Abdullah (Apo) Öcalan (i.e, Serok Apo) has been imprisoned and held on an island off Istanbul, Imrali since the late 1990s. This prison is known to be host to many dangerous prisoners throughout history. Öcalan’s life today consists of daily routines of reading, writing and constantly being watched by prison guards. His contact with the outside world is minimal, he has not spoken to anyone other than his younger brother Mehmet Öcalan, a member of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the person he passes messages to forward to the Kurdish people of Bakuri (North), Kurdistan. For those who are not familiar with the mappings of Kurdistan, Bakuri Kurdistan is currently under their control of its host country Turkey.
What did this man do that got him imprisoned on an island outside Istanbul, Turkey? Before answering this question, I will give a little background about Abdullah Öcalan’s life and how he became such an icon for the Kurdish people of Northern (Barkuri) Kurdistan. In my opinion, this will help the reader understand his current situation.
Serok Apo was born on April 4, 1948. He was the founder and leader of the Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan (PKK) or Kurdistan Workers Party in 1978. What triggered him to create the PKK? Well, it is merely because of the Turkish government’s poor treatment of the Kurdish people. It was because Turkey denied Kurdish people’s existence and tortured them in all aspects of life. The PKK resisted against the Turkish government and was no longer going to allow this colonist power to control the people. Historically, Kurds experienced persecution and pressure from host countries to assimilate to a way of life that was not theirs. As the group started to grow and more Kurdish people joined, the Turkish government became afraid that if the Kurds continued on their path, they would ultimately gain an independent state and Turkey would no longer control this group of people. At first, Öcalan was sentenced to death but it was changed to life imprisonment as capital punishment was eliminated in hopes of European Union membership (a struggle which Turkey continues to have).
This political representative and key figure in the struggle for cultural rights in democracy for the Kurds has not always been such a Kurdish nationalist. In fact, in his early years Öcalan did not accept himself as a Kurd. It was not until he started reading literature on Kurds that he came to accept himself as a Kurd; it was when he really understood himself and after his studies that he reached that conclusion. From that moment onwards, he continued and continues to this day to fight for the right and recognition of the Kurdish people. furthermore, the Kurds in that region were treated unsympathetically by the Turkish government. His educational background in Political Science has definitely influenced his thoughts on the way he advocates for peaceful solutions on Kurdish conflicts within the Turkish borders.
Although their have been talks about bringing a solution to end this conflict, I have not seen any attempts from the Turkish government or the greatest power in the world (United States) to free the PKK leader and bring peace to the Kurds. What I seem to be struggling with or shall I say, what does not settle with me well, is the fact that the U.S claims itself to be a nation that wants democracy for all and yet it considers PKK as a terrorist organization. How can one be labelled such a name when the truth is that they just want what everyone in American has: democracy. Indeed, America seems to have a blind spot on the group and Öcalan himself. America does not really understand the motives of the group and the struggle they face each and everyday for the liberation of Kurds in Northern Kurdistan, or maybe it refuses to believe it. If anything, I truly believe that he is a victim of terrorism just like how Nelson Mendela was for years. Both inspirational leaders struggled a great deal throughout time as they stood up against the oppression and vouched for human rights and their assimilation was as a result of fighting for a noble cause; for the greater good of the people. Furthermore, I am not going to say that the PKK have not killed, indeed they have. They have in order to protect and save the Kurdish people from the Turkish government and army. If we are going to label people as “terrorists”, it should be the Turkish government with this label. I say this because for years and years Turkey has mistreated Kurds in the most unimaginable ways. Hence, it is obvious that the Turkish regime prefers to not acknowledge Kurdish struggles within the region or in most part acknowledge the existence of the Kurdish population as if it would make the “Kurdish” problem disappear. It would just make it easier for Turkey not acknowledge its people because if it did then it has to give back the Kurdish what is rightly theirs; land, oil, natural minerals, own government system etc. Without these resources, Turkey would not be the same Turkey we see today, in fact I am most certain that it would not be able to survive as well (this is a whole other topic which I will try to cover in the near future).
I will conclude this article with a quote from the legend himself which sums up everything quite well:
“Our fight was never directed against people, a religion, a denomination or group, this could never be the case. Our fight was directed against suppression, unknowledge, injustice and enforced Backwardness, against all forms of repression and slavery“.