Kurdish Londoners March for Ocalan on His 23rd Year of Incarceration

On February 13th, the Kurdish Diaspora and their allies marched from the BBC building to the Kings Cross area to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the illegal capture and incarceration of Abdullah Ocalan (APO), Kurdish liberationist and co-founder of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The Kurdish freedom movement has long deemed the kidnapping of Ocalan from Nairobi, Kenya in 1999 by Turkish military forces as an international conspiracy and a threat to a Kurdish people’s liberation everywhere, specifically the freedom of women and jineology (the principle that without the freedom of women within society and without a real consciousness surrounding women, no society can call itself free). 

While his sentence was reduced by the Turkish state from death penalty to life imprisonment in compliance with EU law, the conditions of his incarceration remain controversial. In an interview İbrahim Bilmez, Ocalan’s lawyer for the past 18 years, described the conditions of his incarceration in İmralı: from being denied visits with family and legal support from 2011 until 2019, to direct attacks and imprisonment of 40 lawyers connected to Ocalan’s representation. It took a series of hunger strikes to motion a break in his isolation, when his lawyers were finally permitted time-limited and restricted visits in 2019. Bilmez further stated: 

“The government has done whatever it wants with him since 1999. No law applies, there’s no transparency there.”

The conditions of Ocalan’s imprisonment demands the attention of global human rights organizations for the unfair court process, illegal capture, and inhumane treatment while in prison. Kurdish movements across the globe also require Ocalan’s immediate release as a prerequisite to any glimpse of a future peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question in South West Asia. His imprisonment is symbolic torture for the Kurdish freedom movement, as well as a sign of hopelessness for the over 10,000 people who are charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation” in Turkey. These so-called “terrorists” are no more than local lawyers, journalists, MPs, co-op members, and human rights activists, risking their freedom to see the end of Turkish state-sanctioned terror.

During this year’s demonstrations in London, speakers recited Ocalan’s literary work, ideology and vision for a liberated future through speeches, chants, and music. 

A commonly known phrase used amongst Kurdish liberationists is “berxwedan jiyane” meaning “resistance is life.” The spirit of these words breathes hope into struggle, paints a vision in the midst of atrocity, and ignites a sense of justice and solidarity for international hevals (comrades) who are trying to build simultaneous and revolutionary movements across the world. This year, those who marched the streets of London on February 13th, chanted the words “berxwedan jiyane” at the top of their lungs, for hours, and in the pouring rain. 

The demonstration concluded with a speech in the Sorani dialect, first thanking those who came out to stand in solidarity despite the weather forecast, and further stating:

“We have Reber Ocalan, we will not give up, even if all guerrillas, all Kurds cease to exist, we have the freedom on our side. Many international countries stood up to demand the freedom of Reber Ocalan, so we must join to yell: Bji Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO” 

Image credit: Wikimedia