Abdullah Öcalan

Abdullah Öcalan

A founding member of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan was born in a Kurdish Turkish village in 1948.

Öcalan is often referred to as Apo (Kurdish for Uncle) in popular Kurdish culture. His face and name are a symbol for the Kurdish movement, despite the fact that he has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999 for his role in the PKK.

As an undergraduate, Abdullah Öcalan studied political science at Ankara University. His brothers are also prominent members of pro-Turkish political parties. [1]

Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and other nations. Öcalan and other Kurdish people looking to fight for independence and rights for Kurds in Turkey founded the PKK in 1978, but the organization did not reach its notorious violence until the early 1980’s. The violence included bombings, kidnappings, and other acts of terror against the Turkish government. [2]

Leading from Behind Bars

Many argue that Öcalan has actually gained power since being imprisoned — at great financial cost to the Turkish government. For over a decade he has been the sole prisoner at the infamous Imrali Island prison, located in the Sea of Marmara outside of Istanbul.

Öcalan communicates commands and other information through his lawyers to PKK commanders and leaders on the outside. Turkey allows this for a multitude of reasons, but many think that it’s because it may be better the PKK stay as one large organization instead of split into many chaotic and unpredictable factions without Ocalan’s leadership. [3]

Öcalan Calls for PKK Ceasefire

In March 2013, Öcalan called for a PKK ceasefire with Turkey, after three decades of violent conflict. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan worked directly with Ocalan to gain this call for peace. [4]

The PKK-Turkish peace process is threatened by ISIS threat on Southern Turkish border and how Turkey goes about supporting besieged Kurds, as well as the upcoming Turkish general elections in June 2015. While many Kurds still remain distrustful of Turkish authorities, the peace progress will likely continue to progress as they put their trust in Abdullah Öcalan, their Apo. [5]