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Abdullah Öcalan (/ˈəlɑːn/ OH-jə-lahn;[9] Turkish: [œdʒaɫan]; born about 1947), also known as Apo[9][10] (short for both Abdullah and "uncle" in Kurdish),[11][12] is a Kurdish leader and one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).[13][14]

Abdullah Öcalan
Abdullah Öcalan.png
Öcalan in 1997
Ömerli, Turkey
Residenceİmralı (prison island)
EducationAnkara University, Faculty of Political Science[7]
OccupationFounder and leader of militant organization PKK,[8] political activist, writer, political theorist
OrganizationKurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK)
Spouse(s)Kesire Yıldırım (24 May 1978 – ?)
RelativesDilek Öcalan (niece)
Osman Öcalan (brother)
Mehmet Öcalan (brother)

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.[15][16][17][18][19] 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[20] on İmralı island, in the Sea of Marmara.[21][22] Öcalan now argues that the period of armed warfare is past and a political solution to the Kurdish question should be developed.[23] 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.[24]

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[25] and subsequently a fundamental tenet of the Apoist movement.[26]



Öcalan was born in Ömerli,[27] a village in Halfeti, Şanlıurfa Province in eastern Turkey.[28] 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.[29] He is the oldest of seven children.[30] According to some sources, Öcalan's grandmother was an ethnic Turk and (he once claimed that) his mother was also an ethnic Turk.[31][32] 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."[33]

Öcalan's brother Osman became a PKK commander, serving until defecting with several others to establish the Patriotic and Democratic Party of Kurdistan.[34] His other brother, Mehmet Öcalan, is a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).[35] Dilek Öcalan, a former parliamentarian of the HDP is his niece.[36] Ömer Öcalan, current member of parliament for the HDP is his nephew.[37][38]

Education and early political and revolutionary activityEdit

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.[39]His return to Ankara (normally impossible given his situation[notes 1]) was facilitated by the state in order to divide a militant group, Dev-Genç (Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey), of which Öcalan at the time was a member of. President Süleyman Demirel later regretted this decision, since the PKK was to become a much greater threat to the state than Dev-Genç.[40]In November 1973 the Ankara Democratic Association of Higher Education, (Ankara Demokratik Yüksek Öğrenim Demeği, ADYÖD) was founded and shortly after he was elected to join its board.[41]

In 1978, in the midst of the right- and left-wing conflicts which culminated in the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, Öcalan founded the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which launched a war against the Turkish government in order to set up an independent Kurdish state.[27][42] In July 1979 he fled to Syria, where he remained until October 1998, when the Syrian government expelled him.[43]

Kurdish–Turkish conflictEdit

Öcalan supporters in London, April 2003

In 1984, the PKK initiated a campaign of armed conflict, comprising attacks against government forces[44][45][46][47] in Turkey as well as civilians[48][49][50] 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.[51][52][53]

Capture and trialEdit

PKK leader Öcalan allegedly used this Cypriot passport to enter Kenya where he was taken in and protected by the Greek embassy.
Öcalan on trial in 1999

Until 1998, Öcalan was based in Syria. On at least one occasion, in 1993, he was detained and held by Syria's General Intelligence Directorate but later released.[54] As the situation deteriorated in Turkey, the Turkish government openly threatened Syria over its support for the PKK.[55] 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.[56] 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 the CIA.[57] George Costoulas, the Greek consul who protected him, said that his life was in danger after the operation.[58]

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.[59] 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 during the 1999 attack on the Israeli consulate in Berlin.[60][61]

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 treason and separatism and sentenced to death on the 29 June 1999.[62] In the same verdict it was declared he was banned from holding public office for life.[63] In January 2000 the Turkish government declared the death sentence was delayed until European Court of Human Rights EU had reviewed the verdict.[64] Upon the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey in August 2002,[65] in October 2002 the security court the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.[66] The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) may have aided this case's decision.[67]

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.[68][69]

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.[70] Öcalan's request for a retrial was refused by the Turkish court.[71]

Detention conditionsEdit

From 27 July 2011 until the 2 May 2019 his lawyers have not been allowed to see Abdullah Öcalan.[72] From July 2011 until December 2017 his lawyers have filed more than 700 appeals for visits, but all were rejected.[73] There are regular demonstrations held by the Kurdish community to raise awareness of the isolation of Öcalan.[74] In October 2012 several hundred Kurdish political prisoners went on hunger strike for better detention conditions for Öcalan and the right to use the Kurdish language in education and jurisprudence. The hunger strike perdured 68 days until Öcalan demanded its end.[75] Öcalan was banned from receiving visits almost two years from 6 October 2014 to the 11 September 2016, when his brother Mehmet Öcalan visited him for Eid al-Adha.[76] On the 6 September 2018 visits from lawyers were banned for the duration of six months due to former punishments he received in the years 2005 until 2009 and the fact that the lawyers made public to the press what the lawyers were talking about with Öcalan and the impression could arose that Öcalan was leading an organization through orders he gave on in the talks with the lawyers.[72] Then again he was banned from receiving visits until 12 January 2019 when his brother Mehmet Öcalan was again permitted to visit him. His brother said his health was good.[77] The ban to receive lawyers was lifted in April 2019 and Öcalan saw his lawyers on the 2 May 2019.[72]

Legal prosecution of sympathizers of Abdullah ÖcalanEdit

In 2008, the Justice Minister of Turkey, Mehmet Ali Sahin, said that between 2006 and 2007 949 people were convicted and more than 7000 people prosecuted for calling Öcalan "esteemed" (Sayın).[78]

Proposal for political solutionEdit

in 1993 he has met upon request of Turgut Özal, the Turkish president, with Jalal Talabani for negotiations following which Öcalan declared an unilateral cease fire which had a duration from 20 March to the 15 April.[79] Later he prolonged it to a cease fire in order to enable negotiations. Soon after Özal died on the 17 April 1993[80] and the initiative found no more interest in Turkey since the government declared they do not negotiate with terrorists.[79] After his capture, abandoning the 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.[81][82][83][84][85] 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.[86] In March 2005, Öcalan issued the Declaration of Democratic confederalism in Kurdistan[87] calling for a border-free confederation between the Kurdish regions of Eastern Turkey (called "Northern Kurdistan" by Kurds[88]), 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.[89]

Öcalan had his lawyer, Ibrahim Bilmez,[90] 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".[91]

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.[92][93]

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".

Democratic confederalismEdit

Since his incarceration, Öcalan has significantly changed his ideology through exposure to Western social theorists such as Murray Bookchin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel, and Friedrich Nietzsche (who Öcalan calls "a prophet")[94][95] Drawing heavily on Bookchin's libertarian socialist idea of communalism,[96] Öcalan fashioned his ideal society of "democratic confederalism". He also wrote books[94] and articles[97] on the history of pre-capitalist Mesopotamia and Abrahamic religions.

Democratic confederalism is a "system of popularly elected administrative councils, allowing local communities to exercise autonomous control over their assets, while linking to other communities via a network of confederal councils."[98] Decisions are made by communes in each neighborhood, village, or city. All are welcome to partake in the communal councils, but political participation is not mandated. There is no private property, but rather “ownership by use, which grants individuals usage rights to the buildings, land, and infrastructure, but not the right to sell and buy on the market or convert them private enterprises.”[98] The economy is in the hands of the communal councils, and is thus (in the words of Bookchin) ‘neither collectivised nor privatised, it is common.’[98]

With his 2005 "Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan", Öcalan advocated for a Kurdish implementation of Bookchin's The Ecology of Freedom via municipal assemblies as a democratic confederation of Kurdish communities beyond the state borders of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Öcalan promoted a platform of shared values: environmental defense, self-defense, gender equality, and pluralistic tolerance for religion, politics, and culture. While some of his followers questioned Öcalan's conversion from Marxism-Leninism, the PKK adopted Öcalan's proposal and began to form assemblies.[99]

Öcalan attempted in early 2004 to arrange a meeting with Murray Bookchin through his lawyers, describing himself as Bookchin's "student" eager to adapt his thought to Middle Eastern society. Bookchin was too ill to accept the request. In May 2004 Bookchin conveyed this message "My hope is that the Kurdish people will one day be able to establish a free, rational society that will allow their brilliance once again to flourish. They are fortunate indeed to have a leader of Mr. Öcalan's talents to guide them". When Bookchin died in 2006, the PKK hailed the American thinker as "one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century", and vowed to put his theory into practice.[96]

Followers of Öcalan and members of the PKK are known, after his diminutive name, as Apocu (Apo-ites) under his movement, Apoculuk (Apoism).[100]

Honorary citizenshipsEdit

Several localities have awarded him with an honorary citizenship:


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.

  • Interviews and Speeches. London: Kurdistan Solidarity Committee; Kurdistan Information Centre, 1991. 46 p.
  • "Translation of his 1999 defense in court". Archived from the original on 20 October 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2007.
  • Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilisation London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto, 2007. ISBN 9780745326160.
  • Prison Writings Volume II: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century. London: Transmedia, 2011. ISBN 9780956751409.
  • Democratic Confederalism. London: Transmedia, 2011. ISBN 978-3941012479.[105]
  • Prison Writings III: The Road Map to Negotiations. Cologne: International Initiative, 2012. ISBN 9783941012431.
  • Liberating life: Women’s Revolution. Cologne, Germany: International Initiative Edition, 2013. ISBN 978-3-941012-82-0.[notes 2]
  • Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization, Volume 1. Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass, 2015. ISBN 9788293064428.
  • Defending a Civilisation.[when?]
  • The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan London; UK: Pluto Press, 2017. ISBN 9780745399768.

See alsoEdit


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


  1. ^ "Profile: Abdullah Ocalan ( Greyer and tempered by long isolation, PKK leader is braving the scepticism of many Turks, and some of his own fighters)".
  2. ^ R. McHugh, ‘Ocalan, Abdullah (1948—)
  3. ^ Özcan, Ali Kemal. Turkey's Kurds: A Theoretical Analysis of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan. London: Routledge, 2005.
  4. ^ Phillips, David L. (2017). The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East. Routledge. ISBN 9781351480369.
  5. ^ Hudson, Rex A. (2018). Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?: The Psychology and Sociology of Terrorism. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 9781510726246.
  6. ^ Butler, Daren (21 March 2013). "Kurdish rebel chief Ocalan dons mantle of peacemaker". UK Reuters.
  7. ^ Öcalan, Abdullah (2015). Capitalism: The Age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings. New Compass. p. 115.
  8. ^ Paul J. White, Primitive rebels or revolutionary modernizers?: the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, Zed Books, 2000, "Professor Robert Olson, University of Kentucky"
  9. ^ a b Political Violence against Americans 1999. Bureau of Diplomatic Security. December 2000. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-4289-6562-1.
  10. ^ "Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  11. ^ Mango, Andrew (2005). Turkey and the War on Terror: 'For Forty Years We Fought Alone'. Routledge: London. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-203-68718-5. The most ruthless among them was Abdullah Öcalan, known as Apo (a diminutive for Abdullah; the word also means 'uncle' in Kurdish).
  12. ^ 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).
  13. ^ "Chapter 6—Terrorist Groups". Country Reports on Terrorism. United States Department of State. 27 April 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2008.
  14. ^ Powell, Colin (5 October 2001). "2001 Report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations". Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. State Department. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
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  17. ^ "Abdullah Öcalan'ı kim yakaladı?". 10 July 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  18. ^ Miron Varouhakis. "Greek Intelligence and the Capture of PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999" (PDF).
  19. ^ "Belgenet Öcalan Davası Gerekçeli Karar".
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  21. ^ Marlies Casier, Joost Jongerden, Nationalisms and Politics in Turkey: Political Islam, Kemalism and the Kurdish Issue, Taylor & Francis, 2010, p. 146.
  22. ^ Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly Documents 1999 Ordinary Session (fourth part, September 1999), Volume VII, Council of Europe, 1999, p. 18
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ "Bir dönemin acı bilançosu". Hürriyet (in Turkish). 16 September 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  25. ^ Argentieri, Benedetta (3 February 2015). "One group battling Islamic State has a secret weapon – female fighters". Reuters. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
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  29. ^ Kutschera, Chris (1999). "Abdullah Ocalan's Last Interview". Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  30. ^ Aliza Marcus, Blood and Belief, New York University Press, 2007. (p.16)
  31. ^ Blood and Belief: The Pkk and the Kurdish Fight for Independence, by Aliza Marcus, p.15, 2007
  32. ^ Perceptions: journal of international affairs – Volume 4, no.1, SAM (Center), 1999, p.142
  33. ^ Turkey: Facing a New Millenniium : Coping With Intertwined Conflicts, Amikam Nachmani, p.210, 2003
  34. ^ Kutschera, Chris (July 2005). "PKK dissidents accuse Abdullah Ocalan". The Middle East Magazine. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  35. ^ "BDP wants autonomy for Kurds in new Constitution", Hürriyet Daily News, 4 September 2011
  36. ^ "HDP MP Dilek Öcalan Sentenced to 2 Years, 6 Months in Prison". Bianet. 1 March 2018.
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  40. ^ 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!
  41. ^ Jongerden, Joost; Akkaya, Ahmet Hamdi (1 June 2012). "The Kurdistan Workers Party and a New Left in Turkey: Analysis of the revolutionary movement in Turkey through the PKK's memorial text on Haki Karer". European Journal of Turkish Studies. Social Sciences on Contemporary Turkey (14). ISSN 1773-0546.
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  56. ^ 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)
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