Abdullah Öcalan's Isolation Has Led to Authoritarianism of Turkish Government

On Abdullah Öcalan's Statements from Solitary Confinement in İmralı

Interview with Mahmut Şakar, former lawyer of Abdullah Öcalan


PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned under aggravated solitary confinement conditions in F-type İmralı Prison, is denied visits from his family and lawyers. While Öcalan was able to receive visits from his family and lawyers at certain intervals from the time of his extradition by an international conspiracy in 1999 until July 27, 2011, he was barred from meeting with his legal representatives for eight years from then on. The hunger strike, which was started by Leyla Güven, co-chair of the KCD/DTK (Democratic Congress of Society), and lasted 200 days with the participation of thousands of people, resulted in Ocalan being able to realize five visits with his lawyers, the first on May 2, 2019, then on May 22, June 12, June 18 and August 7, 2019. Since August 7, 2019, requests for visits have not been answered.


In protest against the increasing violations of rights and for the immediate lifting of Öcalan's total isolation, an indefinite hunger strike began in the prisons of Turkey and North Kurdistan on November 27, 2020. Although the action has now been going on for more than six months, the demands have not been met.


Some allegations on March 14 in various social networks about Ocalan's health and security situation led to public concern. As a result, a telephone conversation between Mehmet Öcalan and his older brother took place on March 25. It was interrupted and thus lasted just four and a half minutes. With his statement during the brief contact: "The state is playing false and so are you, this is neither legal nor right," Abdullah Öcalan reacted to the illegal measures of the state. He warned his lawyers not to legitimize this situation. The PKK leader stressed that in case of a meeting, it would have to take place in İmralı and that he wants to receive a visit from his lawyers.


Mahmut Şakar, Öcalan's lawyer for many years, answered the questions of `Mezopotamya Ajansi` on the following topics: the government's attitude towards Öcalan, the conditions of the visits, Öcalan's messages during the visits and thecurrent prevention of visits.


The last contact with Öcalan was the telephone conversation with his brother Mehmet on March 25. How do you assess a contact that was interrupted in this way?

First of all, we definitely cannot regard the last phone conversation as the use of the right to telephone communication, nor as a family visit. Secondly, a conversation of four and a half minutes that is also interrupted - so not even a phone call is allowed - shows us the logic of the İmralı system. So it shows how arbitrary it is; which right may be used when and how it does not depend on rules, but on the government.


Last year, there was phone contact with Abdullah Öcalan after concerns due to a fire in İmralı, and a year after that due to concerns about his health and safety conditions. Requests for family and attorney visits are either denied or not responded to. Is one phone call a year enough?
By allowing only one short phone call a year or one family visit, they try to prevent or mitigate the society's protest. Likewise, they think that with contact permissions of this kind, they can create the impression that there is no isolation in İmralı and everything is according to the norm. We see a similarity between the contact phase with Mr. Öcalan in 2019 and the telephone conversations that took place later. The contacts happened in phases when the social protests became stronger. The hunger strike led by Leyla Güven in 2019 led to the visits by Abdullah Öcalan`s lawyers. These visits were also allowed due to the social reactions to events such as earthquakes, fires and the like. In the current phase of increased protests by the people, the system wants to stop them by hindering the regular family and lawyer traffic permitted by law. We can describe this as the basic policy of recent years. Therefore, the bans on visits should not be understood as a denial of a basic right, but as an attempt to create the impression that everything on Imrali is running according to the norm.


What exactly did Mr. Ocalan mean when he said during the interrupted telephone conversation "The state is playing wrong and so are you, this is neither lawaful nor right"?

Mr. Öcalan wants to emphasize the illegality. He demands justice and law in the real sense. It is the demand to act according to the law, the demand to be able to make use of his rights. Actually, Mr. Ocalan`s criticism is twofold. On the one hand, he criticizes the attitude of the system, but he also addresses his family, lawyers and society. He says that we cannot accept the situation in which a telephone call once a year for four and a half minutes is supposed to create the impression that everything is normal, as if fundamental rights and freedoms were guaranteed. We must take this as a call to be even more determined in demanding that family and lawyer visits be guaranteed. Our demand consists in more than a phone call of four and a half minutes, namely the guarantee of family and lawyers' visits. The arbitrary blockade must come to an end.


You emphasize that Ocalan has made a call to society. During the last five visits, the PKK leader emphasized as a result of the hunger strike: "There is a need for a deep social unification." What is this social unification about and why is it important?

Mr. Öcalan expressed this in 2019. In the two years that have passed since then, there have been occasions that have shown how right he was in his demand. The points he voiced then still have merit and remain valid. The point is not only that Turkey is being mismanaged, but also that we are in a period in which the divisions and polarization of society are deepening. We are witnessing these developments because the Kurdish question is being denied and genocide is happening nased on a long-term strategy. A social unification is needed to overcome all this.


Certain steps must be taken for social unification. Not by war - the path of peace must be taken. Social unification can only be achieved by peace. This can only happen by overcoming the nationalism not only of the AKP/MHP, but also of opposition groups and parties. During the occupation offensive against Efrîn and Serêkaniyê, not only the government was part of the developments, but also groups that are considered opposition. Therefore, a social agreement for the solution of the Kurdish question can only be one that perspectively overcomes nationalism, war vocabulary and the current government and that creates a language of peace. Otherwise, if Turkey continues to insist on a military solution, it will also experience the disintegration, division and polarization that come with it.


Öcalan suggested during the same meetings that these problems could be solved with "soft power" instead of "physical force. What has been Turkey's attitude to this so far?

When Mr. Öcalan talks about "soft power," he referrs to the period from 2013 to 2015, when Turkey's foreign relations were good and peace was in the air at home. At that time, millions of people were convinced that Turkey's problems could be solved peacefully. This also increased Turkey's influence in the area. At this stage, it had the potential to become a respected power on the international stage and to solve internal systematic problems. Instead of intensifying this and of striving for a more sincere process, they sabotaged it and pursued a "Submission Plan". The horror we have witnessed, both internally and externally, over the past six years is a result of this decision.


We can see that the war escalated again after Öcalan proposed the "democratic method of negotiations". Can we still consider this method as a solution under today's circumstances?

Basically, the need for this method exists now more than ever. The more the war reaches a destructive point, the greater the need for negotiations. It is a different question whether the current government is interested in a solution or not, but we are in a phase with the greatest need for a solution with peaceful methods. We are in a phase where the war is spreading more and more, the social disintegration is deepening more and more. You see, we know this not only because of what is happening in Kurdistan. The Turkish society, which supports the government and supports military and national policies, is itself affected by the destruction. Perhaps historically, poverty has never been as great as it is now, class contradictions have never been as pronounced as they are now; people are at a point where they are committing suicide because of hunger. In that sense, the profound decline of society is also a result of this war. Erdoğan also expressed this when he said, "Do you know where all the funds are going?" Consequently, it must also be possible to turn away from this decision.


How can this be achieved?

There needs to be a force that pushes the government toward peace. No matter how one defines him- or herself, no one can flee from the effects of the war against the Kurds. There is no longer a legal system or justice in Turkey. There is the reality of a Turkey that is heading toward disintegration in all areas. In order to stop this, one must analyze the reason for the current situation correctly. Therefore, the warlike, denialist anti-Kurdish policy must be stopped. So, it is necessary to agree on a peaceful and democratic method of negotiations and approaches. This is not just about uniting against Erdoğan, but about a real solution for Turkey, a peace that can save the ethnic groups living in Turkey from this disintegration. We have the need to meet on the basis of peace and democracy. If this were to grow stronger, the government would not be able to continue its war-mongering policy. Because we also see that the social atmosphere during the occupation of Efrîn in 2018 does not resemble that during the military operation against Gare in 2021. Even if the society does not clearly oppose it, it does not support it as it did in the past. If the opposition manages to make it clear to society that the reason for poverty as well as suicides is this war policy, then it can bring an end to the government's war policy.


You mentioned the war policy. The attacks on the Kurdish regions Zap, Avaşîn and Metîna in South Kurdistan continue. Abdullah Öcalan has analyzed such cross-border military operations in the past. Are these analyses still relevant?

Mr. Öcalan has consistently pursued this policy since 1993. He has pursued a democratic line based on peace, which has time and again clearly demonstrated the senselessness of the war being waged. If a meeting with Mr. Öcalan was possible now, he would reiterate that these wars will not be a solution. In the limited meetings with his lawyers and family, he also mentioned this. Even before his imprisonment, he had said that while these attacks may harm the PKK to some extent, they obviously will not destroy it. That the PKK cannot be defeated by such military operations has become clear over the past forty years. During the times when it was much weaker, such operations did not produce any results. Now that it is stronger than before, it is equally obvious. Even the system knows that the PKK cannot be crushed with such operations, but the goal is to gain a foothold in all three parts of Kurdistan. This has to be seen as part of the ''Submission Plan'' I spoke of earlier. In South Kurdistan, they are constantly building new military bases. We are witnessing the attempt to control South Kurdistan not only politically and economically, but also militarily.


What solutions does Mr. Öcalan propose for Turkey in particular, and for the Middle East in general?

One of the main issues that Mr. Öcalan has always talked about is the Middle East. He has always looked at the Kurdish issue in the context of the Middle East and also in a global context. In this sense, it is important for the evaluation to analyze the politics of the Middle East, its society, its culture and the Kurdish matter as its part. Mr. Ocalan's thoughts about Kurdistan are also closely connected with those about the Middle East. The culmination of his work, in which this is visible, are his five-volume defense writings. Only one volume covers the Middle East, but apart from that, there are statements on it in all the other volumes and during every İmralı meeting. The core he emphasizes is Capitalist Modernity. The almost obsessive notion of the nation-state and nationalism imposed by the global system is the reason for the problems of the Middle East. He emphasizes that the historical development of nation-states in the West does not correspond to that of the Middle East, since the ethnic and religious identities in the Middle East, historically and socially, have grown together in such a way that a separation in such a way will only lead to their destruction. Therefore, he developed the idea of the Democratic Nation - that is, a strategy of a nation in which all identities can live together - and Democratic Confederalism as a political model. The Rojava Revolution itself is a great example of Mr. Öcalan's views on the Middle East.


While strong nations were not able to resist against the Islamic State (IS), the Kurds could. Why? They have an alternative model in the Middle East that overcomes Capitalist Modernity as well as the models of political Islamists like IS. It was the idea of Mr. Öcalan that won this war. Of course, resistance was important, but it too is built on an ethical and philosophical foundation. Therefore, there is a solution to the fundamental problems mentioned by Mr. Öcalan. This has also come to life in Rojava. With his paradigm, Mr. Öcalan has a solution against local hostility to progress as well as against imperial intervention: a "third way". Unlike the past, we are not only discussing it theoretically; it also has a Rojava practice. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Öcalan plays a central role in this practice.


Likewise, Ocalan criticized during these meetings, "If I were not in prison today, I would go to Sûr and collect garbage, greet people and answer their greetings." What did he want to convey to the politicians and organizations of democratic society?

I think this is very important. In my opinion, it's a call for how to do democratic politics. So politics, but also why we do politics, is important. The way a person does politics is related to the motivations of their political work. If you do politics or even community service not for your personal self-interest but for the people, then that is democratic politics itself. Democratic politics is politics done for the people. Therefore, Mr. Ocalan says that politics takes the people as its base, but it is also built on work and effort. His example shows that. Actually, he says to all of us, "If I were not in prison, I would take democratic politics as my base, politics for the people, based on work, detached from personal profit." Kurdish politics has developed strongly recently and has gained strong, widespread influence. However, this has partly led to difficulties. His criticism also clarifies his attitude towards this issue. He emphasizes that in his practice the people are the center. If this political line can be put into practice, the people will take more notice of initiatives, political parties and organizations. Then the belief in democratic politics will be strengthened.


First and foremost, his lawyers, but also numerous politicians, emphasize that Öcalan has no expectations of the state with regard to his isolation and that it can only be broken by organizing on a social basis. So what needs to be done to overcome the isolation?

Since the isolation is a state policy, it obviously cannot be broken by having expectations of the state. Therefore, it is necessary to develope a stance that pushes the state away from this policy. The isolation in İmralı is not only a matter of Turkey, but also one that is influenced by Europe. After Mr. Öcalan's capture, a delegation from Europe came to İmralı in 1999 and approved the İmralı system. Even if at times the CPT [Anti-Torture Committee of the Council of Europe] and similar institutions criticize this state of affairs, it is not a criticism of the system, but rather one to optimize the conditions of this very system. There is a common consent about Mr. Öcalan's imprisonment in İmralı. In view of this, a strong reflex is needed to overcome this policy. This cannot be left to the state alone. Of course, there is a connection between the isolation system and the status that the Kurdish question has reached. Giving up the war policy against the Kurds opens a field for overcoming the isolation. Therefore, the isolation must be understood as one of the aspects of the Kurdish question, a stronger democratic organization must be developed. A positive development here will have an impact on all areas.


Mr. Öcalan's situation does not only concern the Kurds. We must not see it that way. Of course, in the past few years, more than ten million people have signed the slogan "Öcalan is my will" under the most difficult circumstances. This shows the attitude of the Kurdish people. Therefore, it is natural for the Kurds to take up the cause more, but it must also become a focus for democrats and revolutionaries in Turkey and Europe, as well as for human rights activists. We can see that these groups are positioning themselves, even if not sufficiently, on many issues. But when it comes to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, we cannot see that. You cannot approach this issue as if it were only a Kurdish issue.


The system established against Mr. Ocalan was spread all over Turkey after July 15, 2016. It was first applied in İmralı, but now all prisons have been reorganized according to this standard. The isolation and war policy has led to stronger authoritarianism and dictatorialism of the current government. If everybody had resisted against the isolation and attacks on the Kurds right at the beginning, we would not have experienced the current conditions. However, since people did not take a stand on this, they are faced with the results of a one-man system that was created on this basis. Precisely because it makes the system more authoritarian, the isolation in Imrali must become an issue for everyone. There are shortcomings at this point. There is a need here for a resistance that brings revolutionaries and democrats together more holistically.


I am convinced that if we come together against isolation in this way, we can achieve even better results.


This article was first published in the July/August 2021 edition of the Kurdistan Report.