Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been incarcerated in severe solitary confinement in Turkey since his abduction in Kenya by the intelligence agencies of Turkey and the United States on 15 February 1999.
There has been no word from him at all since 25 March 2021, when he had a telephone conversation with his brother Mehmet Öcalan for a few minutes, before being abruptly cut off.
The last time Öcalan’s lawyers were able to make contact with him was in August 2019.
We are publishing Öcalan’s letter to the ECHR, written in December 2010 and translated by Medyanews into English for the first time, in three parts.
On my prison life on İmralı Island – Part 2
Prisons are not just for rehabilitation, they are also spaces where people learn how to effectively fulfil moral and voluntary duties to society. The same is true for freedom fighters who take to the mountains. Being a freedom guerrilla means fulfilling one’s moral and political duties to the community at the utmost level, and taking on that consciousness and ethical duty. It means doing whatever is necessary for liberation in relation to self-defence. Becoming a freedom guerrilla is not a way to build personal influence or power. That would not be the fight for freedom, but the fight for power. For those kinds of people, taking to the mountains (or leaving them) has no moral or societal value. They turn easily to betrayal when they do not find what they are looking for. These people cannot fulfil their duties to the community in any area.
What I mean by all this is this: All places have the same characteristics for those whose social existence is in a state of absolute enslavement and those who have experienced dissolution. Meaningless distinctions such as ‘inside is bad, outside is good’, or ‘armed is bad, unarmed is good,’ will not change the fundamental effort and goal of the fight for existence and freedom: Since human life is only meaningful when lived freely, wherever a life without freedom is lived that place is a dark dungeon.
The second concept is the development of a perception of reality in connection to the first. The only remedy to ensure the strength to endure in the dungeon is to develop a perception of reality. The strong experience of the perception of reality relating to life in general is the attainment of the greatest delight in life, or indeed, the meaning of life. If people undertand well what they are living for, they can live anywhere with no problem.
Life loses its meaning if it is spent in a constant state of erroneousness and lies, paving the way for the degeneration of life itself. Dissatisfaction, discomfort, quarrels, profanity… These are natural outcomes of a degenerate life. Human life is an absolute miracle, for those who have an advanced perception of reality. Life is a source of excitement and enthusiasm, it holds the secret meaning of the universe. As one discovers this secret, even in a dungeon, enduring life does not pose a problem. If the dungeon is for the sake of freedom, what will grow there is one’s perception of reality. Life that grows in this way can transform the harshest pain into happiness.
For me, İmralı Prison has become a veritable battleground for reality, with regard to understanding the phenomenon of the Kurds and the Kurdish issue, as well as constructing possibilities for a solution. Outside, discourse and action have more validity. Inside, meaning reigns supreme. Outside, it would have been very difficult for me to develop the ideas relating to the political philosophy that I have expressed in a more extensive and concrete manner in this defence.
Even grasping the concept of politics itself requires great effort, it requires a strong perception of reality. It is possible to say that my coming to terms with the depth of myself as a positivist dogmatic is strongly connected to my being in isolation. I have come to comprehend better under isolation conditions that there are varying conceptualisations of modernity and a diverse range of nation-building models, and that societal structures are man-made and fictional, as well as flexible by nature.
Overcoming the nation-state was important for me. This concept had been a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist principle for me for a long time, it was in the nature of a dogma that should never be altered. When I focused on societal nature, civilisation and modernity, I grasped that this principle could have nothing to do with socialism, and that it was merely a remnant of class civilisation and maximal societal search for power, legitimised by capitalism. As a result, I had no hesitation in rejecting it.
If there was to be a truly scientific socialism as claimed, those who would need to change were the masters of real socialism, i.e., people like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Castro themselves. It had been a great mistake for them to embrace a capitalist concept, and it did great harm to the cause of socialism.
As I understood better that capitalist liberalism had an extremely strong ideological hegemony, I started to better analyse modernity. I saw that a democratic modernity is not only possible, but also more real, more contemporary, and more liveable than capitalist modernity.
Since real socialism never got past the notion of nation-states, taking it as a fundamental truth for modernity, we never thought another kind of nationalism, for instance a democratic nationalism, could exist. A nation could not exist without a state! If Kurds were a nation, they would have to have a state! But as I came, by focusing on social phenomena, to the understanding that the nation itself was the most disconnected of realities in recent centuries, that it had been shaped under the strong influence of capitalism, and that the nation-state model was an iron cage for societies, I realised that freedom and communality were more valuable concepts.
Realising that fighting for the sake of nation-states was in fact fighting for capitalism, my political philosophy was greatly transformed. A fight for narrow nationalism and classism (both would take one to the same place in essence) was not going to result in anything but a fortification of capitalism. I realised that in a sense, I was a victim of capitalist modernity.
As I came to see that social sciences imposed by modernity were not truly sciences but contemporary mythologies, my consciousness of history and society grew deeper. My comprehension of the truth experienced a revolution. As I tore apart capitalist dogma, I began to get to know society and history with more enjoyment, understanding more of the truth. During this time, the name I called myself was the ‘Truth Hunter’.
In Turkish there is a saying, “Run, hare,run! Catch, hound, catch!”, which capitalist modernity imposes on the Kurds. I turned the meaning on its head, transforming it into “hunt capitalist modernity”. When the perception of reality develops as a whole, it secures supremacy of meaning that cannot be compared to anything prior, no matter what field we look at, be that social, or even the physical or biological. Under prison conditions I could have as many daily truth revolutions as I wanted. It goes without saying that nothing else could provide the strength for endurance as much as this does.
The strengthening of the comprehension of truth also had an effect on developing practical solutions. The Turkish state mentality is always credited with being sacred and unique. The concept of governance brings to mind the concept of the state. This mentality finds its roots in the Sumerians, and it has been passed down through generations in both the Arab and Farsi cultures, having merged with the divine.
The phenomenon of power holds a strong position at the root of the concept of monotheism. Turks, as elites formed among the powers-that-be, developed maybe fourth or fifth versions of this concept. Without knowing its roots or etymology, they were influenced by its outcomes. In the Seljuk and Ottoman practices, it became enwrapped in a completely dark meaning – or more accurately, meaninglessness. It became such that sometimes dozens of siblings or relatives were executed in the pursuit of power.
With the coming of the republic, this understanding donned another disguise – or rather, the national sovereignty and nation-state developed in Europe were applied directly to the power with no adaptations. This made the Turkish nation-state into a still more dangerous Leviathan. Whoever interfered with it was executed. The nation state was the most sacred of all sacred things. This was particularly true for the bureaucrat class. The problem of power and state became the most complicated social issue in its history.
I focused mostly on the concepts of power and the state in İmralı. As I came to understand what kind of a role these concepts played in relations between Turks and Kurds, I felt the strong urge to turn towards more concrete, practical solutions. I also felt the need to trace the thousand year development of power and state arrangements regarding Turkish-Kurdish relations back to the Hittites. And as I better understood the tight geopolitical and geostrategic relations between the cultures of power and state in Mesopotamia and Anatolia, and applied this to Turkish-Kurdish relations, I could easily see that drawing distinctions between the state and power was not an intelligent method. I did not embrace the concepts of power and the state, as they were concepts developed against the concept of democracy. The more I saw that abandoning all governance to power and state forces was a great loss for society, the better I understood the importance of democracy.
Realising that the anarchistic denial of power and the state led to serious insolubility issues in practice, I became aware that denial of the sharing of power and the state was incompatible with historical fact, even though this was not a method of solution I preferred. A democratic government was our primary preference, but I understood better the significance of the concepts of power and the state in partnership as I grasped that denial of the unified cultures of power and the state through history and the failure to comprehend the aspects of them that were right to share in terms of society, could not lead to healthy, practical solutions.
There were intense relations and attempts at frequently converging models were tried in the policies and strategies of power and the state in Anatolia and Mesopotamia throughout history. Similar models were also preferred in all critical periods of Turkish-Kurdish relations. This model was attempted most recently during the national war of liberation. I went over these matters extensively in my defence. As well as presenting it in the form of a theoretical model, there was immense value in transforming it into a practical project for a solution not only to Turkish-Kurdish relations, but also to other crises in the Middle East similarly at an impasse. In particular the project involved elements that were both compatible with historical facts and closest to everybody’s ideals for a practical solution against the positivist dogmatism imposed by capitalist modernity. It was important that I focused on the concepts of democratic modernity, the Democratic Nation and Democratic Autonomy in relation to power and the state, in the light of historical developments.
Another historical reality was that central government was the exception, while local governments were the rule. As I comprehended better the connection between capitalism and the presentation of the centralised nation-state as the one and absolute model today and its inner workings became more understandable to me, the importance of local solutions for democracy became clearer.
I arrived at similar conclusions for the relation between violence and power. It was obvious that it could not be our preference to become a power and a nation through violence. Except in cases with a requirement of obligatory self-defence, the attainment of social advantage through violence also had nothing to do with socialism. Other than self-defence, violence of any nature could only be valid for monopolies of power and exploitation. Conceptual development in this direction placed great importance on approaching the issue of peace in a more principled and meaningful manner. I had thus achieved a significant conceptual and theoretical accumulation that would void the ‘separatist’ and ‘terrorist’ labels placed by the state and power elites, that put pressure on the Kurds and indeed all sections of society under oppression and exploitation.
Our dialogues with the state authorities on the basis of this conceptual and theoretical accumulation were more fruitful and ensured creativity for practical solutions. As can be seen in various sections of my defence, it was possible to develop theoretical and practical solutions with the contribution of developments in the perception of reality and societal freedom in numerous similar areas.
First part of Abdulah Öcalan’s letter to the ECHR
Third part of Abdulah Öcalan’s letter to the ECHR