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.
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.