Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, led by Peace in Kurdistan Campaign’s trade union liaison officer Stephen Smellie and student activists Roza Salih organised a fact-finding delegation to north Kurdistan in September to speak with representatives of the HDP, IHD, KESK and DISK trade unions among others. Here are their findings and recommendations.
Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan
Delegation visit to Diyarbakir, North Kurdistan/South East Turkey September 2015.
The delegation consisted of Sarah Collins, Viv Thompson and Stephen Smellie of UNISON and Roza Salih and Paul Toner of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan. We were in Diyarbakir from 21 to 25 September and met with a number of organisations and individuals. These included the Human Rights Association, Free Women’s Assembly, Rojava Association, KESK (public sector trade unions), DISK (private sector trade unions), Democratic Society Congress, HDP MPs, Ezidi refugees from Shengal and the refugee camp organisers. We spoke to people who had been at the HDP rally in Diyarbakir in June which had been bombed, including one woman who had lost both legs in the bomb blast. We also spoke to trade unionists who were organising and attending the ‘Labour, Peace and Democracy’ demonstration in Ankara on 10 June which was targeted by 2 suicide bombers and where over 100 people were killed.
- The tension in Diyarbakir, North Kurdistan/South East Turkey was very tense in the period from just before the June general election up the time of the delegation visit. There had been an increase in violence prior to the election with a bomb blast in Diyarbakir which killed 105 people and injured around 400 hundred. Since the election the bombing in Suruc, which killed 32 people who were intending to visit Kobane, and the subsequent attacks on the PKK by the Turkish state and the violence within Turkey has resulted in many deaths. In addition the state has arrested many people associated with the Kurdish movement including elected public officials. Trade union offices have been attacked with staff and members being intimidated by the police and other state forces.
This situation coincides with the decision of the Turkish government to abandon the peace process with the Kurds. This had included negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader and strategist of the peace process, as well as the HDP (Peace and Democracy Party) and other civic representatives. President Erdogan had signalled an end to discussions in February following an agreed outcome that had been welcomed by the Prime Minister. This agreement was designed to end armed conflict with the PKK. The situation had deteriorated since that point.
The result of the Turkish general election on 1 November with the AKP regaining a majority in Parliament will be a disappointment to the Kurdish people and their supporters in Turkey.
- Encourage the Turkish government to restore the negotiations and the peace process, ending attacks on both the PKK and civilians.
- Support the release of jailed HDP officials and activists and Abdullah Ocalan. In the latter’s case he is central to the restoration of the peace process both as a key thinker and strategist on the Kurdish side who can influence those who are engaged in armed struggle, and as a symbol of the Kurdish movement. His release would signal a commitment from the government of their intent to work toward peace.
- The refugee situation continues to be a particular problem in the area. We were only able to visit the Ezidi (Yazidi) camp in Diyarbakir in September due to the security situation. There are currently 3000 people residing there. However the previous November we visited the camps near the Syrian border in Suruc which housed the refugees from Kobane.
These camps are provided for and supported by the local authorities without financial support from the Turkish state refugee agency AFAD. None of the EU refugee support, including the UK contribution, reached these camps last year and this continues to be the case in the Ezidi camp this year. There is a desperate need for winter accommodation, health services including psychological support, and resources for the education of the children.
The Ezidi who are from the Shengal region of Northern Iraq are a non-Muslim people who were threatened with be-heading and enslavement at the hands of ISIS. They regard this as the latest in hundreds of years of threatened and attempted genocide at the hands of ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’ They do not want to, and believe that they cannot, return to their homeland. They are fearful of further attacks and are clearly traumatised by their recent experience.
They hope to be able to travel to Europe or to other countries where they believe their human rights will be respected. Current UK government policy of taking refugees from the Syrian refugee camps will exclude the Ezidi as they are not resident in the AFAD camps.
They continue to seek news of female family members who were kidnapped and enslaved by ISIS and appeal for greater support from the international community to find these women and assist their return.
- Demand that the EU (and UK) refugee support reaches the Ezidi camps.
- The Scottish Parliament could investigate the practicalities involved in supporting the Ezidis and allowing them to be either included in the UK refugee proposals or to be treated as a separate case to allow them to relocate to the UK given their particular circumstances.
- Support efforts to fund raise to provide some support for the Ezidi women in the camps including educational and occupational support
- Support the efforts to locate the kidnapped women and return them home.
- The Syrian conflict continues to remain irresolvable in the short term. The Kurds have been the most successful fighters on the ground against ISIS. The relief of Kobane earlier this year by the YPG and YPJ, with support from Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government and US aerial power was a huge step forward. There has been a significant aid effort during and after the siege by Kurdish organisations in Europe (Heyva Sor a Kurdistan) and from within Kurdistan. In Turkey this has been co-ordinated by the Rojava Association.
However the Turkish government continues to blockade Kobane, blocking aid and reconstruction material reaching the town. This increases significantly the cost of aid as it needs to be transported to Iraq before heading to Kobane.
Kobane is a symbol of both the struggle to defeat ISIS and to create a democratic, secular and gender equal future. It therefore needs to be supported morally and practically.
- Pressure must be put on the Turkish government to lift the blockade of Kobane to allow essential supplies and re-construction material to reach the town.
- Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan are to launch an appeal to raise funds to help with the re-construction of schools in Kobane. In collaboration with people in Kobane we aim to be able to assist with the building of a school – the Scottish School. The Scottish Parliament and MSPs are asked to assist in this fund raising effort.
Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan c/o UNISON South Lanarkshire, 21 Beckford Street, Hamilton, ML3 7YH
Telephone Roza Salih 0759 731 8029 or Stephen Smellie 0774 009 6864