The Kurdish issue in Turkey, is one of, the denial of the identity of the Kurdish people. A denial of their identity, their history, their culture, language and their right to decide their own future. A people who because they decided not to abandon their identity were criminalised by the Turkish state and have been subjected for almost one hundred years, since the establishment of the modern Turkish state, to the most brutal and violent campaigns of repression that have included widespread war crimes of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Widespread racist crimes that they have suffered to the almost universal silence of global governments who have supported the Turkish state’s brutal suppression of the Kurds with silence and complicity, arms deals and economic interests that have meant that governments have not questioned the Turkish state’s preference of framing of the Kurdish issue in any other way than one of ‘fighting terrorism.’ This has left the Kurds to struggle mostly alone.
However, after the events in North and East Syria known also as Rojava, particularly the Kurds legendary defence of the city of Kobane against an overwhelming attack by ISIS in 2004, the world is beginning to recognise the Kurds as freedom fighters and people who share the values of the democratic world in fighting against racism, sexism and radical Jihadist terrorist organisations such as ISIS and al Qaeda and at the same time, fighting for a radical democracy in the Middle East that promotes equal representation, women’s freedom and progressive ecological principles.
Abdullah Öcalan, the recognised leader of the Kurdish people’s freedom movement, the PKK whose ideas guide this progressive movement, and whose fighters played such a critical role in saving Kobane and the defeat of ISIS, was abducted on 15th Feb 1999 after being forced out of Syria and embarking on a journey to find a peaceful, political solution to the Kurdish issue. After months of diplomatic efforts Ocalan was en route to South Africa to meet with members of the South African government where he had been assured political asylum by Mandela’s government, when he was abducted from the Greek embassy in Nairobi by Turkish intelligence agents and was flown back to Turkey and taken to a prison island called Imrali Island in the middle of the Sea of Marmara where he has remained in almost total isolation since. This 15 February he will be beginning his 24th year of a life sentence which has been ruled illegal by many bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights.
Of course the similarities between Nelson Mandela and Abdullah Ocalan are striking and uncanny.
Both men began the armed struggle against an uncompromising and racist oppressor, both men began an armed struggle when all other options for democratic struggle were closed down. Both men were jailed and labelled as ‘terrorists’ for leading their people in a struggle for freedom and both in a top security Island prison in total isolation from the world. Mandela for 27 years and Ocalan now facing his 24th year.
Many South Africans have travelled to Kurdistan and witnessed themselves the Turkish colonial regime’s racist suppression of the Kurdish struggle for basic rights and freedoms.
The legendary Anti Apartheid campaigner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had sent messages of support to the annual Kurdish conference in the EU Parliament and sent letters to the Turkish government condemning Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds.
Nelson Mandela himself refused a prize given to him in 1992 by the Turkish regime citing the repression of the Kurds in his reasons for refusing it and sent a message of suport to a mass rally in Germany in support of the Kurdish people’s struggle.
We pause to remember with such warm affection and respect yes, of course Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu but also, Essa Moosa, who sadly passed away in 2017. Essa Moosa who was a judge in the Supreme Court of South Africa. During the apartheid era, he was active as a lawyer defending political detainees, and was a founding member of the anti-apartheid National Association of Democratic Lawyers and he was the lawyer of Nelson Mandela who had participated in many Kurdish events in Turkey, Kurdistan and Europe, and shown such deep solidarity with the Kurdish Freedom Movement. He was also a member of the International Freedom For Öcalan Initiative established for the freedom of Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom.
Solly Mapaila, vice chairman of the South African Communist Party (SACP) who awarded Abdullah Ocalan with a special recognition award said “The SACP calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdullah Ocalan. Like our leader, president Nelson Mandela, Öcalan’s ideas and beliefs will not be broken Öcalan is one of the most important master keys of peace in the Middle East. For as long as Öcalan is in jail the whole of the Middle East will remain in chaos.”
To hear more about the connections and links between the revolutionary struggle of Black South Africans and the Kurds and of the latest international initiative calling for the release of Abdullah Ocalan we are very honoured today to be joined by Mahmoud Patel himself a central, long standing and dedicated pro Kurdish rights activist in South Africa. Mahmoud Patel is an academic, legal scholar and dedicated human rights activist.
Mahmoud Patel is the Chairperson of the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (KHRAG) in South Africa. Mahmoud has also served as a member in the Ideology Commission of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the Western Cape after being appointed by the head of the ANC Research and Development Unit (In Parliament). Mahmoud Patel is also a former member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation and armed wing of the ANC during the Anti Apartheid struggle)
Welcome Mahmoud, can we please begin by asking if you could just tell us a little about the background history of how the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group KHRAG came into being?
Mahmoud then began to explain the most interesting story of how the KHRAG came into existence. After a delegation of PKK members travelled to South Africa and discussions that had already began before planned arrival of Abdullah Öcalan to South Africa a group of politicians, parliamentarians, lawyers and human rights activists mostly from the South African freedom struggle and the South African Communist Party were gathering themselves together after meeting the PKK delegation.
Then soon after, when it had been decided to grant Abdullah Öcalan political asylum if he touched down on the soil of South Africa or Nambia and this same grouping came together again to begin to prepare to welcome him to South Africa. When Öcalan was kidnapped in Kenya before he could arrive in South Africa, this group then formed themselves into the KHRAG and began to campaign immediately for not only the release of Abdullah Öcalan but to campaign to raise awareness and support for the Kurdish people’s freedom struggle.
Mahmoud described how vital it was for international solidarity in the struggle to free Mandela and to achieve democratic change in South Africa and spoke about the urgent need for the same solidarity networks to be built in regards the Kurdish struggle to and also spoke about the Imrali delegation initiative which will be organised again this year but because of the covid pandemic it will be organised online this year and he explained that the main call is for the release of Abdullah Öcalan and that there is a formal request to meet, virtually, with the justice minister of Turkey to discuss Öcalan’s case and said that he would not be shocked or surprised if they do not agree to meet as this is the modus operandi of the Turkish regime and he said he remembers a similar aggressive attitude from the Apartheid regime in their last days of power.
And further Mahmoud says, that the Turkish government have no basis on which to engage with the delegation. Not moral, not legal or political. The regime only shows brutal force and sheer autocratic ideology and tendencies. They are not capable of engaging in a democratic manner. He said the campaign would continue for Öcalan and for all political prisoners in Turkey drawing attention also to the HDP and the case of Selahattin Demirtas. Questions will be asked and of course the representatives of HDP and human rights groups will also be involved. Another aim of the campaign is strengthen solidarity with the Kurdish people’s freedom struggle.
For whole Podcast interview please click above.
On Tuesday 15 February at 6pm (UK time) 8pm (South Africa time) there will be a global online rally for the Freedom of Abdullah Öcalan with various speakers which you can register for at www.freedomforocalan.org