In March 1999, when the International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan—Peace in Kurdistan” was founded, it was unthinkable. Unthinkable, that Abdullah Öcalan would ever – get out alive. After his forceful abduction from Kenya with the help of Western intelligence services, a seemingly big victory of the Turkish state, the question seemed to be whether Abdullah Öcalan was executed without a trial or after a trial. To even think of “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan” amounted to lunacy. Nevertheless, an impressive number of intellectuals, artists, politicians and activists read the signs of the times differently. Even back then, 16 years ago, they knew that for a sustainable
solution of the so-called Kurdish question Öcalan had to be free and a peaceful solution had to be negotiated. This group founded the International Initiative.
In the years that followed, Kurds never gave up on their popular leader, Abdullah Öcalan. In countless demonstrations, marches, protests, sit-ins, hunger strikes and even self-immolations they demonstrated for his freedom and a solution to the Kurdish question. Countless people were thrown into the jails of the Turkish state, and some even into European prisons. But: the Kurds never gave up. They have been holding a permanent vigil since June 2012 here in front of the Council of Europe. They know that the man they trust, Abdullah Öcalan, is the one to bring peace and the realisation of the Kurds’ decades-old dream: Freedom. Freedom is what everybody present here today is fighting and striving for. Many, far too many, paid this struggle for freedom with their own lives. But the Kurds never stopped struggling, never stopped demanding Öcalan’s freedom.
Today, we have an entirely different situation than in 1999. Through a series of courageous initiatives and farsighted policies, Öcalan is in a position that is arguably stronger than anytime when he was outside of prison walls. Kurds are recognised everywhere as an important player in the region. In liberated cities in the Rojava region in Syria, photos of Öcalan are ubiquitous. The Turkish state sits down and negotiates with Öcalan right inside the infamous Imrali Island prison.
This prison island is a disgrace not only for Turkey, but for the very Council of Europe in front of which we are assembled today. The very existence of this lawyer visits, ridicules the European Convention of Human Rights. It is a slap in the face for Europe’s claim to protect Human Rights. The Council of Europe, the so called “defender of Human Rights, democracy and the rule of law in all Europe” with all its humongous bureaucracy, has not managed to close down Imrali Island Prison, the European Guantanamo. It has not even tried.
The Kurds had to fight mostly alone their seemingly hopeless fight for Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom. In a first signature campaign in 2005-2006, they collected more than three million signatures for a statement that aimed to recognise Öcalan as a political representative. This was already one of the biggest political signature campaign in history. In 2010, a new signature campaign was launched in
South Africa, the country where an unparallelled popular movement managed to tear down the inhumane system of Apartheid and free the popular leader of the people, Nelson Mandela. The campaign was widened to Europe in 2012. With a group of 1000 first signatories the worldwide campaign was launched in Brussels in a press conference on 6 September 2012 with the demand “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan and the political prisoners in Turkey” and the rationale “Öcalan’s freedom will mark a breakthrough for the democratisation of Turkey and peace in Kurdistan.” During two and a half years, thousands of volunteers collected signatures on all continents of the planet, with
signature forms in sixteen languages. Again, many of the volunteers faced state repression, especially in Turkey.
Today we are happy to present the final number of collected signatures. In total, the incredible number of 10,328,623 signatures (9,548,303 of these already confirmed by a notary) was collected for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan and the political prisoners in Turkey. 10.3 million signatures—this is very likely the biggest signature campaign for the freedom of a political prisoner that the world has ever seen.
Nelson Mandela was never released from prison. He was fought out of prison, by millions of supporters, and became an important peacemaker. Today, 10.3 million people worldwide are calling for Öcalan’s freedom and peace with their signature, and many more are behind this demand. I predict: together with all their friends worldwide, the Kurdish people will fight their leader out of prison. Öcalan will be free, and peace will come. Soon.
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