As the SDF announce an understanding with Russia, Saturday seems a long time ago. We are still trying to digest what is happening, but here, for the record, is an image from our Glasgow demo, which was attended by over 300 people. It was one of at least ten demos round the UK, and many many more across the world. Speakers included Sarah, Roza and Honar from SSK, Ako, Adnan, Media and Sheelan from the Kurdish community, David Moxham for the STUC, Chris Stephens MP, Councillor Graham Campbell, Maggie Cook from Unison, and SPSC’s Mick Napier. Many of the people who came have family in Rojava, (including Honar and Media) and it was an emotional afternoon, complete with Kurdish musicians. (We’ve already shared many images on Facebook.)
Roza spoke about the situation on Radio Scotland in the morning, and she and Media were interviewed briefly by Scottish BBC news.
At the same time the Scottish Greens passed an emergency motion at their conference that included, along with the more usual demands, a call for the ‘Scottish Government to immediately cease the provision of public funds and other support to companies who manufacture and sell arms to Turkey’.
Outrage at the Turkish invasion has prompted emergency protests across the world, and we, in Scotland, are playing our small part. As soon as we woke on Monday morning to the news that Trump was pulling out US troops, we got out an article in Commonspace and started planning demonstrations. On Wednesday morning, the Kurdish Community in Edinburgh were outside the Scottish Parliament, and then the US Consulate, where they were joined by Ross Greer MSP, co-chair of the Cross-Party Group on Kurdistan. You can hear his strong support here:
The Kurdish Community had planned to follow Wednesday’s demo with a silent protest outside the National Gallery the next day, but after Turkey had launched their attack on Wednesday afternoon, no one was going to remain silent! The demonstrators carried posters of people from the UK who had died fighting, as members of the YPG and YPJ, for freedom and a better world.
On Thursday evening it was Dundee’s turn, with local Kurds and other Dundee folk joining together in our hastily arranged show of solidarity. Despite the unsympathetic weather and the late hour, several passers-by not only stopped to listen, but joined us on the protest.
On Saturday we will be on the streets again, with our national demonstration in Glasgow.
As long-standing London-based campaigner, Mark Campbell, has observed, support for the Kurds is at unprecedented levels. So far, though, all that this has produced from those with the power to act is sympathetic words. These don’t make the no-fly zone that the SDF are so desperately calling for. If we are to force them to do more than talk, these protests can only be a small beginning.
Every day, now, we see further evidence of the crisis in human civilisation, and the triumph of forces that would propel us towards the abyss. The Kurds and their neighbours in Northern Syria are taking a stand against those forces and for a better society. They are the vanguard of the fight back. If we can’t support them, the future looks bleak indeed.
The Kurdish struggle is out struggle. It is hard, but it is what gives life its purpose. As the Kurds say: Resistance is life!
Saturday’s demonstration – called by SSK and supported by the STUC – is at 1.30 pm at the Buchanan Steps, Glasgow
Speaking at yesterday’s demonstration to a crowd of between four and five hundred, in a damp Dundee City Square, Sarah called for solidarity with fighters for democracy in other countries, including the Kurds in Turkey. It was particularly pleasing to be thanked afterwards by a young Turkish woman.
Here is Sarah’s speech:
Last week I wrote an article on the dangers of allowing reversals of democracy to become accepted as the new normal. I wasn’t making predictions about Boris Johnson shutting down parliament. It wasn’t about the UK. Attacks on hard-won democratic freedoms are taking place across the world – and every gain won by reaction encourages other governments to follow suit.
We can’t look at our ‘Very British Coup’ in isolation. It is part of a global politics, and must be resisted with international solidarity. We are standing side by side, not only with other protestors in cities and towns across the UK, but also
with the people of Kashmir, where the anti-democratic crackdown relies on brutal and overwhelming military occupation by the Indian Army;
with the people of Brasil, where Bolsenaro was only able to win in the polls because a compliant judiciary jailed the popular opposition leader;
with the people of Catalonia, whose political leaders have been imprisoned for daring to hold a democratic referendum;
and with the Kurds in South East Turkey, where Erdogan has yet again dismissed democratically elected mayors to replace them with government appointees – and where criticism of the Turkish government has landed thousands behind bars.
I could – we all could – list many more examples, both of soft coups and of violent ones. We are entering a new age of dictators, with the potential to be even more destructive than that eighty years ago.
This closing down of parliament should be our wake-up call – a reminder of the importance of democracy, but also an indicator of the flawed nature of the democracy we had, and of the need to fight, not for its return, but – as all the speakers today have said – for something better.
A constitution, yes. A republic, yes. But also a system that really does enable people to be actively involved in the running of their communities – as those Kurdish mayors were attempting to promote in South East Turkey. And we won’t win that if we think of democracy only as voting in elections – even though a general election must be our immediate demand in this current crisis.
Real democracy is a continuous process of political engagement. It doesn’t silo off politics as the responsibility of experts, but integrates it into community life. And it is only through continued political engagement that real democracy can be won.
Those international struggles demonstrate humanity’s potential for dedication and courage; and they can also help us discover a different, more democratic, way of doing things.
We stand with people fighting for democracy everywhere – your struggle is our struggle, and our struggle is yours.
Yesterday’s rally ended with a call for international solidarity from Sarah from SSK. You can watch her speech here (from 1.53.10 to 1.59), or read it below.
As our Catalonian comrade has reminded us, although we’re campaigning for a Scottish solution that is constitutional and peaceful, in many places the fight for independence, autonomy, even for basic freedoms, is harder, and people are putting their lives on the line.
As supporters of independence and of the right to self determination, we want to show our solidarity with others who have campaigned for the right to run their own lives, to enjoy their own culture, and who have been met with brutal suppression by bigger nations that are intent on denying them their separate identity, and want to just exploit their resources.
We want to show solidarity with the Palestinians, who are denied equal status within Israel, and even the ability to run their own economy in blockaded Gaza and a West Bank that’s overrun by Israeli settlements.
We want to show solidarity with the Kashmiris, who have faced decades of violent repression by the Indian army, which has made this paradise one of the most militarized areas on earth, and who, just two weeks ago, were deprived of even their nominal autonomy and told they were now to be run from Delhi. To enforce this, India has put Kashmir into lockdown, imprisoning politicians and human-rights activists, shutting schools and offices and closing off all communications to the outside world.
And we want to show solidarity with the Kurds, who have combined their struggle to express their cultural identity, with the struggle for a better form of society. We talk about another world being possible. They are making a better world. The Kurds of Northern Syria used the political vacuum that was created by the civil war to establish an autonomous region that’s based on a bottom-up democracy, which emphasises women’s rights and a multicultural society, and an ecological society, too. Their grassroots politics and community values provide a model for everyone looking for an alternative to our greed-based system.
They had only begun to get this established in Northern Syria when they were attacked by ISIS. They fought back and turned the tide against the ISIS forces. They liberated large areas of Syria at the expense of thousands of young lives. But now they are being threatened by the full force of the Turkish army, the second largest army in NATO. Their fate depends on the political machinations of Turkey, the US, Russia and Iran – all of them in Syria for their own selfish interests.
By making more people aware of the Kurds’ position we can try and make it that little bit harder for these new imperialists to wipe the Kurds from the map. We owe them a huge debt, not just for their fight against ISIS, but for proving that a better world is possible.
All these struggles can inspire us through their determination. The benefits of solidarity go both ways.
I want to end with a word that is very familiar to the Kurds, and also to the Kashmiris: AZADI! FREEDOM!
Around 100 demonstrators gathered at the Turkish Embassy in central London today in a hastily organised emergency demonstration to protest against Turkey’s threatened invasion of Rojava. The vocal crowd of mainly Kurdish activists stood on the opposite side of the road to the Embassy waving flags and chanting slogans against the Turkish state’s suppression of the Kurds, and listened to solidarity speeches. A prominent banner declared ‘Stop Turkey – Defend Kurds – #RiseUp4Rojava‘.
The Turkish Embassy itself was fronted by British armed police holding guns, with a van of other police parked prominently nearby: a slightly unnerving experience for the small group of British-based protestors.
A group had made their way from Wales, where they had been active in solidarity with the Welsh Kurdish hunger striker, Imam Sis.
Mike Picken from Paisley gave a short speech expressing support from the committee of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, highlighting the demonstration in Dundee on Saturday to great cheers ,and SSK’s ongoing work with parliamentarians in the Scottish Parliament, organising solidarity meetings and demonstrations across Scotland, and working to win the trade union movement to Kurdistan solidarity.
Protestors were not put off by the armed police or the sudden rain showers, and agreed that more actions were needed to focus the world’s attention on Turkey’s imminent military threat to the Rojava revolution, to the people of Northern Syria, and to peace and stability in the Middle East.
In sunny Dundee, this Saturday lunch time, campaigners demonstrated in solidarity with the people of Rojava and Kashmir:
two places where people have stood up for political and cultural freedom – and are being crushed by brute force.
We asked people to help spread the word about what is going on – and to call on our political representatives to speak out and not remain silent.
Last Sunday, President Erdogan announced to the world that Turkey was going to invade the, predominantly Kurdish, autonomous, Democratic Federation of North East Syria – Rojava.
Last Monday, the Indian government announced that they were ending constitutional autonomy for Kashmir, bringing this majority Muslim state under direct control from Delhi.
Both India and Turkey have been described as moving towards fascism. They have whipped up popular support for their aggression by appealing to exclusive ethnic nationalism and religious prejudices.
Their attacks on freedom and humanity are brutalising the world – and also making it a lot more dangerous.
European Kurdish movements have called for a day of solidarity actions for Rojava, and supporters of the Kashmiris, whose voices have been silenced by a communications blackout, have called for others to make the world aware of what is happening.
The only thing standing against the rule of bullies is the resistance of ordinary people.
In ROJAVA, the Kurds have created a haven of grassroots democracy, women’s liberation and multicultural living. They try and promote a community outlook in place of selfish individualism. They have defended themselves and the world against ISIS, but now that the battle against ISIS has been largely won, the world looks away.
Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, and it has massed its troops on the Syrian border ready to invade Rojava. They say they will attack unless they are handed control of miles-wide corridors of land that would include most of the Kurdish towns. We don’t have to imagine what Turkish control would mean, we just have to look at Afrin, the part of Kurdish Syria that Turkey invaded last year. Here Turkish-sponsored warring gangs, including former members of ISIS and Al Qaeda, rape and pillage and kidnap for ransom, and much of the Kurdish population has been replaced.
The US found it expedient to help the Kurds fight ISIS, and the one thing that might persuade them not to abandon them completely is a very real fear of an ISIS resurgence. There are ISIS sleeper cells, and the Kurds have also been left with thousands of ISIS prisoners, which would be hard to guard if they are also having to defend themselves against Turkish attack.
When, over 70 years ago, the Maharaja agreed that KASHMIR join with India, the state was guaranteed a measure of autonomy. This has long been undermined by the Indian Government’s response to Kashmiri movements for succession, which have seen the region become one of the most heavily militarized places in the world. Over 500,000 Indian troopspolice the area, 80,000 Kashmiris have been killed, and thousands more have been injured, tortured, raped, or disappeared. This week, Indian government control was formalized, and land ownership was opened up to non-Kashmiris – so we can expect to see a push for major demographic change.
Monday’s take over was like a coup in both effect and method. Before Prime Minister Modi made his announcement, a further 35,000 troops were sent to the area. All internet, phone and television communications have been cut off. A curfew has been imposed, preventing Kashmiris from leaving their homes. Businesses and schools remain closed. Local politicians, trade unionists and human rights campaigners have been arrested. Kashmir is in lockdown.
The Indian state has created a culture of fear, anxiety and uncertainty in Kashmir, and heightened tensions in an already volatile part of the world that is dominated by rival nuclear powers.
The much-anticipated announcement of the end of the hunger strikes came at 11 am our time in a statement on behalf of Kurdish political prisoners from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and PAJK (Party of Free Women of Kurdistan), some of whom had been on indefinite hunger strike since 16 December 2018. It was followed by a statement from the hunger striking HDP MPs, where MP Tayyip Temel quoted these simple words from Leyla Guven, who initiated this massive protest from Amed (Diyarbakır) Prison on 7 November 2018: ‘We believed and we succeeded’.
The hunger strikers had one simple demand: that the Turkish Government comply with their own constitution and international conventions on human rights and end the isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, allowing him regular access to his family and his lawyers. Öcalan is recognised as their leader by millions of Kurds, and you don’t have to be Kurdish to recognise the huge impact of his ideas in bringing an empowering grassroots democracy to Northern Syria, building bridges between different ethnic groups and – especially – ensuring women can take a full part in society. In the last two decades Öcalan has made repeated attempts to negotiate a peaceful and respectful future for the Kurds in Turkey, and the respect that he himself commands makes his role vital to any peace settlement between the Kurds and the Turkish Government. While there is an international call for Ocalan’s freedom, the hunger strikers limited themselves to the more immediately realisable human rights demand for an end to his isolation, which is recognised in law as a form of torture.
The first hunger striker was Leyla Guven, a Kurdish MP and (then) political prisoner in Turkey, now on her 200th day without food. The 14 hunger strikers in Strasbourg and Imam Şiş in Wales are on day 161. By the end there were over 7000 people on indefinite hunger strike in Turkish jails, and across the world, and 30 prisoners on death fast, who were taking only water and refusing the minimum of vitamins and small amounts of salt and sugar taken by the other hunger strikers.
When Ocalan met with his lawyers on 2 May, for the first time in nearly 8 years, the hunger strikers were not persuaded that this would be repeated, and so continued with their strike. But after their second visit, on 22 May, hopes have been raised that this will not be the last. And Ocalan conveyed a clear call for the end of the strike and a continuation of the struggle by political means. As his lawyers reported in their press statement this morning:
‘During the meeting, Öcalan insisted on his call for the termination of hunger strikes and death-fasts, which have achieved their goals. After this call, we believe that strikers will terminate the action. Our client stated that if talks were not held in the future, it could be protested by a political struggle, but actions such as hunger strikes and death-fasts should be avoided. He stated that the main thing is a culture of democratic political struggle and that it is more important for the strikers to be physically, spiritually and mentally healthy. Using Gandhi as an example for his hunger strike, he said that Gandhi made his hunger strike meaningful by his social struggle.’
It has taken a few days for the lawyers to meet and talk with the hunger strikers – including the thousands in Turkish prisons – and get their united agreement to end their strike action. Day’s when activists around the world have been checking their phones every few minutes
Of course we can only guess at Erdoğan’s thinking, but even in a world where politics has little time for morality, insistence on denying human rights is not good diplomacy. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, and earlier this month (between the first and second visits from Ocalan’s lawyers) the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture was finally persuaded to re-visit Ocalan in his island prison. I don’t suppose we will ever know what part our campaigns and letters and petitions may have played in this. There is no published report – which would have to be vetted by Turkey and last time took two years to produce – but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been discussions.
There is also no doubt that the forthcoming rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election weighs heavily on Erdoğan’s mind. This is a contest that has been endowed with huge political significance, aided by Erdoğan’s own rhetoric and political history – it was as mayor of Istanbul that he built the power base that has carried him to prime minister and almost-all-powerful president. In the local elections at the end of March, the candidate for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) narrowly lost out to the man from the main, Kemalist, opposition, with Kurdish tactical voting playing a crucial role. But under intense AKP pressure, the electoral authorities have declared the election compromised, and a rerun will take place on 23 June. When a small swing can make a big difference, Erdoğan may have calculated that dying hunger strikers would not help the AKP’s image.
Although it has been suggested that Erdoğan is hoping for Kurdish electoral support, this would be a negation of everything the Kurds have been struggling for. And this one concession – to begin to comply with Turkey’s own laws – has not been matched by any let up in anti-Kurdish brutality elsewhere. Protests in support of the hunger strikers – especially those by prisoners’ mothers – have been met by police batons and arrests. Turkey has also increasingly demonstrated its intention to incorporate Afrin, the autonomous predominantly Kurdish region in Northern Syria that they invaded last year, into their own territory. They have encircled Afrin with a border wall and are replacing Kurdish families with Arabs, including members of Jihadist gangs. Meanwhile, Turkish attacks on neighbouring Kurdish areas fuel fears of further invasion. And, of course, the great majority of the over 7000 people on hunger strike are still political prisoners in Turkey’s jails.
So, as we celebrate this victory – at a time when any victory for progressive forces is a rarity – we need to be aware how fragile it is. It can unlock a door to change, but that door will only open if pressure is kept up and increased. Despite a shocking lack of mainstream coverage, this massive action has not only mobilised Kurds everywhere, but also raised wider awareness of the Kurdish cause, especially coinciding, as it has, with the Kurdish-led victory over ISIS in Syria. More and more people have become aware that the Kurds are not only the most effective force against ISIS, but that the Kurdish movement, led by Abdullah Ocalan, also stands for grass-roots democracy, women’s rights, multiculturalism and ecology. And that the Turkish government is the enemy of the progress that the Kurds would bring, not only to Turkey and Syria but to the wider region and beyond.
All of us who have been moved by this hunger strike will now need to campaign harder to ensure that Turkey doesn’t back track on any assurances given, as they have done so often before, and that this opportunity to build wider support for the truly progressive Kurdish movement is not wasted. We – and especially those MPs and MSPs and trade unions who have publicly shown their support – can keep up pressure on Turkey via pressure on the Council of Europe and the UK Foreign Office. And all of us – including all those academics from across the world who have signed our letters in support of the hunger strikers to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture – can raise wider awareness of what is happening: the difficulties and also the possibilities. A hunger strike is an action of last resort, only taken when the world refuses to listen, but their message has been made impossible to ignore. We have begun to hear it in our parliaments, in our news media, in our trade unions, in our universities, and on our streets. Today we celebrate the successful action of the most principled, dedicated and unselfish people you could ever meet. Now it’s our turn to act.