Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has led the struggle for Kurdish rights for many years. 9th October marks the twentieth anniversary of his expulsion of Abdullah Ocalan from Syria, where he had lived in exile for nearly 20 years. The Kurds view the expulsion as part of an ‘international conspiracy’ against Ocalan and themselves. Abdullah Ocalan was subsequently abducted from Kenya on 15 February 1999 and taken to Turkey, where he was subjected to a show trial and has been imprisoned ever since, kept on Imrali Island, Turkey’s equivalent of Robben Island. For more than 10 years he was isolated as the only prisoner on the island.Despite the horrendous conditions, Öcalan has never given up hope of achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the Middle East, especially the Kurdish question. For several years the Turkish government had engaged in talks with him about a resolution of the conflict. In Northern Syria, his ideas have inspired the building of a multi-­ethnic, multi-­religious, democratic revolution based on women’s freedom and ecology. Öcalan has become a symbol of hope for peace and democracy in a troubled region and around the world his ideas have resonated with people looking for an alternative to existing conditions with all the inequalities and spiralling crises.

British political leaders have a particular historical responsibility for the fate of the Kurdish people. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurdish people and their lands were ruthlessly divided up by the British and the French governments; first by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and then formally with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian states were therefore founded, in part, on the oppression and dispossession of the Kurds. Their identity, language, culture and political representation were suppressed and denied. Today, Turkish President Erdogan considers any manifestation of the Kurdish aspirations for rights to be a form of terrorism. Turkey’s armed forces are waging an unrestrained war against the Kurds in Turkey itself, in Syria and Iraq.

Nevertheless, the Kurdish people stand firm and continue to demand their rights and Abdullah Ocalan has provided them with inspiring leadership. He has repeatedly sought a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question, but his proposals have, so far, been rejected and he is held in strict isolation and denied visits, even from his family and lawyers.

On 27 September 2018 the European Court of Human Rights rejected a complaint that Ocalan had been mistreated during a cell search on 7 October 2008. Contrary to this ruling, Abdullah Ocalan has been treated inhumanely throughout his incarceration.

Britain played a strategic and central part in this international conspiracy. On 24 March 1992, Kurdish people and their supporters responded to massacres perpetrated by Turkish state forces with a protest outside the Turkish embassy in Belgravia, London. Metropolitan police attacked the demonstrators with dogs; three children and six adults were hospitalised and over 30 people were injured. Seventeen Kurds were arrested. On that same day, the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Army, Dogen Gures, was visiting London for talks at the British Foreign Office. Abdullah Ocalan was later to write from prison on Imrali Island, ‘At the beginning of the 1990s the Turkish Chief of Staff, Dogen Gures, claimed after a visit to London that his plan was accepted there…The plan was made in London where the government believed that it was necessary to isolate me in order to control the PKK and the Kurds and to stabilise the status quo in the Middle East. The EU went along with this.’

The status quo in the Middle East has failed and it cannot be restored. Kurdish rights are integral to any prospect of peace and democracy in the region. In prison, Abdullah Ocalan has written numerous books which advocate a democratisation of Turkey and the whole region. Ocalan’s writings have inspired a democratic and feminist revolution. He was able to transform Kurdish society from pursuing a statist approach to a confederalist approach. He has outlined the theoretical and practical basis for the Rojava Revolution, the liberation of the Yazidi Kurds in Shengal, as well as the HDP project in Turkey. Clearly, prison bars and the most intense restrictions have not been able to prevent him from inspiring the people. It is time to end the criminalisation of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination and to free Abdullah Ocalan. The British government must stop supporting the Turkish state’s war against the Kurds. Free Abdullah Ocalan!

7 October 2018

For more information contact:


Peace in Kurdistan  Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question


Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890

Patrons: John Austin, Christine Blower, NEU International Secretary, Prof Bill Bowring, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn MP,  Prof Mary Davis, Lord Dholakia, Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director,  Jill Evans MEP, Lindsey German, Convenor STWC, Melanie Gingell, Rahila Gupta, Nick Hildyard, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, James Kelman, Bruce Kent, Jean Lambert MEP, Elfyn Llwyd, Aonghas MacNeacail, Scottish Gaelic poet, Mike Mansfield QC, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, GFTU, Dr. Jessica Ayesha Northey, International Coordinator, Green Party of England and Wales; Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Kate Osamor MP, Margaret Owen OBE, Gareth Peirce, Dr Felix Padel, Maxine Peake, Lord Rea, Joe Ryan, Stephen Smellie, Steve Sweeney, Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Dr Tom Wakeford, Dr Derek Wall, Julie Ward MEP, Hywel Williams MP.