2018

This year has been dominated by the Turkish invasion of Afrin. News coverage was cursory, and wider political interest only emerged briefly when Turkish dominance was already almost complete, but for the Kurds, and for everyone who cares about a better future for Syria, and indeed for the rest of the world, this has been an appalling disaster. Our actions in support of Afrin deserve a blog of their own, so this post will concentrate in our other activities to date.

On 5th February Ercan Ayboga visited Scotland and gave a talk on the “Revolution of Rojava” at the University of Strathclyde Student’s Association. Ercan is co-author of a book with the same title, and is an environmental engineer and ecological activist who has been living in North Kurdistan. During his visit he met other academics and students in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and also had discussions with Edinburgh World Heritage about their contract to restore Kurdish cities in Turkey that the state has helped to destroy. Ercan was able to raise awareness about Turkey’s history of destroying Kurdish heritage and Turkish human rights abuses. Kurds are concerned about Kurdish artefacts and heritage being erased by Turkey as part of the efforts to ethnically cleanse Kurdish areas. Ercan also spoke in Edinburgh on 6th February but a new venue had to be found when the room booking wasn’t accepted by Edinburgh University, a matter that we will pursue. Ercan’s talk on Rojava was recorded by Stuart Pratt and can be seen here.

Towards the end of February we were shocked to hear of the arrest of the revered Kurdish politician, Saleh Muslim, who had visited us in Scotland at the end of 2016. This time he had been visiting the Czech capital of Prague as part of a European speaking tour, when he was arrested on a warrant from Turkey. News of his arrest was greeted by protests from Kurdish supporters everywhere, and we sent off letters to all Scottish MPs. Although Saleh was led to the court in handcuffs and with armed guards, the lawyers quickly saw sense. You can read more in Common Space here.

On 6 March our discussion with Josh Walker packed out Dundee’s Butterfly Café. Josh, who is originally from Wales, fought with the YPG and was arrested on his return under the Terrorism Act. You can read more about him here, and about the farcical court case they put him through here. The Dundee police didn’t know what to make of this and kept driving back and forwards outside the window. When the meeting finished they came in to check with the café owner that all was well and there had been no trouble. Next day Josh went on to speak at St Andrews Socialist Society.

On 8th March, Dundee Kurds held a brief demonstration for International Women’s Day, and Sarah wrote an article on the Kurdish women’s struggle for Bella Caledonia.

In mid March, Elif Sarican of the Kurdish Students Union came up from London to discuss the importance of Rojava and campaigning tactics with groups in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh.

For Newroz, Kurds and friends packed out the Miners Welfare hall in Penicuik on 25th March. Although there was little to celebrate, this made the act of coming together to remember Kurdish culture, tradition and history even more important. Along with the music, dance and drama (with performers including SSK’s Murat Gullen), we had speeches from SSK’s Alex Currie, Honar Kobani, Roza Salih and Stephen Smellie.

The hall was well decked out with flags, including many calling for Freedom for Öcalan, with his image. We suspect that it was these in the background of our videos that got out Facebook page shut down without warning or explanation or right of appeal. All we could do was make our protest public through a letter in the paper – see below.

Letter in the National

On 27th March the cross-party Kurdish Group met in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate International Women’s day and to discuss Kurdish issues, including the Turkish invasion of Afrin. Women and their guests gathered at the invitation of Ruth Maguire, SNP MSP, to hear from SSK speakers including Roza Salih. There was also a Skype session with Dilber Yosef from Kobane. In answer to a question from John Finnie, Green Party MSP, Dilber asked for help from the international community to draw attention to the desperate situation in Afrin. The plight of families there was underlined when an audience member told of the death of five of his family in Afrin and his remaining family’s plight trapped under occupation, without food and water. The politicians present agreed to explore means of support for Afrin and expressed support for Kurds in Scotland. Read more about the meeting here. Recent negative contacts with the police and the blocking of an SSK room booking at Edinburgh University were also discussed, and again the politicians were supportive. A meeting with the Scottish Justice Secretary has been promised.

4th April was Abdullah Öcalan’s 69th birthday. He must have spent it in solitary confinement in prison in Turkey, where he has been for the last 19 years. SSK sent him a birthday card and message of support by way of the UK’s ambassador to Turkey. Öcalan is unlikely to receive his own copy, or gain freedom soon, but we marked the occasion with a photograph.

On 16th April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited our stall after addressing the STUC Congress in Aviemore. An emergency motion has been submitted by Unison condemning Turkey’s invasion of Afrin.

and on 17th we were visited by Richard Leonard, leader of Scottish Labour

 

2017

Our first public meeting of the year – at the end of January – looked at the crisis in South (Iraqi) Kurdistan. Dr Mariwan Kanie lead a discussion at Unite in Glasgow.

On the 1st April we held a Day School at Strathclyde Uni with talks on the different areas of Kurdistan, and guest speakers Chris Stephens MP and Gary Oak, a Londoner who fought with the YPG. Like in all good Kurdish events, it included lots of food and dancing. You can read Sarah’s talk on Rojava here: 17-06-27 Day School talk for website

In mid-April, Sarah Glynn went to the conference on Challenging Capitalist Modernity organised by the Kurdish Network for an Alternative Quest in Hamburg. (One of the main organisers was Havin Guneser who, in October, had had to speak to the public meetings we had arranged via Skype when she wasn’t allowed into the UK.)This conference has become a biannual event, and is now very large. Hamburg has a big Kurdish community and foreign attendees were billeted out on welcoming Kurdish households (thank goodness for Google translate!). Sarah wrote a critique of the conference for Bella Caledonia.

On 26th April, there was another Kurdish demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament drawing attention to Turkey’s aggression outside its borders.

Turkey’s attack on Afrin began at a low level in July and on the 22nd we held our first, very wet, Hands Off Afrin demonstration in Edinburgh’s Princes Street to try and alert people to what was happening. As Kurdish fighters were battling ISIS the Turkish state was bombing YPG positions. To highlight this we distributed leaflets and asked members of the public to sign petitions. We also wrote to MPs and MSPs asking them to raise the issue with the UK and Turkish Governments. We received support from Politicians, Trade Unions, Trades Councils and individual friends of the Kurds. (Thanks to all of you who sent messages!) Chris Stephens, MP, wrote to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to pursue the issue but the response from the Foreign Office was discouraging.

 

At the end of July SSK Co-Convenor Stephen Smellie and committee member Alex Currie attended the Kurdish Cultural Festival, in Quorn, Leicestershire organised by the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), the Freedom for Öcalan campaign and other groups fighting for oppressed Kurds. Stephen ran a workshop and spoke at the meeting and Alex also addressed the meeting. Another speaker was Dilek Öcalan (pictured with Stephen and Steve Sweeney, journalist from the Morning Star). Dilek is the niece of the esteemed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan has been held in solitary captivity in a Turkish prison on the island of Imrali since 1999. (Just referring to Öcalan as “esteemed” will cost you a six month prison sentence in Turkey.) It is Öcalan’s ideas and writing that inspired the democratic, self-governing, secular and gender-equal model of governance operating in Rojava, with its cooperative-based economy.

In late August, three Kurdish families in Edinburgh had a nasty shock when Scottish police raided their homes because they’d been reported as having taken part in “terrorist activities”. (In reality, the Newroz party, back in March!) The Kurdish Community Centre in Wester Hailes was also forcibly entered. No one was arrested and nothing illegal was found, but innocent families were intimidated and their hopes that they would be safe from persecution in Scotland were shattered, along with the community centre doors. MPs and MSPs took up the case with Police Scotland. The malign influence of the Turkish Consulate in Edinburgh is clear and perhaps recent successes in getting positive attention for Kurdish issues at a national level in Trade Unions and in Scottish politics have helped to prompt this backlash in attempted smears and malicious allegations. You can read the statement from the Kurdish Community Centre about the impact of the raids here. http://www.sacc.org.uk/news/2017/edinburgh-kurdish-families-raided-anti-terror-police

On 20th September we held a fundraising dinner in aid of the Scottish School in Kobani  at Honar Kobanis’ Rojava Restaurant in Edinburgh

On 25th September the Kurdistan Regional Government held a referendum on declaring full independence from Iraq. On 16th we discussed the issues at a public meeting in the Unite building in Glasgow, with Jonathan Shafi of the Scottish Radical Independence Campaign and the SSK’s Goran Abdullah. Passions were high, as although everyone wanted independence there was no agreement on the best tactics and strategy for achieving this.

On 26th September several of us attended our first meeting of the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Kurdistan. This group was set up by Ross Greer from the Greens, with the SNP’s Ruth McGuire as co-convenor. At this first meeting we had a discussion via Skype with HDP MP Hisayar Ozsoy in Ankara.

In October SSK helped with three separate events as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival. One of these, at Honar Kobani’s Rojava Restaurant, combined Scottish and Kurdish writing and included the writer, James Kelman and poet Allan Cameron (see below). We also took part in joint event with Unison and the NUJ where we read out replies from the political prisoners to our postcards, and we held a discussion on the Revolution in Rojava to accompany an exhibition of photographs. Roza spoke to Common Space about the Rojava talk.

On 1 November we celebrated Kobane Day at the Unite Building with guests including Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Eva Bolander, and James Kelman. you can read the report in Common Space here.

In December SSK Dundee combined with Common Weal to hold a discussion on the ideas of Murray Bookchin, which have been so influential in the writings of Abdullah Öcalan. This meeting at the butterfly Café was led by Mike Small of Bella Caledonia, who worked with Bookchin in the 1990s. You can watch a video of Mike’s talk here, and listen to the full audio complete with discussion here. You can read Common Space‘s interview with Mike about the talk here.

 

 

 

 

2016

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.

Leyla Birlik with Stephen Smellie and Ross Greer

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.

From left to right: Asiya Abdullah (co-president of PYD), Sarah Glynn, Aldar Kehlil (of the Democratic Society Movement, Tev Dem), Jan Xal, Saleh Muslim (co-president of PYD), Ross Greer MSP, Zeyn Mohammed and Sean Baillie

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.

Outside the Scottish Parliament
Honar Kobani, Sarah Glynn and Ross Greer. Ross is holding the image of Leyla Birlik, the HDP MP with whom he is twinned.

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.

Saleh Muslim with Honar Kobani and Roza Salih
Saleh Muslim speaking at Edinburgh University

2015

January 2015 saw the first meeting in Dundee – a talk and discussion on the Kurdish Revolution, with Roza Salih, hosted by Stobbie4Aye – and a public meeting in Unison House, Glasgow titled ‘Save Kobane, Defeat ISIS’.

 

In April Kurds commemorated the anniversary of the Halabja massacre at Queens Park, Glasgow,  and SSK had a stall at the STUC Congress in Ayr (pictured here with Unison General Secretary, Dave Prentis),

and another stall at the Hope over Fear Rally in George Square.

Our co-chairs, Stephen Smellie and Roza Salih, spoke about the Kurdish struggle, the defence of Kobane and the fight against ISIS at the Glasgow May Day Rally.

And the following week we commemorated the 9 May Kurdish martyrs with a seminar at Glasgow’s Unison House led by the PJAK, the Free Life Party of Kurdistan.

On 19 June we organised a fringe meeting at the Unison National Delegate Conference, with an emotional standing ovation for Honar Kobani who lost four brothers in the war against ISIS but said all who died are his brothers.

And the next day the University of Strathclyde Student Association held a public meeting on the Kurdish Question where they awarded an honorary life membership to the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan. Speakers included the award-winning writer, James Kelman. (See the report in Third Force News.)

In July, after a gathering of young activists preparing to help rebuild Kobane was bombed in the Turkish city of Suruc, some Glasgow activists organised a solidarity demo at the Buchanan Street steps.

In August we had a stall at the Unison Family fun Day at New Lanark

In September a Scottish delegation visited Dyarbakir (Amed, in Kurdish) in south eastern Turkey. A busy programme included meetings with HDP MPs, trade unionists, community organisers and a film maker. The delegation was made up of Stephen Smellie, Roza Salih, Sarah Collins, Paul Toner and Viv Thomson.

This is Lisa who is a film maker and Director of the Diyarbakir Film Festival and the Middle East Academy of Film based in the city. On June 5, before the Turkish general election, she attended a rally in support of the HDP. A bomb went off and 5 people were killed, 7 plus Lisa lost limbs and 400 were injured. Lisa in fact lost both legs. When we met her she was recovering and with help from friends was trying to raise money so she could travel to Germany to get prosthetic legs. She hoped to get back to making films in the future. She was an inspiration. No police were injured in the blast. Police investigations have failed to identify who was responsible.

Delegation members reported what they had seen at public meetings at the Augustine United Church in Edinburgh and Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

On 15 October Kurds organised a protest in Edinburgh against the bombing of a pre-election peace rally in Ankara. While the Turkish government blamed ‘terrorists’, Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the HDP, who had been involved in organising the rally, made it clear who they believed was culpable: ‘This attack… is perpetrated by the state against the people. We are witnessing a massacre here. A cruel and barbarian attack was carried out. The death toll is high.’

On the 1 November we commemorated the first anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Kobane with a small rally in George Square and a public meeting.

On 4 November we held a meeting in the Scottish Parliament,

and on 15 November we welcomed HDP co-chair, Figen Yuksekdag to Scotland.

In Unison office with John Stevenson, Stephen Smellie, Viv Thomson and Margaret Gallacher

Meeting Alyn Smith MEP

2014

We hope that this website can serve as an archive of what we have done as a group, so our first posts will provide a scrapbook of past years.

Back in 2014 SSK was not yet formally constituted, but activities were organised under the banner of the Kurdish Human Rights and Cultural Group in Scotland. On 30 October the group joined with Strathclyde Students Association to hold a demonstration to ‘Stand up for humanity and an end to the brutality of Islamic State’, in support of the Kurdish people in North Iraq. This was when ISIS was attacking the Yazidis, and the event post explained:

Tens of thousands of innocent Kurdish Yazidis have fled to mountains. Over 3000 innocent civilians have been massacred,  the majority of them women and Children. Thousands of innocent children have died from Hunger. Women and young girls have been sold as sex slaves. Most of the Yazidi and Christian civilians are forced to convert to Islam. Hundreds of thousands of children are in danger and in need of humanitarian protection now. 

Speakers at the demonstration, which was held in George Square, included Bob Doris MSP and David Moxham of the STUC. You can read a report of the demonstration here.

Roza Salih
David Moxham addressing the rally

The siege of Kobane brought activists onto the streets to show solidarity with the besieged Kurds and to try and wake up the world – and the BBC – to what was happening.

On 11 October, protestors rallied in Glasgow’s George Square and marched to BBC Scotland on Pacific Quay.

And the next day some were back in the square to join in with the big YES rally.

The following week, on 18 October, a Save Kobane march went from Glasgow Green to George Square.