Free Kurdistan!

Angry demonstrations and protests filled the streets of Europe - and beyond - last week. This display of political fury was ignited by the abduction and arrest by Turkish troops in Nairobi of “Apo” (Uncle) Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Ocalan was indicted by a hastily assembled Turkish court with “high treason” and “attempting to divide the country by force”. He now languishes on the prison island of Imrali and faces either the death penalty or 22,000 life sentences.   

The circumstances surrounding the seizure of Ocalan only added to the bitterness and passion of the protests. Ocalan was the victim of an elaborate cloak-and-dagger operation to capture Turkey’s ‘public enemy number one’. This plot, codenamed Operation Safari, which saw Ocalan lured to Kenya, involved extensive cooperation with the CIA and - it seems - the Israeli secret service, both of whom have a heavy presence in that country. A senior Washington official bluntly stated: “We as a government tried to figure out where Ocalan was, where he was going and how we might bring him to justice.” This involved causing Ocalan to flee Syria, persuading numerous countries to refuse him sanctuary and then driving him into a desperate search for refuge. Anywhere - Kenya even.  

The final humiliation came when his slightly pathetic figure - in chains, blindfolded, possibly drugged - was presented to the truimphalist Turkish media. A drowsy looking Ocalan was heard to mumble,

“If the truth needs to be told, I love Turkey and the Turkish nation and I want to serve it. If I have the chance, I would be pleased to serve. Let there be no torture or anything. I would be happy to serve.”

The political fallout from this episode has been considerable. Passions are running particularly high in Greece, where Ocalan is a popular figure. It does not help that the PKK leader was seized from the Greek ambassador’s residence in Kenya. Three senior ministers who were behind the bungled operation to hide Ocalan were sacked by the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis. The role played by the CIA in the capture of Ocalan by Turkish troops has added salt to the wound. Nationalistic MPs threatened to withdraw their support for Simitis’s government unless the sackings took place. Memories of Greek resistance to the Ottoman Empire run deep.

In response, well organised and disciplined demonstrations convulsed Europe - and there were also pro-Ocalan marches in Tehran, Moscow and in the Armenian city of Yerevan. In London we saw the three-day occupation of the Greek embassy by 77 Kurds and the demonstrations in support of the occupiers - all of whom were arrested and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Three Kurds were shot dead in Berlin, as they attempted to storm the Israeli consulate. In Turkey itself 2,000 people have been arrested in connection with Ocalan and the PKK, and in the city of Diyarbakir pro-Ocalan demonstrators have been fired upon. In south-east Turkey 14 members of the PKK have been killed by government forces. PKK bases in Northern Iraq have been attacked by 4,000 Turkish troops, backed by air support and assisted by the Iraq-based Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani.

The Turkish prime minister, Bulent Ecevit of the Democratic Left Party, has responded aggressively to European criticisms of the Ocalan affair. Of course Ocalan will have a ‘fair’ trial, and Ecevit has warned foreign governments “to refrain from attempts to put pressure on our courts. We would consider such attempts as an unacceptable affront.” Indeed, official circles in Turkey have described Greece as a “rogue state” for its pro-PKK sympathies and has demanded that the EU investigates Greece’s ‘illegal’ activities.

But Turkey does have strong allies in Europe too. Otto Schily, the German interior minister, has declared that Germany’s ‘counter-terrorist’ service will step up its efforts to “smash” the PKK, which is firmly entrenched among the 500,000 Kurds living in Germany and it has been suggested that Kurdish militants found guilty of criminal offences should be deported.

Naturally, this explosion of passion has baffled the cold-blooded and etiolated bourgeoisie. Why do the Kurds need to be so ‘violent’ and militant in their protests? Our rulers find it difficult to understand real conviction and beliefs - standing in sharp contrast to the dehumanised ‘post-politics’ politics of official discourse, where a lifeless consensus reigns supreme and all we see are fake arguments over spin. The fact that the Kurdish masses identify with the struggle of the PKK is just beyond them.

In particular, our scribblers are baffled by the dramatic action of Nejla Kanteper, the 15-year-old who set fire to herself on the first day of the occupation of the Greek embassy in London.  Good grief - teenagers passionately engaged in politics. This is of course not a new phenomenon. For example, the Soweto Uprising of 1976 was a mass rebellion by school students against the compulsory imposition of Afrikaans - ie, the oppressor language.

The distinct message from the establishment and the foreign office is that Ocalan deserves his fate. We are supposed to blame the PKK for the 40,000 deaths witnessed over the last 15 years. What revolting hypocrisy. Responsibility lies squarely with the Turkish state and its terror campaign to suppress the Kurds’ struggle for self-determination.

Ironically, at this time the west is looking for more moderate leaders to deal with - a Kurdish version of Gerry Adams (we have seem the same process in Kosova with the KLA). Fantastically, it is being mooted that with Ocalan out of the way, it will be easier to nurture such a figure in the PKK. What foolish illusions. Obviously, such a quest will now be a lot harder - Ocalan was, potentially, a Gerry Adams.

For years the PKK professed to be Marxist-Leninist and its programme was for an ‘independent socialist’ Kurdistan. However, in recent times Ocalan has distanced the organisation from its more ostensibly Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and he dropped references to independence several years ago. Ocalan now calls for ‘autonomy’ within Turkey.  In fact, Ocalan faced radical opposition within the PKK and the most likely consequence of the whole affair is to increase the organisation’s intransigence - and of course gain it thousands more recruits.

But Ecevit and the Turkish state will not give ground. He has aggressively stated: “Autonomy or federalism for the Kurds are not on the agenda. We will not allow it and we can’t afford it.” Ecevit even gave a hypocritical lecture on the evils of racism: “Turks and Kurds of Turkey are one nation. In contrast to the racist heritage and tendencies of certain European nations, we have no concept of racial differentiation, and there has been no instance of racial conflict or discrimination in Turkish history.” The most Ecevit is prepared to offer the Kurds is “economic development” for their impoverished areas.

The Kurds must have the right to determine their own future. Therefore, communists resolutely defend Ocalan and the PKK from the ravages of the Turkish state.

This is more than could be said for the mealy-mouthed defenders of human rights in the liberal press. The Guardian pontificated on the need for “a full and fair trial - it’s in the Turks’ own interest”, adding: “And that, practically speaking, must mean that the Ocalan trial is an object of international interest. If the evidence against Ocalan is as strong as Turkish ministers have been saying, the more open and transparent the judicial process which exhibits it, the more convincing any eventual condemnation. Due process is a human right even in the fraught circumstances of civil war. The Turks have won a tactical victory. What is needed now in Ankara is a sight of strategy - not magnanimity, but a clear view of national self-interest: that must lie in admitting foreign observers and ensuring full legal representation for the accused” (February 19). Sound advice for the ruling class in Turkey.

Communists call for the right to self-determination for the Kurdish masses - whether they be in Turkey, Iraq or Iran. How that right is exercised - whether it takes the form of autonomy, independence/separation or even complete integration - is a matter to be decided by the Kurds. Central to their struggle is the consciousnessof the Turkish masses themselves, who must break from all manifestations of Turkish chauvinism and champion the democratic rights of the oppressed.

Eddie Ford