Protesting Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention

This is Strasbourg, but demonstrations have been taking place across the world

A week ago, Turkey nullified a law protecting half its population. The European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) was opened for signatures in May 2011 at the 121st session of the Committee of Ministers, which was held in Istanbul. Turkey was among the first to sign and to ratify the convention, which received unanimous support across all political parties in the Turkish parliament. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was then prime minister. On Friday 19 March, in the middle of the night, now President Erdoğan announced a presidential degree annulling Turkey’s signature. Explaining his action, which is clearly a sop to conservative voters, he described the convention as contrary to ‘family values’, and his spokesperson claimed that it had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality”. The announcement came at the end of a week that had seen massive attacks on human rights and democracy by Erdoğan and the AKP as they attempt to cling to power in the face of dwindling support.

Under Erdoğan’s government, misogynist attitudes have been boosted by government rhetoric and by both action and inaction by the police and other authorities. Violence against women is endemic and growing, and the only problem with the Convention was that the laws weren’t being enforced. However, it did provide a legal backbone for campaigning, and its removal – which is anyway not legal without parliamentary approval – is being widely resisted.  Even some religious and conservative women’s organisations have objected to the withdrawal, and a recent poll suggests that only a ¼ of supporters of Erdoğan’s AKP are in favour of withdrawal, while half are against, so it may not be quite the vote-winner he is looking for. Meanwhile the protests are drawing attention to the violence and mistreatment facing so many women in Turkey.

They have also drawn my attention to the fact that the UK has not even ratified the convention!

SNP statement supports Kurds and condemns Turkish oppression

Chris Stephens MP for Glasgow South West (on right)

Foreign affairs may not be devolved, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make our voices heard – especially when it comes to a call for peace, democracy and human rights.

The Scottish National Party, Scotland’s ruling party and the third largest party by membership in the UK, has released a statement that calls for an end to Turkey’s illegal isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and for a reinstatement of peace talks with him as representative of the Kurds. It urges the UK government to protest the repression of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by the Turkish Government, and emphasises the SNP’s long-standing advocacy for Kurdish rights.

Many people have compared the imprisonment of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. As Mandela was key to negotiating the end of apartheid in South Africa, so engagement with Ocalan is key to negotiating a peaceful, fair, and dignified future for Kurds in Turkey and beyond, and for Turkey itself to step back from its decent into fascism. Ocalan has not only been held in isolation on an island prison for twenty-two years but is currently deprived of all communication with the outside world. In turn this deprives the world of hopes for peace, and also of the opportunity to discuss his ideas with him directly: ideas that are transforming society in autonomous North-East Syria and can help build strong empowered communities everywhere.

As the Turkish state clamps down ever harder on democracy, it is vital that external voices stand up for those being oppressed. In the last two weeks, over 700 people were detained under Turkey’s ever-elastic terrorism legislation, including HDP provincial and district chairs; Turkey’s highest court confirmed the two year prison sentence for an HDP member of parliament who was convicted of ‘making terrorist propaganda’ on the basis of a social media post; an HDP co-mayor was left unable to speak at her court case due to severe battering by prison guards after she resisted a strip-search; and the first steps were taken to lift parliamentary immunity from a further nine HDP MPS, including the party’s co-chair, so that they too can be tried and imprisoned. Already, thousands of party members have been jailed, and almost all the elected mayors have been replaced by government appointed trustees. If democratic parties in other countries remain silent while all this is happening, that is tantamount to condoning Turkey’s attack on democracy. We hope that the SNP’s statement can encourage others to speak out – and that words will be followed by action.

The SNP’s full statement is below.

  • The SNP recognises the urgent necessity for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.
    • The SNP has been a long-standing advocate for Kurdish rights in Turkey as well as in Iraq and Syria, and has commended the Kurdish people for their fight against extremism and their progressive leadership on social issues (such as women’s rights) in the Middle East.  
  • With regards to your statement that the Biden administration in the US is working to interfere and take sides in domestic Turkish politics, the SNP is not in the place to comment but we do acknowledge that Turkey may be a NATO ally and an important friend of the United Kingdom, but that does not prevent us from raising important human rights and security concerns.
  • We call on the Government to make it absolutely clear to President Erdogan that the suppression of political parties and the jailing of elected leaders are totally unacceptable in any country that wants to be seen as an advanced modern democracy.
  • We urge the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to call on the Turkish Government to immediately end the isolation enforced on Abdullah Ocalan (the Kurdish leader and philosopher currently imprisoned in isolation in appalling conditions and without legal representation by Turkey). Keeping Mr Ocalan in a state of aggravated solitary confinement for over 20 years is an inhuman punishment in breach of both domestic laws and international conventions to which Turkey is a signatory. 
    • SNP colleagues in Westminster have raised Mr Ocalan’s case in the Chamber of the House of Commons and have sponsored and signed Early Day Motions to this effect
  • We urge the FCDO reinstate the peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan as the representative of the Kurds 
  • In the past SNP MPs have signed letters to the FCDO, written by the “Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question”, in which we called for the UK to live up to its obligations and commitments to human rights throughout the world and stand up for decency in international relations. 

Here is a link to the coverage of the SNP’s statement on ANF news. This can’t be shared on Facebook because anything with Ocalan gets you banned, and it can’t be shared on Twitter because Twitter wont allow you to post anything from ANF! I have had to be careful with both headline and picture so that this article is shareable.

Resisting twenty-two years of international conspiracy

Twenty two years ago today, an international conspiracy, led by the US, refused Abdullah Ocalan political asylum and deliver him into the hands of the Turkish state. This was not a one-off political aberration. The selfish national interests and imperial rivalries that underlay those events still direct international politics and are dictating responses to Turkey’s current aggression, against the Kurds and more broadly. It was under a Democrat president, Bill Clinton, that the PKK was put on the US terrorist list and that Ocalan was captured. 22 years ago, Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, was Clinton’s special national security advisor. US policy is to attempt to separate the Kurds from the PKK and from Ocalan, and other Western countries follow the US lead.

Central to their plans is their insistence that Ocalan and the PKK should be denounced as terrorists. Challenging this, Belgium’s highest court judged last year that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist organisation but as a party in a non-international armed conflict. The PKK is in a struggle for freedom, and a negotiated agreement with Ocalan is the only realistic chance for a peaceful resolution to this struggle. He is recognised as their leader by millions of Kurds and has been ready to talk about peace for a very long time.

For 22 years Ocalan has been kept in virtual isolation, contrary to international Human rights legislation and to Turkey’s own laws. However, protests against his continued imprisonment are about even more than the human rights of an individual.

Ocalan’s imprisonment and isolation deprives the Kurdish community of their widely acknowledged leader and of the opportunity for a peaceful settlement to Turkeys Kurdish question – a settlement that would allow Kurds to live in peace and dignity. Preventing the opportunity for a settlement has been disastrous for Kurds in Turkey, and also for their non-Kurdish neighbours, for Kurds everywhere, and for wider peace in the middle east and beyond.

His incarceration is also depriving the world of an opportunity to engage with a hugely important contributor to human thought and political ideas. Ocalan has almost achieved the impossible in producing many long and vital books despite the restrictions imposed on him, but his ability to read, write and – above all – to communicate with the outside world has always been severely curtailed, especially in recent years.

You don’t have to agree slavishly with his every word to appreciate the importance of Ocalan’s contribution to reviving progressive thought and practice. He has inspired a new emphasis on democracy and helped cut across patriarchy. We can see these ideas creating new forms of social relations in Rojava and in Kurdish organisations in Turkey. Imagine if he were free and able to take part himself in the discussions and debates and developments around his theories.

In normal years, the anniversary of Ocalan’s capture is commemorated in Europe by a long march of people from many countries converging on the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This year, although some marches are taking place, activities have been severely curtailed. In the UK activists have contributed to the march by taking their banners and scarves out into those local areas where they are allowed to walk – and recording their activities in this video.

You can read more about Ocalan’s imprisonment and the way the Turkish government exploits it politically here.

Sarah’s most recent Kurdish news review looks at the latest manifestation of Turkey’s anti-Kurdish and expansionist policies, in which the US is heavily complicit, and also at solidarity action.

And here are links to some interesting upcoming meetings 

7pm (UK) 15 February

‘After 22 years of isolation in İmralı: The time has come – freedom for Öcalan!’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrwYy8gys5c&feature=youtu.be

 

5pm (UK) 17 February

Centre for Kurdish Progress

‘European security, Turkish foreign policy and Article 5 of the NATO Treaty’

https://www.facebook.com/events/448270913194180 

 

5pm (UK) 26 February

Centre for Kurdish Progress

‘Online Talk with Houzan Mahmoud about her new book “Kurdish Women’s Stories”’

https://www.facebook.com/events/723434068338036

 

Protest and Crackdown in South Kurdistan

This December, Kurdish news-watchers have seen a series of portraits of young men appear on their screens. Very young men, who should have had their whole lives ahead of them, but who saw no future in the corruption that pervades the politics and economy of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (South Kurdistan). They went out into the streets to claim a future, but all they found was a shroud, after security forces responded to protestors with live ammunition. A great many more people have been arrested, including journalists who were covering what is happening, and the main television station not run by the government has been shut down.

The anti-government protests have expanded beyond their immediate cause in the unpaid salaries of the region’s extensive public sector. Those on the streets were venting their frustration at years of corrupt and incompetent government, which have seen a small feudal elite, dominated by the Barzani family, amass huge wealth at the expense of the rest of the population.

As in so many oil-rich areas, South Kurdistan has suffered from the curse of the black gold – not only in war, but also in corruption, and in an economy almost totally dependent on this one volatile industry. There has been little attempt to develop other sources of income, and a large part of the population relies on government jobs. For these people, this has given them a small stake in the system, but delays and cuts in public sector salaries, together with failing services, have destroyed even this grossly-unfair social contract.

Rather than address underlying problems, the government has attempted to suppress the protests, so increasing public anger. Offices of both government parties – the Barzanis’ KDP and the PUK – have been torched, but so have offices of other parties in a show of frustration with the whole political system that has brought the region to this position.

So far, the protests have lacked coherent leadership and strategy, but the problems are only growing, and there is space for new movements to emerge – if not now, then in the near future.

The immediate cause of the unpaid salaries has been a long-running budget dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government, which is itself part of a bigger dispute about the region’s independence. To counter the power of Bagdad, the KDP has made agreements with Turkey, and they are heavily dependent on Turkey for selling the region’s oil. South Kurdistan’s two main political parties each have their own peshmerga forces (which in the 1990s fought a civil war). The KDP Peshmerga have been drawn into Turkey’s attack on the PKK guerrillas, who were already entrenched in the South Kurdistan mountains long before the establishment of the autonomous Kurdistan region following the first Gulf War. The KDP has allowed Turkey to set up military bases in South Kurdistan and to carry out bombing raids. Last Sunday, two PKK guerrillas were seriously wounded – one fatally – when their vehicle was stopped by KDP forces, and one KDP peshmerga died in the attack.

Governments facing dissatisfied populations try and redirect their anger at stigmatised others. For Turkey, the Kurds have always served this function. The KDP have tried to build up anger against the PKK, even attempting to suggest that they, rather than people’s unmet frustrations, were responsible for the riotous turn of the demonstrations. However, outside KDP ranks, people recognise the danger of an intra-Kurdish civil war from which only Turkey would be the winner.

For much of the so-called ‘international community’, the Kurdistan Regional Government is seen as people to do business with, and although there has been criticism of their crackdown on the protestors, it has been muted by that false pretence at ‘balance’ that has become a hallmark of current politics. Thus, the British Consul General told (pro-government) Rudaw News that they were “concerned” about the use of live fire, and then added, “on the one hand, we call on the security authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest, and to exercise restraint. But on the other hand, we call on those protesting to do so peacefully.”

In a world in thrall to the worsening pandemic, major events can pass by barely noticed by a wider world, which makes it all the more important to share news of what is happening and show our solidarity to those fighting for their rights. SSK is holding a meeting on these recent events, with two  Kurdish former MPs who were detained for nearly a week for taking part in the protests – details on the flyer. We also ask people in the UK to write to their MP and request they sign the Early Day Motion tabled by Chris Stephens MP, calling for transparency and democracy in the Kurdish Regional Government. You can find your MP here.

If Ocalan met Attenborough

Today in Edinburgh, as in cities across the world, we were out in the street with our flags and banners to mark Freedom for Ocalan day. It is 22 years since Abdullah  Ocalan was forced to leave sanctuary in Syria and to begin a search for a safe place to stay: a journey that ended in his capture in a CIA-led plot and his imprisonment in Turkey.

I have been away for a couple of weeks and separated from my usual intensely political bubble – which has made me think again about how to bring Ocalan’s ideas across the divide and introduce them to a wider world. And, as I was thinking, I came across a surprising source of hope.

Last Sunday, Sir David Attenborough, pillar of the establishment and national treasure, released a film that he described as his witness statement and his vision of the future. It looked at what humans have done and are doing to the natural world, and called for a different way of doing things. It made a powerful message, but the problem was in what it didn’t say. Attenborough studies animal society, but not human society, and he had nothing to say about how the necessary changes might come about. As in so much discussion about the future, social science and critical political theory might as well not exist.

But then, later in the week, I heard a clip from a BBC podcast in which Attenborough clearly stated that the profit system ends in disaster, that greed does not actually lead to joy, that living more economically will also mean living more happily, and that helping the natural world would make this a better place for everyone. He clarified that he was not saying that the capitalist system is dead – but, even so, he had opened a small door to allow concepts of system change into the mainstream.

Last week, too, Attenborough’s friend, Prince William, launched a new prize for ideas to save the environment. And, as the voice on the radio went on about technological genius (with the obligatory reference to the egotistical Elon Musk), I again chaffed at the failure to consider societal change.

We know there is a different way of living life, which sees human society as an extension of the natural world and which organises that society for the benefit of the common good, rejecting the dominance of profit and greed. We know how this can be made real, and we can even see the beginnings of such a society emerging in Rojava, where Ocalan’s ideas are being put into practice. And I briefly imagined another universe where Prince William and David Attenborough congratulated Ocalan on a prize-winning solution…

Apologies. That’s quite enough British establishment. We can’t wait for princes and knights to save us, but we can and must intervene in the debate to introduce real social solutions. Attenborough has responded to a changing public mood, and used his influence to give that change a big boost. Ocalan’s ideas can help us find and implement real solutions, and a wider world is waiting to learn about them.

Stop Femicide in Turkey – Open letter from women trade unionists

Stop Femicide in Turkey

Open letter from women trade unionists

To: Trade Unions in the United Kingdom

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In Turkey, the lives of women no longer seem to matter. As each day produces more reports of women being murdered, of women being raped by security personnel and of men being released from detention after committing serious crimes against women, the Turkish government plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention which commits governments to tackle violence against women and provide resources for victims of domestic abuse.

Over 250 women have been murdered in Turkey this year, and the figure rises almost every day. These include murders by partners, fathers, brothers and members of police and army.

These deaths are not the only story. Violence towards women has been rising in all areas with the authorities often ignoring this or excusing it. Women have been advised to keep themselves safe and not to provoke their partner.

The abuse of women by security personnel is particularly a feature against Kurdish women and women active in the women’s movement, trade unions and opposition political parties.

The recent case of Kurdish teenager Ipek Er is particularly outrageous and encapsulates the situation. Ms Er was kidnapped by a Turkish soldier and held captive and repeatedly raped over a period of 20 days. The authorities failed to take action against him, and Ms Er took her own life some days later. It was only after protests and demonstrations by women demanding action that he handed himself in. However, he was later released with his lawyer threatening anyone who slandered Turkish soldiers with court action.

A Government spokesperson has said that the protests are simply to cover up the actions of the Kurdish-led opposition party the HDP and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

Women who have protested his release have been arrested and, in some cases, beaten by police.

We express our outrage at this situation and solidarity with the victims of violence, those women protesting against Femicide and violence against women and to all women in Turkey.

We call on our trade unions to

  1. write to the UK government to raise concerns with the Turkish government
  2. send solidarity messages to our sister unions in Turkey
  3. seek an urgent meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to call on the Turkish government to maintain the country’s support for the Istanbul Convention and to take action to end Femicide and violence against women.

 

Yours in solidarity

Phinah Adanne, UNISON NCNTW Health Women’s Officer; Brenda Aitchison UNISON Renfrewshire; Maria Alberts, UNISON Gateshead Health Women’s Officer; Averill Anthony, Craigavon Area Hospital UNISON; Angela Armstrong, Orchard UNISON; Clare Baker, International Officer UNITE;  Luisete Batista , UNISON NEC; Nicole Berrisford, UNISON Derby City; Baroness Christine Blower of Starch Green, NUT former General Secretary; Cat Boyd, PCS Acting National Officer for Scotland; Andrea Bradley, EIS; Kim Bradley, UNISON SEPA, Women’s Officer; Deborah Brennan, Co-chair Northern Ireland UNISON Women’s Committee; Linda Brown, Unite Scotland, Chair BAEM Committee; Louise Cameron, UNISON Newcastle LG; Katherine Cardowine, UNISON Gateshead LG Women’s officer; Brenda Carson, GMB;  Gabrielle Carton Regional Convenor Northern Ireland UNISON; Caroline Mullen Cassidy Branch Education Officer Northern Ireland UNISON; Haz Ruru Chif, UNISON NCNTW Health; Rugare Chify, UNISON Durham LG; Allison Chisell, UNISON EDF Energy; Denise Christie, Scottish Regional Secretary FBU; Irene Clark, Unite Scotland SEC; Caroline Collinson, UNISON Newcastle LG Women’s Officer; Nuala Conlon, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Helen Cook, UNISON Durham LG; Maggie Cook, UNISON NEC; Helen Crickard, Community and Voluntary Sector Northern Ireland UNISON; Mary Crozier, Branch Women’s Officer UNISON; Emma Jane Cullen, Health and Safety Officer UNISON; Laura Lee Daly, Unite and chair of Durham Women’s Banner Group; Prof Mary Davis, UCU, TUC Women’s Gold Badge winner; Lesley Discombe, UNISON Torbay; Jane Donague, UNISON NCNTW Health; Jenny Douglas, Unite Scotland SEC and EC; Dolores Doyle, Orchard UNISON; Elaine Duffy, UNISON Scotland Treasurer; Joy Dunn, PCS Scotland Political Officer; Dawn Emerson, Craigavon Area Hospital UNISON; Prof. Umut Erel, UCU; Gillian Ewart, Women’s Committee Craigavon Area Hospital UNISON; Angela Feeney, UNISON Lanarkshire Health; Maria Feeney, Unite and STUC Women’s Committee; Julie Ferguson,  Educational Institute of Scotland and Chair STUC Disabled Workers’ Committee; Helen Firman, UNISON NEC; Roz Foyer, General Secretary STUC; Margaret Gallacher, UNISON South Lanarkshire; Lindsay German, UCU; Natasha Gerson, Equity; Jean Getty, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Lynn Gibson, Unite; Heather Gilfillan, Unite Scotland SEC; Barbara Gorgoni, UCU University of Aberdeen; Irene Graham, Northern Ireland UNISON Women’s Committee; Janet Green, UNISON South Tyneside LG women’s officer; Elsie Greenwood, GMB Scotland; Rahila Gupta, NUJ; Kim Hall, Branch Secretary Northern Ireland UNISON; Jackie Handysides, UNISON NCNTW Health; Lynn Henderson, PCS Acting Senior National Officer; Pat Heron, UNISON NEC, Chair TUC Northern Region Women’s Committee; Karolin Hijazi, UCU Aberdeen; Layla-Roxanne Hill, NUJ; Anna Hindle, UNITE; Morgan Horn, Unite the Union; Sonya Howard, UNISON Kensington & Chelsea; Nicola Humpfrey, UNISON EDF Energy; Daphne Hutchinson Branch Secretary Northern Ireland UNISON; Lisa Jenkins, UNISON NCNTW Health; Brenda Johnson, Newry and Mourne UNISON; Fiona Kelly, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Rachel Killen, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Morag Lawrence, UNISON Aberdeenshire; Jane Lee , UNISON Greater Manchester Mental Health; Leanne Littlewood, UNISON Middlesbrough LG Woman’s officer; Karen Van Loggenburg, Northern Ireland UNISON; Lilian Macer, Convenor UNISON Scotland; Roberta Magee, South and East Belfast UNISON; Enas Magzoub, Unite Scotland Youth Committee; Hazel Marshall, Acts in UNITE; Claire Martin, Craigavon Area Hospital UNISON; Eireann McAuley, Equalities Policy Officer STUC; Christina McAnea, Assistant General Secretary, UNISON; Tracey McBurnie, UNISON Lothian Health; Karen McCallum, Women’s Committee Craigavon Area Hospital UNISON; Siobhan McCready, Unite Scotland, Regional Women and Equalities Officer; Petra McCreesh, Southern Trust UNISON; Kaila McCulloch, Shetland UNISON and Chair UNISON Scotland International Committee; Danielle McCusker, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Margaret McKee, Chair International Committee UNISON; Catherine McKenna, Belfast Education UNISON; Pam McKenzie, Women’s Committee Northern Ireland UNISON; Roisin McKinley, Rathgael UNISON; Annemarie McVicker, Convenor for Equality and Human Rights Community and Voluntary Sector Northern Ireland UNISON; Ellen Mellor, UNISON Gateshead Health; Monique Miller, Unite Scotland Youth Committee; Dr Thetta Moran, NUJ & UNITE; Sylvia Morgan, UCU University of Glasgow; Anne Mumford, Unite; Fiona Napier, UNISON SEPA; Sarah Parker, UNITE Community; Maxine Peake, Equity; Tanya Pretswell, UNISON NCNTW Health; Kate Ramsden, UNISON NEC; Davena Rankin UNISON NEC; Karen Reisman, UNISON NEC; Joanne  Rice UNISON North Tyneside LG Women’s Officer; Lorna Robertson, Unite Scotland SEC; Sandie Robinson, UNISON South Tees Health Women’s officer; Sophie Robinson UNISON NCNTW Health; Stella Rooney, Chair Unite Scotland Young Committee; Yvonne Rutherford, UNISON NCNTW Health; Mary Senior, STUC Vice President and UCU; Aisling Slim, Orchard UNISON; Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary; Mary Stratford, NAPO; Yvonne Stewart, National Officer Society of Radiographers; Anne Taggert, Belfast Education UNISON; Shavanah Taj, General Secretary Wales TUC; Viv Thomson, UNISON City of Edinburgh; Agnes Tolmie, Chair of Unite Scotland Women’s Committee; Samantha Townsend, Unite; Kath Unsworth, UNITE; Dr Rashmi Varma, UCU; Dawn Wainwright, UNISON EDF Energy Women’s officer; Tracey Wainwright UNISON NEC; Julie Ward, UNITE; Jill Weir, Omagh and Fermanagh Health UNISON; Dr Georgie Wemyss, UCU; Rebecca Wilczek, UNISON Northern Holding; Sonia Wilkins, UNISON Solihull Mental Health; Rena Wood, UNISON Manchester LG; Lyn Wormald, UNISON Highland Healthcare;

Zooming to a greater internationalism

It took a bit of time to get going, but Kurdish solidarity under lockdown is reaching parts that other organisation cannot reach – and making and strengthening new links. Of course, no one would ever wish this pandemic to happen, but it has taught us lessons in online organising that we will keep with us long after lockdown ends.

At first, and well before official lockdown, we had to cancel everything – our plans for an SSK day school, all the carefully rehearsed arrangements for Newroz celebrations in different Kurdish communities. And we all took a bit of time to adjust to the new situation in the world and in our lives.

Then, like the bus you’ve been waiting ages for, two online Kurdish discussions appeared at once – or at least on consecutive days – one organised by Kurdistan Solidarity Network and one by Plan C. If these got the ball rolling, it has now gathered a good pace. Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign organised a meeting with key speakers from different parts of Kurdistan that has been watched 23,000 times, and we began our Kurdish Tuesdays.

These are fortnightly events, co-ordinated by different solidarity groups. For the initial meeting, organised by SSK, Dilar Dirik spoke to us on ‘Organisation and Struggle: the Kurdish freedom movement’s responses to Covid-19’ . Last week, Kurdistan Solidarity Network took the baton with a discussion on ‘Democratic Confederalism; Learning from grassroots democracy in Rojava’ . Both have been watched thousands of times, and it is exciting to realise how these discussions are bringing together people from across the world. As we started last week’s Zoom we were sent greetings from Haiti, as well as from new friends in Edinburgh. Our next speaker, at 7pm on 2 June and again hosted by SSK, will be Jan Fermon, who led the legal team that defeated the decade-long attempt by the Belgian government to charge 42 people and two organisations with terrorism based on their links to the PKK. In January, Belgium’s highest court ratified an earlier appeal ruling that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist organisation because it is a party in a non-international armed conflict, which makes it subject to the laws of war and not criminal law. We will also have an English barrister, Stephen Knight, to comment on the criminalisation of Kurdish activism in the UK. We expect a lot of interest. If you would like to join in the Zoom discussion please email scottishsolidaritywithkurdistan@outlook.com to be sent a link. We will also livestream on www.youtube.com/user/Hevalloazad/videos.

Meanwhile, Kurdistan Solidarity Network is running a series of discussions on ‘Lessons from Rojava’ on Monday evenings , Aledîn Sinayic is giving online Kurdish classes at different levels most weekdays , Boycott Turkey has been gearing up its social media campaign, and there has been a crowdfunding launch for Water for Rojava.

And that’s just what’s organised from the UK. We can as easily ‘go’ to events the other side of the world, so long as time zones work out. People from many different places have contributed to the growing solidarity campaigns for imprisoned musicians: for Grup Yorum and for Nurem Durak.

It is always frustrating at the end of a Zoom meeting, not to be able to go on battering out ideas in the pub, but it is powerful to realise how we are part of a world-wide movement. When we can, at last, go back to organising in our communities, to the human interaction of street meetings and group discussions – and long chats over a drink or endless glasses of Kurdish tea – we will also keep building our online international links.

A Small Swedish town with a big Kurdish heart

For followers of Ocalan’s philosophy, the capabilities of small local organisation should come as no surprise. All the same, the contribution of Söderhamn – a town the size of Arbroath – to the Kurdish struggle is impressive. It helps, of course, that Söderhamn is home to some 200 Kurdish families, so that many people will know Kurds personally, and that Sweden is more generally aware of the Kurds and their situation than we are in the UK.

But this would not be enough without the catalyst of a strong local organisation. The Söderhamn organisation is a solidarity group, largely made up of native Swedes, and two of its activists were at the Kurdish conference I have just attended at the European Parliament. Benny Gustafsson and Per Olov Nordin spoke to me about what they have achieved.

Per and Benny

The Kurds in Söderhamn came from Nusaybin and Mardin in Turkey (North Kurdistan, or Bakur) in the Eighties, but it wasn’t until 2009 that links were solidified through a twinning arrangement between Nusaybin and Söderhamn, on the initiative of people from a range of political parties. Their first action was a cultural event, and delegates visited each other’s towns. Söderhamn also sent money for poor families.

In the Sixties, social-democratic Sweden established a scheme for schoolchildren to spend a day a year doing paid work in order to donate their wages to a humanitarian cause. In recent years, this practice has tended to fall by the wayside, but in Söderhamn they have kept it going. Benny, who became involved in Kurdish solidarity through a combination of left politics and personal friendship, is a retired headmaster – as well as, previously, a building worker.  At the time of the Daesh attack on Kobanî, he wrote to the pupil boards of Söderhamn’s schools asking if people from the town’s Kurdish support group could come to one of their meetings and show them what was happening. After seeing pictures of Kobanî in ruins, four pupil boards, representing some 1200 pupils, decided to send that year’s money to help rebuild a school for children in Kobanî. This decision was repeated the following two years, and on each occasion they were able to raise around 10,000 Euros to contribute to the building. At the same time, the teachers collected money to buy skipping ropes and footballs, which a delegation from Söderhamn hoped to deliver in person; however, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq (South Kurdistan or Bashur), which has little sympathy for the autonomous administration in Rojava, would not let them cross the border, so the equipment was handed out to Rojava refugees in Iraq instead. Later the Söderhamn municipality was able to get twenty recycled laptops to the Kobanî schoolchildren.

The level of official support possible in Sweden is enviable. In 2017, YPJ commander, Nesrun Abdullah, visited Söderhamn and was presented with a symbolic cheque in the town hall, in front of local politicians, representatives from local organisations, and, of course, the local school children. It is hard to imagine such a reception in the UK, where those who fought Daesh as part of the Kurdish YPG are facing increasing official harassment and even arrest (though there have been similar visits from Palestinian activists so we shouldn’t give up hope).

More recently, the schools involved in Söderhamn’s fundraising have got new heads, and, of course, pupil councils change each year. Further fundraising of this kind is uncertain, but the local activists have more plans for the future. They would like to form an additional twinning with Kobanî, because, as they pointed out, twinning is a way that even local people can play a part in international politics; and Benny told me that he is determined to get there himself. He faced near brushes with major bomb attacks on his visits to Nusaybin, but is not put off by the uncertainties created by the Turkish invasion.

Although, as in so many places, Söderhamn’s town politics have moved to the right, even the more right-wing parties are supportive of the Kurdish link. This is not just because right wing groups tend to misrepresent the Kurds as anti-Muslim, but because they can see that there is strong support for the Kurds among local voters.

As I heard what this small group of Swedish activists had achieved, I noticed that that morning’s birthday notices from Facebook included Fazya Abdi, whose request that Scotland raise money for a school in her city of Kobanî, had triggered our own fundraising campaign. I messaged her and told her that I was planning to write about the Swedish example in the hope that it would raise horizons for a final fundraising push. I checked with her, too, that, in the current uncertain political climate they were still going ahead with their building plans. She assured me that, for now at least, life in Kobanî proceeds as normal – and they are impatient to get building.

Click here to find out more about our Kobanî school fund and how to donate. We would also be glad to come and talk to your organisation about our fundraising and/or the Kurdish situation more generally. You can contact us on scottishsolidaritywithkurdistan@outlook.com or find us on Facebook.

Solidarity with the Kurds at George Square Indy rally

Our leaflets were disappearing like hot cakes at today’s rally. World Resistance Day coincided with the big Indy rally in Glasgow, called by the National Newspaper, so Indy-supporting Kurds and friends joined the rally with flags and leaflets. The square was jam-packed, but our specks of yellow red and green could be spotted amidst the saltires.

As soon as we mentioned the Kurds, folk responded with heartfelt support, and we heard unprompted promises to Boycott Turkish holidays. One man described how he learnt about the nature of Turkey’s persecution of the Kurds from a Turkish man he had got talking to on a boat trip, who cried as he recalled how he had been forced to murder Kurds as an army conscript. This man’s understanding was longstanding, but for many people, awareness of the Kurdish situation is new. It’s awful that it has taken Turkey’s genocidal attack and Trump’s betrayal to bring the Kurds into public consciousness, but we must make every use of this to build solidarity, and to ensure that people see beyond the images of genocide and betrayal, and also understand the hopes and possibilities embodied in Rojava’s radical democracy.

If you would like to provide practical help by contributing to Heyva Sor, the Kurdish Red Crescent, you can do so here

For those not included in the 1500 people who got one of our leaflets, we reproduce it here. (We should note that this was not an official SSK action, although organised by individual SSK members, as we do not, as an organisation, have a position on Scottish Independence.)

AZADI!  FREEDOM!

FOR AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND AND SOLIDARITY WITH THE KURDISH STRUGGLE

Decisions that affect the people of Scotland should be made by the people of Scotland. That is a fundamental democratic demand. But our campaigning cannot stop there. We need to ensure that when we get our independence we use it to create a fairer, kinder society at home, and a force for good in the wider world. In fact, if we hope to see a better world and not just a change of flags, our campaigns for the society we wish to see must run alongside our campaigns for Indy, and must inform all our actions.

That means showing solidarity with everyone everywhere who is campaigning against oppression and for a better future. This is not only the right and human thing to do, it benefits us all, because united we are stronger.

A central struggle in this turbulent world is taking place in Northern Syria. Here, surrounded by war and destruction, the Kurds and their neighbours have created an autonomous region that is run through a grassroots democracy, which enables communities and neighbourhoods to be actively involved in shaping their own futures. Here priority is given to women’s rights, to ecology, and to respect for cultural difference. The region provides a vital example for everyone looking for a better way of organising society.

At first it looked as though the autonomous region would fall prey to ISIS, but the Kurds’ determined resistance, with the loss of 11,000 comrades, succeeded in liberating all the Syrian land ISIS had taken. Now, though, everything that they have achieved is under attack from the fascist Turkish state, who have combined with gangs of former Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters to invade Northern Syria and remove its Kurdish inhabitants through terror and genocide. This area has become a central battleground in the struggle against fascism and for a better world. Eighty years ago, many Scots showed their solidarity with the Spanish Republicans fighting Franco. The Kurds need similar solidarity today.

We can show solidarity with the Kurdish struggle by:

  • Demanding our politicians call for an internationally protected no-fly zone, meaningful sanctions on Turkey, and a full ban on arms exports.
  • Boycotting Turkey, and especially the Turkish tourist industry, because a weak economy is Erdogan’s Achilles heel. (see boycott-turkey.net)
  • And helping keep alive and strengthening the vision for a better world that the Kurds and their neighbours were making a reality.

To find out what’s happening in Scotland, check facebook.com/ScottishSolidaritywithKurdistan

 

 

 

 

The resistance goes on

While world leaders look on and do nothing, it is left to ordinary people everywhere to show the people of Northern Syria our solidarity and support.

If Turkey had only carried out an unprovoked invasion, but had not declared their intention to carry out ethnic cleansing of the Kurds, that should have been enough for the Kurds to expect international support.

If Turkey had only announced ethnic cleansing, but had not bombed civilians and hospitals and loaded weapons with white phosphorus, that should have been enough for the Kurds to expect international support.

If Turkey had only carried out war crimes, but had not used former members of ISIS and Al Qaeda as frontline troops, that should have been enough for the Kurds to expect international support.

If Turkey was only working hand in glove with brutal Islamist gangs, but the people they were attacking had not led the fight against ISIS, that should have been enough for the Kurds to expect international support.

If the Kurds and their neighbours had only liberated Syria from ISIS, with the loss of 11000 of their comrades, but had not set up a peaceful grassroots democracy that we would be proud to learn from and emulate, that should have been enough for the Kurds to expect international support.

But the world’s leaders have offered the people of North East Syria nothing more than sympathetic words. So it is up to all of us to act. We will continue to demand an internationally protected no-fly zone, meaningful sanctions on Turkey, and a full ban on arms exports. We also call for a boycott of Turkey, and especially of the Turkish Tourist industry, because a weak economy is Erdogan’s Achilles heel. And we call on everyone to help keep alive and strengthen the vision for a better world that the Kurds and their neighbours were making a reality. This should be central to our ideas and our practice. Like the Kurds we can’t give up.

Since our last blog, there have been demonstrations in Edinburgh both Sundays

Edinburgh 20 October
Edinburgh 27 October

and a demonstration in Aberdeen on Saturday.

from Aberdeen Anarchist Group

We have spoken to the John Maclean Society at Edinburgh University, and at the Radical Independence Conference, where we also had a stall.

And our call to Boycott Turkey was backed by some well-kent members of Scottish civic society and published in the Sunday National. But the Turkish attacks go on, and so must our protests.