The demonisation of political leaders and imprisonment is contingent upon the world’s political climate, and this is an undisputed historical fact. What strikes me as odd is how easily we perceive one political figurative leader to be a “terrorist” and another a “freedom fighter” when similar approaches have been embodied in the fight towards social justice.
Last night when Nelson Mandela passed away, the world paused in silence, mourning for the loss of a leader that was deemed to be a terrorist not long ago by European leaders. Around the world his quotes were tweeted, Facebooked, and instagramed. He was remembered for his resistance against the apartheid in South Africa, for mobilisation of young people towards a just cause, and in fighting injustice.
Elsewhere in Imrali prison on an Island remains Abdullah Ocalan, who has spent the past 13 years in prison for rebelling against the Turkish state’s brutality, state-sanctioned discrimination and inherently racist laws (at the time) towards Kurdish people. Abdullah Ocalan, similar to Nelson Mandela has renounced violence, continuously called for dialogue, peace, diplomacy and understanding between Kurdish people and the Turkish state. He has played an instrumental role in supporting the peace-process in Turkey, although little credit has been attributed to him within the Turkish media in his role as a peace-mediator.
When people mourn Nelson Mandela, his legendary work, and praise his strength, I wonder, do they do the same for Abdullah Ocalan? What I don’t understand is, how is it that we have come to accept the imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan as “justifiable” but not that of Nelson Mandela? Surely, if Mandela’s imprisonment was unwarranted (and no doubt it was) then the same line of reasoning/logic can be applied to Ocalan.
Just as F.W De Klerk had the willpower to lift the ban of African National Congress and release Nelson Mandela, will the Prime Minister of Turkey follow suit or are we going to wait another 20 years before a Turkish Prime Minister realises that Turkey’s Kurdish question can only be answered and settled through the release of Abdullah Ocalan, and negotiation with his supporters.
Unfortunately, for decades, Kurdish people have had fear drilled into their minds that there are certain political topics we simply should stay away from. We should not talk about Abdullah Ocalan or his role in establishing peace/harmony within Turkey’s Kurdish minority, but instead we should wither away in the shadows, hoping that someone else with no Kurdish affiliation (and nothing to lose) can talk about this topic.
I think it is time that we stop shying away from this topic and that we collectively realise that no one else is going to speak about Kurdish issues on our behalf if we are not willing to. The number of young Kurdish activists I have seen vocalise their concerns about women rights, children’s rights, and other marginalised groups within Kurdistan are many, and they should be just as loud/clear when it comes to the question of why Abdullah Ocalan is still imprisoned, and not released.