Abdullah Öcalan

Abdullah Öcalan
Born Ömerli, Şanlıurfa, Turkey
Residence İmralı (prison island)
Nationality Turkish
Citizenship Turkey
Occupation Founder and leader of militant organization PKK,[1] political activist, writer, political theorist
Organization Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK)
Spouse(s) Kesire Yıldırım (24 May 1978 - ?)
Relatives Dilek Öcalan (niece)
Osman Öcalan (brother)
Mehmet Öcalan (brother)

Abdullah Öcalan (/ˈəlɑːn/ OH-jə-lahn;[2] Turkish pronunciation: [ød͡ʒaɫan]; born 4 April 1948), also known as Apo[2][3] (short for both Abdullah and "uncle" in Kurdish),[4][5] is a Kurdish nationalist leader and one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in 1978 in Turkey.[6][7]

Öcalan was arrested in 1999 by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) with the support of the CIA in Nairobi and taken to Turkey, where he was sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which concerns the formation of armed organisations.[8][9][10][11][12] The sentence was commuted to aggravated life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty in support of its bid to be admitted to membership in the European Union. From 1999 until 2009, he was the sole prisoner[13] on İmralı island, in the Sea of Marmara.[14] Öcalan admitted the previous violent conduct of the PKK,[15] but says that the period of armed warfare was defunct and a political solution to the Kurdish question should be developed.[16] The conflict between Turkey and the PKK has resulted in over 40,000 deaths, including PKK members, the Turkish military, and civilians, both Kurdish and Turkish.[17]

From prison, Öcalan has published several books, the most recent in 2015. Jineology, also known as the science of women, is a form of feminism advocated by Öcalan[18] and subsequently a fundamental tenet of Kurdish nationalism.[19]


Öcalan was born in Ömerli,[20] a village in Halfeti, Şanlıurfa Province in eastern Turkey.[21] While some sources report his birthday as being 4 April 1948, no official birth records for him exist, and he himself claims not to know exactly when he was born, estimating the year to be 1946 or 1947.[22] He is the oldest of seven children.[23] According to some sources, Öcalan's grandmother was an ethnic Turk and (he once claimed that) his mother was also an ethnic Turk.[24][25] According to Amikam Nachmani, lecturer at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Öcalan did not know Kurdish when he met him in 1991. Nachmani: "He [Öcalan] told me that he speaks Turkish, gives orders in Turkish, and thinks in Turkish."[26]

Öcalan's brother Osman became a PKK commander, serving until defecting with several others to establish the Patriotic and Democratic Party of Kurdistan.[27] His other brother, Mehmet Öcalan, is a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).[28]

After graduating from a vocational high school in Ankara (Turkish: Ankara Tapu-Kadastro Meslek Lisesi), Öcalan started working at the Diyarbakir Title Deeds Office. He was relocated one month later to Bakırköy, Istanbul. Later, he entered the Istanbul Law Faculty but transferred after the first year to Ankara University to study political science.[29] His return to Ankara (normally impossible given his condition[notes 1]) was facilitated by the state in order to divide a militant group, Dev-Genç (Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey). President Süleyman Demirel later regretted this decision, since the PKK was to become a much greater threat to the state than Dev-Genç.[30]

In 1978, in the midst of the right- and left-wing conflicts which culminated in the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, Öcalan founded the PKK. He launched a war against Turkey in order to set up an independent Kurdish state.[20][31] In July 1979 he fled to Syria where he remained until October 1998 when Syrians expelled him.[32]

Kurdish–Turkish conflict

In 1984, the PKK initiated a campaign of armed conflict, comprising attacks against government forces[33][34][35][36] in Turkey as well as civilians[37][38][39] in order to create an independent Kurdish state. As a result, the United States, European Union, NATO, Syria, Australia, Turkey, and many other countries have included the PKK on their lists of terrorist organizations.[40][41][42]

Capture and trial

PKK leader Öcalan allegedly used this Cypriot passport to enter Kenya where he was taken in and protected by the Greek embassy.
Öcalan supporters in London, April 2003

Until 1998, Öcalan was based in Syria. As the situation deteriorated in Turkey, the Turkish government openly threatened Syria over its support for the PKK.[43] As a result, the Syrian government forced Öcalan to leave the country, but did not turn him over to the Turkish authorities. Öcalan went to Russia first and from there moved to various countries, including Italy and Greece. In 1998 the Turkish government requested the extradition of Öcalan from Italy.[44] He was at that time defended by Britta Böhler, a high-profile German attorney who argued that he fought a legitimate struggle against the oppression of ethnic Kurds.

He was captured in Kenya on 15 February 1999, while being transferred from the Greek embassy to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, in an operation by the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilâtı (Turkish National Intelligence Organization) reportedly with the help of CIA.[45] George Costoulas, the Greek consul who protected him, said that his life was in danger after the operation.[46]

Speaking to Can Dündar on NTV Turkey, the Deputy Undersecretary of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, Cevat Öneş, said that Öcalan impeded American aspirations of establishing a separate Kurdish state. The Americans transferred him to the Turkish authorities, who flew him back to Turkey for trial.[47] His capture led thousands of Kurds to protest at Greek and Israeli embassies around the world. Kurds living in Germany have been threatened with deportation if they continue to hold demonstrations in support of Öcalan. The warning came after three Kurds were killed and 16 injured while 1999 attack on Israeli Consulate in Berlin.[48][49] Öcalan stated that his mother is of Turkish origin and that he was ready to serve the people of Turkey in any way.[50]

After his capture, Öcalan was held in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara. Although former prisoners at İmralı were transferred to other prisons, more than 1,000 Turkish military personnel were stationed on the island to guard him. A state security court consisting of three military judges was convened on the island to try him. Öcalan was charged with and convicted of treason and separatism, and sentenced to death.[51] This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment upon the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey in August 2002.[52] No one had been executed in Turkey since 1984.[53] The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) may have aided this case's decision.[54]

Following the commutation, Öcalan remained imprisoned on İmralı, and was the sole inmate there. In November 2009, Turkish authorities announced that Öcalan would be relocated to a new prison on the island and that they were ending his solitary confinement by transferring several other PKK prisoners to İmralı. They said that Öcalan would be allowed to see them for ten hours a week. The new prison was built after the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the island and objected to the conditions in which he was being held.[55][56]

In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated articles 3, 5 and 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights by granting Öcalan no effective remedy to appeal his arrest and sentencing him to death without a fair trial.[57] Öcalan's request for a retrial was refused by Turkish court.[58]

Proposal for political solution

Abandoning his precapture policy, which involved violence targeting civilians as well as military personnel, Öcalan has advocated a relatively peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict inside the borders of Turkey.[59][60][61][62][63] Öcalan called for the foundation of a "Truth and Justice Commission" by Kurdish institutions in order to investigate war crimes committed by the PKK and Turkish security forces; a parallel structure began functioning in May 2006.[64] In March 2005, Öcalan issued the Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan[65] calling for a border-free confederation between the Kurdish regions of Eastern Turkey (called "Northern Kurdistan" by Kurds[66]), East Syria ("Western Kurdistan"), Northern Iraq ("South Kurdistan"), and West of Iran ("East Kurdistan"). In this zone, three bodies of law would be implemented: EU law, Turkish/Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian law and Kurdish law. This perspective was included in the PKK programme following the "Refoundation Congress" in April 2005.[67]

Since his incarceration, Öcalan has significantly changed his ideology, reading Western social theorists such as Murray Bookchin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel,[68] fashioned his ideal society as "Democratic Confederalism" (drawing heavily on Bookchin's Communalism),[69] and refers to Friedrich Nietzsche as "a prophet".[70] He also wrote books[71] and articles[72] on the history of pre-capitalist Mesopotamia and Abrahamic religions.

Öcalan had his lawyer, Ibrahim Bilmez,[73] release a statement 28 September 2006, calling on the PKK to declare a ceasefire and seek peace with Turkey. Öcalan's statement said, "The PKK should not use weapons unless it is attacked with the aim of annihilation," and that it is "very important to build a democratic union between Turks and Kurds. With this process, the way to democratic dialogue will be also opened".[74] He made another such declaration in March 2013.

On 31 May 2010, however, Öcalan said he was abandoning an ongoing dialogue between him and Turkey saying that "this process is no longer meaningful or useful". Turkey ignored his three protocols for negotiation that included (a) his terms of health and security (b) his release and (c) a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Though the Turkish government received these protocols, they were never published. Öcalan stated that he would leave the top PKK commanders in charge of the conflict. However, he also said that his comments should not be misinterpreted as a call for the PKK to intensify its armed conflict with the Turkish state.[75][76]

More recently, Öcalan has shown renewed cooperation with the Turkish government and hope for a peaceful resolution to three decades of conflict. On 21 March 2013, Öcalan declared a ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state. Öcalan's statement was read to hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered to celebrate the Kurdish New Year and it states, "Let guns be silenced and politics dominate... a new door is being opened from the process of armed conflict to democratization and democratic politics. It's not the end. It's the start of a new era." Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the statement and hope for a peaceful settlement has been raised on both sides.

Soon after Öcalan's declaration was read, the functional head of the PKK, Murat Karayılan responded by promising to implement the ceasefire, stating, "Everyone should know the PKK is as ready for peace as it is for war".


Öcalan is the author of more than 40 books, four of which were written in prison. Many of the notes taken from his weekly meetings with his lawyers have been edited and published.


  1. A PDF of the book is available here at the International Initiative website

See also


  1. Normally, students can only transfer between like departments, otherwise the student must retake the university entrance exam. Moreover, Öcalan was awarded a scholarship by the Ministry of Finance, despite being ineligible due to his age, and the fact that he had participated in political demonstrations. He had also been tried and acquitted by a martial law court. The public prosecutor had asked for the harshest possible sentence.


  1. Paul J. White, Primitive rebels or revolutionary modernizers?: the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, Zed Books, 2000, "Professor Robert Olson, University of Kentucky"
  2. 1 2 Political Violence against Americans 1999. Bureau of Diplomatic Security. December 2000. p. 123. ISBN 9781428965621.
  3. "Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  4. Mango, Andrew (2005). Turkey and the War on Terror: 'For Forty Years We Fought Alone'. Routledge: London. p. 32. ISBN 9780203687185. The most ruthless among them was Abdullah Öcalan, known as Apo (a diminutive for Abdullah; the word also means 'uncle' in Kurdish).
  5. Jongerden, Joost (2007). The Settlement Issue in Turkey and the Kurds: An Analysis of Spatical Policies, Modernity and War. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill. p. 57. ISBN 9789004155572. In 1975 the group settled on a name, the Kurdistan Revolutionaries (Kurdistan Devrimcileri), but others knew them as Apocu, followers of Apo, the nickname of Abdullah Öcalan (apo is also Kurdish for uncle).
  6. "Chapter 6—Terrorist Groups". Country Reports on Terrorism. United States Department of State. 27 April 2005. Archived from the original on 26 May 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2008.
  7. Powell, Colin (5 October 2001). "2001 Report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations". Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. State Department.
  8. "Fiasco in Nairobi". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  9. "Abdullah Ocalan: Is The Famed Kurdish Leader A Double Agent Working For Turkish Intelligence Against His Own Party, The PKK?". International Business Times. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  10. "Abdullah Öcalan'ı kim yakaladı?". 10 July 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  11. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol53no1/pdfs/U-%20Varouhakis-The%20Case%20of%20Ocalan.pdf
  12. Belgenet Öcalan Davası Gerekçeli Karar
  13. "Prison island trial for Ocalan". BBC News. 24 March 1999.
  14. Marlies Casier, Joost Jongerden, Nationalisms and Politics in Turkey: Political Islam, Kemalism and the Kurdish Issue, Taylor & Francis, 2010, p. 146.
  15. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly Documents 1999 Ordinary Session (fourth part, September 1999), Volume VII, Council of Europe, 1999, p. 18
  16. Mag. Katharina Kirchmayer, The Case of the Isolation Regime of Abdullah Öcalan: A Violation of European Human Rights Law and Standards?, GRIN Verlag, 2010, p. 37
  17. "Bir dönemin acı bilançosu". Hürriyet (in Turkish). 16 September 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  18. Argentieri, Benedetta (3 February 2015). "One group battling Islamic State has a secret weapon – female fighters". Reuters. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  19. Lau, Anna; Baran, Erdelan; Sirinathsingh, Melanie (18 November 2016). "A Kurdish response to climate change". openDemocracy. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  20. 1 2
  21. "A Short Biography". Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan / Kurdistan Workers Party. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  22. Kutschera, Chris (1999). "Abdullah Ocalan's Last Interview". Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  23. Aliza Marcus, Blood and Belief, New York University Press, 2007. (p.16)
  24. Blood and Belief: The Pkk and the Kurdish Fight for Independence, by Aliza Marcus, p.15, 2007
  25. Perceptions: journal of international affairs – Volume 4, no.1, SAM (Center), 1999, p.142
  26. Turkey: Facing a New Millenniium : Coping With Intertwined Conflicts, Amikam Nachmani, p.210, 2003
  27. Kutschera, Chris (July 2005). "PKK dissidents accuse Abdullah Ocalan". The Middle East Magazine. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  28. "BDP wants autonomy for Kurds in new Constitution", Hürriyet Daily News, 4 September 2011
  29. Koru, Fehmi (8 June 1999). "Too many questions, but not enough answers". Turkish Daily News. Hürriyet. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  30. Nevzat Cicek (31 July 2008). "'Pilot Necati' sivil istihbaratçıymış". Taraf (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 9 August 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2009. Abdullah Öcalan'ın İstanbul'dan Ankara'ya gelmesine keşke izin verilmeseydi. O zamanlar Dev-Genç'i bölmek için böyle bir yol izlendi... Kürt gençlerini Marksistler'in elinden kurtarmak ve Dev-Genç'in bölünmesi hedeflendi. Bunda başarılı olundu olunmasına ama Abdullah Öcalan yağdan kıl çeker gibi kaydı gitti. Keşke Tuzluçayır'da öldürülseydi!
  31. "Kurdish leader Ocalan apologizes during trial". CNN. 31 May 1999. Archived from the original on 9 December 2001. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  32. Andrew Mango (2005). Turkey And The War On Terror: For Forty Years We Fought Alone (Contemporary Security Studies). Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 0415350026. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  33. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK), Federation of American Scientists
  34. Letter to Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, Human Rights Watch, 21 November 1998
  35. Turkey: No security without human rights Archived 5 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Amnesty International, October 1996
  36. Special Report: Terrorism in Turkey Archived 28 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Ulkumen Rodophu, Jeffrey Arnold and Gurkan Ersoy, 6 February 2004
  37. , Four civilians die in PKK attack in SE Turkey
  38. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 2012-05-12., Pro-PKK protesters attack civilians, Turkey captures senior PKK member
  39. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 2012-05-12., Batman baby dies after PKK attack, civilian death toll rises to three
  40. Foreign Terrorist Organizations U.S. Department of State, 28 September 2012
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  42. "Turco-Syrian Treaty". Archived from the original on 9 February 2002. Retrieved 2002-02-09., 20 October 1998
  43. G. Bacik; BB Coskun (2011). "The PKK problem: explaining Turkey's failure to develop a political solution" (PDF). Studies in conflict & terrorism. 34 (3). Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  44. Italian diplomacy tries to free herself from the tangle in which it is located, between Turks and Kurds , " internationalizing " the crisis:Buonomo, Giampiero (2000). "Ocalan: la suggestiva strategia turca per legittimare la pena capitale". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online.   via Questia (subscription required)
  45. Weiner, Tim (20 February 1999). "U.S. Helped Turkey Find and Capture Kurd Rebel". New York Times. Retrieved 15 December 2007.
  46. Ünlü, Ferhat (17 July 2007). "Türkiye Öcalan için Kenya'ya para verdi". Sabah (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 12 January 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
  47. "Öcalan bağımsız devlete engeldi". Vatan (in Turkish). 15 October 2008. Archived from the original on 18 October 2008. Retrieved 15 October 2008. Öcalan yakalandığında ABD, bağımsız bir devlet kurma isteğindeydi. Öcalan, konumu itibariyle, araç olma işlevi bakımından buna engel bir isimdi. ABD bölgede yeni bir Kürt devleti kurabilmek için Öcalan'ı Türkiye'ye teslim etti.
  48. "Kurds seize embassies, wage violent protests across Europe", CNN.com, 17 February 1999
  49. Yannis Kontos, "Kurd Akar Sehard Azir, 33, sets himself on fire during a demonstration outside the Greek parliament in central Athens, Greece, on Monday, 15 February 1999", Photostory, July 1999
  50. Apo'nun yakalanisi on YouTube, 3 March 2009
  51. "The Argus-Press - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  52. "Text of the Ocalan verdict". BBC News. 29 June 1999. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  53. "Turkey delays execution of Kurdish rebel leader Ocalan". CNN. 12 January 2000. Archived from the original on 26 May 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  54. "Future of justice, equality and the rule of law". Kurdish advocacy. London: Kurdish Human Rights Project. 21 September 2010. Archived from the original on 2 December 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  55. Villelabeitia, Ibon (18 November 2009). "Company at last for Kurdish inmate alone for ten years". The Scotsman. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  56. Erduran, Esra (10 November 2009). "CoTurkey building new prison for PKK members". Southeast European Times. Archived from the original on 19 November 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  57. "HUDOC Search Page". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  58. "HUDOC Search Page". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  59. REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE KURDISH QUESTION IN TURKEY by the international delegation of human rights lawyers, January 1997
  60. Interview with Abdullah Ocalan "Our First Priority Is Diplomacy" Archived 8 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Middle East Insight magazine, January 1999
  61. Kurdistan Turkey: Abdullah Ocalan, The End of a Myth? The Middle East magazine, February 2000
  62. Abdullah Öcalan proposes 7-point peace plan Archived 6 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Kurdistan Informatie Centrum Nederland
  63. van Bruinessen, Martin. Turkey, Europe and the Kurds after the capture of Abdullah Öcalan 1999
  64. Öldürülen imam ve 10 korucunun itibarı iade edildi, ANF News Agency, 30 May 2006.
  65. "PKK ilk adına döndü". Hürriyet (in Turkish). 9 January 2009. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  66. PKK Program (1995) Kurdish Library, 24 January 1995
  67. PKK Yeniden İnşa Bildirgesi PKK web site, 20 April 2005
  68. Tarihli Görüşme Notları Archived 16 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. PWD-Kurdistan, 16 March 2005
  69. Biehl, Janet (16 February 2012). "Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy". New Compass. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  70. "Öcalan: Diyarbakır olayları boşanmanın ilanıdır". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-28. ANF News Agency, 20 May 2006
  71. "abdullah-ocalan.com".
  72. "Rayedarên tirk mafên Rêberê KCK'ê Abdullah Ocalan gasp dikin". Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  73. Kurdish leader calls for cease-fire NewsFlash
  74. Kurdish rebel boss in truce plea, BBC News
  75. "TURKEY - PKK steps up attacks in Turkey". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  76. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-01.
  77. Ocalan, Abdullah."Democratic Confederalism. Transmedia Publishing Ltd., 2011. p. 21.

Further reading

External links

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