On the 23rd anniversary of the abduction and illegal arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, February 15, a number of current and former Australian members of parliament and other prominent people called for his release on humanitarian grounds and to advance a peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East in rallies held outside state parliaments in Sydney and Melbourne.
In Sydney, Jamie Parker MP was joined by fellow NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, former Australian Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, the Reverend Bill Crews, Mansour Raghazi, Avesta Ahmad from Kurdish youth organisation and Peter Boyle from Socialist Alliance. The Melbourne rally was addressed by Socialist Alliance’s Moreland City Councillor Sue Bolton, solidarity activist Fionn Skiotis and Heval Herki from the Kurdish community.
“Twenty-three years ago, the Turkish government, with the cooperation of the CIA, illegally kidnapped Abdullah Öcalan on a journey that he was making to see Nelson Mandela to speak about universal concepts of self-determination, anti-racism and liberation and for the last 23 years has been illegally detained and jailed in isolation under conditions that amount to torture,” Shoebridge told the Sydney rally.
“And what is his crime? His crime is to be a spokesperson for his people. His crime is demanding a right that we should all have — which is a right for any people to determine their own future, determine their own destiny, to control their own communities.”
Shoebridge voiced the key demands of the rally. “First, for the Australian government to end the silence on Öcalan’s ongoing inhumane detention and make an immediate demand the release of Öcalan. Secondly, for the Australian government to acknowledge that the release of Öcalan is critical for a peaceful resolution for the ongoing conflict. And, third, a peaceful and ongoing resolution with justice for the Kurdish people.
Shoebridge said that “Öcalan has put before the Turkish government, and the world, an outline and a pathway to peace with justice, which frightens the Turkish government; they want to continue to silence Öcalan and the truth about his illegal detention.” He said although the struggle of the Kurdish people faces new threats, it was now “more significant than ever”.
Shoebridge, who is seeking election to the Senate in federal elections, pledged to take the campaign to the federal parliament if elected.
Parker, who has supported the Kurdish cause for many years, told the rally that Öcalan was “so important not only for his ideology and the way he has provided leadership to his people and all who are fighting oppression but also because he was a critical piece in a peace process”.
Reverend Crews said that Öcalan “embodied the spirit of freedom” and that is why he was “hated by those who pretend to have power because they really don’t”.
Rhiannon said “more and more people are starting to hear the message that Öcalan is the Nelson Mandela of the 21st century”. “There are lessons to be learnt from the great anti-Apartheid campaign. It started with very little support, certainly with very few MPs supporting. But it grew and unions came on board all around the world and eventually Nelson Mandela was freed.”
Bolton told the gathering in Melbourne that the Turkish government thought that by imprisoning Öcalan it would destroy the Kurdish liberation movement, but it had failed. She said the liberation struggle had continued to advance, especially in north and east Syria where it led the Rojava revolution based on the principles of democratic confederalism.
“Democratic confederalism is about giving everyone their rights — not just Kurds but all the other ethnicities — and that is terrifying for the powers that be because the ruling classes have relied on the politics of divide and rule.”
Skiotis explained the significance of the campaign to remove the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from the Australian government list of banned “terrorist” organisations to the Melbourne gathering.
“The PKK does not condone or engage in terrorism — it is a legitimate liberation movement defending the Kurdish people against a well-armed and brutal military force. It poses no threat to Australia or Australians, and has significant support in the Australian community — a support that must be hidden as a consequence of the ban. It was the PKK and its allied militias in northern and eastern Syria who played the leading role, at huge cost, in defeating ISIS territorially, with the support of the US and other Western countries.
“The PKK, like the broader Kurdish freedom movement, stands for participatory democracy, women’s rights, pluralism and action to protect the environment. It puts these principles into practice wherever it can, and has proved a loyal and able ally in the fight against the real terrorists, ISIS and Turkey’s Islamist stooges — as many US generals have testified.
“Yet the Australian government, like others worldwide, chooses to believe the lies and propaganda of an autocratic, belligerent and corrupt regime in Ankara over these facts.
“Peace in Kurdistan can only come when the PKK is recognised internationally as a legitimate representative of the Kurdish people and its leader Abdullah Öcalan is freed. Australia and Australians should get on the right side of history and do all they can to support these goals.”