The end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 witnessed a major crackdown by the Turkish government in the Kurdish areas of SE Turkey, and in Edinburgh the Kurdish community organised protests on Princes Street. On 16 January they were joined by Tommy Shepherd MP.
At the beginning of March some of us went down to join the big demonstration organised by Kurds and supporters in London. They aimed to draw attention to what was happening in Turkey and to ‘Break the Silence’ of media and public debate. Protestors gathered by the BBC in Portland Place and marched to fill Trafalgar Square, and both our co-convenors spoke to the rally. This impressive protest was not reported in the UK except by Russia Today (this was before Putin and Erdogan made up).
There was a strong Kurdish presence at the Refugees Welcome Here march and rally in Glasgow on 19 March. Roza Salih spoke for Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan and after the speeches Kurds and Eritreans got the crowd dancing. (This was also the day the Halabja Day memorial was held in Maryhill.)
On 27 March many of us took part in the well-attended Newroz celebrations in Edinburgh.
On 19 April SSK was back at the STUC Congress. Here we are with Unison Assistant General Secretary, Liz Snape, while discussing how the union can support the rebuilding of Kobane.
The following week, on 25 April, Stephen Smellie spoke at the Freedom for Öcalan campaign launch at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. It was sponsored by GMB and Unite, and one of the guests was Dilek Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan’s niece (in the white jacket). Stephen noted: ‘I spoke about Öcalan’s ideas and how his release was crucial for the restoration of peace talks in Turkey between the government and the Kurds. I also managed to get an attack against those who pander to Erdoğan in our UK government into the speech.’
In May we were visited by Mehmet Ercan Baran from Diyarbakir/Amed, a member of the DISK trade union. He met with the Edinburgh Kurdish community at their newly opened community centre, with Unison members in South Lanarkshire and Glasgow, and with the Unite Scottish young Members Committee in Glasgow; and he spoke about how the Turkish state forces had been responsible for imposing curfews and violent actions in Diyarbakir.
In June we were visited by HDP MP Leyla Birlik. The Turkish government crackdown on the HDP already included the arrest of elected representatives, and the international solidarity movement was paring them with elected representatives in other countries for support. We arranged for Leyla to pair with Ross Greer MSP. Ross’s official facebook page for 27 June reads:
Today Ross met Kurdish MP Leyla Birlik from the Peoples’ Democratic Party – HDP. Leyla informed representatives of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan of the brutal oppression the Kurdish people face at the hands of the Turkish state and the war being waged against them. Like almost all HDP MPs, Leyla faces trial simply for defending her people and for daring to criticise the Turkish government. Ross has agreed to sponsor Leyla through her trial and to recruit other MSPs, MPs and parliamentarians from across Europe to stand with the HDP and the Kurdish people at this time of struggle.
Turkey has used the attempted coup of July 2016 as an excuse for a massive attack on freedom of speech and human rights. In August NUJ and Kurdish activists protested over the mistreatment and murder of journalists in Turkey. The protest was reported in Third Force News.
In mid-September a Scottish group attended the conference of the Syrian Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Brussels. Our group consisted of Ross Greer MSP and his assistant Zeyn Mohammed; and Sarah Glynn, Jan Xal and Sean Ballie from SSK. Honar Kobani was there as a delegate. Foreign guests were not allowed to attend the business part of the conference, but we had a private meeting with leading members of the organisation, as well as long informative discussions with supporters from other parts of the world. Sarah recorded the experience in articles for Common Space and Bella Caledonia.
In October we had hoped for a visit from Havin Guneser of the International Initiative for the Freedom of Öcalan; however the Home Office thought otherwise and she had to speak to us by Skype. Over 70 people came to the meeting organised by Edinburgh University Kurdish Society, where Havin led a discussion on democratic confederalism, the right to organise, and how to support Rojava and the Kurdish freedom movement. She also spoke to meetings in Glasgow and Dundee.
On 1 November we commemorated the second Kobane Day with a public discussion in Glasgow.
In November we protested further attacks by the Turkish government on Turkish civil society and on Kurdish political representatives. On 10th, we protested against the arrest and detention of the leaders and ten MPs of the HDP, the 3rd largest party in the parliament (including HDP co-chair Figen Yüksegdağ who had visited us in Scotland the previous year). This protest was outside the Scottish Parliament, where we were joined by Ross Greer MSP. Two days later we protested again on rainy Princes Street. The HDP’s message of peace, equality and democracy threatens the Turkish AKP government, so they were being arrested on false charges. The Turkish government had also announced the closure of 370 NGOs. Doors were being sealed and offices locked. This followed the sacking of 100,000s of public sector workers, the removal of elected Mayors, and the closing down of newspapers, radio and TV. Included in the list of NGOs closed under State of Emergency legislation (meaning no appeal process), was the Rojava Association, which raises money and materials for people in need in Rojava and in Turkey, and the KJA – the Free Woman’s Congress – the voice and organisation of Kurdish women. Ayla Akat Ata, who some of us met in Dyarbakir, had been arrested and detained two weeks previously.
In December PYD co-chair Saleh Muslim came to Scotland and we arranged a busy programme, including public meetings and meetings with press and TV. He spoke to large audiences in the Unite building in Glasgow and at Edinburgh University. We also managed to squeeze in an interview with Sarah which was published by Common Space.