Jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, was granted his first family visit in six months. He called on both the Turkish government and the PKK to end the political “gridlock” in Turkey by developing new approaches to peace.
Ocalan was visited by his older brother, Mehmet Ocalan, for one hour, on Wednesday. He was last permitted to a family visitation in mid-January.
According to Mehmet, during their meeting, the two discussed, amongst other things, the situation of Kurds living in Turkey.
“[Abdullah Ocalan] stressed that the country is going through a time of absolute gridlock, and that nobody can achieve results with policies of annihilation and war”, Mehmet Ocalan told Mesopotamia Agency (MA), a pro-PKK media outlet.
“He also said ‘Methods must be developed that focus on the solution, and that will lead to a dignified peace”, Mehmet Ocalan added.
The conflict between the PKK and Turkey has been ongoing since 1984, with a few short-lived ceasefires and a peace process negotiated by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) from 2013 to 2015, but that eventually broke down.
Since the end of the ceasefire in July 2015, at least 4,379 people have been killed, the majority PKK fighters and Turkish soldiers, according to the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) latest figure released on May 31.
Turkey has intensified attacks on alleged PKK positions on its borders with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Turkey says it has killed tens of PKK fighters, while the PKK also claims it has killed dozens of soldiers from the Turkish army.
Ocalan led a Kurdish rebellion against the Turkish state inside and outside the country. He has remained influential despite being jailed in 1999 and held in Imrali prison, on an island, with limited access to lawyers, family members, and media.
According to Mehmet Ocalan, security at the prison has tightened over the past months, and claimed the amount of security and screening points left him feeling “disturbed”.
“I have been visiting Imrali island for 20 years, and this is the first time I was put through such bad and severe searches. There is no match to this extremely meaningless practice. I was very disturbed, it was unacceptable,” he told MA.
HDP Member of Parliament Leyla Guven began a hunger strike in protest of Ocalan’s prison conditions in November 2018 that lasted for 200 days. Over 3,000 people, both inside and outside of Turkey joined in the hunger strike, and eight participants died from the strike.
Ocalan passed a letter on to his lawyers during their second meeting in May, calling on participants to end their hunger strikes.
The letter was made public a few days later, when Guven announced the end of her strike, citing Ocalan’s message. “Comrades who have committed themselves to hunger strikes and death fasts, I expect you to end your protest”, read the letter.
Ocalan encouraged his supporters outside of prison to “organize and get stronger, and develop democratic protests”, saying that it would be a better approach than hunger strikes.
Asked whether Turkish government will continue allowing him to see family members and lawyers, Ocalan said that, “I can’t say the channels of communication have opened fully, but they haven’t closed either. We must wait. If these channels open fully, that will be good for all. If they close, that will bring destruction for all.”