Turkey was already shelling across the border when, on 19th January, President Erdoğan announced the launch of the spitefully named ‘Operation Olive Branch’. This was to be a full invasion of the isolated canton of Afrin, part of the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. Erdoğan claimed that Turkey would overrun Afrin in days. With no air power, Afrin could not hold off the second biggest army in NATO without support, and none was forthcoming; but it was not until 18th March that Turkey and its allied militias took full control of Afrin city. The intervening two months was a time of intense activity by Kurds and their supporters everywhere, and also of heartache and frustration as politicians and media ignored what was happening until almost the final minute.
In frustration at the lack of reporting beyond the reproduction of snatches of Turkish propaganda, Sarah Glynn wrote this article about the war on Afrin for the 6th February edition of the National.
Below are some of the actions that we took to try and alert people to what was happening. We also called on people to tell their MPs to tell the UK Government to condemn Turkish aggression, to stop any further arms sales to Turkey, and to insist on the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria being part of any discussions on the future of Syria.
On 22nd January, Sarah wrote this article on the Importance of Afrin for Bella Caledonia.
On 23rd January SSK organised a large protest outside the Turkish and Russian consulates in Edinburgh. (Turkey was able to attack because Russia withdrew their forces that had been protecting the area.) The demo was the subject of a report in Common Space.
The same day, SSK also organised a protest in Dundee City Centre.
There was a short report and photo in the next day’s Evening Telegraph.
On Saturday 27th SSK organised protests at Glasgow’s Buchanan Street steps
and Dundee City Centre. When we had organised the Dundee protest four days earlier there were no Kurds taking part, but now the local community had found us. This time they turned up in force and brought their children. There were reports on this second Dundee demo in both the Courier and the Telegraph
On 3rd February, a few of us from Dundee joined up with the student socialist society for a protest in St Andrews,
and on the 4th there was another protest in Edinburgh.
We were back in Dundee City Centre on 17th February,
24th February, 9th March
and 13th March
Meanwhile, the Kurdish community in Edinburgh kept a vigil for some days outside the Scottish Parliament,
and on 14th March they organised a rally. John Finnie, a Green MSP, came out and spoke to the protestors, but relatively few people walk past Holyrood, so we decided to march up the Royal Mile. Some people were a little worried as the last Edinburgh protest had been attacked by an angry Turkish man, but the policeman outside the parliament called on a couple of his colleagues to facilitate and protect the march. We must now feature in dozens of holiday photographs.
On 17th March our stint in Dundee City Centre was cut short by swirling snow, but it was dry again in time for us to hand out leaflets to the fans going into Dundee United game.
When we weren’t out on the street or printing hundreds of leaflets we chased up our MPs to put pressure on the UK Government. Already on 15th January, with the Turkish Government threatening to attack Afrin, we wrote to all Scottish MPs and MSPs calling on the UK/Scottish government to ‘condemn this act of aggression’. This was reported on in Common Space. Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South, has been a long-time supporter, but we also visited Stewart Hosie and Chris Law in Dundee, and users of Edinburgh’s Kurdish Community Centre spent an afternoon emailing their MPs and MSPs. Chris Stephens lodged an Early Day Motion (See report in Common Space ), and both he and Chris Law spoke at the debate that eventually took place in Westminster on 12th March. Chris Law added a human dimension by describing the situation of one of his constituents, who we had introduced to him.
Kawa’s family’s plight was also covered in the Daily Record.
On 22 March our co-convenor, Roza Salih, attended a meeting for Afrin at the Parliament in Westminster, along with Scottish MPs Chris Stephens and Tommy Shepherd.
One of the first things the invading soldiers did to stamp their mark on the city of Afrin was tear down the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith. The original Kawa (after whom our refugee friend is named) is a mythical hero – an ordinary man who led the people against the tyrannical ruler who had captured their land, allowing the sun to shine again – and has become a symbol of Kurdish resistance. He is also associated with the return of spring, celebrated as Newroz on the spring solstice. That the statue was pulled down just a couple of days before Newroz was even more poignant. Which made us think that one way that we could demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Afrin, was to erect our own ‘statue’ of Kawa in Dundee. This we did on Saturday 24th March, with Mike Arnott, secretary of Dundee Trades Council, doing the formal unveiling. (You can read more about the symbolism of the statue in this article that Sarah wrote for Common Space.)
It succeeded in generating a lot of interest from passers-by, and was reported on in the Evening Telegraph and in Common Space. It was even shared on the YPJ’s own Facebook page.
(PS One of our demands has been that the UK stop selling arms to Turkey – the leaflet we handed out outside the football was even headed ‘UK Weapons are aiding ISIS’. On 28th March, we were very happy to see Edinburgh Antifascist Action making the point with a banner drop on a bridge facing the Edinburgh Leonardo factory, which manufactures combat helicopters for the Turkish state. The banners read “Hands Off Afrin” and “Leonardo Kills!”)