This 10 December, World Human Rights Day, was also declared to be Öcalan Books Day. The event draws attention to the political writings of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and propagating them internationally, with individuals from different countries participating in the initiative by reading excerpts from Öcalan’s books.
To mark the occasion, Medya News convened an online panel via Twitter Spaces, bringing together Kurdish and international academics and activists for a discussion on the significance of the Kurdish political leaders’ thought to 21st-century struggles across the globe. The panel brought together Fazela Mohammed, a veteran South African activist with many years’ experience throughout the country’s liberation movement and struggle against apartheid; Raperin, an international volunteer with the all-female, Kurdish-led Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in North and East Syria; and Dr. Hawzhin Azeez and Dr. Thoreau Redcrow, two academics focused on the Kurdish movement and co-directors of the Kurdish Centre for Studies. The panel can be listened to in full via the link above.
Öcalan Books Day forms part of a global campaign to end the total isolation and promote a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. Launched internationally on 10 October, the campaign aims to raise awareness of Öcalan’s plight and build support for a diplomatic and humane approach to the Kurdish question.
Mohammed spotlighted links between the South African and Kurdish struggles and the similarities in the detention of Öcalan and iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela, saying: “When Mandela was incarcerated, and even before his incarceration, the ANC decided that a big component of the struggle was support for Mandela and the mass detentions that were happening at the time. And the apartheid government decided to silence voices by putting people in jail…. In the same as Öcalan was hunted, Mandela was hunted. This notion of jailing people, putting them in prison, is a way for governments to silence people. For us, in South Africa, we understand struggles for freedom.”
The other participants all brought extracts from works by the jailed Kurdish leader. Sharing an extract in which the Kurdish leader propounded his vision of what self-defence and women’s political organisation could transform society, YPJ’s Raperin said: “Self-defence is very important. It’s different from the violent army of the state. Self-defence, in its essence, is essential: to protect freedom, to protect equality and democracy.”
Dr. Thoreau Redcrow shared his thoughts on Öcalan’s theory of history, which he characterised as a candle casting a unique light on the tapestry of history. Dr. Azeez also provided reflections on passages from Öcalan’s work which she described as unique in the extent to which they located women’s repression at the heart of historic and contemporary disenfranchisement. She said: “Within a society of hierarchical and statist power, women are habituate to slavery. The enslavement of men comes after the enslavement of women. This is an extremely powerful analysis.”
The presentations were followed by a discussion of the links between his vision of women-led, direct democracy, global struggles for indigenous, national and women’s rights, and how these can be fostered and strengthened. Mohammed noted the long-term nature of the South African struggle and the prominent role played in that struggle by women from the outset and their continued efforts to ensure representation, suggesting that the two movements could learn from one another’s experience and struggles. To conclude, the panelists took questions from the floor. Dr. Azeez assessed the less commonly-discussed question of what Öcalan’s vision could mean for men, and described his challenge to men to reformulate their personality as a crucial step toward undoing repressive hierarchies within society.
The campaign has also seen the launch of a website, ocalanbooks.com, which offers Öcalan’s writings in at least 16 languages, including English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
You can listen to the full panel here.