Written by: William Kammerer
Abdullah Ocalan is a polarizing figure that is considered the savior of the Kurdish people by some, and one of the biggest threats to regional security in the Middle East by others. His role in incubating a new brand of ideology throughout the Kurdish population in both Turkey and Syria has been instrumental in mobilizing Kurdish revolutionaries. Ocalan simultaneously became an enemy of the Turkish state and one of the most important Kurdish revolutionaries of all time. He was able to package nationalistic ideals into a system that reinforces cooperation and equality, thus creating an ideology that is more progressive than that of other revolutionaries in the region. This ideology is defined as Democratic Confederalism. He also established a feminist ideology called Jineology, which is used in many autonomous communities associated with the Kurdish works party.
Abdullah Ocalan became politically relevant when he founded the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 1978. After the formation, he became an active militant in Syria, acting against government forces in Syria and Turkey. In the early stages of his life, he was set on forming an independent Kurdish state. Ocalan was active in the region until his 1999 abduction by US-assisted Turkish paramilitary forces and subsequent trial in Turkey. He was initially sentenced to death, but after Turkey outlawed the death sentence, he was placed in a prison in the Aegen sea, where he still resides. In prison, Ocalan wrote many of the texts that he is known for today. He theorized the ideas of both Democratic Confederalism and Jineology while serving his sentence.
Democratic Confederalism is essentially a democratic confederation of autonomous communities that rely on direct democracy to make decisions and a loose cooperative economy. Ocalan formed this theory due to the global shortcomings of a Marxist-Leninist ideology and the influence of anarchist thinkers such as Murray Bookchin. The rejection of the traditional state model makes Ocalan a unique figure in both revolutionary politics but also middle eastern politics. Ocalan will most likely never be able to see his theory in action, but in regions within Syria like Rojava, the theory has gone into practice.
A central part of the success of the Democratic Confederalism model is social and economic equity between everyone involved in the society. This is where the ideology of Jineology comes in. Ideology argues that any revolutionary struggle must inherently be a women’s struggle. This is best summed up by Ocalan’s saying, ”A country can’t be free unless the women are free.” This counters many of the region’s far-left revolutionaries that often neglect the conditions that women in their community experience.
Ocalan is currently detained in an offshore Turkish prison where he still is involved in peace talks between the Turkish state and Kurdish revolutionaries. His use of Jineology and Democratic Confederalism was, and still is, extremely forward-thinking both regionally and globally. In this regard, Ocalan is a true revolutionary in his quest to fight against the class struggle.