Abdullah Öcalan (April 4th, 1948 - ), also known as Apo (short for both Abdullah and "uncle" in Kurdish), is a Kurdish nationalist leader and one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Öcalan was arrested in 1999 by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) with the support of the CIA in Nairobi and taken to Turkey, where he was sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which concerns the formation of armed organisations. The sentence was commuted to aggravated life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty in support of its bid to be admitted to membership in the European Union. From 1999 until 2009, he was the sole prisoner on İmralı sland, in the Sea of Marmara. Öcalan now argues that the period of armed warfare is past and a political solution to the Kurdish question should be developed. The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has resulted in over 40,000 deaths, including PKK members, the Turkish military, and civilians, both Kurdish and Turkish.
From prison, Öcalan has published several books, the most recent in 2015. Jineology, also known as the science of women, is a form of feminism advocated by Ocalan and subsequently a fundamental tenet of Kurdish nationalism.
Öcalan was born in Ömerli, a village in Halfeti, Şanlıurfa Province in eastern Turkey. While some sources report his birthday as being 4 April 1948, no official birth records for him exist, and he himself claims not to know exactly when he was born, estimating the year to be 1946 or 1947. He is the oldest of seven children. According to some sources, Öcalan's grandmother was an ethnic Turk and (he once claimed that) his mother was also an ethnic Turk. According to Amikam Nachmani, lecturer at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Öcalan did not know Kurdish when he met him in 1991. Nachmani: "He [Öcalan] told me that he speaks Turkish, gives orders in Turkish, and thinks in Turkish."
Öcalan's brother Osman became a PKK commander, serving until defecting with several others to establish the Patriotic and Democratic Party of Kurdistan. His other brother, Mehmet Öcalan, is a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
After graduating from a vocational high school in Ankara (Turkish: Ankara Tapu-Kadastro Meslek Lisesi), Öcalan started working at the Diyarbakir Title Deeds Office. He was relocated one month later to Bakırköy, Istanbul. Later, he entered the Istanbul Law Faculty but transferred after the first year to Ankara University to study political science. His return to Ankara (normally impossible given his situation) was facilitated by the state in order to divide a militant group, Dev-Genç (Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey). President Süleyman Demirel later regretted this decision, since the PKK was to become a much greater threat to the state than Dev-Genç.
In 1978, in the midst of the right- and left-wing conflicts which culminated in the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, Öcalan founded the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which launched a war against the Turkish regime in order to set up an independent Kurdish state. In July 1979 he fled to Syria, where he remained until October 1998, when the Syrian government expelled him.
In 1984, the PKK initiated a campaign of armed conflict, comprising attacks against government forces in Turkey as well as civilians in order to create an independent Kurdish state. As a result, the United States, European Union, NATO, Syria, Australia, Turkey, and many other countries have included the PKK on their lists of terrorist organizations.
Capture and trialUntil 1998, Öcalan was based in Syria. As the situation deteriorated in Turkey, the Turkish government openly threatened Syria over its support for the PKK. As a result, the Syrian government forced Öcalan to leave the country, but did not turn him over to the Turkish authorities. Öcalan went to Russia first and from there moved to various countries, including Italy and Greece. In 1998 the Turkish government requested the extradition of Öcalan from Italy. He was at that time defended by Britta Böhler, a high-profile German attorney who argued that he fought a legitimate struggle against the oppression of ethnic Kurds.
He was captured in Kenya on 15 February 1999, while being transferred from the Greek embassy to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport inNairobi, in an operation by the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilâtı (Turkish National Intelligence Organization) reportedly with the help of CIA.George Costoulas, the Greek consul who protected him, said that his life was in danger after the operation.
Speaking to Can Dündar on NTV Turkey, the Deputy Undersecretary of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, Cevat Öneş, said that Öcalan impeded American aspirations of establishing a separate Kurdish state. The Americans transferred him to the Turkish authorities, who flew him back to Turkey for trial. His capture led thousands of Kurds to protest at Greek and Israeli embassies around the world. Kurds living in Germany have been threatened with deportation if they continue to hold demonstrations in support of Öcalan. The warning came after three Kurds were killed and 16 injured during the 1999 attack on the Israeli Consulate in Berlin. Öcalan stated that his mother is of Turkish origin and that he was ready to serve the people of Turkey in any way.
After his capture, Öcalan was held in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara. Although former prisoners at İmralı were transferred to other prisons, more than 1,000 Turkish military personnel were stationed on the island to guard him. A state security court consisting of three military judges was convened on the island to try him. Öcalan was charged with and convicted of treason and separatism, and sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment upon the abolition of the death penaltyin Turkey in August 2002. No one had been executed in Turkey since 1984. The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) may have aided this case's decision.
Following the commutation, Öcalan remained imprisoned on İmralı, and was the sole inmate there. In November 2009, Turkish authorities announced that Öcalan would be relocated to a new prison on the island and that they were ending his solitary confinement by transferring several other PKK prisoners to İmralı. They said that Öcalan would be allowed to see them for ten hours a week. The new prison was built after the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the island and objected to the conditions in which he was being held.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated articles 3, 5 and 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights by granting Öcalan no effective remedy to appeal his arrest and sentencing him to death without a fair trial. Öcalan's request for a retrial was refused by the Turkish court.
Proposal for political solution
Abandoning his precapture policy, which involved violence targeting civilians as well as military personnel, Öcalan has advocated a relatively peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict inside the borders of Turkey. Öcalan called for the foundation of a "Truth and Justice Commission" by Kurdish institutions in order to investigate war crimes committed by the PKK and Turkish security forces; a parallel structure began functioning in May 2006. In March 2005, Öcalan issued the Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan calling for a border-free confederation between the Kurdish regions of Eastern Turkey (called "Northern Kurdistan by Kurds, East Syria ("Western Kurdistan"), Northern Iraq ("South Kurdistan"), and West of Iran ("East Kurdistan"). In this zone, three bodies of law would be implemented: EU law, Turkish/Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian law and Kurdish law. This perspective was included in the PKK programme following the "Refoundation Congress" in April 2005.
Since his incarceration, Öcalan has significantly changed his ideology, reading Western social theorists such as Murray Bookchin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel, fashioned his ideal society as "Democratic Confederalism" (drawing heavily on Bookchin's Communalism, and refers to Friedrich Nietzsche as "a prophet". He also wrote books and articles on the history of pre-capitalist Mesopotamia and Abrahamic religions.
Öcalan had his lawyer, Ibrahim Bilmez, release a statement 28 September 2006, calling on the PKK to declare a ceasefire and seek peace with Turkey. Öcalan's statement said, "The PKK should not use weapons unless it is attacked with the aim of annihilation," and that it is "very important to build a democratic union between Turks and Kurds. With this process, the way to democratic dialogue will be also opened". He made another such declaration in March 2013.
On May 31st, 2010; however, Öcalan said he was abandoning an ongoing dialogue between him and Turkey saying that "this process is no longer meaningful or useful". Turkey ignored his three protocols for negotiation that included (a) his terms of health and security (b) his release and (c) a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Though the Turkish government received these protocols, they were never published. Öcalan stated that he would leave the top PKK commanders in charge of the conflict. However, he also said that his comments should not be misinterpreted as a call for the PKK to intensify its armed conflict with the Turkish state.
More recently, Öcalan has shown renewed cooperation with the Turkish government and hope for a peaceful resolution to three decades of conflict. On March 21st, 2013; Öcalan declared a ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state. Öcalan's statement was read to hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered to celebrate the Kurdish New Year and it states, "Let guns be silenced and politics dominate... a new door is being opened from the process of armed conflict to democratization and democratic politics. It's not the end. It's the start of a new era." Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcomed the statement and hope for a peaceful settlement has been raised on both sides.
Soon after Öcalan's declaration was read, the functional head of the PKK, Murat Karayılan responded by promising to implement the ceasefire, stating, "Everyone should know the PKK is as ready for peace as it is for war".