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Lawyers visit PKK leader Ocalan for first time in years

Abdullah Ocalan has been in prison since 1999 [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 May, 2019

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In a statement read by his lawyers, Ocalan called for a return to the peace process between the PKK and Turkey.

Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was granted access to his lawyers for the first time in eight years, his lawyers said on Monday.

This follows months of a hunger strike led by Kurdish politicians in Turkey involving activists the Turkish Imrali island prison.

The PKK is a Kurdish rebel militia which has been engaged in an on-off civil war with the Turkish state for 35 years.

Ocalan was captured in Kenya two decades ago and extradited to Turkey, where he was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to a life sentence after the death sentence was abolished three years later.

Held in almost complete isolation, Ocalan has been denied access to his lawyers since 2011.

While the jailed leader has been allowed some family visits during this time, they have been rare.

"It is not yet clear if the meetings with lawyers will continue periodically," said Rezan Sarica, one of the lawyers permitted to visit Ocalan on 2 May, adding that four lawyers had applied to visit the PKK leader but only two had been allowed to visit for an hour-long meeting.

Historic statement

His lawyers read a joint statement from Ocalan and three other PKK members imprisoned on Imrali, Hamili Yildirim, Omer Hayri Konar and Veysel Aktas.

In the statement, Ocalan called on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to consider "Turkish sensitivities" in Syria.

"We believe that through the SDF, all should aim to solve the issues in Syria by refraining from conflict culture and within the perspective of local democracy," read the statement.

"As such, Turkey's sensibilities should be minded."

Ocalan appeared to request that Kurdish hunger strikers relax their activities, if not stop them altogether.

Around 3,000 Kurdish prisoners in Turkey have been on hunger strike since November to protest Ocalan's isolation in prison, with eight having killed themselves, according to the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party.

"We respect the resistance of our friends inside and outside prisons but want them not to carry this to a dimension that will threaten their health or result in death," read the statement.

Crucially, the Ocalan called for a return to the peace process between Turkey and the PKK.

While Turkey witnessed fewer clashes and the expansion of Kurdish rights in the early years of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's tenure as prime minister, in the past few years the Turkish leader has hardened his stance towards the PKK and relations between the minority and state have worsened.

A ceasefire declared by Ocalan in 2013 broke down after only two years.

State-imposed, weeks-long curfews in recent years have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, the displacement of thousands and the destruction of homes.

"There is a need for a deep social reconciliation… There is an urgent need for a method of democratic negotiations, far removed from any and all polarisation and culture of conflict for the solution of problems," read the statement.

The statement clarified by calling for a return to the Newroz 2013 statement - a historic statement by Ocalan which declared a ceasefire and called for "coexistence" and "fraternity" between Kurds and Turks, as well as between Kurds and other ethnic groups located in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

"This time, we are building a model on the lesson of what we learned from the mistakes of our predecessors – embracing all devastated peoples, classes and cultures," said Ocalan in the Newroz 2013 statement.

"I am calling all these people to realise an organisation through a more egalitarian, independent and democratic method."

Ocalan's meeting with his lawyers came at the same time as Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) was rumoured to be in secret talks with the YPG, a PKK-affiliated Syrian Kurdish militia whom Turkey has until now considered a bitter enemy.

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