Abdullah Öcalan: Voice from İmralı Prison

A very important book has been released on Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), at İmralı prison.

“Öcalan’ın İmralı Günleri” (Öcalan’s days at İmralı), by Cengiz Kapmaz has been published by İthaki. If you are interested in the Kurdish issue and especially if you are curious about what has been discussed behind closed doors within the past 10 years you should definitely read this book.

Cengiz Kapmaz is a 38-year-old journalist who follows the Kurdish issue from the Kurdish point of view. I’m sure he wrote his book based on meetings with Öcalan’s lawyers and notes written from the date Öcalan set foot on İmralı until 2009.

In this book you’ll find out what has been discussed behind closed doors, Öcalan’s daily routine and his negotiations with the Turkish state. This book explains very well why the Kurdish issue has not been resolved yet. It destroys taboos and old clichés explaining in an apprehensible way what it is Öcalan really intends to do.

Since 1999 when Öcalan was brought from Kenya to İmralı, many, including me, thought, “The job is done, meaning the Öcalan issue closed and the PKK is about to be dispersed.”

I clearly need to say that after reading Kapmaz’s book I better understood how Öcalan created this miracle.

The entire book is based on conversations with Öcalan’s lawyers and it reflects the views of only one party to the issue. We don’t have the chance to check the information out for ourselves. I based my evaluations on information written in the book.

Öcalan received all his strength from the Kurdish society and made careful use of it. More interestingly, he knew how he needed to change himself from the day he set foot on İmralı. We can clearly see this by looking at his 10 years of imprisonment.

This did not suffice and he managed the PKK out of his tiny cell, forced them to change their way of thinking, channeled newly created parties and corrected mistakes.


It is quite amazing how he exercised such power through his lawyers, whom he saw only once a month or once every two months. While reading his struggle of 10 years full of ups and downs one feels sorry for lost opportunities, for all the sufferings told from firsthand accounts.

Based on conversation with his lawyers, Öcalan, in his 10 years of imprisonment, appears before us from day one as a leader who is in constant search for his own solution.

His only fear is a war between Turks and Kurds.

On one hand he tries to convince state representatives and on the other hand he tries to keep the PKK under control by drawing them into politics. He tries to settle arguments on a democratic ground. According to information in the book the Turkish state, with its remittent attitude, either is unable to read Öcalan correctly or it does not care to do so. It looks as if it perceives the fight as beneficial. It tries to destroy the PKK with weapons and tire Öcalan. It does not care very much about a mutual solution.

The state’s own measure is to scare and keep Öcalan at bay.

Despite being unsuccessful with such politics, according to Öcalan, the state can’t come up with a solution.

Never got along with the AKP

Meeting minutes in the book also sheds light on Öcalan’s relation with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

To tell the truth, the AKP is one of the rare political parties to take a positive step in the Kurdish issue. No matter what, he took vital steps to ease the issue. But according to Öcalan, “easing” the issue was all it ever did.

Öcalan tirelessly wrote letters and sent messages to Erdoğan but did not succeed in drawing the prime minister’s attention.

The book also clarifies another issue.

The general judgment, or what the society in Turkey is told, is that “The Kurds don’t know what they want. Everybody says something different. There is no real leadership.” But Öcalan within the past 10 years has proved that he is the real leader of this issue and that he has produced many detailed solutions.

But the state of Turkey did not take Öcalan seriously and preferred to camouflage the issue instead of producing a lasting solution.

The state winked at him, then turned around

From the moment Öcalan entered İmralı his relation with representatives of the Turkish state has been full of ups and downs. We understand from notes written by his lawyers in reference to their meetings, the so-called negotiations were more “exchanges of opinion” or “listening” types of thing.

According to these notes, the state exhibited an inconsistent approach. Meetings held between military, security forces and the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, in the 1999-2001 period were full of hope. State representatives treated Öcalan quite kindly. It shut its eyes to his meetings with his lawyers; to messages he gave and even encouraged him.

Between the years of 2001-2005, these relations first turned into a crisis then into a showdown. The state got upset.

Between 2005 and 2009 it came to a point of breaking ties.

Öcalan frequently used to receive cell arrest. His room would be changed and guardians would treat him badly.

Interestingly, Öcalan would receive the greatest support from young Kurdish people. Each stringent step taken by the state would turn into a fireball on streets.

In short, this book, comprising notes from İmralı, openly reveals that within the ruling party there is still a lack of political willpower and determination of rudimentary politics in respect to the Kurdish issue.

Mehmet Alí Bírand

Hurriyet Daily News

February 17, 2011


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