Mandela and Ocalan: Flowers for a Friend of the Kurds13/12/2013
Flowers sent by Abdullah Ocalan to the funeral of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Photo by Christiane Amanpour.
By Ava Homa
TORONTO, Canada – For many Kurds, the late Nelson Mandela will be remembered for his principled stand against Turkey’s treatment of its large and oppressed Kurdish minority.
In 1992, when Mandela was still president of South Africa, he turned down the Ataturk Peace Prize that Turkey offered him for his lifelong fight for freedom. Pointing to the oppression of the Kurds, Mandela confronted the Turkish government for its hypocrisy and rejected the prize.
This caused an outrage in Turkey. According to the AFP news agency, nationalist Turks called Mandela a “terrorist” because of his support for the Kurdish cause. Mandela was also named an “insolent African” who turned down a prestigious award.
“We know what it means to be oppressed in your own country. We know the pain of a mother whose child has disappeared… We know what it means to have your nationality and culture insulted… I am part of the Kurdish struggle. I am one of you.” These are some of the words Nelson Mandela uttered at a Kurdish Festival in Germany in September 1997.
Mandela also denounced the criminalization of the Kurdish cause and pointed out that at one point, he himself was labeled “a terrorist.” He went on to specifically condemn the war that the Turkish government wages on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as “a war against human rights and against the masses.”
It is, therefore, no surprise that from behind the bars, Abdullah Ocalan sent flowers as a tribute to the South African leader.
Christiane Amanpour, a British-Iranian journalist and television host, currently working at ABC and CNN, posted the photo of the flowers on her Facebook page on Wednesday.
“Tribute to Mandela from behind bars. Saw these flowers from jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan for lying in state,” Amanpour wrote under the photo of the wreath sent by Ocalan.
The photo generated more than 3,500 likes and more than 1,000 comments by Kurds and Turks alike.
The Turkish nationals labeled Ocalan as a terrorist and attacked Amanpour for posting the photo, calling her a provocateur and supporter of terrorists.
“Do you support terrorism?” a Turkish Facebook user commented on the photo, addressing Amanpour. “Do you consider this an act of kindness from behind bars?”
Kurds also responded in their hundreds, applauding Amanpour for her photo of Ocalan’s flowers and likening the situation of Kurds in Turkey to that of South Africa’s black population under the white rule.
“They (Ocalan and Mandela) both carried arms and fought when needed,” Alan Saeed, a Kurd, commented on Amanpour’s photo. “They both began a peace process when time for peace arrived. They were both sentenced to life in prison. They are in fact soul mates in the struggle for freedom. No one has any doubt that Ocalan will also arrive at victory, like Mandela did.”