Turkey granted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan his first visitor in nearly two years this Saturday. Turkish courts ruled in 2016 that he was to receive no visitors, including family. Mr. Öcalan has not had access to visits from his attorneys since 2011 despite filing over seven hundred requests to do so. Mr. Öcalan was visited by his brother, Mohammad Öcalan.
While it is unclear exactly why Turkey had a change of heart regarding the visits, it was recently widely reported on Thursday in Turkish and Kurdish news media that a jailed member of Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey is suffering “life-threatening” medical conditions during her hunger strike that started sixty-five days ago. She began the strike to protest the conditions and isolation that Mr. Öcalan was experiencing at the hands of his Turkish captors.
Yesterday brought us in my view a greatly significant event–the Ebril, Iraq book launch of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, translated into the Kurdish Language.
The book was formerly banned under the Saddam Hussein regime; rather obviously for its negative portrayal of how a dictatorship can emerge in a nation or community. Coupled with the dark history that for decades nations such as Turkey proscribed the Kurdish language, the fact that such a work can be sold publicly shows the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the former dictatorship.
Three weeks ago, we featured an article describing the plight of dozens of academics who faced arrest after signing a peace petition. These advocates were declared enemies of the Republic of Turkey. Now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government will put on trial a Turkish professor who placed onto an exam questions referencing PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Ankara University professor Resat Baris Unlu faces charges for spreading “terrorist propaganda” after presenting his students a question comparing two documents written by the founder of the proscribed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who is currently serving a life sentence.
The realpolitik in the Levant changed significantly upon the entry of the Russian Government into the foray. Russia announced recently it would assist the Assad Government in Syria as well as Kurdish forces in fighting what it perceives to be a mutual threat to Russia by ISIS. It has interest in maintaining the Assad government, which has long established ties with Moscow. In the past weeks the Russian military established operational bases in Syria and began a heavy program in supplying material and personnel.
Now, the Russian leadership announced it was working on providing weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting ISIS through the Iraq Government. This shows a clear departure from the politics in the region where the focus was upon the United States to provide the Iraqis with defense abilities. Yet, this has proven to be ineffective due to the rapid expeditionary campaign launched against the people and government of Iraq by ISIS. It was almost an embarrassment when the United States surprised the world with the announcement of ISIS’ threat after it was six months into its war effort against Iraq and Syria and went so far as to claim that despite the loss of 25% of Iraq’s territory and ISIS forces advancing within several dozen miles of Iraq’s capital, the situation was under control and was not an existential threat to the nation.
Now, in the vacuum of a serious effort on behalf of the west to address the ISIS problem, other than airstrikes and millions of dollars recruiting and training a handful of Syrian volunteers, Russia is emerging to fulfill the void left behind. Russia will gain both in terms of influence in credibility in the area as a result.