Ocalan, Abdullah (1948–)

Leader of the left-wing guerrilla unit known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan was born in 1948 in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. He is generally considered to be the strongest advocate and fighter for Kurdish sovereignty and has been labeled a hero by some Kurds, a terrorist by most international intelligence sources, and a “baby killer” by the Turkish government.

Raised by his peasant family in Omerli, Ocalan had vague political aspirations as a youngster and tried to enter the Turkish military but was refused—a decision he claimed was related to his Kurdish ancestry. Later, Ocalan was accepted into Ankara University and, in the political science department, first began to embrace Marxism and voice left-wing sentiments. He organized student movements and was jailed for distributing leftist brochures. He then dropped out of Ankara University, returned to southeastern Turkey, and began ...

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