Supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) dance in T-shirts adorned with images of the groups imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. Photo: Rudaw
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – A group of activists in the Kurdistan Region has collected 60,000 signatures calling for the release of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, a first step to a goal of five million names on the international petition by mid-August.
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, together with 90 MPs and political leaders, is among the prominent names on the list, said Kawa Nadir Qadir, the head campaigner in Kurdistan.
“Every day we collect at least 10,000 signatures,” said Qadir, confident he will meet the campaign’s goal of one million names from the Kurdistan Region.
“The petition will later be given to the United Nations and other relevant institutions,” he said, adding that anyone over 12 can sign. The campaign is taking place simultaneously in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria’s Kurdish areas, Turkey and some European countries.
Qadir said that volunteers are collecting signatures from around the Kurdistan Region. Six mobile teams in the Ranya and Pishdar areas have already collected nearly 60,000 signatures, he added.
The campaign began earlier this month and will end on August 15, the date in 1984 on which the outlawed PKK announced its Kurdish uprising in Turkey.
Ocalan, the PKK’s founder, has been imprisoned for life on Turkey’s Imrali island since his capture in 1999 by agents of the Turkish secret service.
Kurdish and international voices for his release – or that he should be moved from jail to house arrest -- have grown since Ocalan, 65, recently declared a ceasefire in a three-decade war in Turkey over greater Kurdish rights.
The PKK began a phased withdrawal of some 2,000 guerrillas from Turkey to its Qandil Mountain base in the Kurdistan Region, coming closest than it has ever been to ending a conflict in which an estimated 40,000 people have died.
Ocalan told supporters in a March 21 message on the Kurdish New Year that the struggle was moving from the battlefields to the political arena.
Shanaz Ahmed, 19, signed the petition because she believes Ocalan’s freedom will improve life for the estimated 12 million Kurds in Turkey.
“I thought it important to take part in this campaign because if Ocalan is freed, the situation in Turkey’s Kurdistan will improve greatly,” she said.
“I have also encouraged others to sign,” added Ahmed, whose signature was collected by one of the volunteers.
Until a decade ago, Turkey’s minority Kurds could not even speak or publish in their own language. International watchdog Human Rights Watch reports that among Turkey’s Kurds, “Hundreds remain in pre-trial detention and thousands are on trial on terrorism charges after waves of arrests of officials and activist members.”