Guest speakers were Clare Baker from the Unite Union in Britain, former Icelandic member of parliament Ögmundur Jonasson, Australian historian John Tully and Kurdish-Australian journalist and former trade union organiser Mansour Razaghi. The webinar was introduced and chaired by Sarah Hathway, an organiser with the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association.
The webinar began with a short video showing highlights of the campaign in Australia to date, which included rallies, a car cavalcade and even a “Free Öcalan” sky banner pulled by a plane over Perth in Western Australia.
“We should always take a long view of history,” Tully said. “The African National Congress and the South West Africa People’s Organisation were once classified by [former US President Ronald] Reagan and [former British Prime Minister] Thatcher as ‘terrorist’, [and] now it is 30 years since the fall of Apartheid.
“Apartheid once seemed an impregnable fortress blocking the road to freedom and democracy. Many of its leaders were in exile or in prison. Nelson Mandela, who was the venerated leader of millions of people in South Africa, spent 18 years in prison on Robben Island.
“There is a stark parallel with Abdullah Öcalan, the acknowledged leader of millions of Kurds, who is locked up on Imrali Island for 22 years. The time has come for him to be released from that imprisonment.”
Baker, who was part of the 2021 International Peace Delegation to Imrali, described how the successful #FreeÖcalan campaign of British trade unions culminated in hundreds of delegates at the 2019 Trade Union Congress national conference holding up placards with the words “Freedom for Öcalan” and his image.
Baker said she would be happy to help involve Australian trade unions in the campaign.
Speaking of the Imrali delegation’s findings, she said that Erdogan’s war against the Kurds had become “an attack against all progressive forces” in Turkey and become a “war on all who oppose him and stand up for human and worker rights”.
Jonasson, who has been part of four Imrali delegations, said the situation is getting worse. “One of our interlocutors told us that what we are seeing in Turkey is a regime of impunity. This means that whatever the authorities do, there are no consequences. They can do whatever they like, domestically and internationally, and it’s getting worse.”
Jonasson pointed to Öcalan’s 2019 call for a “deep social reconciliation”[between the Turkish state and the Kurdish people]and the “urgent need for democratic negotiations” [to achieve this.]
“We can solve the problems in Turkey and even in the region, first and foremost the war, with soft power, that is with intelligence, political and cultural power instead of tools of physical violence,” Öcalan said.
Razaghi shared his family’s experience of oppression and humiliation as Kurds by the Iraqi and Iranian regimes. He said these were the daily experiences of most Kurds in the region.
“Abdullah Öcalan is a leader for millions of Kurds and in 1999 he was abducted and kidnapped in a multi-state conspiracy and since then he has been in jail. This is an inhuman and brutal sentence that has been imposed on him and we cannot be silenced.”
The webinar organisers were Australians For Kurdistan, Rojava Solidarity — Sydney, Solidarity With Rojava Network (WA) and the Federation of Democratic Kurdish Society (Australia).
Participants were urged to add their names to the international statement calling for the release of Abdullah Öcalan here.