As we watch with horror the ease with which most of the world is prepared to abandon Syria’s Kurds to an uncertain and bloody fate, we can’t forget the part that is being played by the authorities here in Scotland. The UK Government has prioritised arms sales to Turkey, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the UK leads the resistance to ending the designation of the PKK as terrorists – as in the recent European Court action that found the grounds for the terrorist designation unsupportable. The PKK’s egalitarian philosophy and their history of resistance to the suppression of Kurdish culture has earned the organisation and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, the respect and support of Kurds across the world. Öcalan’s ideas have been fundamental to the grassroots revolution in Syria, and he has made many attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement for the Kurds in Turkey. Any Turkish government that wanted to see a peaceful future would have to talk to him. We can imagine a time when a future UK prime minister might feel compelled to pay their respects at the scene of Öcalan’s incarceration in the same way as Theresa May has visited Robbin Island, but so long as the UK Government is in thrall to Turkey, active support for the PKK will be deemed illegal. And the UK terrorism Act gives the police wide powers to arrest on suspicion, even where there is no evidence of actual ‘terrorist’ activity. Much has been written about how the ‘Prevent’ legislation criminalises groups based on racial or religious profiling. For the last three years this legislation has been used to arrest members of the Edinburgh Kurdish community – possibly at the instigation of the local Turkish Consulate. The community has suffered dawn raids and house searches. Flags in Kurdish colours, and other equally unthreatening items, have been taken away, and this year several men will have to appear in court.
This targeting of the community makes it difficult for Scottish Kurds to express their political views at a time when their relations in Syria and Turkey are under attack. It even makes it difficult for them to express their Kurdish identity. Most of these families have come to the UK because they were oppressed in their homelands if they identified as Kurdish. Now they are under similar constraints here.
When Scotland’s Kurdish voices most need to be heard they are being silenced by Scottish police. Even when they speak they must self-censor. Talk about fighting Daesh – fine; talk about implementing Öcalan’s ideas of grassroots multicultural feminist democracy and you might tread on more dangerous territory. Welcome to 21st Century Britain.
SSK’s last public meetings of 2018 were in solidarity with the community members who had been arrested. In Edinburgh we were joined by Ross Greer MSP who emphasised the need to support the community and to take up the issue of criminalisation of the community with the police and justice department. A representative from the community explained how the police actions have intimidated them, and especially affected the children and their ability to express their cultural identity, and Sarah Glynn described how Öcalan’s ideas, which these actions attempt to shut down, are being implemented in building a new progressive society in Northern Syria. The meeting supported the campaign for the PKK to be de-listed, and for this to be raised with MSPs. In Glasgow a packed room heard the writer James Kelman, a long-term supporter of the Kurds, as well as SSK’s Stephen Smellie and Roza Salih.
A unanimous message of support was also sent to the community from the Islamophobia conference jointly held by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and the Islamic Human Rights Council on 15 December.
An article in the Morning Star quoted both the SSK and James Kelman, and we organised a long letter calling for a stop to this persecution of Kurds seeking sanctuary in Scotland that was signed by politicians and trade unionists, and published in the National.
December also saw Sarah co-moderating the session on solidarity at the annual Kurdish conference held in the European Parliament, and meeting fellow activists from across Europe;
Sarah and Roza wrote to the National highlighting Erdoğan’s threat to the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (even before Trump’s sudden announcement of US withdrawal); and we sent a message of solidarity to HDP MP Leyla Güven, who is in prison in Turkey and on hunger strike to call for an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.
Over this last year, Kurdish achievements, in building an alternative society and beating back Daesh, have only been matched by the growing threat to their very existence by outside forces, and everyone must be concerned about what 2019 will bring. There are not many of us, but we will continue to try and ensure people in Scotland are aware of what is happening, and that we can show Scottish solidarity for Kurds under attack everywhere.