As a child of poor parents Abdullah Ocalan was born in Omerli, a village in the Halfeti-District, Province of Urfa, in the Kurdish Southeast of Turkey in 1949. Leaving his village after secondary school, he studied Political Sciences at the University of Ankara. He successfully completed his studies and entered the civil service in Diyarbakir. Influenced by the unacceptable situation of the Kurdish people, who were denied the right to live their own identity and culture by the Turkish state, Abdullah Ocalan became an active member of the Democratic Cultural Associations of the East, an association supporting the Kurdish people's demands. After the military coup in 1971 he progressed to investigate the Kurdish question. In 1978 the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, was founded with Abdullah Ocalan being the party leader, a post he retains until today. Besides numerous works on culture and the general situation of his people, Mr. Ocalan has explored subjects like philosophy, matters of faith, gender and environmental issues in plenty of lectures and books.
In response to the continuing persecution, the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, launched an armed struggle against the Turkish central government in 1984. Their aim was to exercise the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people. During this war approximately 40,000 people lost their lives.
Since 1993 the PKK declared several unilateral ceasefires to stop the war. But neither the military nor the political leadership of the Turkish state were willing to extend a conciliatory hand to the Kurdish liberation movement. Even legally elected members of the Turkish National Assembly who did not deny their Kurdish origin were accused of «separatism» and have since served prison sentences of over ten years. An uncountable amount of human rights violations have been committed against the Kurdish people. Since then, thousands of complaints have been lodged with the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Turkish state has been found guilty in many instances.
On 1 September, 1999, the PKK stopped the armed struggle and withdrew their units from Turkish territory. Thus they wanted to contribute to a political, democratic solution for the Kurdish question. They have indicated they would be prepared to lay down their arms if adequate steps are taken to address the problems. They stand up for a solution of the Kurdish question within the borders of the Turkish territory and demand constitutionally guaranteed rights for Kurdish identity and culture. They demand the right to an unhindered practice of Kurdish culture, the right to education in their mother tongue, a general amnesty for reconciliation within society and also the right for free political activities and organisation. For the return of the over 3 million displaced persons and refugees to their homes, the movement demands security, compensation and the reconstruction of the war-damaged infrastructure. So far, little progress has been made. To be successful, a democratic understanding has to be developed within Turkish society. Freedom for Kurdistan, Democracy in Turkey - both these aims are tightly linked. On 4 April 2002, the PKK with its 8th Party Congress announced that the process of transformation and change would reach a climax with a new program and statutes. The party declared that the PKK had fulfilled its duties and aims and was disbanded. KADEK (Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress) was formed on 4th April 2002 and Abdullah Ocalan was elected as the General President of KADEK. Although mainly concerned with political activities, the KADEK has declared they would defend their positions in the event of any attack.
It is not since today that Abdullah Ocalan is being regarded as a national leader of the Kurdish people in wide sections of the population. Mr. Ocalan has been held under solitary confinement on Imrali Island in the Turkish Sea of Marmara since he was captured in Kenya on the 15th of February, 1999, in a manner contravening international law. Though initially sentenced to death, this sentence was commuted into life-long aggravated imprisonment when death penalty was conditionally abolished in Turkey in August 2002. As far as the conditions of imprisonment allow, Mr. Ocalan tries to contribute to the difficult process of finding a peaceful solution for the Kurdish question. Although Turkish parliament has abolished the death penalty and allowed for broadcast and publication in Turkey, little has in fact changed for the Kurdish people.
On 12 March 2003, the European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey guilty of breaching Mr. Ocalan´s human rights. The court held that the manner of detention was flawed in several respects, that he did not enjoy a fair trial in a domestic court and that the imposition of a death sentence following an unfair trial amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment. On the same day, the Democratic People’s Party (HADEP), part of a progressive alliance for peace and democratization, was outlawed. It was on that day, too, that Ocalan could see his lawyers and relatives for the first time in four months.
Although the decision announced by the ECHR on 12 March addressed important points concerning Mr. Ocalan´s individual rights, it has not tackled the political dimensions of this extraordinary case - notably the European involvement in the abduction has not been an issue of consideration for the Court.
Situation of imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan
Since his illegal abduction from Kenya in February 1999, Abdullah Ocalan is imprisoned on the Prison Island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara. He is the only prisoner on the fortress.
The cell in which Mr. Ocalan is imprisoned is sized at 13 sqm. All sanitary facilities are located in the same cell.
Mr. Ocalan is allowed aeration for 1 hour twice a day. The aeration room is a pebbled yard, sized approx. 40 sqm. The yard is surrounded by walls and covered by barbed wire on top, so the sky can only be seen from between these wires.
Mr. Ocalan receives legal visits for 1 hour a week. The only other visitors who are allowed to see him are close relatives, once a month, for the same period. Scheduled visits are often cancelled by the authorities under the pretext of adverse weather conditions.
His freedom of information is strongly restricted. He cannot watch TV, his radio is manipulated so that only a single station can be received. Many of the books brought by his lawyers are not handed out to him, and very few of the letters he receives are given to him, even these undergo censorship.
Due to the hard conditions of solitary confinement the state of health of Mr. Ocalan is impaired. Problems of respiration are increasingly a cause for concern. Under the conditions of the Prison Island of Imrali successful therapy is impossible.
The described conditions of detention find no comparable example in Turkey whatsoever.