Politically motivated imprisonment has, over the last few weeks and months, been a very hot topic. But miles away from where Assange is held, or where Lula was freed, the small island of İmralı is home to yet another political prisoner: Abdullah Öcalan. Apo, as he is known by his followers, is serving a life sentence on this Turkish island, after being captured by the CIA in cooperation with various other intelligence agencies.
Despite not being present in Turkey during the main insurgency of his organisation, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and continuously calling for a peace settlement with the Turkish state, Apo was commonly seen both then and now as the face of the Kurdish rights movement.
Irrespective of whether you deem his imprisonment lawful, it adds necessary contextual critique of the popular narrative that Erdogan’s Turkey has recently “gone rogue”: whilst its invasion of Syria is, needless to say, deplorable, it is neither unexpected nor unsupported.
Whilst its invasion of Syria is, needless to say, deplorable, it is neither unexpected nor unsupported.
The USA and UK have played an essential role over the years in facilitating Turkish crimes against the Kurds, including in the sale of military technology, prolonged media silence on the issue, and with recent events: Trump’s abandonment of Rojava, his statement that the Kurds were “not angels” and that the PKK were “probably […] more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS.”
The West have continuously cited oppression of the Kurds to partially justify regime change against Bashar Al’Assad, the Syrian dictator who commonly uses multicultural rhetoric to counter pushes for border adjustment. Al’Assad had sheltered Apo during years of hiding from the Turks and CIA and has now stood up for the Kurds in the invasion of Rojava given the increasing cooperation and talks between himself and People’s Protection Units’ (YPG) figureheads.
The double standard between the way Syria and Turkey’s governments have been treated on Kurdish rights would seem to reveal deeper political reasons behind supposed UK-US support for Kurdish liberation in the Middle East.
In fact, we have seen one of the same phenomena occur multiple times throughout history, in which NATO countries have supported and funded Islamist groups as method of exerting influence over the West Asia-North Africa (WANA) region. In its opposition to communism and ideologies deemed too socialistic (Ba’athism, Nasserism and Third International Theory), NATO have allied and supported Islamism from Operation Cyclone to Timber Sycamore, and also supported Turkey so as to serve as a base in close proximity to the USSR.
Now that Turkey has its current Islamist government, it is no surprise that this hasn’t considerably altered Western support for the country. In their invasion of Rojava, Turkey have controversially freed and sent home Islamist prisoners – which is worrying, but again, not out of line with the effects of past Western interventions in the region.
In essence, the issue goes beyond solely the Turkish government, to NATO more generally. Of all NATO military operations in history, all occurring after the end of the Cold War, almost all have been hugely problematic, exacerbating war, ethnic tension and disastrous regime change in Afghanistan, Libya and former Yugoslavia.
It is the NATO mindset of interventionism, military spending and world policing that has led to the empowering of Islamist groups, the continual support for the troubling politics of present-day Turkey, and the hostile reaction by those standing against enforced Western hegemony, of vengeful terrorist atrocities which directly affect us as citizens.
It is the NATO mindset of interventionism, military spending and world policing that has led to the empowering of Islamist groups
If we wish to aid the marginalised Kurds, take a stance against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or enjoy life safe from the threat of terror, then we simply cannot support an organisation such as NATO or what it represents.
Photo credit: Tim Dennell via Flickr