military Council, which is part of the SDF. There are also still US coalition forces in the city. When Turkey began massing their forces from the north, in preparation for an invasion, Manbij Military Council contacted the Syrian Regime forces for support, through the Russians. There is a base of Regime and Russian forces west of Manbij. So far, Turkey has not moved further. A recent bomb that killed four US soldiers they believe to be the work of Turkish mercenaries trying to speed the US withdrawal. Manbij Military Council continues to patrol one side of the de-facto border, while Turkish troops patrol the other.

Salih explained how, in places liberated from Daesh, such as Manbij and Raqqa, they have arranged lectures and discussions to help people understand how different ethnic and religious groups can live together, and to learn the importance of women’s rights. As a result, Arab women have been joining the Asayis (the local security force) and the YPJ.

It was good to see Salih in Scotland again, even if only virtually. As usual, he ended with a reminder that visitors are welcome to come and see Northern Syria for themselves.

Trades Councils support Kurdish hunger strikers

Aberdeen TUC

Last night Trade Unionists from Aberdeen and Dundee sent messages of support to the hundreds of Kurds currently on indefinite hunger strike, and demanded action to end the isolation of Kurdish political leader, Abdullah Öcalan.

The Dundee Trades Council meeting was an AGM and was open to friends for a discussion of anti-cuts actions. After the meeting we gathered for a group photo with the Freedom for Ocalan flag. The Freedom for Ocalan campaign was the international issue supported by last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala, the biggest gathering of Trade Unions in the UK – but we had to warn everyone in the photo that posting an image of Ocalan on Facebook can get you banned. His is the only image treated in this way.

Dundee TUC

The statement from Aberdeen Trades council included an important comparison with solidarity actions against apartheid, and we quote it in full below. Fiona Napier, Secretary of ATUC, recently visited the fourteen hunger strikers in Strasbourg with Sarah Glynn from SSK. Fiona notes: “This is not the first time that Kurds have felt that hunger strike is the only option open to them. Those we spoke with in Strasbourg pointed out that they have tried every other avenue, and it has achieved nothing for the Kurdish cause, or Öcalan. All they are asking from the international community is to recognise and support their action, and for all of us to push our politicians to hold Turkey to account.”

Here is the Aberdeen Statement:

Aberdeen Trades Union Council (ATUC) stands with our Kurdish comrades currently on indefinite hunger strike, and echoes their call for an end to the isolation of Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan, incarcerated on the Turkish prison island of İmralı for the past 20 years. Such isolation is deemed a form of torture, outlawed by international law. ATUC calls on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to carry out its fundamental duty and visit Öcalan in prison. We also call on our elected representatives to do all in their power to see that pressure is put on Turkey to comply with human rights legislation.

Furthermore, we recognise the respect with which Öcalan is held by millions of Kurds who regard him as their leader; the hugely progressive impact of his ideas on women’s rights, democracy, and multi-ethnic society; and the vital role that he can play in negotiating a peaceful settlement between the Kurds and the Turkish Government.

International solidarity and action were required to end South African apartheid and see Nelson Mandela lead his people to freedom and justice after decades of imprisonment on Robben Island. The Kurdish people in their struggle for justice demand no less from us – and they demand justice for their imprisoned leader, locked in isolation in his island prison.

Here is the report of the Dundee meeting in the Kurdish media

Here is their report on Aberdeen

And here is the report on the Aberdeen Trades Council blog

How can we support the hunger strikers?

They are starving themselves so that the world takes notice and compels Turkey to end the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. We can help spread their message, we can put pressure on our elected representatives, and we can send them our personal support directly. Here are some suggested actions: (You can write to your MPs etc via this link:

1/ Check for news to read and share on and on our Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan facebook page,

2/ Sign the petition calling on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit Ocalan,

3/ Ask your union to send this information to all members and to consider submitting an emergency motion to the STUC conference. And ask your local Trades Council to contact affiliated unions and to organise a public meeting, and to consider sending a branch delegation to visit the hunger strikers in Strasbourg, as a show of solidarity.

4/ Ask your MP to sign this EDM,; to raise the issue of Ocalan’s illegal isolation publicly wherever possible; to demand that the Foreign Minister puts pressure on Turkey to comply with its obligations to end the isolation of Ocalan and to restart the peace talks; and to demand that the UK stops selling Turkey weapons. It is the Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt, who is the UK representative on the Council of Europe, so they should specifically ask him to get the European institutions to back their words with actions and make Turkey comply with their own constitution and European human rights conventions.

5/ You can also email the Foreign Secretary directly on, with a copy to your MP.

6/ Ask your MEP to push for the EU to stop giving Turkey financial aid. You could also ask them to visit the hunger strikers when they go to Strasbourg

7/ Ask your MSP to sign this Motion,; to show public support for the hunger strikers’ call; and to ensure that no more Scottish Government money is given to firms that sell weapons to Turkey.

8/ Organise a public demonstration to raise awareness of the hunger strike. Share details of any events with us so we can publicise, and also share pictures so we can pass on to the Kurdish media.

9/ Send a personal postcard directly to the hunger strikers at 273 Avenue de Colmar, Strasbourg 67100, France

10/ And if you are able to go to Strasbourg, or Newport, yourself, you can be sure that your visit will be hugely appreciated. Please contact us if you are planning a visit.

Here is some background information you can use in your letters:

The isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan is contrary to Turkey’s own constitution and to international human rights law. Ocalan’s ideas have inspired a major movement for grassroots, multi-ethnic secular democracy, and the respect in which he is held makes him key to a peaceful settlement for the Kurds in Turkey – an ideal for which he has strived repeatedly over the last two decades.

Ocalan is in his 20th year of imprisonment by Turkey and is being denied access to his family and to his lawyers. Ocalan’s importance, together with the lack of international action, has forced the Kurds to take the desperate step of mass indefinite hunger strikes. MP Leyla Guven has been on hunger strike since 8 November. She has been joined by over 250 other political prisoners in Turkish jails and also by Kurdish activists around the world, including 14 at the seat of the European parliament in Strasbourg, and Imam Sis in the Kurdish Community Centre in Newport, Wales, who began their own hunger strike on 17 December.

The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, regards Isolation as a torture and a crime against humanity, but they need to act on their words. The European Court of Human Rights must take action against Turkey on many counts, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture must fulfil its role and visit Ocalan in prison. At the same time, the EU and UK must end their friendly engagement with Turkey, and European countries, including the UK, must stop selling Turkey weapons that will be used to suppress dissidents and minorities at home and attack Kurdish areas across the border.

In response to the pressure of the hunger strike, the Turkish Government has allowed Ocalan’s brother a brief, ten-minute, visit – the first in 2 ½ years – and they have allowed Leyla Guven home on the 78th day of her strike. But the strikers are united in their determination that these token gestures are not enough and that they won’t be distracted from their fundamental and simple demand.

As Leyla Guven says, ‘The isolation of Ocalan is a barrier on the way to peace.’



On leaving the Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg

2 of the hunger strikers, Gulustan and Kardo


Their bellies are empty, but their hearts are full.

As the kilogrammes fall away, so the morale keeps building,

And the smiles – can we ever forget those smiles?


Eleven men and three women putting their lives on the line

And for each one, nine others happy to be in their place

An ultimate act of will that throws down a challenge of vulnerability

What power is so strong that it can overthrow the most basic instinct for survival?


‘We starve because we love life’ – they tell us

We risk our own lives so our children can enjoy theirs


They are here for Ocalan, far away in a Turkish jail

Ocalan, who must be freed

But for now, a simple demand –

To make Turkey follow their own constitution and end his isolation


A simple demand, but no-one listens

They protest, and no one hears

They march and no one sees

They lobby and no one cares

So the world’s indifference has brought them to this

How many must die for the world to take notice?


And Ocalan?

What man can inspire such devotion?


His portrait looks down from a thousand walls

But this moustached uncle is no Stalin

His philosophy inspires deepest democracy and freedom

He gives us that Kurdish smile

For twenty years he has led the call for peace

Ready for the time when Turkey will respond with sincerity

He holds the key to the Kurdish question

But Turkey still guards the lock


I fly home to humdrum reality

And the enormity of what I have seen only gets harder to comprehend

But those fourteen men and women have revived my belief in humanity


Revolutionaries are not just figures in flickering black and white

They are struggling in Turkish prisons and Rojava villages

And in a non-descript community centre among the nineteenth century apartment blocks of Strasbourg


Sarah Glynn

Amsterdam Airport

26th January 2019




Kurdish freedom under attack

As we watch with horror the ease with which most of the world is prepared to abandon Syria’s Kurds to an uncertain and bloody fate, we can’t forget the part that is being played by the authorities here in Scotland. The UK Government has prioritised arms sales to Turkey, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the UK leads the resistance to ending the designation of the PKK as terrorists – as in the recent European Court action that found the grounds for the terrorist designation unsupportable. The PKK’s egalitarian philosophy and their history of resistance to the suppression of Kurdish culture has earned the organisation and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, the respect and support of Kurds across the world. Öcalan’s ideas have been fundamental to the grassroots revolution in Syria, and he has made many attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement for the Kurds in Turkey. Any Turkish government that wanted to see a peaceful future would have to talk to him. We can imagine a time when a future UK prime minister might feel compelled to pay their respects at the scene of Öcalan’s incarceration in the same way as Theresa May has visited Robbin Island, but so long as the UK Government is in thrall to Turkey, active support for the PKK will be deemed illegal. And the UK terrorism Act gives the police wide powers to arrest on suspicion, even where there is no evidence of actual ‘terrorist’ activity. Much has been written about how the ‘Prevent’ legislation criminalises groups based on racial or religious profiling. For the last three years this legislation has been used to arrest members of the Edinburgh Kurdish community – possibly at the instigation of the local Turkish Consulate. The community has suffered dawn raids and house searches. Flags in Kurdish colours, and other equally unthreatening items, have been taken away, and this year several men will have to appear in court.

This targeting of the community makes it difficult for Scottish Kurds to express their political views at a time when their relations in Syria and Turkey are under attack. It even makes it difficult for them to express their Kurdish identity. Most of these families have come to the UK because they were oppressed in their homelands if they identified as Kurdish. Now they are under similar constraints here.

When Scotland’s Kurdish voices most need to be heard they are being silenced by Scottish police. Even when they speak they must self-censor. Talk about fighting Daesh – fine; talk about implementing Öcalan’s ideas of grassroots multicultural feminist democracy and you might tread on more dangerous territory. Welcome to 21st Century Britain.

SSK’s last public meetings of 2018 were in solidarity with the community members who had been arrested. In Edinburgh we were joined by Ross Greer MSP who emphasised the need to support the community and to take up the issue of criminalisation of the community with the police and justice department. A representative from the community explained how the police actions have intimidated them, and especially affected the children and their ability to express their cultural identity, and Sarah Glynn described how Öcalan’s ideas, which these actions attempt to shut down, are being implemented in building a new progressive society in Northern Syria. The meeting supported the campaign for the PKK to be de-listed, and for this to be raised with MSPs. In Glasgow a packed room heard the writer James Kelman, a long-term supporter of the Kurds, as well as SSK’s Stephen Smellie and Roza Salih.

Glasgow solidarity meeting

A unanimous message of support was also sent to the community from the Islamophobia conference jointly held by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and the Islamic Human Rights Council on 15 December.

An article in the Morning Star quoted both the SSK and James Kelman, and we organised a long letter calling for a stop to this persecution of Kurds seeking sanctuary in Scotland that was signed by politicians and trade unionists, and published in the National.

December also saw Sarah co-moderating the session on solidarity at the annual Kurdish conference held in the European Parliament, and meeting fellow activists from across Europe;

Sarah and Roza wrote to the National highlighting Erdoğan’s threat to the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (even before Trump’s sudden announcement of US withdrawal); and we sent a message of solidarity to HDP MP Leyla Güven, who is in prison in Turkey and on hunger strike to call for an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.

Over this last year, Kurdish achievements, in building an alternative society and beating back Daesh, have only been matched by the growing threat to their very existence by outside forces, and everyone must be concerned about what 2019 will bring. There are not many of us, but we will continue to try and ensure people in Scotland are aware of what is happening, and that we can show Scottish solidarity for Kurds under attack everywhere.


A bit of culture

On 18th November 2018, Glasgow Life and Kurdish Cultural Group organised a gathering in Kelvingrove Museum for the Kurdish Community to see the objects that Glasgow Museums holds on the Kurdish diaspora. A number of items were displayed and it surprised many of the Kurds that Glasgow had Kurdish traditional belongings, such Kurdish clothing and Kurdish cultural Jewellery. Many of the Kurdish people who attended the gathering asked if Glasgow Museum could display these items in the main area of the museum. For this to happen I believe the Kurds and other organisations need to write to Glasgow City Council to find a location for them. Overall this was a fantastic event that explained Kurdish stories through the objects. The attendees included members of the Kurdish community and Scottish citizens. The display was followed by Kurdish food, and beautiful music played by Media and Zana to entertain the guests. – Roza Salih

And on 28th November Roza spoke about solidarity with Kurdistan at the Writers for Miners event in Glasgow, whilst writers and singers recalled solidarity with the miners.