Approximately 15,000 Kurdish and pro-Kurdish protestors marched in French city Strasbourg on Saturday to demand the release of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and what they called ‘a status for Kurdistan’.
Many people arrived on busses from across western Europe, including Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. A group of 76 pro-Kurdish marchers walked from Luxembourg to Strasbourg over ten days in support of the event.
Mirtaza, a 60-year-old protester who travelled from Nancy in eastern France for the demonstration told AFP that Strasbourg was a symbolic choice, “the centre of Europe – the city of the Council of Europe, the European parliament, the European Court of Human Rights,” she said.
The demonstration came four days before the 18th anniversary of Ocalan’s capture in Kenya in 1999, an event Kurds call an ‘international conspiracy’ and mark with protests on the day every year since. Ocalan had travelled for four months through several European countries after being pushed out of Syria in October. However he was refused sanctuary in Italy, Russia and Greece and travelled to Kenya to make contact with Nelson Mandela and take refuge in South Africa, Kurdish sources confirmed later.
Initially rejecting involvement, US officials later admitted they worked for four months to help Turkey arrest the Kurdish leader. Kurdish political organisations have also alleged Israeli and British intelligence involvement in the abduction, but this has never been confirmed.
According to AFP, Turkey’s consul general in Strasbourg tried unsuccessfully to get the protest banned. The PKK, which is outlawed in Turkey, the EU and US, but not recognised as a terrorist organisation by Russia or the United Nations Security Council has been engaged in a 33-year insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southeast.
Ocalan was the chief negotiator in a two-year ‘solution process’ between 2013-2015 and enjoyed regular meetings with state officials and Kurdish delegations. An end to the process and ceasefire in April 2015 has resulted in the PKK leader having only one meeting with his brother since then.
Some commentators have said an end to the PKK ban and reinitiation of meetings with Ocalan would strengthen hopes for a solution to Turkey’s Kurdish issue. However, government officials have dismissed the possibility of a return to peace talks with Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus recently stating that it was “too little, too late”.