The international conspiracy against Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, initiated by NATO’s Gladio network in 1985, was pursued by a partnership of Germany, England, Israel, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, European Parliament, Council of Europe, France, Italy, Netherlands, Russia and finally in 1999, with Switzerland and Kenya as well. Öcalan, who was brought to Turkey on 15 February 1999, under the leadership of the US, has been held in conditions of severe isolation in İmralı High Security Prison for 23 years. The PKK leader, who had a last quickly curtailed phone call with his brother Mehmet Öcalan on 25 March 2021, has not had any contact with anyone on the outside since then.
Through his continued struggle, Öcalan has thwarted both the international conspiracy and the unprecedented isolation imposed on him, and through the paradigm he has presented has given hope to communities. As the paradigm becomes more visible among communities with each passing day, counter-moves made by sovereign powers against it are in vain. These communities have found in Öcalan’s paradigm solutions to the internationally intensifying economic and social crises, and are crying out across the world that the PKK leader should be freed as soon as possible. On Öcalan’s birthday, 4 April, communities worldwide will take to the streets to demand the freedom of the PKK leader once again. Emran Emekçi, a lawyer from Asrın Law Office and Öcalan’s defence lawyer, answered our questions about the PKK leader’s birthday and the reflection of the paradigm on the Kurds, the Middle East and the world.
What does it mean to be born as a Kurd in the Middle East and Mesopotamia?
According to the 1921 constitution, the Kurds and the Kurdish identity were represented in the parliament, and locally, they had self-government status. However, after liberation was achieved and the republic was declared, the Kurds were suddenly ignored. The First Assembly was dissolved by conspiracies and coups following the acceptance of the British conditions in the Lausanne process, and the approval of [the Treaty of] Lausanne by the Second Assembly which had been formed by the central list method, ensured the adoption of a strictly monist and centralist 1924 constitution. Still more than just the rejection of the individual and collective rights of the Kurds, their existence as a whole was ignored, and they were caught in the grip of denial and assimilation and left to a fate worse than slavery. The Sheikh Said rebellion developed in response to this, but was used as an excuse for the announcement of the Eastern Reform Plan and the subsequent suppression of the Ağrı and Dersim rebellions intertwined with an intense process of Turkification meant that by the 1950s, in their own words, the Kurdish dreams of freedom were buried in the grave. In the words of the then Minister of Justice, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, non-Turkish people had only one right in this country; it was the right to be a slave and a servant!
How did Öcalan, whose birth coincided with these years, interpret his own birth?
Abdullah Öcalan was born on 4 April 1948 (though this was officially recorded as 14 April 1949) in the village of Ömerli (Amara) of Halfeti district of Urfa (Rıha) during years when the aforementioned provision wasmaking itself felt with all its weight. Even in slavery, there was no denial of language and identity, but he was born as a Kurd left to a fate worse than that of a slave, whose language and identity were ignored and who could not even lay claim to his own language. In the primary school he attended, it was forbidden to study or even to speak in his mother tongue. This is why Öcalan, in his first composition class, rebelled against the system of denial with his essay titled “You are my unborn child”, saying that the child in his imagination had not been born yet. He summarised what it meant to be born as a Kurd with the words, “Actually, I was not born, if I was born I have not lived, if I lived I lived for freedom”. To be born as a Kurd was not to be born at all; denying ones existence, identity and lineage and accepting Turkification means breaking away from oneself, which is actually not being born. Again, a life in which the right to live freely with one’s own identity, language and culture has been reoved could not be called a life. One could be oneself, and have a meaningful birth and life, only by embarking on a struggle for freedom against those who ignored ones existence and identity. Once the actual birth had taken place, what remained was to make the birth meaningful in the face of this world of ignorance worse than slavery. To do this, he had no choice but to fight for freedom. But this choice was difficult. It was dangerous, and it demanded a price.
How has his demand for freedom been seen historically?
His demand to live freely with his own identity, culture and mother tongue was considered a crime, as “banditry” even before he was born. After his birth, it was considered “separatism”, and today it is “terrorism”. So his engagement in the struggle to achieve identity, culture, language and individual and collective rights and freedoms as a Kurd was met with all kinds of oppression, torture, extrajudicial crime, trial, punishment and imprisonment by the monist system. But the only way for Kurds with any dignity to make their birth meaningful was through the struggle to preserve their existence and achieve their freedom against those who denied their identity, culture, individual and collective rights, taking all these hazards into account.
What does the birth of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan mean for the Kurds?
With the birth of Öcalan, came also the birth of leadership of the Kurdish people, which for the first time in history would capture the “subject” status of the Kurdish people. In Öcalan, for the first time in history, the Kurdish people had political leadership, and a model and a paradigm for freedom that served their own will and interests.
Being born into a world based on denial of its existence was equivalent to not being born at all. He was to render his birth more meaningful with every step through his choices on the side of identity, dignity and struggle for freedom against a world in which his destiny had been determined before birth as one who should “renounce Kurdishness and be Turkified”. With these choices, he would both push back the system of denial and build up areas of freedom for himself and his people step by step. He would turn each year of his life into another year of making his own birth more meaningful, as well as making it a year of other meaningful births. Throughout the five thousand years of written history, the Kurds have always been held as “objects” with which foreign rulers or their own collaborative ruling classes played their many games. With the birth of Öcalan, came also the birth of leadership of the Kurdish people, which for the first time in history would capture the “subject” status of the Kurdish people. In Öcalan, for the first time in history, the Kurdish people had political leadership, and a path to and a paradigm for freedom that served their own will and interests.
For the people of the Middle East and the world…
It was the birth of the Middle East Renaissance and the Democratic Union of the Middle East for the people of the region. It was the birth of the contemporary Saladin against the new crusades of Capitalist Modernity in the Middle East. It was the birth of the modern Abrahamic movement against modern Nimrod and his pharaohs, the contemporary representative of the Sumerian and Egyptian slave-owning orders. It was the birth of the Kurd, who was held in a position worse even than slavery in contemporary Spartacus. It was the birth of the contemporary Jesus, who, despite being alone, marched on injustices and unscrupulousness and was crucified for it. It was the birth of the modern-day Prometheus, who stole fire from the hands of the gods and brought enlightenment to the people. Above all, it was the resurrection of woman, the first oppressed sex, the birth of the free woman. It was the birth of free-willed democratic Kurdishness. It was the decline of the republic of denial and the birth of the republic of democracy. It was the birth of democratic unions of peoples on a free, equal, voluntary basis. It was the birth of democratic self-government, democratic confederalism, democratic nationhood, the union of the Middle East with the democratic nations of the world, and the system of Democratic Modernity against Capitalist Modernity.
Öcalan has been in isolation in Imrali for 23 years. What can you say about the year in which millions of people cried, “Freedom for Öcalan!” in the Newroz celebrations?
Yes, millions of people cried, “Freedom for Öcalan!” in the Newroz celebrations this year. It has been proved once again that his freedom and the freedom of his people, of communities, of the individual and society, are one and the same. It is time for freedom. Freedom will win.
On this basis, as much as he rendered his birth of 74 years ago meaningful through freedom struggle he led in favour of the people, so he was also to make life meaningful based on freedom for himself, his people, and oppressed communities. Although he spent 23 years of his life fighting for freedom physically in an island prison between four walls, about which he said, “You cannot confine millions in a tiny room”, this was also the birth of the democratic solution and honourable peace through the determination of the peoples of Anatolia and Mesopotamia to turn this place into an island of peace. Whether Öcalan is kept in absolute isolation, on the cross or in his coffin, he will continue to represent birth, life, honourable peace and the elevation of the meaning of freedom. In his words, “My commitment to the principle that life will be free or not at all is from birth to death or eternity”. It was a path to freedom, and it would remain that way forever. Öcalan spent and still is spending every year in prison as a free person, by contributing to the freedom struggle of his people and communities. Despite all the negative conditions of imprisonment and isolation, including having no contact with the outside world a year, he continues his resistance for a free, equal voluntary union of people and honourable peace.
Despite the isolation and oppression, he did not surrender to Capitalist Modernity the will for freedom, which he represented in favour of the people, saying, “There can be no unity in slavery, meaningful unions are free unions.” On the contrary, with the defences and the alternative system of Democratic Modernity he developed, he provided millions with stronger ideological and political armaments in their will and struggle for freedom. Yes, millions of people cried “Freedom for Öcalan!” in the Newroz celebrations this year. It has been proved once again that his freedom and the freedom of his people, of communities, of individuals and society are one and the same. Sooner or later, the point to be reached will be a democratic solution and honourable peace, the free and equal voluntary union of the people of Turkey and the Middle East. The birth of Öcalan, the creator and interlocutor of this path, will be freedom’s victory. It is time for freedom. Freedom will win.