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The Egalitarian King?

Abdullah Öcalan and His Evolving Role in the Kurdish Freedom Movement

Axel Rudi


The Kurdish movement has often been touted as an egalitarian struggle, and, in many ways, rightly so. However, the movement's relation to its undisputed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has remained relatively unexamined. This article seeks to rectify this oversight by investigating how Abdullah Öcalan informs the movement's egalitarian life. To do so, the article employs a frame of analysis that utilizes anthropological theory on kingship. Drawing on secondary sources and fieldwork in Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan, the article argues that Öcalan works as and resembles a king for the movement in several key respects, greatly influencing the movement's structure. The article contends that applying this frame of analysis may bolster theoretical apparatuses for studying revolutionary movements and nuance polar understandings of hierarchy and egalitarianism.