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Who is Abdullah Ocalan?

Abdullah Ocalan is the recognised leader of the Kurdish liberation movement. Imprisoned since 1999, his ideas and vision have served as an inspiration and guiding model for Kurds in Turkey and Syria.

Affectionately known as ‘Apo’ (short for both Abdullah and Uncle in Kurdish), Öcalan is central to the peace process needed to end Turkey’s war on the Kurdish people. In Syria his ideas have inspired the revolution in Rojava – the first truly democratic society in the Middle East.

"The 5000-year-old history of civilisation is essentially the history of the enslavement of woman. Consequently, a woman’s freedom will only be achieved by waging a struggle against the foundations of this ruling system."

Abdullah Öcalan, Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution

Who is Abdullah Ocalan? freedom for ocalan

Ocalan founded the Kurdish liberation movement in 1974 in response to military oppression of the Kurds by Turkey. At the height of the Cold War, Öcalan was influenced by Marxist socialist ideas and was at the time committed to achieving a separate state for the Kurdish people.

Since 2005 Öcalan has transformed the politics of the liberation movement with new ideas based on women’s self-liberation, ecology, and grass-roots democracy as an alternative to the nation-state.

From his prison cell, Öcalan has continued to develop these ideas into a philosophy known as Democratic Confederalism. With roots in the history of the region and the international worker’s movement, these ideas represent socialism for the 21st century.

Öcalan inspires peace activists around the world, including trade unionists at the 2018 Durham Miners Gala. freedom for ocalan
Öcalan inspires peace activists around the world, including trade unionists at the 2018 Durham Miners Gala.

The Importance of Öcalan’s Ideas

The ideas of Abdullah Öcalan go far beyond the struggle of the Kurds. The shift away from old ideas of nation-states in favour of democratic movements offers a new solution for the entire region – especially the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

In the UK, Öcalan’s ideas about the importance of genuine democracy as a response to, and as a protection from, the powerful, echoes the history and ideas of our trade union movement.

Who is Abdullah Ocalan? Öcalan reminds us that trade unions exist to empower members and collectively challenge power.

 “We are hosting as our main campaign for this year the Freedom for Öcalan Campaign. We view this as the same challenge we had regarding Nelson Mandela.”

Alan Cummings, Chair of Durham Miners Association

Who is Abdullah Ocalan? The Kurdish Mandela

As the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan is a powerful symbol of the Kurdish people’s desire for peace.

Öcalan was kidnapped and handed over to the intelligence service almost twenty years ago, in 1999.

Initially sentenced to death, Öcalan has been held in prison in İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara – the Turkish ‘Robben Island’.

The Turkish government claim that no domestic or international law applies to the prison island, using it like their own Guantanamo Bay.

In 2002 Öcalan’s initial death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Held in solitary confinement, Öcalan used his legal defence to advocate for a peace process and develop the ideas which would be used as a blueprint for the Kurdish-led democratic society in Rojava.

The Kurdish Mandela who is the abdullah ocalan freedom for ocalan

“The isolation of Öcalan is worse than that of Mandela.”

Essa Moosa, Nelson Mandela’s Lawyer

Who is abdullah ocalan imrali island freedom for ocalan
Öcalan is held on İmralı Prison ‘Turkey’s Robben Island’
Who is abdullah ocalan imrali island HDP freedom for Ocalan
The leaders of the opposition HDP party travelled to İmralı to meet with Öcalan in January 2015

In 2002 Öcalan’s initial death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Held in solitary confinement, Öcalan used his legal defence to advocate for a peace process and develop the ideas which would be used as a blueprint for the Kurdish-led democratic society in Rojava.

From 2015 to 2019 Abdullah Öcalan was not allowed to meet his lawyers, have any visitors or any contact with the outside world. Only in May 2019 have two meetings with lawyers taken place, but it is not at all clear these will continue.

“I am part of the Kurdish struggle. I am one of you.” In his 1997 message to the Kurds, Nelson Mandela explained the similarities between the battle against apartheid in South Africa and the struggle for Kurdish freedom.

The campaign to free Mandela was built from the bottom up, by trade unionists and peace activists in solidarity with the ANC.

Today the Freedom for Öcalan campaign continues this tradition, embodying the trade unionist’s belief that an injury to one is an injury to all.

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