Launch event in London hears praise for second volume of PKK leader’s prison writings

David Morgan,  5 June 2011

London saw the formal launch of the latest volume of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan’s prison writings on the evening of Thursday 2 June. Organised by Peace in Kurdistan in collaboration with the publishers, Transmedia Publishing and the UK distributors Pluto Press, the event was hosted at Garden Court Chambers in Holborn.

The book, whose title is Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century, is the second volume to appear in English translation since Öcalan’s apprehension, conviction and imprisonment in 1999. His first volume appeared in 2007. The book, whose contents are based on Öcalan’s defence writings, was enthusiastically welcomed by the meeting as a major contribution to the understanding and resolution of the Kurdish conflict, often erroneously dismissed, as one speaker pointed out, as the Kurdish “problem”.  The volume was hailed as offering an opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the issue and for that reason should be widely read.

Chairing the meeting, human and women’s rights barrister Margaret Owen said that Abdullah Öcalan had produced an “amazing book” from his prison cell and that he speaks for all the Kurds in his call for peace and democracy in Turkey.

Speakers included the respected human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who had represented Kurds following the occupation of the Greek Embassy in London, which she described as a spontaneous action carried out by the Kurdish community in response to the arrest of Öcalan and their means of protesting at the Greek government’s involvement in what was seen as a violation of the rule of law. Ms Peirce said she was moved and inspired by the selfless devotion expressed by ordinary Kurds for the welfare of their leader Öcalan.

Ms Peirce described in detail how there had been a negotiated exit from the Greek Embassy after three days in 1999 and how the prosecutions that followed did not result in any terrorist convictions, but simply in conditional discharges for those involved, who were youths, old people and families. She explained how Öcalan had been illegally “snatched” in Kenya in a carefully planned trap that involved the US, Europe, Turkey and other states in violation of international law, which made Öcalan a victim of “rendition” before the word was widely used as it is today. She said that a people had a legal right to resist oppression, but recent legislation proscribing the PKK meant that Kurds were left without a means of political expression because they could now be deemed terrorists simply for voicing support for their just cause.

Ms Peirce said that it had been a real privilege to serve the Kurdish people and said that if one lesson needed to be learned it was that we needed to talk to find a solution.

Klaus Happel, the political editor and director of Transmedia Publishing and the translator of the new book, described the long process of editing and translating the volume, which was based on handwritten manuscripts that Öcalan had been able to prepare under adverse conditions in detention and which were then handed over page by page to his lawyers at various intervals. On occasions, Happel said, the Turkish authorities would prevent the papers from being handed over, a fact which added to the obstacles and made the publishing process all that more protracted.

Öcalan had insisted that the PKK needed to change and was proposing a solution based on democratisation, not military action, Happel said. This meant that there needed to be a change in attitude from the Turkish side in response in order to achieve a lasting resolution that would involve the former guerrillas.

He urged continued struggle at the political level and a more active role by the European Union, which had so far fallen far short of what is necessary.

Another guest speaker at the launch was John Tobisch-Haupt, the spokesperson for the International Initiative Freedom for Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan, an organisation founded to promote a peaceful and democratic solution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.  He said that the book demonstrated that Öcalan should be seen as a partner in talks for peace with Turkey. Öcalan was a national leader on a level with Mandela, Arafat and Guevara, he stated.  Ocalan should therefore be freed in order to play a more active role, he insisted.

Stan Newens, former Labour MP and MEP and currently president of Liberation, commended Öcalan for having written a “brilliant book” which demonstrates that the author is a man of great learning and culture. He believed that the book was a great step forward for peace and offered a means to finding a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue, a cause for which, as a politician in the UK and Europe, he had long campaigned. Mr Newens felt that Ocalan understood how society worked as a Marxist and was able to use Gramscian ideas to explain the role of myth, ideology and religion in history.

Stan Newens urged everyone to do much more to ensure that there was a peaceful and democratic solution as envisaged by Abdullah Ocalan.

Writer on the Middle East, Jonathan Fryer, a prominent Liberal Democrat, also welcomed the publication whose arguments he said should be taken very seriously. Fryer felt that the “Arab awakening” currently taking place across the Middle East could present a new opportunity for resolving the Kurdish issue. He welcomed the fact that Ocalan had been rethinking his ideas and thought that the book could help in finding a solution.

Finally, musician and performer Nawroz Oramari, lent his support to the publication in his own inimitable way by composing a song in tribute to Öcalan, which he performed at the meeting. Nawroz, who had lived in all parts of Kurdistan, described himself as non-political but he was proud to offer his support to the ideas espoused by the Kurdish leader.

It was rightly pointed out at the meeting that this is not only the second book that Öcalan has written; it is only the second book to be translated into English and the second book he has produced while in prison. As a teacher, skilled debater and analytical thinker throughout his adult life, Öcalan has over many decades authored numerous books which have been published in Turkish, but none have seen the light of day in English. Writing has been one way that Öcalan has sought to communicate his message which has inspired such a large following among the Kurdish people.

Öcalan has played a pivotal role in the mass awakening of the Kurds and this new volume of writings confirms his status as one of the boldest political leaders and thinkers that the Kurds have produced in their history and, despite his incarceration, he remains one of the most challenging and original voices coming out of the Middle East. The insistence of Turkey and its Western allies on regarding him as simply a “terrorist” and man of violence is exposed as so far from the truth as to be an utter absurdity. As it is quite clearly a definition determined by cynical political interests, however, this in fact makes it far more difficult to change through rational argument alone; hence, the great dilemma facing the Kurds in their quest for justice and recognition.

The new volume should go some way to challenging that grossly unjust misconception of Öcalan and his aspirations for the Kurdish people, whose demands are only what other peoples take for granted. The volume offers some hope and could become the start of a renewed debate; it should therefore be widely distributed and more widely read.