Yet again we are in the middle of a wave of assorted condemnations of assorted ways in which Turkey is cracking down on the Kurdish political movement. The European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur ‘firmly condemns’, as do the ‘Socialists and Democrats’ in the European Parliament but ‘strongly’, while the Left Group chooses to condemn ‘emphatically’. The US State Department is only ‘closely following’ and ‘monitoring’ https://www.state.gov/actions-in-turkeys-parliament/. However none of them ever chooses to mention the elephant in the room, more precisely the leader in jail: Abdullah Öcalan.
It’s about time they do.
One news tumbled over the other this week. There was the conviction and expulsion from parliament of HDP MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, one of the most outspoken human rights defenders of the last couple of years and recently very active in speaking out about the deeply humiliating practice of strip searches at police stations and prisons. There was the official start of the process to not only ban the HDP but also to ban almost 700 HDP politicians from politics for five years. That’s what the above mentioned condemnations were about. No condemnation, worry of ‘closely following’ was expressed after the third remarkable news: the lawyers of Abdullah Öcalan worry about his health and demand immediate access to their client.
Hungerstrikes again in Turkish prisons
No contact has been established with Öcalan since the last phone conversation he had in April 2020. The lawyers visited him at Imralı prison for the last time in August 2019. Anonymous accounts on social media shared worrying messages about his health, about which the truth could not be established. Naturally, people demand to know how he is and a hungerstrike is once again going on in Turkish prisons (well past three months now) to break this isolation, but for now to no avail.
The condemnations start to sound more hollow with every further strangling of Kurdish politics, with every further step towards the annullment of the will of 6 million citizens of Turkey, with every refusal of the Turkish government to comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and release Selahattin Demirtaş. Erdoğan laughs out loud about these ‘condemnations and worries’, as he shifts up a gear and accelerates on the road to full dictatorship in 2023. He once said that democracy is a train that you can unboard once you reach your destination. The train is about to arrive, the democratic veneer has become so thin and worn out that it is about to blow away in the wind. The train will then come to a rasping halt in a deserted, barren land. And then it will be 2023, Turkey’s centennial anniversary and Erdoğan will rule like Atatürk once did: in an effectively one party system where no dissent is accepted.
Genie is out of the bottle
But it will be 2023 and not 1923. Back then, the Kurdish identity wasn’t so strongly developed yet now, it is. And you can throw Kurds in jail, you can ban them from politics, you can bomb Kurdish citizens and their armed movement, but they won’t go away and the genie cannot be pushed back into the bottle. They are educated, they are proud now of who they are, they have demands and their demands are legitimate. They demand a safe life, they demand political representation, they demand their language. Even in this deserted, barren dictatorial land, they will fight, one way or the other. If parliament seats are off limits, if municipality buildings are inaccessible, if proper journalism or providing legal representation for those prosecuted land you in jail, the options become scarce. The mountains will always be there as a refuge, as a place to stand proud of who you are.
Öcalan doesn’t have eternal life. Solving the Kurdish issue is easier when he is involved. It will anger Erdoğan tremendously, but it’s about time so please, everybody with their mouth full of human rights and respect for democratic values, start speaking up for the freedom of the one leader that can stop the situation from spiralling further out of control. Say it out loud that yes, the PKK is on your list of terrorist organisations but that Turkey nevertheless has to talk to the leader of this movement because it is the only way to turn the tide.
A genuine peace process, and the EU or any other institution should volunteer to be the third party involved and lead the state and the PKK to a real deal.
A beating heart
Unrealistic? You know what’s unrealistic? Leaving citizens of Turkey, in all their splendid diversity, in Erdoğan’s train to nowhere. Instead of that nightmare, demand with them what seems impossible. Break the taboo of demanding Öcalan’s freedom. You know that when he walks out of jail, the Kurdish issue will be solved.
He will leave that prison cell one day and it is of the uttermost importance that he does so with a beating heart. Act. Now.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.