By Andy Brooks
Prison Writings: The PKK And The Kurdish Question In The 21st Century
by Abdullah Ocalan, London 2011, 174 pp Pluto Press, £17.50.
ABDULLAH Ocalan was the leader of the Kurdish resistance in Turkey that was the focus for all progressive Kurds in the fight for freedom. Kidnapped in Kenya in 1999, Ocalan was tried and condemned to death by the Turkish authorities. Though this was commuted to life imprisonment, Ocalan remains to this day in prison on the island of Imrali. There he has written two books, in extremely difficult circumstances, making the case for the Kurdish people and proposing a new way forward to start the dialogue with Turkey and end the conflict that has claimed so many lives on both sides.
Some say that the Kurds missed the boat at Versailles in 1919 when the victorious Anglo-French imperialists carved up what was left of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The Arabs who had fought for Britain in the belief that they would get independence got promises that were never kept. The Zionists, who had supported the Entente against Germany and its allies, were allowed to settle in the new British “mandate” of Palestine. The Kurds got nothing.
Some lived in Iran, then a satellite of the British Empire. Others found themselves part of the new British “mandate” of Iraq headed by a puppet king imposed on the Iraqis after a nationalist revolt was crushed. Most Kurds remained in what became the Turkish republic, a bourgeois dictatorship led by General Mustafa Kemal, whose “Kemalism” dismissed them as “mountain Turks” and refused to recognise them as a separate nation.
When the Arabs of the Middle East broke the chains of colonialism after the Second World War the feudal Kurdish chiefs in Iraq sought the protection of the Shah of Iran and Anglo-American imperialism to strengthen their claim for independence. But in Turkey militant Kurds founded a revolutionary Marxist party, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and launched a guerrilla war in 1984 that for many years held the Turkish army at bay in a fight for freedom that still goes on today.
Following Ocalan’s arrest, the PKK declared a truce and offered to talk. But despite the virtual end of the uprising, the Turks still refuse to listen or even recognise that a problem exists.
In this second volume of prison writings, Ocalan reviews the entire history of the Kurds from ancient times to the modern era. He frankly talks about the problems and mistakes made by the PKK during the height of the guerrilla war and he appeals for a dialogue with the Turkish authorities to end the oppression of the Kurds, who live largely under Turkish military occupation.
Now no longer a doctrinaire Marxist, Ocalan rejects the old demand for “an independent, united and socialist Kurdistan” as neither a realistic nor practical objective. He calls, instead, for “a democratic country and a free homeland” wherever Kurds live and for his people to campaign for equal rights in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria in tandem with all the other democratic forces in those countries.
In Iraq the feudal Kurdish chiefs run an autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government under American protection. The Iranian Kurds have a regional government and a certain degree of cultural freedom within the Islamic Republic. But in Turkey, where the majority of the Kurdish people live, the Kurds are still denied even basic human rights.
In his prison writings Ocalan calls on the Arab and Iranian leaders and above all the Turkish government and the leading political forces in Turkey to begin the dialogue and resolve the “Kurdish problem” once and for all.
This is an important book that makes a serious contribution to understanding one of the key flash-points in the Middle East. It deserves a wide audience.