Saturday, 10 September 2011

The intolerable isolation of Abdullah Öcalan

The Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan was kidnapped in February 1999 in a joint international conspiracy carried out by the CIA, Mossad and Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT) in Kenya. For the previous three months he had been seeking a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue and trying to rally the support of European countries, in a peace process which had begun intermittently in 1993. However the gates of European countries were shut in his face one by one in Greece, Russia, Holland, Germany and Italy, who buckled under NATO and US pressure and also sacrificed a possible solution for economic interests. However Öcalan did not waver following his capture on February 15th 1999 and continued his quest for a peaceful and political solution even after being sentenced, first to capital punishment and then a life sentence in the island prison of Imrali, where he has been held in isolation for twelve years.

Although five new prisoners were transferred to Imrali in 2009 following mass protests by Kurds in Kurdistan and around the world, these prisoners’ contact with Öcalan has been minimal and arbitrarily prevented. Despite being a breach of  UN human rights laws and even the Turkish constitution and also constant warnings by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) the most recent isolation of Abdullah Öcalan by the Turkish state and AKP government continues and is in its 45th day as of today (10.09.11).

At a time when the air attacks of the Turkish Armed Forces and the ground attacks of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Iranian Republic against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) in the Qandil Mountains continue to claim civilian lives and also the lives of soldiers and militants on both sides, the isolation of Öcalan is only exacerbating the problem and needlessly at that. The Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), which Öcalan is the honorary leader of, in recent press releases, has claimed that the isolation policies against Öcalan are a threat and blackmail against the Kurdish people and their movement, and have warned the AKP government that this is a reason for war. Indeed other democratic, socialist and revolutionary parties and organisations in Turkey and Europe have also called for an end to the isolation of Öcalan to soften the political, military and social climate.

Before the isolation Öcalan himself, in his weekly meeting with lawyers had said that if he was given suitable conditions for his health, safety and free movement he could end the armed warfare within a week, without these conditions being met he would not be able to take any more steps towards a solution. Öcalan had come to this point after almost a year of meetings with a committee formed of members from different departments of the state hierarchy. According to Öcalan they agreed on three protocols, the first had the heading ‘the principles of a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey,’ and included a new democratic constitution; the second protocol included the principles for a just peace between state and society in Turkey; and the third protocol was an urgent action plan for a democratic and just peace to the Kurdish issue. In their final meeting the committee said that they would take these protocols to the government and other state departments to discuss them and reach a decision. The reply by the AKP government was negative. The continuing military operations during April, May, June and July claimed the lives of over fifty PKK guerrillas and the tone of the AKP regarding Öcalan and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) left a lot to be desired. Most liberal and democrat analysts claimed that the AKP’s nationalist rhetoric before and during the elections of June 12th was only geared towards gaining nationalist votes, but the approach did not change following the elections as six of the BDP’s elected MP’s were not released from prison. They are being held in relation to the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) case, which has seen the arrest and incarceration of over 2000 people, including 150 active BDP mayors, members and politicians, who have been in prison for nearly three years without sentencing. Due to these undemocratic developments the BDP supported independent candidates have boycotted and are yet to go to Parliament to take the oath of allegiance; the matter is yet to be resolved.

But why have the AKP government and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rejected the protocols and a possible solution? Did the AKP even desire a solution? Or was the Kurdish initiative of 2009, which turned out to be devoid of any content, really a ploy to weaken and eliminate the Kurdish opposition?

With the ‘Ergenekon’ and ‘Balyoz cases’ of the past three years the AKP government has succeeded in debilitating the Kemalist-ultra-nationalist wing which had been dominating the state apparatus, bureaucracy and military since the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. However instead of democratising these institutions the AKP has only replaced them with Islamist-nationalist content and its own cadres. Following this battle to appropriate state power, which the AKP has won, the only opposition left in the path of its machine is the Kurdistan freedom movement and the socialist, revolutionary and democratic forces of the country, whose solidarity in the 2011 elections brought about a great victory against the hegemonic strategy of the AKP. Although they gained 50% of the vote, the AKP only won 326 seats, four short of the ‘super majority’ which is needed to change the constitution unilaterally. They now need a coalition to do this, and will not struggle in getting support from the ultra-nationalist MHP and the Kemalist-nationalist CHP, both stalwarts of the state structure. This is why the BDP must be kept out of Parliament or severely weakened if they do go, because they will be the only ones who offer an alternative in the new constitution making process.

The BDP have asked for a protocol to be drawn up regarding the release of imprisoned MP’s and BDP members and for the 10% election threshold to be reduced amongst other steps to democratisation. The AKP has rejected. The ‘hope’ created regarding a solution during 2009-2011 was thus a mirage for the AKP to gain internal and external support using its ‘democratic’ sheen. This they did, but the only people they could not fool were the Kurds, who took more than ten seats from them in the Kurdish region compared to the 2007 elections. Öcalan’s warnings to the Kurdish people and organisations regarding the AKP’s real intentions continued through the 2009-2011 period, however he also gave the AKP a chance to develop a political process for peace by preventing the PKK from engaging in armed conflict and opening the path for a political discussion with his 2009 Road Map, which was confiscated by the government and not released for over a year. The Road Map contains the path to a solution in three phases; a permanent no-action by the PKK; the formation of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission;’ and the implementation of the ‘Democratic Solution Plan’ which entails a new constitution and the return of PKK and KCK militants to Turkey. In essence it foresees the devolution of power from the state to local government and the formation of a democratic autonomous Kurdistan which does not separate Turkey but instead unites it with stronger ties in a mutual relationship between Turks and Kurds that is a Democratic Republic and joint homeland.

The recent developments in the Middle East have also uncovered the role of the AKP in the region. In return for carrying out US and EU policies in Egypt, Libya and Syria, the AKP has been given free rein to attack and eliminate the Kurdish opposition. This strategy has been used by consecutive Turkish governments over the years but has only ended in loss; both for them and also for the peoples of Turkey. In a sense Turkey has been playing the same role since the Marshall Plan of the fifties, through the Cold War till today; and that is as an agent for the implementation of Capitalist Modernity in the Middle East. In return for this they are receiving endless economic, military and diplomatic support from the EU, US and Saudi Arabia. Now NATO are preparing to deploy a missile-shield in the country, possibly the Kurdish region, against Iran; this will further exacerbate the already sensitive balance in the region. This is why the AKP had and still has two options; either to solve the Kurdish issue in a just and peaceful manner or to continue using it as a tool to gain support for its own hegemonic and imperialistic endeavours into neighbouring countries with Kurdish populations. It seems that they have chosen the second option. This has been clarified by the KCK’s Executive Committee Member Duran Kalkan, who has stated that the PKK are engaged in a political battle with the AKP in Syria, Iraq and Iran because they are trying to destabilise the Kurdish movements there.

The period following the June 12th elections resulted in counterattacks by the PKK’s armed wing the Peoples’ Defence Forces (HPG) and over 60 soldiers and 30 guerrillas were killed during July, August and September. The HPG had been in legitimate passive defence mode during the previous year (from August 2010) and with the intervention of Öcalan had extended the ceasefire on two occasions. This had been the 7th ceasefire declared by the PKK since 1984, when it began armed warfare against the Turkish state, first for an independent Kurdish state and later (now) for autonomy. However now that is over once again and the PKK are in active defence mode, this means that the war will rage on for both sides and the death toll will continue to rise. If the PKK put into action what they are calling ‘a revolutionary peoples’ war’ then the process could lead to civilian clashes and the death of millions; something which state strategists have apparently simulated and taken into account.
Also the Turkish Army are preparing for a comprehensive cross-border operation with support from Iran, the USA military in Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government who are struggling to contain the pressure exerted upon them by the above powers.

The only person who can stop this, or even lighten the current climate is Abdullah Öcalan, and this is why it is imperative that the Turkish state and AKP government open the path for his lawyers and family to visit him at Imrali. This is the first step towards preventing war, which this time there may be no return from for the Kurdish and Turkish people. As I write this the 13th attempt by Öcalan’s lawyers to visit their client has been rejected by the Justice Ministry on the grounds that the ‘Imrali boat is not working.’ Previous excuses were similarly whimsical. Öcalan’s lawyers have declared that the AKP government are committing a crime and that they have no intention of a developing a solution. Meanwhile in the Kurdish regions thousands have been protesting the isolation of Öcalan in mass demonstrations and hundreds have been arrested; hunger strikes have begun in the Maxmur refugee camp; political prisoners have begun rioting; and today Kurdish organisations in Europe have met with CPT and European Council officials and have appealed for them to intervene.

Not since the case of Nelson Mandela has the fate of a people been more intertwined with the fate of its leader. Regardless of what you may know or think of Öcalan, he is officially the representative of at least 3.2 million (adult) Kurds who signed a declaration in 2006 to declare him as their political representative in Kurdistan, thousands of people were tried for this. He is revered by and still accepted as their leader by the PKK, KCK, HPG and PJAK, as well as many other Kurdish organisations in the other parts of Kurdistan, and they are adamant that the path to peace passes through Imrali. The Turkish state and AKP have even accepted this fact and as mentioned above negotiated with him.  It is also evident that Öcalan has done many things at Imrali to prevent conflict and bring about a gradual peace; from writing five defence papers which have been published as books, to writing the Road Map and negotiating the protocols to calling countless ceasefires, Öcalan has constantly remained active. This is why the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan must be lifted immediately and the peace process be put back on track. Now is not the time to play with fire by isolating Öcalan. The ball is in the AKP’s court.

I have not mentioned the details of Öcalan’s existence in Imrali because I wanted to concentrate on the importance of Öcalan’s role in attaining peace. However it would be wise to mention just a few incidents to portray the social-psychological and physical environment he lives in. Öcalan has been sentenced twelve times (over 100 days) to ‘cell punishment’ during the past 12 years, where he has been placed for 10 days at a time in a small cell without any books, paper or pen, this is called ‘cell within a cell isolation.’ There was a concentrated attempt to poison him (in 2007); his hair and moustache were cut by force; his radio was taken away without reason; though he has a right to a TV it hasn’t been issued to him for 12 years; the newspapers, letters and magazines that are sent to him are censored; the tree outside his cell window was cut down because birds would nestle on the branches and sing; he was constantly given small sachets of jam or honey which were empty; the specially trained military personnel are forbidden to interact with him and he with them; his lawyers and family members are not allowed to touch or go near him during visits. These are just some examples to show the type of prison system policy that is being implemented at Imrali, and the psychological torture he is under.

Memed Boran


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