Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has recently applied officially to visit Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – for four reasons, including putting a stop to the Turkish government’s efforts to manipulate the situation, said HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar on Sunday.
The HDP’s application comes at a time when Turkey has escalated military operations against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and North and East Syria, and the Turkish military is accused of using chemical weapons in its cross-border operations.
“First of all I should say, yes, we lodged an application to visit Öcalan. I should also say why: in a period in which there is so much focus on war policies, everyone knows that Öcalan can play a role in paving the way to an ending the conflict, and to peace and a solution,” Mithat Sancar told BBC Turkish in an exclusive interview.
“Another reason is that we see that the government is keen to continuously manipulate the situation around İmralı,” said Sancar, referring to the prison where Öcalan is an inmate. “They spread various rumours and stories. We say that the most effective way to prevent such manipulations is to see him face to face,” the politician continued.
The Turkish government has several times tried to use its powers to limit access to Öcalan for their own political gains. In 2019, the last time his lawyers were able to visit, Öcalan handed a letter to them, mere days before critical local elections. This letter was made public not by the lawyers, but by an academic the government sent to İmralı to visit Öcalan two days later. In his letter Öcalan advised the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to follow a ‘third way’. The government tried to manipulate that advice, having the pro-government media claim that the PKK leader was encouraging Kurdish voters to stay neutral and not to support the opposition’s mayoral candidates. Despite all this, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost mayoral seats in both İstanbul and Ankara in 2019.
The third reason for the application was to stop speculation that has been arising due to the government’s manipulations, Sancar said, referring to rumours among the opposition about a possible rapprochement between the HDP and the AKP.
The PKK leader, who has been serving a life sentence since 1999, is one of only four prisoners in İmralı Prison, and all have been under strict isolation for years, rarely if ever allowed to communicate with the outside world. The last time Öcalan had any contact with a family member was on 25 March 2021, when he was allowed only a very brief telephone conversation with his brother Mehmet.
As a result of this strict isolation, a September inspection of İmralı prison by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) was arranged, and was welcomed by Öcalan’s lawyers, who hoped to get word from their client after 18 months of silence. However, despite repeated questioning, the CPT delegation has so far declined to clarify whether they actually had a face-to-face meeting with the PKK leader during their visit.
That Öcalan is not allowed to have visits from anyone, including family members, and is even banned from telephone contact, constitutes extreme isolation and a violation of the law, said Sancar. “To yet again draw attention to this” is the fourth reason for the HDP’s request to visit the PKK leader, he said.