Is Öcalan Key to Kurdish Negotiations with Turkey?

Hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners have been on hunger strike in Turkey for 67 days. As their health has continued to worsen, politicians around the world have raised an eyebrow or two. There has been numerous solidarity protests around Europe, and 24-hour hunger strikes by Kurdish politicians were declared in support of those on hunger strike. They demanded an end to a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party Abdullah Öcalan's isolation, and to allow the use of the Kurdish language in public spaces without discrimination. None of these demands have been met, but surprisingly a statement from Öcalan has been made, where he calls for an end to hunger strikes according to his brother Mehmet Öcalan.

The call to end mass hunger strikes did not change the rising tensions between Kurds and the Turkish state. Demonstrations were already underway in one Kurdish city, Diyarbakir. The police responded (as usual) by firing tear-gas from APCs.

Ivan Watson from CNN highlights the current tensions in Diyarbakir in his recent report here, where he quotes several prominent Kurds in the Diyarbakir community.

Police forces throughout Diyarbakir have spoken through loudspeakers during that demonstration, saying Öcalan has declared an end to hunger strikes. This is seen by some people that Öcalan is still relevant to settling Turkey's Kurdish question.

Some Kurdish leaders, such as Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, have said Öcalan will play a key role in negotiations between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state. Despite this, Öcalan has been in complete isolation, and recently his lawyers were restricted from visiting him. Although many people have disregarded any criticism of Öcalan, it is important to point out that the circumstances under which Öcalan has made these statements remains unknown, and to a large extent questions Öcalan's role as a leader. Were his statements made to ease the political pressure on Turkey despite none of the demands being met, or does he genuinely believe hunger strikes should not be held by imprisoned politicians.

Zeynep Erdim tweets:

@zeynep_erdim: Witnesses in #Diyarbakir #Amed say police vehicles announce “Ocalan asked #KurdishHungerStrike to end,” as they patrol. How surreal!

Not everyone looked at the statement in a positive light, nor were they persuaded because none of the demands have been met, and it raises some questions about Öcalan and why he did not ask those on Hunger strike to end their strike in the early stages when they started. The damage to the health of hundreds of political prisoners who have been on hunger strike may well be irreversible.

Lawen Azad asks:

@LawenAzad: How so? None of the demands have been met as far as we know. What has 67 days of hunger strike been for?

Others looked at the call for an end to hunger strikes positively, but one thing is for sure, the online community is in mixed thoughts and reactions to the current news.

Kamal Chomani writes:

@KamalChomani: Ocalan's call to end hunger strike should be supported. Why should people die when Erdogan does not care? the struggle is continuing, this is important.

And Heballo notes:

@Hevallo: The hunger strikers knew Ocalan would say stop and they have forced the state to prove his influence on the movement!


  • There have been numerous solidarity protests around Turkey as well. A statement from Öcalan is hardly “surprising” given “a delegation went to Imrali on three occasions. A senior Turkish official joined one of these visits and Ocalan’s intervention was sought to end the hunger strike,” as reported by Al Jazeera. Many have also argued that the role given to Öcalan in this situation has partially disrupted his “isolation”. But most importantly, this article actually uses the phrase “none of the demands have been met” 4 times, whereas one of the demands has been largely met – the draft legislation regulating defense in one’s own language has been approved by the Parliament’s Human Rights Commission and sent to the General Assembly, where it is also expected to pass.

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