Abdullah Öcalan is regarded by millions of Kurds as their political representative, and has become the key figure in their struggle for cultural rights and democracy.
An integral figure in the burgeoning Kurdish nationalist liberation movement in the 1980’s, he founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the armed wing of the Kurdish struggle for autonomy, in 1978. From 1984, the PKK fought for an independent Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, in a sustained popular uprising in which thousands of PKK guerrillas have fought the Turkish army, the second largest in NATO.
In 1999, Öcalan was captured in Nairobi and sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish penal code, and when Turkey abolished the death penalty in support of its bid for EU membership, Öcalan’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. For the first 10 years in jail, Öcalan lived in solitary confinement as the sole prisoner on the island of Imrali, a condition that was temporarily lifted by the Turkish Authorities as it engaged with secret negotiations with the PKK in 2011. On 28 December 2012, the Turkish government announced that they had begun talks with Ocalan in order to bring about an end to the conflict.
Despite these conditions, Öcalan has continued to work actively for a resolution to the conflict, writing numerous books and articles on the history of the Kurdish people, the sources of the conflict and possibilities for peace. Having long abandoned separatism in favour of a new form of democratic confederalism, his nuanced analysis has led him to contribute important proposals for democratic reform of the Turkish state, including, in 2011, The Road Map to Democratisation in Turkey, and Solution to the Kurdish Question. The text was illegally confiscated in 2009 by the Turkish authorities, who refused to release it to the European Court of Human Rights, as was intended, for 18 months
Information on Abdullah Ocalan and some of his writings, including his pamphlets which are available in pdf format, can be found here:
Ocalan has written several books, only some of which have been translated into English:
- Prison Writings Volume I: Roots of Civilisation, Abdullah Ocalan. January 2007
- Prison Writings Volume II: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century, Abdullah Ocalan. March 2011.
- Prison Writings Volume III: Roadmap to negotiations, Abdullah Ocalan. January 2012.
- All publications can be found at: http://ocalan-books.com/#/
A review of all three Prison Writings by Felix Padel provides useful insights into the relevance of Ocalan’s work: The Kurdish Quest of Countering Capitalism to build a Democratic Civilisation
Further writings by Ocalan and documents relating to his imprisonment can be found here: www.freedom-for-ocalan.com/english
A campaign for Ocalan’s freedom from Imrali prison has been on going for several years: www.freeocalan.org