Where the extraordinary becomes ordinary – a life in the Kurdish struggle

Sidar provides the music for Öcalan’s birthday celebrations at the Strasbourg Vigil

For most of the people walking past on the leafy boulevard on their way to the public gardens, the world of the men and women taking part in the Vigil for Öcalan would seem incomprehensibly alien. Some of those men and women have spent years in Turkish prisons facing unimaginable treatments. Others have lost close relations at the hands of the Turkish military. Many are unable to travel back to Turkey and may never again meet elderly parents face to face. Sidar Amedi arrived in Strasbourg as a refugee from Turkey two years ago, and has become a regular face at the Vigil. In this company, his extraordinary story becomes more ordinary. It is a personal microcosm of the Kurdish predicament, and gives a better idea of what it means to be a Kurd than can be found from any number of textbooks.

Sidar learnt his politics young. In the turbulent days before Turkey’s 1980 coup, even a primary school pupil could not escape clashes with fascists, and he was hurt aged only seven or eight. After the coup, his brother became involved in student struggles at the university, and taught young Sidar about Kurdish patriotism and socialism and music. His other major inspiration was the songs of Şivan Perwer. Sidar is a musician.

In 1991, as a 20-year-old activist in the Kurdish Freedom Movement, Sidar joined 100,000 people at the funeral of Vedat Aydın, the Kurdish politician and leader of the Peoples Labour Party (HEP), whose severely tortured body was found two days after his abduction by the Turkish deep state. Aydın’s fatal sin, in the eyes of the state, was his insistence on using Kurdish. The funeral’s followers were met with automatic weapons, killing over twenty people. Sidar was injured in the crush, but the bigger impact was on his mind. He was confirmed in his commitment to the Movement.

The 1990s was an especially dangerous time to be a politically involved Kurd. Sidar was active in the Mesopotamia Cultural Centre in Diyarbakir, mostly with music, until he was detained in September 1993 and sentenced for three years nine months. After his released he was imprisoned again for another year.

When finally freed, he continued with his music and his politics – and of course making Kurdish music is itself a form of politics – but was detained again in 2011. This time he was one of the hundreds of people accused of aiding the PKK as part of the KCK case, which is still going through the courts.

Sidar had become a marked man, along with his family. Also in 2011, two of his sons, who were carrying some fireworks, were accused of planning a bomb attack. The older one, then aged thirteen, was held in prison for one and a half years. The younger, Mazlum, then eleven, was released after five days. Because they were minors their final sentences were converted to a fine, but this didn’t stop them from being tortured in prison.

For Mazlum, and for his family too, this was the first step into a nightmare. Mazlum İçli is now famous as the boy who has been sentenced for life without parole for a murder that all the evidence proves he did not commit, in order to please the Turkish government.

Mazlum’s case is tied to the Kobanê Case, which is a key piece in the Turkish Government’s attempted destruction of the pro-Kurdish leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In 2014, the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobanê, just over the border in Syria, was under siege from ISIS and no one was coming to their aid – least of all Turkey whose only action was to prevent Kurdish volunteers crossing into Syria, although it had been made it easy for people going to join ISIS. Across the world, Kurds were protesting in support of Kobanê, and in Turkey the HDP issued a tweet calling people to come into the streets. The anti-ISIS protestors were met by armed security forces and violent counter protestors, especially from Hüda Par, the far-right Kurdish Islamist group whose predecessor was responsible for hundreds of deaths in the 1990s. In the resulting struggle, up to fifty people lost their lives. The majority were supporters of the HDP, but among the dead were four members of Hüda Par, including one, Yasin Börü, who was only 16. In an argument that has been thoroughly dismantled by the European Court of Human Rights, the people who wrote and shared that HDP tweet are being held responsible for all these deaths, as well as being accused of the usual crime of disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state. 108 people are on trial, and 36, including many leading members of the HDP, could face life imprisonment without parole.

Mazlum, together with others, has been found guilty of the murder of Yasin Börü and the other Hüda Par members. The Kobanê case needed a convicted murderer with connections to the Kurdish Freedom Movement. The fact that, at the time the crime was committed, Mazlum was clearly and provably 140km from Diyarbakir playing music for a wedding has not been allowed to get in the way of his conviction. The prosecution was based on the evidence of a secret witness who was shown photographs of people with a police record, and picked out Mazlum – and who subsequently denied his witness statement. If the court were to reject this witness that would also raise a question mark over other convictions. This week, Turkey’s Court of Cassation approved the verdict.

Mazlum playing drums

At one point in the long legal process, Sidar’s lawyer called to say that Mazlum had been found innocent and would be released. Sidar had already bought an airline ticket when the lawyer phoned again an hour later. As soon as the court had ordered a stay of execution, the prosecutor, who had earlier called for Mazlum’s release, had appealed the decision. The signs of political intervention from above were blatant.

When Mazlum, then 14, was detained for the murder, he was tortured in front of his father. The next day, when he was in detention, his appendix burst and he had to have an emergency operation. Citing ‘security reasons’ the authorities moved Mazlum’s case to Ankara, 900 km away from his family. He spent a year and a half in solitary confinement, with his family only able to see him twice in all that time, and then was sent even further away, to Silivri Prison outside Istanbul.

Because of his son’s case, and his own high profile, Sidar became a target for Hüda Par mobsters. In 2018, after they attacked his office, he found 98 bullets. Luckily, he had not been inside. His other businesses and shops were attacked and set on fire, and when he tried to put out the flames he was prevented by the police.

In 2019 he was detained again for shares on social media, and given a five-year suspended sentence. With the KCK case still hanging over him, Sidar’s lawyers advised that he would never be free in Turkey. Still reluctant to leave his country, he visited Mazlum in prison, who told him: They will always bother you. Go to Rojava or Europe and continue the struggle there.

And that is what he did, as a most reluctant immigrant. He told me that he would swap a year in Europe for a day in Diyarbakir. Now no community event in Strasbourg is complete without Sidar’s music; and among his many roles he is often to be found helping with the organisation of the Öcalan Vigil. As he recounted his own extraordinary ordinary story to me over tea outside the stone pavilion that the vigil has made its base, he emphasised: Öcalan succeeded in making the Kurdish people aware of their own identity and showing them the way to freedom with his struggle.

Öcalan is at the centre of the Kurdish struggle. As Sidar’s life story demonstrates, this struggle is yet to achieve physical freedom for Turkey’s Kurds, but it has freed Kurds from the colonial mindset and enabled them to create a movement that has rekindled faith in a better world.

lunchbreak on the Vigil

CPT receives petition from over 60% of people of North and East Syria

Idris Said and Khanem Ayo speaking to the media at the Vigil after meeting the CPT

This afternoon, the head of the division responsible for Turkey at the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) met with representatives of the Syrian Initiative for Freedom of Leader Abdullah Öcalan. Khanem Ayo and Idris Said brought with them a petition with 2,646,211 signatures calling on the CPT to play their part in helping to end Öcalan’s isolation and enable visits by his lawyers and his family, and to work towards his release. The signatories come from Aleppo, Damascus, Lebanon, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and – about 2 million of them – from North and East Syria. The population of North and East Syria is only around 5 million people, of whom around 35 % are under 16 so unlikely to be signing a petition. 2 million is over 60% of the remaining population. Ayo and Said were accompanied by Fayik Yagizay, the representative of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to the European Institutions.

After hearing about the huge support shown for Öcalan, not just by the Kurds but also by the other inhabitants of North and East Syria, and the importance given to him, the representatives of the CPT talked about the organisation’s many visits to İmralı and the other work they do in between. With respect to their most recent visit last September, they said that the delegation met with Öcalan and the other three prisoners, and that the CPT report was with the Turkish government for their response, as procedure demands. Of course, we want more news than this – and lawyers have pointed out that, if circumstances make this necessary, there is scope within the rules to provide some basic information even while the full report has not been made public. However, the CPT’s words make clear that the story that Öcalan refused to meet with their delegation was simply a malicious rumour, like earlier rumours of his death. When there is no contact allowed, there is always a risk that any information leaked out of the prison may be intended to confuse.

Before they went to the meeting, Ayo and Said answered my questions about the support for the petition and for Öcalan’s ideas. I began by asking how the signatures were collected. Said explained that after the petition was suggested, they put together organising committees to focus on different groups of people: youth, women, different ethnic groups, different cities and villages, and they went round from door to door. They began collecting signatures on 12 January and finished with a press conference in Qamishlo on 13 March. Öcalan had built a huge base of respect and support from all Syrian peoples when he was based there for nearly two decades (from 1979-1998), and participation in the signature campaign was intense, including enormous participation among the Arabs.

In response to my question about the extent of Öcalan’s impact when he was in Syria, Said spoke from his memory of taking part in activities all over Syria, and stressed, again, how, for Öcalan, contact with all the different ethnic groups was a priority.

I asked how Öcalan’s ideas were kept alive after he was thrown out of Syria in 1998. Ayo said that although Öcalan was physically captured, his ideas and philosophy spread even more than before – and that the women’s struggle played an important role in this, due to the important place of women in Öcalan’s philosophy. Because the philosophy was kept alive, they could use the opportunity that arose to put it into practice. Öcalan’s philosophy was linked to the Kurds’ desire for freedom. The Rojava Revolution had two targets: the freedom of peoples and the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan.

Said explained that when Öcalan was in Syria, he had thousands of face-to-face meetings. Thousands of young people joined the PKK, and over 5,000 were killed in the struggle. After Öcalan had been thrown out of Syria, relations improved between Syria and Turkey and Kurds in Syria suffered severe government oppression. Thousands were imprisoned and tortured, or disappeared. Said himself was detained four times. A lot of people were in prison when the Rojava Revolution started, and a lot of other people [like Mazloum Abdi, now Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces] came to Syria to support the revolution.

I asked about the roles of people who were active in Öcalan’s time, and those politicised in the revolution. Said began his answer by stating that there would have been no revolution in Rojava without Öcalan, and that even before the revolution, families influenced by Öcalan were active in defending their areas from attacks by the Syrian regime or by Jihadi groups. And he again stressed how the participation of different ethnicities – which is now systematised to ensure different groups play a full part in organisational structures – dated back to Öcalan’s time in Syria.

Khanem Ayo is herself an example of someone who became politically active after the revolution. For her, the spur was the assassination of her uncle in 2012, when he was trying – as president of his local council – to negotiate peace with members of Jabhat ul-Nusra (the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda that is now part of Hayʼat Tahrir al-Sham).

When I asked about difficulties in spreading Öcalan’s ideas to non-Kurdish areas, such as Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, Said said that, initially, people were reluctant to go to these areas, but that Öcalan reminded them of their revolutionary duty. This was during the 2013-15 Peace Process so communication with Öcalan was possible.

Ayo observed that Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor suffered a lot under ISIS – especially the women – so they were ready to welcome this different ideology and its democracy. Although there still are people who are sympathetic to the Syrian regime or to ISIS, most people, she observed, ‘are on our side’.  

European civil society tells EU to act for Öcalan

After 28 months with no contact with Öcalan, and in the wake of claims about poison threats, representatives from European civil society gathered outside the European Parliament in Brussels last week to demand that the EU and other European institutions abide by the principles that they claim to stand by – of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law – and put pressure on Turkey to comply with international law in their treatment of Abdullah Öcalan. They demanded, too, that he be given freedom and the opportunity to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Kurdish Question, and they spoke of his importance as a thinker and how his ideas have inspired their own organisations. You can watch the whole event here:

After a welcome from Xanum Ayu from Rojava, the first speaker was Simon Dubbins, co-convenor of the Trade Union Freedom for Öcalan campaign in the UK, who demanded to know what is happening to Öcalan. He pointed out that no other prisoner is kept in such conditions and that Öcalan holds the key to peace.

Antonio Amoroso spoke on behalf of the CUB, the Confederazione Unitaria di Base, which is part of the Italian tradition of grassroots trade unionism. He explained that his union applies Öcalan’s principles of democratic confederalism, and that these ideas could help the European institutions too.

Michela Arricale, an Italian human rights lawyer, demonstrated how passion can be combined with legal detail as she explained how the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) are ignoring a vital paragraph in their own rules when they claim that they can’t divulge information on their visit to Öcalan’s prison. The CPT are the only people outside the Turkish authorities to have visited İmralı prison since 2019.

Amedeo Ciaccheri is president of the Municipality of Rome VIII. He made clear that his message continued the tradition of support for Öcalan shown by the Italian people when Öcalan tried to claim asylum in Italy – though Ciaccheri himself was only young at that time. Italian cities, he explained, see the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan as their freedom.

(The organisers also received messages of support from the former mayor of Naples, where Öcalan was made an honorary citizen in 2016, and the mayor of Fossalto – also in Italy – where Öcalan was made an honorary citizen in 2020.)

Laura de Bonfils brought the support of her comrades in the ARCI – Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana, a million-member Italian cultural and social association – and the ARCI’s demand for respect for Öcalan’s human rights.

Txente Rekondo spoke on behalf of the Basque trade union, LAB, Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak or Nationalist Workers’ Committees. He stressed the importance of a strong leader in a peace process; and he stated that the Basque trade unions support freedom for Öcalan and for all Kurdish political prisoners, and call for the Kurds to be free to decide their own future.

Mike Arnott is President of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and brought solidarity from the Scottish trade union movement. He stressed that the people of Europe demand that the European Union stand with the oppressed and not with the oppressor.

Roza Saleh came to Scotland as a refugee from Iraq when she was a child, and is now a councillor in Glasgow City Council. She spoke of Scotland’s history of international solidarity – including giving an honorary life membership of Strathclyde University to Abdullah Öcalan,  ‘a leader and philosopher and great thinker’.

Before a final word from Hakim Abdul Karim from Başur (the Kurdistan Region of Iraq), Jürgen Klute spoke as a former member of the European Parliament. He reminded the European Union of the need to increase pressure on the Turkish government to stop their war against the Kurds inside Turkey and beyond the border, to make peace with the Kurds, and to release Abdullah Öcalan.

Sarah Glynn, compering the event on behalf of the Permanent Vigil for Öcalan, observed that politicians are bombarded with different issues, but what had been discussed is a simple concrete campaign that can make a big difference.

(You can find the event briefing paper with a list of recommendations here.)

Eleven Years outside the Council of Europe

As we approach the 11th anniversary of the Vigil for Öcalan outside the Council of Europe – and following on from a day’s conference in the European Parliament on the law and prisons in Turkey – we held a (multilingual) press conference at the Vigil. The speakers were MEPs François Alfonsi from Corsica, who is a member of the European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament, and Chris MacManus from Ireland, who is a member of the Left Group; the academic, Louis Lemkow from Catalonia, who was one of the speakers at the conference; and Zübeyir Aydar from the Executive Committee of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Marching for Öcalan’s freedom

It has become a tradition for Kurds from across Europe to march through Strasbourg on 15 February, the anniversary of Abdullah Öcalan’s capture. But this February, all attention was on helping the survivors of the earthquakes. The march for Öcalan’s freedom was postponed for two months, and, the main march was then moved to Germany, home to the biggest Kurdish community outside Kurdistan. Other marches took place in London, Vienna and Marseille.

In Düsseldorf, Kurdish women led thousands of people from different parts of Europe in a march that started at the main railway station and finished in the Rheinpark. Speakers at the concluding rally included Foza Yûsif from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that is attempting to put Öcalan’s ideas into practice in North and East Syria.

Cemîl Bayik, co-chair of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union (KCK), addressed the rally by video, beginning with the demonstration’s historic meaning:

‘It is well-known that the Kurdish people have regained their identity because of Leader Apo [Öcalan] by struggling alongside him and by developing themselves into a nation. The occupying and genocidal enemy is carrying out a policy of genocide against the Kurdish people, especially through its approach towards Leader Apo.’ 

Bayik also talked about the Treaty of Lausanne, which, a century ago, divided Kurdistan, leaving the Kurds to be oppressed by four different states:

‘We are now approaching the 100th anniversary of the Lausanne alliance. It is well-known that through this alliance the denialist policy and the genocide against our people are being kept alive. Yet, Rêber Apo [Öcalan], the PKK and the Kurdish people have defeated the Lausanne alliance through their struggle. They have rendered this alliance meaningless. The Kurdish people no longer want to live according to the Lausanne Treaty. They want to live freely. This is their clear decision. Today, everyone must accept this decision of our people.’

Kurdish politics moves from one tense moment to another, and today the crisis of Ocalan’s complete isolation is combined with the run up to an election that will decide whether Turkey will turn back towards democracy or plunge further into an autocratic abyss. Bayik stressed the importance of Turkey’s forthcoming election, where Kurdish hopes are embodied in the Labour and Freedom Alliance, of which the major constituent is the Green Left, dominated by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

‘The fate of Turkey lies in the hands of the [Labour and Freedom] Alliance in the upcoming elections. I am convinced that this alliance will fulfil its historic role in the elections for both the Kurds and all the peoples of Turkey. The alliance and all democratic forces need to finally bring about the end of the AKP/MHP government. Because we have brought this government to an end with our struggle and resistance. Now the [Labour and Freedom] Alliance must complete this in the elections.’

The link between the election and the struggle for Oçalan’s freedom was spelt out by Remzi Kartal, co-chair of Kongra Gel, speaking to the thousands-strong rally Marseille:

‘Öcalan’s freedom depends on resistance. An enhanced resistance and struggle by our people would force them to sit at the table with Öcalan. This will be seen clearly once our people send away the fascist chief Erdoğan and double the votes of the Green Left Party (YSP) on May 14.’

Celebrating the birth of Öcalan and the philosophy of free life

Across Kurdistan trees are being planted to commemorate Öcalan’s birthday. This is in Kobanê

On 4 April, Abdullah Öcalan marks his 74th birthday: his 25th birthday in prison and his 3rd under conditions of total isolation. He has had no known contact with the outside world since a brief curtailed phone call with his brother on 25 March 2021.

There can be no celebrations for Öcalan himself, but, despite all the Turkish government’s attempts to banish him, his presence in Kurdish consciousness is stronger than ever. And not just in Kurdish consciousness. Öcalan’s ideas on how to live together and build a mutually supportive society, and the embodiment of these ideas in the Kurdish Freedom Movement, have inspired and brought hope to people across the globe.

Despite this – or perhaps, more accurately, because of this and the threat his ideas pose to those who benefit from the existing, world threatening, social system – when it comes to Öcalan, international organisations that are supposed to oversee international law on human rights do little more than go through the motions.

Rulings by the European Court of Human Rights are not followed up, and cases are dragged out over many years. Recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) are routinely ignored, without the Turkish government suffering any consequences. And the CPT refuses to confirm whether or not their delegation met with Öcalan last September or to give any information as to his health or condition.

Last July, Öcalan’s lawyers submitted an application to the United Nations Human Rights Committee requesting an injunction against the isolation imposed on Öcalan and the three other Imrali prisoners, which is contrary to all international human rights law. The full process is still ongoing, but, in September, the UN made clear that the isolation constituted torture and should be stopped immediately, with the prisoners allowed to meet their lawyers. When this produced no response from Turkey, the UN repeated their decision on 19 January, giving the Turkish government up to the end of March to respond. We are still waiting for news.

In Turkey itself, successive governments have generated such a climate of hatred around Öcalan that, outwith the pro-Kurdish leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), politicians do not dare show him any sympathy, even on basic principles of human rights, which should apply to everyone. As one of Öcalan’s lawyers, Cengiz Yürekli, protests, “Everyone is talking about democracy and law. Which law are they talking about in a situation where isolation and torture continue? The government is doing it. So, what are their promises on Imrali? What do they say to this torture situation, which is completely against national and international laws and takes place in front of the society? Everyone should say this clearly. Will the Imrali isolation system continue after the election?”  However, the main opposition Nation Alliance around the Republican People’s Party has little to say about how they will depoliticise the judiciary more generally and chooses not even to address the Kurdish Question.

When official representatives fall silent, it is left up to the people to push their demand for change and to ensure their voices cannot be ignored. Öcalan’s birthday will be marked with calls of solidarity and resistance wherever there are Kurds, and increasingly among international supporters for whom he represents the hope of a better future.

Newroz, Öcalan, and Freedom

Newroz, the spring new year festival, was always a time of hope and renewal, and, with the Kurdish Freedom Movement, it has become a time of resistance against oppression. This year, Newroz took place amidst deep sorrow following February’s devastating earthquakes, and amidst heightened concern over the situation of Abdullah Öcalan, who, on Saturday 25 March, will have had no known communication with the world outside his prison walls for two whole years. It is possible that he spoke to the delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which visited İmralı prison last September, but there are claims he did not see them, and as the CPT refuses to deny or confirm their visit or give any indication of his condition, this possibility effectively counts for nothing.

Furthermore, the Newroz celebrations have come under attack. Four people were killed by one of the Turkish-backed militias in Turkish-occupied Afrîn, over fifty people were wounded by Iranian government forces, and hundreds of people were detained at the celebrations in Turkey.

However, there is cause for hope, too – hope from the massive Kurdish resistance, many of whose most active members were not even born when Öcalan was captured; and hope from the forthcoming elections, which may provide the opportunity for Turkey to reverse its decent into authoritarianism and even to begin to talk about a solution to the Kurdish Question. As Ahmet Türk, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told the crowds at the celebration in Amed (Diyarbakir), “today the Kurdish people are an important actor for the construction of a democratic republic”.

As always, Öcalan’s presence dominated the celebrations, even in places where it is not possible to show his image.  In the mass celebrations in Turkey, Öcalan’s freedom and the vital role he can play in bringing a future peace were the subject of speeches from the podium, which were backed by defiant chants of “Bijî Serok Apo” (Long Live Leader Öcalan).

With hopes for a revival of peace talks in the air, this seems an appropriate time to remember Öcalan’s historic prison letter that was read out to a crowd of two million people at the Amed Newroz celebrations of 2013. (The following translation is reproduced from the International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan)


I salute the people of the Middle East and Central Asia celebrating this awakening, revival and resurgence day of Newroz with extraordinary participation and unity…

I salute all the peoples celebrating Newroz, which is the daylight and turning point of a new era, with great enthusiasm and democratic tolerance…

I salute all the travellers on this grand path toward democratic rights, freedom and equality…

I salute you, the Kurdish people, living at the Zagros and Taurus mountain skirts and in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. I salute the Kurdish people, an ancient people, dwellers in the sacred lands of Mesopotamia and Anatolia, mother to all agricultural, village and urban civilizations….

Kurds have taken part in this several-thousand-year-old civilization in friendship and accord with diverse races, religions, creeds – we have all built it together. For Kurds, the [rivers] Euphrates and Tigris are the siblings of Sakarya and Maritsa. [Mountains] Ararat and Judi are the friends of Kaçkars and Erciyes. [Folk dances] Halay and Delilo are in the family of Horon and Zeybek.

These grand civilizations, these coexisting communities have more recently been pitted against each other by political pressure, external interventions and group interests. The result has been the construction of systems that are not based upon rights, law, equality and freedom.

For the last two hundred years military conquests, western imperialist interventions, as well as repression and policies of denial have tried to submerge the Arabian, Turkic, Persian and Kurdish communities to the rule of nation states, its imaginary borders and artificial problems.

The era of exploitative regimes, repression and denial is over. The peoples of the Middle East and those of Central Asia are awakening. They are returning to their roots. They demand a halt to the blinding and seditious wars and conflicts against one another.

Those thousands, millions of people who are pouring into these arenas are burning with the passion of Newroz. They cry for peace and amity, and they are demanding a solution.

This struggle, which began as my own individual rebellion against the despair, ignorance and slavery into which I was born, has sought to create a new consciousness, a new understanding and a new spirit. Today I see that our efforts have reached a new level.

Our fight has not been and can never against any specific race, religion, sect, or group. Our fight has been against repression, ignorance and injustice, against enforced underdevelopment as well as against all forms of oppression.

Today we are awakening to a new Turkey and a new Middle East.

The youth who have welcomed my call, the eminent women who heeded my call, friends who have accepted my discourse and all people who can hear my voice:

Today a new era is beginning.

The period of armed struggle is ending, and the door is opening to democratic politics.
We are beginning a process focused on political, social and economic aspects; an understanding based on democratic rights, freedoms, and equality is growing.

We have sacrificed much of our lives for the Kurdish people, we paid a high price. None of these sacrifices, none of our struggles, were in vain. For as a consequence of them, the Kurdish people have attained once again their identity and their roots.

We have now reached the point of “silence the weapons and let the ideas and politics speak.” The modernist paradigm that has disregarded, excluded and denied us has been razed to the ground. Regardless of whether it be Turkish, Kurdish, Laz or Circassian – the blood spilled is flowing from a human being and from the bosom of this land.

Witnessed by the millions of people who heed my call, I say a new era is beginning; an era where politics gain prominence over weapons. We have now arrived at the stage of withdrawing our armed forces outside the borders.

I believe that all those who have believed in this cause and me are sensitive to the possible dangers of the process.

This is not an end, but a new beginning. This is not abandoning the struggle – we are initiating a different struggle.

The creation of geographies based on ethnicity and a single nation is an inhuman fabrication of modernity that denies our roots and our origins.

A great responsibility falls on all of us to create an equal, free and democratic country of all peoples and cultures, befitting the history of Kurdistan and Anatolia. On this occasion of Newroz, I call on the Armenians, Turkomans, Assyrians, Arabs and all other peoples just as much as on the Kurds to behold the flame of freedom and equality – the fire that is lit here today – and embrace it as their own.

Distinguished people of Turkey;

The Turkish people who live in what is called Turkey today – the ancient Anatolia – should recognise that their common life with the Kurds, under the flag of Islam, rests on the principles of amity and solidarity. The rules of amity has and should have no room for conquest, denial, rejection, forced assimilation, or annihilation.

The last century’s repressive, annihilationist, and assimilationist policies, based on capitalist modernity, represent the efforts of a ruling elite to deny a long history of amity. They do not represent the will of the people. It is now very clear that this grip of tyranny contradicts both history and rules of amity. In order to be able to leave that lamentable past behind, I call on the two strategic powers of the Middle East to build a democratic modernity befitting our culture and civilization.

The time has come for dispute, conflict, and enmity to yield to alliance, unity, blessings, and a mutual embrace.

The Turks and Kurds who fell as martyrs together at Çanakkale also went through the War of Independence together, and together they opened the 1920 assembly.

Our common past is a reality that requires us to create a common future. Today the spirit that established the Turkish Grand Assembly leads the way to the new era.

I call on all oppressed peoples; on women, who are the most long-standing colonized and subjugated class; on all marginalized and excluded creeds, cults, and cultures; on the working class and all subordinated classes; on everyone who has been excluded from the system to take their rightful position in Democratic Modernity and to attain its mentality.

The Middle East and Central Asia are searching for a contemporary modernity and a democratic order that befits their own history. A new model in which all can coexist peacefully and amicably has become an objective need like the need for bread and water. Inevitably, again, the geography and culture of Anatolia and Mesopotamia are guiding it to build such a model.

We are experiencing a more current, more complicated, and more profound version of the War of Independence that developed in the framework of the [1920] National Pact.

Despite all the mistakes, setbacks, and failures of the past ninety years, we are once again trying to build a model with all the peoples, classes, and cultures who have been victims and have suffered through terrible disasters. I call on all of you to step forward and help achieve an egalitarian, free, and democratic social organization.

I call on the Kurds, Turkoman, Assyrians and Arabs who were separated despite the National Pact and today have been condemned to live under grave problems and in conflict with one another within the Syrian and Iraqi Arab Republic to begin discussions, and re-asses as well as to take decisions on their present reality in a “National Solidarity and Peace Conference”.

The breadth and comprehensiveness of the “WE” concept has an important place within the history of this land. But in the hands of the narrow and ruling elitists, “WE” has been reduced to “ONE.” It is time to give the “WE” concept its old spirit and to implement it.

We shall unite against those who want to divide and make us fight one another. We shall join together against those who want to separate us.

Those who cannot understand the spirit of the age will end up in the dustbin of history. Those who resist the current will fall into the abyss.

The peoples of the region are witnessing a new dawn. The peoples of the Middle East are weary of enmity, conflict, and war. They want to be reborn from their own roots and to stand shoulder to shoulder.

This Newroz is a beacon to us all.

The truths in the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are being implemented in our lives today with new tidings. People are trying to regain what they have lost.

We do not deny the values of the contemporary civilisation of the West in whole. We indeed take the values of enlightenment, equality, freedom and democracy, and in order to implement them we synthesise them with our own existential values and lifeways.

The basis of the new struggle is thoughts, ideology and democratic politics, and to be able to start a great democratic leap forward.

Greetings to all those who have contributed to this process and strengthened it, and to all to those who have supported the peaceful democratic solution!

I salute all those who take responsibility for the amicable, equal and democratic freedom of peoples!

Long live Newroz, long live the amity of peoples!

Öcalan at the EU

When the European Union Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) held their first conference in the European Parliament in 2004, it was not deemed safe to speak about Abdullah Öcalan. At their 17th conference, held last week, Öcalan’s situation and his importance for resolving the Kurdish Question were recurrent themes, and the first panel session was dedicated to discussing İmralı.

As Barbara Spinelli, co-chair of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights, noted in the introduction to that session, Öcalan’s situation is unique in Europe. He is serving an in-life death sentence, and if this is tolerated by the European institutions, they become complicit.

Raziye Öztürk, one of Öcalan’s lawyers, explained that the European institutions need first to abide by their own laws. That means not leaving Öcalan’s case pending for twelve years, and not allowing Turkey to fail to implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Another of Öcalan’s lawyers, Mahmoud Shakar, spoke about the importance of removing the PKK from terrorism listings – observing that the decision to classify the PKK as terrorists has been a political and not a legal one, and that the EU listing was made at a time when the PKK had declared a ceasefire and had called for a peaceful resolution.

Meral Beştaş, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Group Deputy Chair, described Öcalan’s situation as unprecedented, and absolutely unlawful. And Ilhan Ahmad, Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, stressed the vital importance of Öcalan’s involvement in solving the Kurdish Question.

The final conference resolution stated:

A historical and long overdue necessity is the opening of the gates of Imrali prison, which as a lawless space is the starting point for the most massive human rights violations in Turkey’s prisons. The European Union, the Council of Europe and in particular the CPT are called upon to exhaust all mechanisms to end the lawlessness on Imrali and to allow lawyers unrestricted access to the island. The EUTCC Conference calls for a return to dialogue between the Turkish state and the PKK and the release of Abdullah Öcalan as a precondition for a sustainable solution.

Öcalan has not been able to communicate with anyone outside İmralı prison for almost two years, but he was very much present in Brussels last week.

A dark day in a dark time

This year’s long march for internationalists passed through Switzerland

The Kurdish calendar includes many commemorations of atrocities committed against the Kurdish people, often of massacres of large groups of people. On 15 February, Kurds mark the attempted assassination of hope: an international attack on the Kurdish people in the person of one man, the undisputed leader of the Kurdish Freedom Movement, Abdullah Öcalan.

15 February is known as Roja Reş, the Dark Day. It was on this day, 24 years ago, that an international conspiracy, led by the CIA, abducted Öcalan from the Greek embassy in Nairobi, where he had taken refuge in his search for asylum, and handed him over to Turkey. Within five months, he had been condemned to death. When Turkey stopped capital punishment, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and to what has become a living death. It is almost two years since Öcalan was allowed to speak with anyone outside the prison. His last contact was a phone call with his brother that was cut short after a few minutes.

In other years, 15 February has been marked with a major demonstration in Strasbourg, as the home of European institutions for human rights. In the preceding week, long marches set out from different places to highlight the call for Öcalan’s freedom, and many of these converge on Strasbourg. But this year, the Strasbourg demonstration was cancelled as Kurds everywhere responded to the horrors unfolding in Turkey and Syria in the wake of the earthquake on 6 February. Hardly a Kurdish family has been left untouched. It is a very dark time: a time of grieving, but also a time of organising – of doing everything possible to help the survivors and to make sure that aid gets to those who need it and is not appropriated by the Turkish government.

The capture of Öcalan, and the Turkish government’s failure to build on any of his many attempts to negotiate a peaceful and dignified future for Kurds in Turkey, are symptomatic of a centralised, increasingly autocratic, and ethnic nationalist state: a state whose brutal deficiencies have been exposed to the world in the catastrophic failures of their earthquake preparation and response. In the Turkish government’s reaction to the earthquake, we see the same focus on the aggrandisement of state power, the same intolerance of other forms of organisation, the same prejudice against minority groups, as have always underlain Turkey’s approach to the Kurds and to Öcalan – and that have only grown in recent years.

Despite everything, hope was not destroyed 24 years ago. Öcalan’s importance and the spread of his ideas have only strengthened. The philosophy that he expanded during long isolated years in prison has inspired people throughout the world. It has inspired the Rojava revolution, and given strength to Kurdish politics in Turkey. This morning I was contacted by a comrade in Kenya, the country from where Öcalan was abducted. Comrade B is part of the Grassroots Liberation Movement which is inspired by Öcalan’s ideas. He used a famous quote from the Mau Mau who led Kenya’s independence struggle: ‘we are everywhere’.

In the earthquakes zone, in contrast to the controlling hand of a government that has shown itself to be more interested in its own image than in helping earthquake survivors, Turkey has seen a huge flowering of mutual aid. This is what happens after disasters. Despite media scaremongering, the great majority of people are ready to help each other, and the most effective organisation comes from the people themselves. In Turkey the effectiveness of this self-organisation has been greatly enhanced by the well-rooted networks of organisations, activists, and politicians built up by the Kurdish Freedom Movement in line with ideas of bottom-up democracy inspired by Öcalan. These networks were able to move quickly into action and reach people and areas untouched by the official authorities. The government has tried to stop them. Rather than focus on saving lives themselves, the state wants to ensure that no other organisation can be seen to help those in need. And years of oppression and detentions, including the removal of almost all elected mayors, have prevented Kurdish structures from reaching anything like their full potential. But the ongoing mobilisation demonstrates the lived reality of Öcalan’s grassroots organising and its power to respond to real human needs.

International Delegation Against Isolation – final statement

An international delegation has been meeting with key organisations in Turkey to find out more about the situation of Abdullah Öcalan and the other prisoners in İmralı and about judicial oppression in Turkey. The 36 people – mainly lawyers but including politicians, journalists, and academics – came from various European countries and also South Africa. Over a busy three days, they visited Ankara, Istanbul and Amed (Diyarbakir) and held meetings with the families of the İmralı prisoners and with their lawyers, as well as with human rights organisations, the Turkish Medical Association, bar associations, progressive political parties, and other organisations. Their visit culminated in an International Forum Against Isolation in Istanbul. Below are their initial findings and recommendations:

  • Exceeding the notion of isolation, the practices in İmralı Prison have created a situation where the inmates are completely cut off from all contact with the outside world. It is therefore imperative to perceive this state of affairs not only as a legal, but also as a political problem.
  • Unless it puts İmralı Prison at the center of its understanding of the Kurdish issue and takes sides by addressing the political and social aspects of this problem, the democratic public is partly responsible for the current state of isolation.
  • The regime of isolation affects not only Abdullah Öcalan and political prisoners in Turkey, but the entire social opposition. The order of exploitation encroaches on our lives in their totality. This encirclement can only be overcome through only a joint legal, political and social struggle.
  • It is alarming that the lawyers and human rights defenders who carry out legal activities to assist the prisoners in İmralı Prison, where all rights are suspended, are prevented from doing their work and subjected to investigations and prosecutions. This itself is an indication of how much the field of law and human rights has come under attack, both as a profession and as a normative framework.
  • It is unacceptable for European states to ignore the ECHR and other international conventions for the sake of their own interests while we witness universal human rights values being dismantled and pulled from under our feet. At this stage, in the face of such connivance, it has become imperative to organize a network that pursues the struggle for rights and law on a global level.
  • We once again call on those in positions of responsibility in Turkey to urgently restore the rule of law in İmralı Prison. Reminding them their responsibilities regarding the current state of affairs, we call on all European states not to sacrifice fundamental human rights to geopolitical and economic interests.
  • The approach to İmralı Prison and the legal and political practices in the prison are a litmus test of the democratic standards and political situation in Turkey.
  • The Kurdish issue and concomitant problems such as poverty, hunger, migration and refugees, gender-based inequalities and violence, cultural erosion, and environmental destruction caused by the war cannot be resolved without ending the incommunicado detention and the systematic violation of the prohibition of torture in İmralı Prison. The situation in the prison is of critical importance for Turkey’s democratization and the possibility of solving mentioned problems.
  • The discriminatory execution regime against political prisoners, which was first implemented in İmralı Island Prison and gradually spread to all prisons in Turkey, must be abolished. Respect for the basic human rights of all prisoners, especially sick prisoners, must be reestablished as a standard.
  • The system created on İmralı Island is being deployed as a technique of government. It no longer constitutes an exception but has evolved into an ordinary legal-political regime that has spread throughout the country. The survival of the government has taken precedence over the future of millions.
  • Abdullah Öcalan has been subjected to all kinds of immoral and inhuman torture for 24 years. The main purpose of these practices is to liquidate the legitimate democratic struggle and the constitutive politics of the social opposition. Therefore, the primary and essential objective of all oppositional forces and law and human rights defenders must be the complete abolition of the İmralı system.
  • Due to its significance and ramifications, the Kurdish issue has grown into a problem of regional and global scale. Efforts geared towards its solution should therefore also be discussed by taking into account its impact and consequences for the Middle East and the world at large. For this, it is essential for all progressive forces around the world to take the initiative and mobilize.
  • We once again call on the CPT to exercise its responsibility in respect of the prolonged incommunicado detention in İmralı Prison, which has become the source of great concern and anguish. Well justified as it is, we expect all law and human rights defenders, especially our friends in Europe, to keep up the pressure on the CPT in this regard. We would also like to emphasize that the CPT should immediately share its latest observations concerning İmralı Prison with the public.
  • The forum offered an occasion to refresh our memories and call ourselves to account. Thus, we concluded that one of the main duties of the forum components is to assume the leading role in expanding and strengthening our solidarity network in order to sustain our struggle.
  • As a constantly changing area of legal and political obscurity İmralı Prison does not only deprive the public of its right to information. In the face of manipulation and information pollution politics too is thrown into a state of vertigo. The current state of affairs in which we are unable to receive even a sign of life from the inmates in İmralı Prison must end immediately.
  • The solution to all these problems lies in the democratic and societal solution to the Kurdish issue. Öcalan’s freedom is inevitable for a peaceful and political solution of the Kurdish issue and the democratization of Turkey.