Ocalan, Abdullah (Apo)

Ocalan, Abdullah (Apo)
(1949- )
   Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan officially founded the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on 27 November 1978 and, despite his capture and imprisonment by Turkey on 16 February 1999, has been its leader (Serok) ever since. To a large extent, therefore, the important facts of his biography, at least until his capture in 1999, are also those of the PKK itself.
   Ocalan was born in the village of Omerli in the Hilvan-Severek region of the province of Urfa in southeastern Turkey. He was the firstborn in a family of poor farmers and apparently had six brothers and sisters. (His brother Osman Ocalan also was at one time a top official in the PKK, while his ex-wife Kesire Yildirim was also a high-ranking PKK member until their divorce in 1987.) Abdullah Ocalan has long been known by his nickname "Apo," or uncle. In the earlier years his followers were even called the Apocular, or followers of Apo. His surname Ocalan means "revenger."
   Ocalan claims that, as a young boy, he could not speak Turkish, only learning to do so gradually in elementary school. As an adult, however, Turkish became his working language, and he had to study Kurdish in an effort to begin using it even occasionally. When he first visited Ankara in 1966 to take the university entrance examinations, he thought of himself as a Turk.
   After failing to gain admission to the Turkish War Academy, Ocalan entered the political science faculty of Ankara University, where he particularly enjoyed classes in economic history. He also spent seven months in prison in 1970 for participating in an illegal student demonstration, an experience that apparently proved a turning point. He became a leftist and Marxist. Many years later, Ocalan specifically testified that he had been affected by the careers of Deniz Gezmis and Mahir Cayan, two radical leftist leaders of the 1970s in Turkey who were both ethnic Kurds and died fighting for their causes.
   At a Dev Genc meeting in Ankara in 1974, Ocalan and a few other students first formed the Ankara Higher Education Association (AYOD). Ocalan told this first meeting that since the necessary conditions then existed for a Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, the group should break its relations with the other (Turkish) leftist movements that refused to recognize Kurdish national rights.
   In 1975, the group left Ankara and began its operations in the Kurdish areas from where they had originally come. This entailed recruitment and indoctrination activities that by the late 1970s had spilled over into violence against other leftist and Kurdish groups. What separated the Apocular from these other groups was their appeal to members almost exclusively drawn from the lowest social classes and their willingness to use violence. Sensing the military coup that finally did occur in September 1980, Ocalan fled to Syria in May 1979, from where he led the PKK until Syria—under intense Turkish pressure—expelled him in October 1998.
   Originally, Ocalan called for an independent pan-Kurdish state based on Marxist principles. Over the years he gradually altered these positions and began to argue for some type of Kurdish autonomy, federalism, and currently just true democracy within Turkey's preexisting boundaries. For a short period in the early 1990s, Ocalan actually seemed close to achieving a certain degree of military success. In the end, however, he overextended himself, while the Turkish military spared no excesses in containing him.
   Despite his earlier reputation as a Stalin-like, murderous terrorist, Ocalan became seen in the eyes of many Kurds as having done more to reestablish a sense of Kurdish self-esteem and nationalism in Turkey than any other Kurdish leader in recent years. This was aptly illustrated by the dismay most Kurds and their supporters throughout the world showed upon hearing that he had been apprehended by the Turkish authorities in Kenya on 16 February 1999. In the process Ocalan once again illustrated how one person's freedom fighter can be another's terrorist.
   During his trial in 1999, Ocalan offered to end the PKK insurgency in return for real and complete democracy, which, he argued, if Turkey spared his life he could then accomplish. From his prison cell on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara, Ocalan issued a remarkable statement that called for the implementation of true democracy to solve the Kurdish problem within the existing borders of a unitary Turkey and thus fulfill Ataturk's ultimate hopes for a strong, united, and democratic Turkey that could join what is now the European Union (EU). Indeed, the PKK withdrew most of its fighters from Turkey, while practically all PKK violence against Turkey stopped for several years. Nevertheless, Ocalan was sentenced to death for treason on 29 June 1999.
   The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)—to which Turkey belonged—quickly issued interim measures asking Turkey to suspend the execution until it could rule on his appeal. At this point, the Turkish candidacy for EU membership entered the picture as Turkey's membership hinged on its acceptance of the Copenhagen Criteria recognizing minority rights and the abolition of the death penalty, among other factors.
   As part of this process, Turkey finally abolished the death penalty in 2002, so Ocalan was not executed, but he continued to live in solitary confinement. From prison, Ocalan has issued a variety of somewhat perplexing statements, such as his call for democratic con-federalism as a solution for the Kurdish problem. Under this system the Kurds would somehow rule themselves within a Turkish state with their rights protected by EU-style laws. In 2006, more than three million Turkish Kurds signed a petition calling for Ocalan's release. Although he remains the theoretical leader of the PKK, a number of other leaders have emerged in practice since his capture in 1999.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Abdullah Öcalan — Born 4 April 1948 (1948 04 04) (age 63) Ömerli, Şanlıurfa,[1] Turkey …   Wikipedia

  • Abdullah Öcalan — Abdullah Apo Öcalan (nacido el 4 de abril de 1948), es el presidente del Partido de los Trabajadores de Kurdistán (PKK), condenado en Turquía a cadena perpetua por cargos de terrorismo y separatismo armado. Contenido 1 Vida 2 Política …   Wikipedia Español

  • Apo — or APO may refer to: * Apo, a god of mountains in Inca mythology * Abdullah Öcalan, nicknamed Apo , the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party * Acting Pilot Officer, the lowest commissioned officer rank in the Royal Air Force * Acute Pulmonary… …   Wikipedia

  • Ocalan, Osman (Ferhat) — (1958 )    Osman Ocalan is the younger brother of Abdullah (APO) Ocalan, the longtime leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). One of six siblings, the younger Ocalan was for many years a leading member of the PKK, particularly its… …   Historical Dictionary of the Kurds

  • Apo — Die Abkürzung APO steht für: Außerparlamentarische Opposition Abiturprüfungsordnung Abteilungsparteiorganisation, eine Zusammenfassung mehrerer Parteigruppen der SED Advanced Planner Optimizer, ein Planungssystem der Firma SAP Aktionspotential,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Apo —    See Ocalan, Abdullah …   Historical Dictionary of the Kurds

  • Abdullah Ocalan — Abdullah Öcalan Pour les articles homonymes, voir Apo. Abdullah Öcalan (Apo), né le 4 avril 1949, est un leader indépendantiste kurde et fondateur chef du Parti des travailleurs du Kurdistan (PKK, Partiya Karkêren Kurdistan), considéré… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ocalan — Abdullah Öcalan Pour les articles homonymes, voir Apo. Abdullah Öcalan (Apo), né le 4 avril 1949, est un leader indépendantiste kurde et fondateur chef du Parti des travailleurs du Kurdistan (PKK, Partiya Karkêren Kurdistan), considéré… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Öcalan — Abdullah Öcalan Pour les articles homonymes, voir Apo. Abdullah Öcalan (Apo), né le 4 avril 1949, est un leader indépendantiste kurde et fondateur chef du Parti des travailleurs du Kurdistan (PKK, Partiya Karkêren Kurdistan), considéré… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Abdullah Öcalan — (Apo, Abkürzung für Abdullah aber auch mit der Bedeutung Onkel; * 4. April 1949 in Ömerli/Provinz Şanlıurfa, Türkei) ist ein Führer und ehemaliger Vorsitzender der als Terrororganisation eingestuften PKK von deren Gründung 1978 bis zu ihrer… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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