Reimar Heider text of speech (short version)
International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan”
Glasgow, 20 June 2015
As much as I am happy to be here, I am very sorry to be here. I am sorry to be here, because the reason that I am here is that the person who has been granted Honorary Life Membership in the University of Strathclyde Student’s Association, Abdullah Öcalan, cannot come and thank you all in person. He has been held under strict isolation on a Turkish prison Island for more than 16 years now.
The first person unto whom such Honorary Life Membership was bestowed was Nelson Mandela in 1984. At the time Mandela had been in prison for more than 20 years already, and he was considered a terrorist by many governments including the UK government for waging an armed struggle against oppression which seemed impossible to fight against otherwise at the time.
Öcalan founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in 1978. The party later led the armed resistance against a military regime which was holding Turkey and North Kurdistan in a bloody grip after the 1980 military coup. But Öcalan was always much more than a guerrilla leader, he is a politician and political writer, and as such he has inspired millions.
Maybe the best example of what Öcalan stands for today is the Revolution in Rojava, the northernmost part of Syria. There, the Kurdish movement has succeeded winning over people of all ethnicities and creeds into a common effort to implement Öcalan’s vision of a truly democratic model for society. It was through this inspiration that thousands of volunteers were able to resist and defend their model of togetherness against the plague that haunts the region today, the black flagged forces of the Islamic State.
Öcalan managed to transform the struggle of large portions of the Kurdish people from one for an independent state into a fight for what they call “democratic autonomy” because he widened the perspective on liberation.
Today, the most important part of the liberation struggle in Kurdistan is the struggle for the liberation of women. Öcalan regards the oppression of women to be the oldest and most deep rooted of all ways of oppression in society, preparing the grounds for all other forms of oppression. His extensive talks and writings on this topic have been the main source of inspiration for the Free Women’s Movement in Kurdistan, the most powerful women’s movement in the Middle East and possibly worldwide.
Therefore, the effort for Öcalan’s freedom is not only about one individual. It is not even only about the Kurdish people. It is about the leading figure for the democratization of the Middle East today, it is about the freedom of peoples, ethnical and religious communities, and most of all about the liberation of women. Öcalan’s freedom is crucial to bring the effort for a peaceful resolution of decade-old conflicts to a successful end. It is for this that I ask you all to join the 10.3 million signatories of the “Freedom for Öcalan” campaign and raise your voice to the same end.
The core group of what was to become Kurdistan’s most influential liberation movement consisted of university and high school students. Of course, they never got a degree. They chose to leave their universities and schools and fight for the liberation of their class and their people. In this way, they changed history. Many of them lost their lives in the struggle, among them Sakine Cansiz, the only remaining female founding member of the PKK, who was murdered in Paris in 2013 by an agent of the Turkish secret service.
A popular saying in the Kurdish movement is “We set out young, and young we will succeed.” Over the decades, Öcalan has inspired many generations of students and young people to take their own liberation into their own hands.
Today, the students of Strathclyde University in Glasgow are leading the effort to recognise Abdullah Öcalan’s achievements, and I am confident that many others will follow. In 1984, the USSA was way ahead of its time in honouring Nelson Mandela, the city of Glasgow followed, and today there is a “Nelson Mandela Place” in the heart of the city. Who knows, maybe one day we shall all meet in Glasgow again to celebrate Öcalan’s freedom on an “Abdullah Öcalan place”.
Thank you very much.