My personal and political life can be divided into three phases. The first phase began with the conflict with my mother on the basis of my claim that I should be able to establish my own sociality and continued with my first adverse reactions against my family and my village, followed by my enrollment in primary school. Primary school was where my interest in the state first began to seriously develop: the personality of anyone who attends school takes a transformative step away from communal society in the direction of statist society.
This was accompanied by a process of urbanization, in which the values of the city are regarded as superior to rural communal values. Intermediate school, high school, my time as a civil servant, and studies in my final year at the university were all preparatory steps for states-manship. It is around the age I was at the time that the personality of the city and the state clearly becomes dominant for people. On the other hand, belonging to an oppressed nation and being intentionally underdeveloped turns into a reaction against the state. At the end of the day, even sympathizing with the left amounts to nothing more than the search for a state that is more just, equitable, and pro-development. During this phase, people’s personalities are largely detached from traditional society, with the mother-based, communal, rural, and lineage-based society largely being denied. Instead, a rather marginal personality emerges; one that denies and despises its own past but venerates the grandness of the city and the state and unflinchingly conforms to the official order. It is indeed a very tragic massacre of the personality that takes place during this phase.
In all underdeveloped countries, this new “parvenu” personality that despises the old society, mothers and fathers, siblings, neighbors, relatives, the village, the elderly, the children, the women, as well as its own origin and class has turned into a disaster. In the grips of a modernism devoid of content, this personality experiences a deep alienation from the fundamental social values of humans. Developed under the overwhelming superiority of the capitalist system, this personality remains marginal, even if it superficially rejects the conditions and turns to “the left.” This only further deepens its detachment from society. School, working in the city, and being a civil servant within the state have detached this personality from history and tradition and turned it into a “tin” personality. Everything that comes with this sort of personality, a personality that has become an insensitive, salaried denier that submits to the whoredom of the city, will inevitably go bankrupt in the face of capitalism and the values of the society that is an obstacle for this personality. There is a close connection between this sort of personality and the inability of real socialism, social democracy, and national liberation to effect a genuine social transformation. All sorts of anomalous, fascist, and totalitarian ideologies and practices of our age are socially based in the formation of this personality. However, after making a great leap forward with the French Revolution, in the 1990s, this type of individual lost its old charm, resulting in a new normalization process.
The second phase began with my attempt to form an independent ideological group with the aim of breaking away from bourgeois society and the bourgeois state and establishing our own contemporary social and political system. Whereas the first stage of my socialization began in praying together with the other children and our shared walk to primary school, my second socialization developed with university students on the basis of left and national liberation ideology. Although we made an effort to once again seek out our own society in opposition to the values propagated by capitalism and the chauvinism of the ruling nation, these attempts fell far short of their goal, because the existing left and national liberationist currents lacked the power to overcome the norms of capitalist life. During this phase, which could also be qualified as the beginning of becoming the PKK, I was blown here and there like a leaf in the stormy world of the 1970s. I broke with the traditional world but also refused to make peace with capitalist values. It was a typical process of sectarianism and marginalization. There were innumerable groups founded in a similar way that disappeared just as quickly. A struggle against the state began that resembled the battle of an ant against an elephant. While to some degree we hoped to rediscover our own society and country through our theoretical and practical quests, in general, we were simply following the left-wing trend that was sweeping the world at that time.
We eventually had an idea of our own, with which we tried to seed something new in the old society that we hoped would blossom in time. The group developed and grew larger. We started to see ourselves as something special. It seemed very likely that the seed would actually grow. When I left the country like a caterpillar slipping out of its cocoon, a phase of self-confidence and youthful bravado had begun. Hope that our utopia would become reality was in the air. When the support of the people for our group developed into a mass movement, our self-confidence grew further.
We had also gotten to know the power of arms. The guerrilla group of the contemporary national liberation movement had been trained and armed, and they had reached the difficult and elusive peaks of our mountainous land. The time for a new historical departure had arrived.
The initial stage of this phase, which lasted from 1972 to 1984, can be evaluated in a number of ways. You might call it the awakening of the destitute Kurdish people, who were now catching up to the era they lived in. You could describe it as a first uprising, the first shot fired against blind fate. You could interpret it as an outcry for honor and dignity. Alternately, it might also make sense if it were compared to David’s first successful act against Goliath. Or it could be considered as one of the initial steps toward mustering the courage necessary for freedom of thought. It could also be seen as a rupture with norms of slavery, with its millennia-old roots. Altogether, this phase can be defined as something like a second birth, which was meaningful and necessary, and as a bit of luck and a lot labor and faith. It was, in fact, a phase where we developed our own paradigm once again.
The subsequent part of this second phase of my life covers the years from August 15, 1984, to February 15, 1999. Those fifteen years marked the second stage in the development of the PKK, an amazing period in which the armed struggle was prevalent. In the context of the history of the Middle East, comparisons could be drawn with the Babak Khorramdin’s group, the Kharijites, the Qarmatians, or Hassan-i Sabbāh’s fedayeen. While the first part of this second period was dominated by a situation that can be likened to Jesus-like sermons, the second part, with its exodus and armed return, more resembles a mixture of movements forming around Moses and Mohammad. Leading a group of exiles barely able to get its act together “into the Promised Land” requires a great deal of effort and ability. While our wandering evokes associations with Moses, our acts of war were reminiscent of Mohammad in Medina. There was a strong prevailing atmosphere of spiritual belief and conviction. Like true believers, we devoted ourselves completely to our convictions. We practiced scientific socialism like believers powered by the strength of faith and regarded our war as a sacred activity. The human being, the individual, slowly became nothing, and from that point on, the goal was everything. It was very difficult for me to even understand that I had fallen prey to the historically typical malady of power. The weak personality from a rural area that has been bombarded by the state and the city for years barely knows how to do anything but to cling to power and isn’t able to grow beyond its own one-dimensionality. When able to create a system of its own, as a countertendency, the personality that has been horribly isolated by capitalism can experience a magnificent sociality. The most typical expression is a willingness to sacrifice everything to the belief that action is the most sacred thing of all.
Our task should have been to say that life itself is the most sacred value of all. Instead, a fanatic personality came to the fore, which, on the contrary, believed that the goal was everything and life itself was nothing. We can define the fatalism in this type of dogmatism as a commitment to a set of principles or a kind of religionization. The paradigm we acquired was, in any case, both pure and abstract.
Analytical intelligence shone. Emotional intelligence was suppressed. Dying and killing were reduced to a purely technical matter. In the final analysis, in reality, we acted as ideological satellites of capitalism under the influence of its profit-oriented work ethic. We complied with the general character of the time, even though, in the final analysis, it took the form of a divergent denomination, we also lived and swam in a sea of capitalism. We absorbed the knowledge of a capitalist tendency on the most abstract level by adopting real-socialist and national liberation generalizations, while frantically striving to form the related political and military entities. To us, this seemed to be the only way to catch up with the times.
Of course, that chase did not take place in a vacuum. The system has its masters, and they have their own rules and act in accordance with the needs of their sovereign world. February 15, 1999, can be considered as the day on which the power of the capitalist world that has become like the angel of death Azrael grabbed me by the throat, using 1,001 machinations to do so. In this connection, I must mention some of the strategic mistakes I made in this period of my life. In 1982, I should have trained cadres who were actually capable of leading an armed group, and I should have sent them into the country only once I had completed that task. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate and led to a far-reaching development if we had sent Kemal Pir and others into the North via South and East Kurdistan with a larger group in 1982 and not in 1980. Having Duran Kalkan, Ali Haydar Kaytan, and Mehmet Karasungur as the most important cadres in charge of that area led to inadequacies and proved to be a strategic error. The root of this error was that they simply replicated the general process taking place in the Middle East, and even lagged behind doing that. Tailgating the KDP, being estranged from the people, not being worthy friends, doing superfluous work, repeating work that had already been completed, unnecessary involvement in the conflicts between the PUK and the KDP, failing to see the potential before them and the situation brought about by the Iran-Iraq war—all of this represented a continuation of that strategic error. The failure to live up to the historical moment and to work accordingly, along with arbitrary and meaningless analyses, resulted in a strategic blow to our efforts. In this situation, good intentions and much effort paved the road to hell.
My second major strategic error was failing to recognize the emerging tendency to form gangs early enough and to take adequate measures. A further consequence of dogmatism was that I left this task to reliable friends. I should have noticed that they were squandering so much noble value and stopped them. These developments were heavy blows against all of the PKK’s noble efforts. It is difficult for me to explain the incredible way in which some people with almost monstrous personalities became so capable. Even more incomprehensible was that our structures that had been trained so carefully capitulated to these persons so easily. Because of my concept of “friendship,” I kept telling myself that they would do their best, that they were the most honest, that they could accomplish anything, and that they were contemporary apostles. This belief actually bordered on dogmatism and was an important factor in all of these developments. When I finally woke up, much too late, and realized what was happening, young fighters, first and foremost, but also significant popular support and many other material and spiritual values that had been strategically developed over a long period with a great deal of effort were already lost.
I should have also drawn more far-reaching lessons from the events of 1992–1993. It would have been better had I been with the groups in the country in 1992 and during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis. What I hadn’t done in 1982, I should have done then. I should have put the activities in the Middle East on the back burner. But taking my usual approach, I was convinced that the situation could be successfully dealt with by simply sending massive reinforcements.
I had always believed that there would be some among the thousands of highly qualified cadres who would emerge to live up to the requirements of the period. But the gang culture at the heart of the movement and the irresponsible approach of the central committee rendered all contributions in vain. Our struggle was blatantly failing right before our eyes. Discipline and a willingness to sacrifice alone were not sufficient to secure our values and allow us to successfully accomplish our tasks. In late 1992, by happenstance, Osman Öcalan’s fortuitous agreement with the PUK, which resembled capitulation, and the suicidal undertakings of Murat Karayılan and Cemil Bayık coalesced to prevent even greater losses.1 This was the point at which I should have really internalized the lessons in all of this. The time had come for a radical analysis of the key cadres, without, however, neglecting the day-to-day management of elements within the country. The attempt to correct this from Syria by establishing new schools and the repetitive character of the work I had to do completely sapped my energy.2 This kind of effort had become largely meaningless. I had failed to personally intervene on time. I could not bring myself to move to the guerrilla zone after such major losses. To me, it made more sense to try to break through the stagnation by political rather than military means, because a military orientation might have proven to be total suicide, while political work could possibly lead to conduct with greater potential. Monotony in our ranks continued until the period of the Koma Gel. The current internal crisis has its roots in the continuation of the way that the cadres entered the country and established bases and the way they worked and developed an understanding of tactics. Self-critique had not been done in a meaningful way. People persisted with their old personalities and their established way of working. This could only lead to senseless losses, unaccomplished tasks, suffering, and ultimately the collapse of whole areas of work, always and everywhere.
The second phase of my life was contradictory, because it was state-oriented, but I still had not lost the qualities of the communal democratic approach. My struggle between the two poles of this contradiction would determine the outcome. Among other things, February 15, 1999, dealt a death blow to my state-oriented march. If state-oriented partisanship and statism were maladies, then the blow that all the states of the capitalist world dealt me on February 15, 1999, would at the same time play the role of a midwife and the necessary medicine for my third birth.
The third phase of my life, if what I am experiencing can be called “life” either in name or in essence, began on February 15, 1999, and might well last to the end of my life. The defining feature of this phase is the beginning of a break from state-oriented life in general and from modern capitalist life in particular. I am not, however, reverting to “wildlife.” I won’t be going back to the times of ten thousand years ago. Nonetheless, it is certain that some of the fundamental values of humanity are secreted away in those very years. The real liberation and freedom of human beings is not possible unless the humanity that marked that period, which was cut short via 1001 machinations and by tyranny, is integrated with the present level of science and technology.
The rupture with civilization and state-oriented life is not a regression. On the contrary, an end to the deadly rupture from nature and surrendering the overblown power-rooted personality based on blood and lies could offer us the opportunity to recover our health at the most fundamental level. This is about turning away from a diseased society toward a healthy society and about the departure from an absurdly urbanized society—which is in a way cancerous, completely alienated from nature, and a suffocating weight upon ecological society. It is also about turning away from a thoroughly authoritarian and totalitarian statist society toward a communal, democratic, free, and egalitarian society. Ending and eliminating the links in a chain that led from hunter culture and the slaughter of animals to civilization’s massacre of human beings, bringing an end to capitalism, which leads to the destruction of nature could push the door open the tiniest bit for the development of a new humanity. A moral and political personality that cultivates friendship with animals and is at peace with nature is based on a balance of power with women, is peaceful, free, and equal, and provides a life full of love, putting an end to the power of science and technology being the plaything of rulers and wars, attracts me at least as much as the attraction that bound Enkidu to the city and the state and gives this desire its meaning. I assure you that I’m not simply expressing a longing that arises from being held in isolation in a one-person prison! I am talking about a significant intellectual and spiritual paradigm. I am really sick of and hate the categorical approach, the worshiping of far-reaching power, the glittering life of our age, and, indeed, everything about civilization that shines through the bloodstains.
As a child, I had totally internalized hunting culture. I cunningly hunted and decapitated birds and killed animals without batting an eye. I want to begin this new phase of my life by asking all those animals for forgiveness.
I believe that the greatest felicity is not found in splendid palaces but in simple huts surrounded by nature. I believe that the virtue of life can be achieved by perceiving nature in all its colors, voices, and meanings and by becoming one with it. I believe that real progress has nothing to do with huge cities and ruling authorities. These are, on the contrary, the greatest source of affliction. I actually believe that life in a place that overcomes both the old village and the new city and that combines ecological settlement with the latest insights of science and technology is the real revolution. I believe that the huge buildings of civilization are the mauso-leums of humanity. If there is a path to the future, I believe that it will be meaningful and worth following only if based on these realities.
The break with the hierarchical, statist class civilization represents the strongest self-critique imaginable, and I believe I will be successful. The childhood of humanity, the forcefully forgotten history of the laborers and the people, the worlds of freedom and equality in the utopias of the women, the children, and the elderly who have managed to remain children—I want to participate in all this, and this is where I hope to attain success.
All of this is utopian. But sometimes utopias are the only life-saving inspiration of a life that is buried in buildings that are worse than mauso-leums. Without a doubt we can only come out of these structures that are worse than tombs by having utopias. My situation does not resemble that of any other person, and I don’t want it to. Now that I understand and feel all this better I am probably on the right track. A person filled with meaning and feeling is the strongest of all human beings. I will certainly never again commit the sin of trying to be like the “mighty ones.” Anyway, I never really wanted or managed to be like them. The humanity’s past is more real. I will be respectful of it, will look for and find life there, and will start it anew. The future will be nothing but the active form of these efforts.
Do I always only think of myself? By no means. My defense is a message to all of humanity. The newly reconstructed PKK can unite all my noble friends, comrades who have the power of meaning and will to understand. The people of Kurdistan and their friends can gather under the democratic roof of the Koma Gel. The HPG can provide able defensive war against any attacks on our life, our country, or our society, and it can call the transgres-sors, the tyrants, and the immoral to account. The women with the highest aspirations can unite under the PAJK, which brings together the mature wisdom of the goddesses, their understanding, the purity and saintliness of the angels, and the beauty of Aphrodite.
With this defense, I present my fundamental understanding and ideal of humanity to the European Court of Human Rights, the judicial organ of Europe—the ultimate representative of a civilization that is proud and generally self-confident. But let me just say that rather than having positive expectations, I regretfully expect the court to play no other role than that of a tool in the service of the system’s mastery of profit.
I respectfully offer my hope for a more democratic, free, and just society.
April 27, 2004
1 In 1992, the PKK was enmeshed in a two-front war with both the Turkish army and the South Kurdish KDP, suffering many losses. Following this, the part of the front under the command of Osman Öcalan capitulated without any previous discussion with Abdullah Öcalan or the central committee. Osman was heavily criticized for this, but he did save the lives of the units commanded by Murat Karayılan and Cemil Bayık in the process.
2 At that time, a Turkish-language—and, later on, Kurdish-language—Central Party School was opened near Damascus.