“If there is a real leader in the world today who is equal to Nelson Mandela, it is President Abdullah Öcalan. His freedom could put an end to the war.”
31 January 2024 | ANF
Italian politician Ramon Mantovani, who was a member of the Italian Foreign Affairs Commission at the time and accompanied Abdullah Öcalan on the Russia-Rome plane, told ANF about his days in Rome and the conspiracy that led to his capture.
Part one of this interview can be read here
Öcalan was forced to leave Italy despite his request for political asylum. He was later arrested in Kenya. In his later statements about his arrest, Öcalan described it as an international conspiracy against him. What do you think about this?
There is no doubt that various subjects, starting with powers such as the US, multinationals interested in continuing the exploitation of Kurdistan’s resources, political party friends of Turkey (we must not forget that Ecevit was the head of a party of the Socialist International), large public and private armaments industries that had Turkey as an important customer, etc. acted, even collaborating with each other, to prevent the PKK’s peace proposal from becoming practicable. From this point of view, I completely agree with the President.
As far as Italy is concerned, the public and confidential pressures from the US government that I spoke about before were accompanied by pressure on the D’Alema government coming from the highest levels of the Italian security apparatus, more faithful to the orders of the US than to those of their own government. Anyone who knows the history of the Italian Republic well knows, as has been proven in various criminal trials, that the state apparatus participated in collaboration with the CIA in the 60s, 70s and even 80s in the preparation and cover-up of terrorist attacks aimed at preventing the rise of the Italian Communist Party in government. It is therefore not surprising that, even in this circumstance, the CIA used “its” men at the top of the Italian security apparatus.
After the pressure that the Italian government received, the men who maintained relations with Öcalan on behalf of the D’Alema government exerted numerous pressures directly on Öcalan to make him leave the country. They did it by saying something true. That is, one minute after Italy had responded negatively to the extradition request to Turkey, pursuant to a collaboration treaty against terrorism between Italy and Turkey stipulated in the 1970s and never revoked after the 1980 coup d’état in Turkey, any Italian judge could have arrested Öcalan and subjected him to trial on the charges brought against him by the Turkish judiciary. And they even did so by threatening to remove the protection that had been organized by the special forces of the Italian police force.
As regards the arrest and the possible trial, the lawyers argued that with the generic accusations and without the accusation of any specific and personal blood crime, provisional freedom and acquittal in the trial would have been certain. As for the threats to withdraw protection, I explained that it was a bluff, because if they had done so we would have denounced it publicly and whatever happened to Öcalan would have brought those responsible to court and then to prison.
I spoke at length with the President, explaining to him, like the lawyers, that the arrest would be short and that the trial would be favorable to acquittal. I didn’t give advice to him because I understood that it was a decision that fell solely to him and the PKK. But even if I had been asked for a direct opinion, I would not have been able to give any, not knowing the possible alternatives that the PKK had certainly been working on.
In any case, there was a long discussion during which Öcalan insisted on something that does him great credit. Before his personal safety and salvation, he highlighted the fact that a possible arrest of him, and therefore failure of the negotiation proposal, would have been interpreted by the Kurdish people as a definitive defeat and would certainly have fueled desperate tendencies and actions. For this reason, he was inclined to leave Italy and look for an alternative. After my conversation with the President, leading exponents of the PKK asked me for a meeting in which they told me that, given our fraternal relations, they let me know that the PKK was inclined to allow the President to remain in Italy, on the understanding that the last word would be his. At that point, I told them that if they considered it useful they could tell the President that my party also thought, like the PKK, that the best thing was for him to stay in Italy.
I know what happened after the departure of the President, requested and favored by the D’Alema government, only because it was reported to me by PKK leaders later, but neither I nor anyone from my party participated in any way.
As far as I understood, the President returned to Russia on the basis of the apparently unfounded news that after his stay in Italy and the importance gained by the Kurdish cause among international public opinion, the conditions had been created for the granting of asylum and support for his negotiation proposal. But instead he had to abandon Russia again to escape the threats to his life or capture. After a short wandering, there was an agreement with the Greek government according to which he would be hosted in a third country in the Greek embassy under diplomatic protection and at an unspecified time, he would be granted asylum. Indeed, the President reached the Greek embassy in Kenya and was hosted as expected, enjoying the extraterritoriality of the diplomatic legation. I know this directly because Giuliano Pisapia, who was then head of justice for my party as well as Öcalan’s lawyer, had the opportunity to go to Nairobi and speak with him in the embassy. But suddenly, on 15 February 1999, the Greek government ordered the ambassador to expel him from the embassy. Waiting for him outside was, according to what I was told, a commando of agents from the Turkish Secret Services and from another country who illegally kidnapped him and transported him, in the way that the world has known through dramatic images, to Turkey. Due to these events, three Greek ministers who had favored the operation had to resign. Among them are the foreign and internal ministers.
Do you think that the Italian government of the time and other countries were responsible for Öcalan’s arrest? If the Italian government had wanted it, could Öcalan have stayed in Italy, or what could have been done to make Öcalan stay in Italy?
I think that Italy in particular, given the circumstances of Öcalan’s arrival in Rome, and more generally the European Union, have the very serious responsibility of not having favored and worked for the political solution to a conflict that has been bloody for more than 40 years. Kurdistan. On the contrary, following indications from the US and Turkey itself, the PKK was placed, without any parliamentary or even intergovernmental discussion (Italy could not accept it given the position established by the resolution I mentioned earlier), on the list of terrorist organizations drawn up after the Al-Qaeda attacks in New York. With the paradox that the only organization that really fought in Syria against ISIS is persecuted in Europe on the recommendation of a country like Turkey which certainly did nothing against ISIS. Which demonstrates the true nature of the current European Union.
The D’Alema government had the opportunity to work towards a peace process and to develop a foreign policy that should be congenial to Italy given its historical position in the Mediterranean. Dialogue and negotiation were and are possible. So much so that in the 2000s there were approaches and negotiations between the PKK and Erdoğan’s government, which obviously failed, above all due to the role that the Turkish military has constitutionally and their political weight. I even believe that the 2016 coup attempt, with the consequent purge of part of the top brass of the armed forces in Turkey, also had to do with Erdoğan’s government, at a certain point, attitude towards negotiations with Öcalan himself.
It should also be remembered that on the imminence of the departure of President Massimo D’Alema and Oliviero Diliberto (then Minister of Justice), they said in two statements to news agencies that the government was not competent to grant political asylum and that only the judiciary could do it. This is yet another lie. Everyone knows that normally, as in the case of Öcalan, governments offer asylum and protection and only after a dispute arises does the judiciary deal with it. Furthermore, just a few hours after the declarations of D’Alema and Diliberto, three other ministers in as many declarations said something very different which partly contradicted the first two. And that is that the government should not have granted asylum. Strange that the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Lamberto Dini), that of Defense (Carlo Scognamiglio) and that of Foreign Trade (Piero Fassino, also from the same party as D’Alema) felt the need to say that the government was competent and should not have granted asylum. No Italian journalist, neither in print nor on TV, who are usually very attentive to gathering gossip and highlighting conflicts between politicians, noticed this. Very strange indeed.
In any case, a few months after the President’s departure from Italy, the Court of Rome granted the status of political refugee to Öcalan despite the fact that the D’Alema government had instructed the State Attorney’s Office to support the denial of asylum in the trial. Which once again highlights the democratic quality of Mr D’Alema and his government and the fact that if Öcalan had remained in Italy he would have been able to fully exercise his civil and political rights.
For the last 3 years, there has been no news from Abdullah Öcalan, who has been held in Imralı Prison for 25 years. The Turkish state, which has stripped Öcalan of all his rights, is imposing heavy isolation on Öcalan. How do you evaluate this isolation?
The Turkish government is afraid of Öcalan who is still the undisputed leader of the Kurdish people. The isolation and inhumane prison treatment demonstrate the fascist nature of the Turkish state. The international mobilization for the liberation of Öcalan must extend and increase in every part of the world. However strong the Turkish state is and however much it is supported by the US and in fact also by the EU, the reason lies on the side of the Kurdish people and President Öcalan.
What would you like to say about Öcalan’s role in the solution of the Kurdish question?
It is essential for President Öcalan to be able to play a political role as a free man for the negotiated solution to the conflict. It is just as indispensable the release of Nelson Mandela was to start the process of ending apartheid and the democratization of South Africa. If there is a true leader in the world today worthy of Nelson Mandela, it is President Abdullah Öcalan. His release can put an end to the conflict and inaugurate a peace process with the involvement of countries that have the capacity and political and moral credibility to carry out an accompanying and possibly mediating function.
Öcalan’s political thought, writings and ideas are a contribution not only to the Kurdish cause but also to the entire global left and to all free peoples or those fighting for their freedom. The women’s revolution, democratic confederalism and the criticism of the hegemonic conception of the state in the world, two theories that live in the experience of the populations of Rojava are universally interesting. All revolutionary and progressive forces in the world should study them thoroughly.