Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell
EUTCC 12TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE:
Summary of the main contributions and Conference Final Resolution
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign participated in this year’s European Union Turkey Civil Commission (EUTCC) conference, which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on 26th and 27th January 2016.*)
The EUTCC was formed in 2004 as a mechanism to monitor the accession of Turkey to the EU, to promote respect for human rights and a peaceful, democratic and long-term solution to the Kurdish situation. It seeks to achieve this by bringing together EU Paliamentarians, leading academics, writers, legal experts, human rights institutions and prominent Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals to discuss and debate key issues and obstacles to accession.
The EUTCC conducts an annual audit of Turkey’s compliance with the accession criteria as set out in the Accession Agreements. It also makes recommendations, acts as a point of contact, and exchanges information with the institutions of the EU and other governmental and non-governmental organizations, and disseminates information both in Turkey and Europe about the progress and shortcomings within the process.
This year’s conference took place against a particularly tense atmosphere as the conflict unfolded in the Southeast of Turkey following the loss by the AKP of its Parliamentary majority in the June 2015 election. Round the clock curfews were imposed across predominantly Kurdish cities and massive displacement occurred to escape the violence. One of the most egregious incidents took place in the City of Cizre where over a 100 people were trapped in a basement by Turkish State forces. The conference was linked by telephone to one of the people trapped there, and he made a direct appeal to the EU parliament to save them. He said that several people were injured and had already died, they couldn’t get out as snipers were shooting anyone who emerged and emergency services were unable to approach. Three hours after this telephone call was broadcast to the conference, all contact was lost with the basement. It was revealed in the following days that Turkish forces had fire-bombed the basement and all the occupants had burnt to death.
In November 2015 it was agreed that the EU would pay 3 billion euros to Turkey in return for help in stemming the flow of migrants into Europe. There would also be a relaxation of visa requirements for Turkish citizens. Many of the EU parliamentarians were quizzed during the conference as to the relevance of this deal in relation to the perceived silence on human rights abuses and breaches of humanitarian law in the conflict.
It was against this background that Professor Kariane Westrheim of the University of Bergen and Chair of the Commission*) opened the Conference and introduced the speakers.
We provide below a summary of the main contributions and attach the Conference Final Resolution.
Mr. Jose Ramos- Horta, former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was part of the East Timorese opposition to the Indonesian occupation of his island nation, an occupation that violated numerous United Nations resolutions and killed some 100,000 East Timorese. After East Timor finally gained its independence in 2002, he served as the country’s Foreign Minister and then Prime Minister. In 2008 he was wounded in an assassination attempt.
He expressed hope that the leaders of Turkey would learn from the historical mistakes of others, that for there to be peace in South-East Turkey, the state would have to show great maturity and statesmanship: “you cannot claim a people to be yours when you do not treat them as your people.”
Ramos-Horta’s advice to President Erdogan, whom he described as “a powerful leader presiding over a great country with a rich history,” was to realize that “the greatest leaders are those who show compassion and some humility – the greater you are, the more humble you can be. Extend your hand to all the Kurds, to raise them up and build a common future.”
He also had advice for opposition movements: “Do not demonize your adversary. We Catholics [of East Timor] never demonized Indonesians as Muslims. It had nothing to do with religion, but rather with a military that decided to invade. Now we have a splendid relationship of people to people. Do not demonize your adversary. They may demonize you, but I never call the other side ‘enemy.’ I dislike the word ‘enemy.”
“Society must embrace everyone, especially those fleeing violence. Now we are free we must never turn our back on anyone.”
Dr Shirin Ebadi, also Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and the first woman judge in Iran, was forced to resign after the revolution. She delivered a powerful paean to cultural diversity and decried the lack of respect for minorities in Iran. She remembered her many Kurdish clients and stated that democracy does not mean the rule of the majority. She made the point that “in Iran there are 6 million Kurds, they cannot study their own mother tongue but based on the constitution, they should have the right to do this. But their rights have been trampled on. Many of my clients were Kurds. The slightest criticism of the regime was seem as separatism and they have been handed the heavy sentences including the death penalty as a result. They also suffer religious discrimination, because the majority of Kurds are Sunni. When President Rohani was elected, the hope was that the rights of minorities would be observed, he even set up a new Vice President for minority rights, but the post has been given to a Shia. I’m sorry but my government does not respect cultural diversity. If they reserve all these things for themselves what else can this mean?
Leyla Zana MP, Sakharov Prize and Rafto Prize winner, was one of the first women to receive international attention for her struggle for Kurdish rights. She served 10 years in prison as a result of her activities and is seen as one of the strongest voices for peace and unity between the Kurds in the different parts of Kurdistan.
She spoke about the importance of this conference: “the Middle East is a tragedy unfolding, the killings, the murdering of children, the bodies being kept in the fridges. We are seeing a fragmentation of our basic values, its gone so far, that people are beginning to see themselves as victims. Political actors have a huge responsibility to take into account the interests of all citizens. We need to give the Kurdish people hope for the future. The conflict must cease and we must get back to the negotiation table, identify the problems clearly and have the demands dealt with in a realistic manner. We need to set up communications channels, constitutional changes are imperative. Kurds must have an administrative and political platform.
“Syria is problematic. Shirin said her government was not democratic, but it was more than that, the state system is also problematic. We can change governments, but the intangible notion of state culture is difficult to change. Cultural diversity needs to be central. There is not just one culture. Everyone should work together for sustainable peace and remove this heavy, dark veil of tragedy that hangs over the region.”
Peter Galbraith, former Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, USA, compared state formation and dissolution in Europe and the Middle East. He recalled that it is 100 years since the Sykes-Picot line was drawn, arbitrarily, from the E in Acre to the last K in Kirkuk. This line: was “drawn by ignorant Europeans and there is no surprise that this is falling apart: Iraq and Syria have fractured along those lines, Iraq is no more, The KRG is separate and Baghdad no longer wants it. In June 2014 ISIS took Mosul and tens of billions of dollars worth of arms and went on to attack Kurdish Iraq. Baghdad chose to close the airspace so they couldn’t defend themselves. There are 1.5 million non-Kurdish Iraqis in KRG and Iraq has no concern for them because they are minorities, Sunnis, and the government is not interested.
“Today no one in the USA or Europe or the Sunni Arab countries believes in the unity of Iraq. I hope there will be a referendum this year and the formation of a new Kurdish state.
“Syria has also fallen apart and will not be re-established in a unitary form. The Alawites associated with the Regime, fear a genocide if the opposition prevails, so they see this as an existential crisis; the Druze and Christians likewise.
The region will be re-shaped and there will be a crucial role for the Turks and the Kurds. We must give credit to the USA for supporting the YPG in Kobane, even though it is considered to be allied to the PKK. They ignored Turkish pleas and assisted with air cover. Over the last 18 months the Rojava territory has been extended, and most of the territory lost by ISIS, has been to YPG and J forces.
“Kobane was a turning point in this conflict, when Turkey stood as Kobane was attacked, and large sections of Kurdish voters reacted by voting for the HDP.
“There is a different war now between the government and the PKK, the war has moved to the cities and its more difficult for the Turkish government to deal with it. This is an insurgency and the Turkish State response is not a campaign against a terror group.
“The root of the solution is Syria. We desperately need a political solution there and, we need the Kurds to be part of that solution; if the Kurds are excluded , there will be no peace, they deserve to be there. This is a pragmatic approach on two grounds:
- There are many ethnic groups in Syria, some of which are secular and there is certainly no majority for an Islamic state in Syria. Neither Riyadh nor the Regime will result in a democratic solution. We can’t define countries on an ethnic basis, what is needed is a tolerant, pluralistic society representing more than just Muslims. The US and Russia both want this; Turkey does not.
- You also need women’s equality, which will change the nature of society. This is hugely important.
There must be a facing up to the reality in Iraq, including the independent KRG. Turkey is a great country but it has serious problems, (as does the USA) so we need to engage and encourage the resumption of the peace process, involving the PKK, which is a movement with huge support.
Mr. Cengiz Candar, Journalist from Turkey, painted a picture of desolation in Turkey. He said that Turkey now has no friends in the region and is starting to look more and more like Syria: “I have never seen such a bad situation as now, there is no light at the end of tunnel. I am so concerned about our direction, our citizens. The democratic system is in crisis, its very authoritarian. We now have a proto-fascist regime.”
Professor David Romano, Middle East Politics, Missouri State University, Department of Political Science, USA. Extract of speech:
“In the healthiest democracies, the only curtailment to freedom of expression occurs with very direct incitement to violence or very clear encouragement of hatred and violence against identifiable racial or religious groups. In Turkey one can be accused of terrorism for saying anything that intentionally or unintentionally benefits a “terrorist organization.” Terrorism itself is defined in very broad, flexible terms that the jurists in this room can discuss very well I am sure. One can be prosecuted for intentionally or unintentionally harming the territorial and national unity of the country, or fomenting ethnic or religious hatred – which prosecutors have defined very loosely. Even if an investigation or court proceeding does not end in a conviction, the process itself is used to harass, intimidate and exhaust people and organizations that the ruling government views as dissidents or trouble makers. Even parliamentarians are threatened with having their immunity lifted and being prosecuted for statements they make, as some of my fellow panellists today probably know all too well. These broad, ambiguous laws that can make anyone a criminal at the whim of the state were all features of the old Kemalist Turkey, of course, but they seem even more extensive today.
Meanwhile friends and supporters of the ruling party can publicly threaten to make a river of academics’ blood, as a recent mafia boss did, and not face any investigation for inciting violence. Government officials can accuse people of being “Armenian” or “Alevi” or “Jewish” as a form of insult, and suggest that something should be done about these “traitors,” yet not face any investigation for inciting racial and religious hatred. A democracy simply cannot be healthy, or even function as a democracy in anything but name, in the face of such restrictions on freedom of expression. Europe and the rest of the world should be very worried about such changes in a country as important and large as Turkey. Recent European reports have indeed been scathing about the changes occurring in Turkey, but European leaders themselves still seem to walk on egg shells when speaking about Ankara. Perhaps they are more interested in paying the AKP government 3 billion dollars to save them from a flood of migrants larger than they can handle. At least U.S. vice-president Biden, in Istanbul last week, said something a little stronger about declining freedom of expression in Turkey: “…when the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down and when more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that’s not the kind of example that needs to be set,” he said.
In conclusion, no definition of democracy that I know of in political science fails to include freedom of expression as one of the key, necessary components of the concept. The population simply cannot make a genuine choice in political leadership without freedom of expression. Elections where most of the the media is state controlled, where 95% of the airwaves are devoted to everything the dear President says and does, with barely a mention of the opposition’s responses to his incessant attacks on them, are hardly elections in any meaningful or healthy sense. In societies that have experienced long-running conflicts, the people also need freedom of expression to conduct the dialogue and soul searching necessary for peace and reconciliation. There can be no “peace process” without both sides being free to safely air their views and experiences. Without a peace process or a healthy democratic milieu, Turkey’s future risks being quite grim. If Turkey enters a dark future, the repercussions on Europe will be grim as well.”
Professor Susan Breau, University of Reading, UK. Professor Breau wrote a book in 2010 with Kerim Yildiz: ‘The Kurdish Conflict: International Humanitarian Law and Post-Conflict Mechanisms’. The book concluded optimistically, she said, “that there was a good possibility of a peace process that would allow some type of autonomy for Kurdish peoples in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. The recommendation contained in the book for a lasting peace was the adoption by the Turkish regime of a federal political structure with guarantees for Kurdish language, education and culture. Although there was a peace process, a series of negotiations, and ceasefires during a large part of this time, a political solution with autonomy for Kurdish peoples was not accepted by the Turkish regime, and the stalemate continues, including Öcalan’s continuing imprisonment.”
In her conference speech the optimism had gone: “Almost six years later, everything has changed. In the wake of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and misguided foreign interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are now in an era of a serious regional conflict involving Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing groups of fighters in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. However, the main focus of the regional conflict now concerns an armed group variously known as IS or ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) or DAESH. Kurdish peoples in all three states have become the helpless victims within that conflict as they are opposed to their traditional homelands being occupied by DAESH fighters. This had meant that the possibility of an ‘effective and sustainable Kurdish peace process’ is remote indeed.”
She went on to conclude that the only hope for a sustainable peace now depends on many factors external to the Kurdish situation: “Six years ago there was some hope that a federal structure with significant autonomy for Kurdish peoples in Turkey might lead to a lasting peace. However, now DAESH constitutes a real threat to peace and security throughout the Middle East and globally. Furthermore, the simmering conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is also impacting peoples across the region, particularly in Yemen. It is my contention that DAESH has to be dealt with before there can be a truly lasting peace for Kurdish peoples throughout the Middle East. Nevertheless, there also has to be engagement once again with the conflict between the Turkish army and security forces against the PKK. It is a real shame that the ethos of the Turkish government seems to be to destroy the Kurdish struggle for autonomy at the same time as pursuing their combat missions against DAESH. In fact, there may even be evidence that it suits the Turkish government to allow DAESH fighters to destroy Kurdish peoples, particularly in Ankara and Kobane. The Middle East conflict threatens to derail any type of peace negotiations for many years to come.”
Mr Takis Hadjigeorgiou, Vice-Chair of the Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, GUE/NGL Group, Cyprus, gave a speech about the EU position and the role that could be played. He felt that the accession of Turkey to the EU was still an important bargaining tool, which should remain on the table. He also felt however that there was not much that EU could do beyond that. He said that the EU is a massive bureaucratic machine, which will arrive at no speedy position. He felt however some optimism on the desire by Turkey to solve the Cyprus issue, but he couldn’t offer much hope on the Kurdish question.
Mr Selahattin Demirtas, Co-President of the HDP, Member of the Grand Assembly of Turkey, addressing the conference for the 12th time, spoke about the growing crisis and the possibilities for peace and a political solution. He continued, that it is not pessimistic to acknowledge that the situation is the worst it’s been.
He said: “ The regional balance has changed and Turkey hasn’t really prepared itself, its foreign policy, so now this is Turkey’s crisis. Its Turkey’s problem… The model of the nation state has changed, ethnicity as a defining factor has been called into question and the Kurds have been largely successful in adapting to these changes. There is a new Kurdish perspective, which includes plurality.
Kurds don’t see Turkey as the enemy; we want to live together in a country of secular freedoms, alongside others. We are a threat only to ISIS and to no one else. So why are Turkish nationalists projecting Kurds as a threat? Because they are stuck in the old model, they haven’t seen the changes. History moves on and balance is required. If Turkey wants to remain outside there will be serious consequences.
On the question of EU accession, he said, “the silence of Europe is having a bad effect, it is against its own values. I call for an end to it.” I hope this will be the last conference discussing the problems and that the at the next, we will remember how the problem was solved.”
The second day of the conference started with the European Parliament Rapporteur on EU-Turkey Relations, Ms Kati Piri MEP, S and D Group, Netherlands. Her speech concentrated on the situation in the South-East of Turkey: “Enlargement is the strongest EU policy, although in relation to Turkey it has lost its appeal. Over last 10 years much achieved but recently we see a backslide in relation to democratic progress and the Kurdish peace process in particular: before the June election, in the preceding 3 years, there was cause for optimism and things looked good in terms of progress on this issue and the fact that the HDP broke through the 10% threshold seemed to confirm this. But there are problems: the failure to confront the Roboski situation represents a failure of the rule of law. The abandonment of Kobane was illustrative of the government’s attitude. And then there was the Ankara attack, with the victims being all left leaning, progressive people. I’m concerned that a full-scale civil war will develop in the South East. We’ve seen 58 round the clock curfews across 7 cities. When I visited in December I couldn’t go to Sur because of the violence and, now its getting worse, in particular, with the people stuck in the cellars.”
She denied the allegations that the EU was remaining silent on Turkish state Human rights violations because of the 3 billion Euro deal in relation to migration in November 2015 and concluded by saying that she expected an active role from the EU in calling for resumption of the peace process.
In response to a question about the role of the PKK, she stated: “I don’t think this time is right to call for delisting of the PKK. There is no stomach for that in the parliament. We can’t play any bridging role in that. Its logical that they are delisted but I think now we need to get both sides back to the negotiating table. We have political differences. Turkey has a right to fight terrorism, and I don’t have much sympathy for digging trenches and huge stock piling of arms. I’m not justifying the government response, however, which is a massive disproportionate attack on civilians.”
The next speaker was Selma Irmak Co –president of DTK, Turkey who said:
“I want to set out what is happening in CIzre. It’s not a new phase of a war with the PKK. AKP hasn’t had to react to some sort of rebellion. A plan was established by the most powerful body in Turkey: the National Security Council. Not all decisions go to parliament, and they, the Council, implemented the plan. It was something that was drawn up before the election.
The Kurds thought talks were genuinely going a head, that peace was a realistic possibility. Declarations had been made publically to the population and during the 7th June elections, a democratic solution was promised. But it wasn’t to be. The HDP surpassed all expectations and broke through the threshold thus causing a problem for President Erdogan. His answer was to start a war against the Kurds. That was before there were any trenches.
Where does Erdogan get his strength and legitimacy? It’s from the EU! By virtue of trade agreements and the migration crisis being instrumentalised. It’s strategy is to prevent Kurds becoming actors in the process. Lets call it what it is, its genocide. Unarmed people are hiding in their basement. This is not a terrorist organisation at work. We want a proper peace process and a democratic regime, based on the Dolmabache agreement.
Next we heard Sinam Mohamed deliver a speech on behalf of Salih Muslim, Co-President of the PYD, Rojava, Syria. We reproduce the speech in full:
“Pre and post Kobani and the way for stability”
President of the European Parliament, Organisers of the conference, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to be with you here today in this conference, addressing you in the name of a vanguard political party that has played a significant role in the latest developments both in Syria and the region. I would like to thank those individuals who have organised this conference for years to be an annual forum for exchanging views, ideas and visions on the Kurdish issue and the Middle East in general.
I would like to thank those who chose the title of my presentation: “Before and After Kobani and the Path to Stability”, so I can present the information and visions I have methodologically. It is my conviction that Kobani was a historic turning point in the course of developments in the region and the entire world.
Since the last decade of the 20th century, the world order has witnessed drastic developments following the collapse of the bipolar global system and the tremendous developments in the means of communication and technology. Consequently, the coloured revolutions in the world were an expression of the peoples’ demands for freedom and democracy. Similarly, the Middle East, which has represented the heart of the world throughout history in terms of its economic and cultural importance, had to be affected by those changes. This fact was present in the minds of many parties and began to take the necessary measures in preparation for the expected change, including global hegemonic powers, which wanted the continuation of their dominance through various methods. Regional powers also wanted to continue its dominance by providing some nominal reforms and granting some individual rights while maintaining their dictatorship and hegemony through distracting the people and democratic forces away from their substantial entitlements.
The real battle began in Tunisia and spread to Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. Those battles continued for a long time and did not achieve conclusive results, promoting some parties to resort to more extreme and devastating means to achieve outcomes. The Islamist jihadist philosophy which aimed at destroying all political and community-based structures in targeted areas in order to reconstruct those areas according to the required form. Those destructive tools have achieved unparalleled success in Aleppo, Al Raqqa, Mosul and the Nineveh Plain and have been able to defeat the large armies of both Iraq and Syria, and there was not a force able to withstand. Kurdish areas were among the areas that have been targeted by those destructive powers, which also chose to empty towns and cities of people to complete their objectives. They started in Shingal and did what they did and exterminated the Yazidi Kurds and then went to Kobani to complete their mission.
The Situation in Kobani:
The people of Kobani as a part of the Kurdish people in Rojava were, to some degree, aware of the ongoing changes and saw that organised people, who control their own will, would be able to impose their will rather than drifting away with what other powers dictate. Therefore, people organised themselves and were able to keep the regime away from their areas in 19/07/2012, and entered a new phase of self-defence against various armed groups including ISIS, Al Nusra Front and other Islamist jihadist groups. Kobani remained under siege without food, electricity and water from the end of 2012 until the vicious attack on 15/09/2014. On the other hand, ISIS has deadly weapons and equipment after taking control of piles of modern arms from the Iraqi army in Mosul and the Syrian army in Raqqa in addition to the arms ISIS received through Turkey and its Syrian border-crossings such as Bab Al Hawa, Idlib and Tel Abbyad.
The Decisive Battle:
This battle began in mid-September 2014 and lasted for 134 days. ISIS and other obscurantist forces were defeated for the first time in their history and since their formation. That success was achieved by the many sacrifices our Kurdish people made in Kobani and people in the 4 other parts of Kurdistan with the support of forces defending human values.
The Scene in Kobani in the Day of Victory:
Kobani is a completely destroyed city (80%) and we have lost some 850 martyrs and thousands of wounded fighters and hundreds of thousands of migrants, refugees and displaced people who currently live in northern Kurdistan (Turkey). Most surrounding villages are completely destroyed or have been looted; more than 6000 dead bodies of ISIS fiercest fighters, recruited from dozens of different nationalities throughout the world; dozens of damaged and destroyed tanks and modern arms scattered throughout the city; and hundreds of anti-personnel mines still killing our innocent people in the city and surrounding villages.
The victory of Kobani’s resistance has had great results that will leave marks on the history of the Middle East and the world. It has become a human experience and a case for research and scrutiny and drawing a lesson. I shall mention some:
- The forces of tyranny, exploitation and dictatorships did not hesitate to use mankind’s fiercest and brutal enemies, in terms of both mentality and practice, to achieve their plans and ambitions. These forces were almost like a bullet that was fired in the 7th century and hit the heart of human civilisation in the 21st century. Human beings all over the world are now threatened by terrorism in their own countries.
- The peoples of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisations that led humanity since the Neolithic civilisation and during different stages in human history, has been the target of such brutality. They nevertheless managed to emerge victorious over reactionary and backward forces, and are able to lead humanity again in the stage of the democratic civilisation model, which has been established and is currently under development in Rojava.
- Free peoples, who are able to organise themselves, are able to survive and defend themselves and their values of freedom, peace, democracy and the brotherhood of nations. Accordingly, those peoples who have witnessed massacres and genocides for the whole century and were on the verge of disappearing from history, must be supported and helped, and their wounds must be healed. They have proved that they deserve life by surviving the latest aggression. These are the pulses of Kobani’s resistance and the lessons derived from it. I am honoured and privileged to belong to that part of Mesopotamia.
Once again, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to those who have given me this opportunity to appear before you to share my vision and thoughts about Kobani’s historic resistance. Those who have given me this opportunity are the same people who endeavour to build bridges between nations and cultures in the European Parliament and other similar institutions. Thank you for your time and patience. Thank you all.
Mr Joseph Weidenholzer, MEP. Vice-President of S and D group, Austria, spoke about removing obstacles to the Peace process. He said in summary:
This is not just Turkey’s problem; it’s a regional problem. It’s very important that we have stability and friendship with all people who live in these regions. We need to return back to Turkey, the immigration crisis has shown us we need to turn back. Deals are usually made at the expense of others so its important that we avoid that. We need a framework as to how to deal with Turkey. The outcome is of course unclear, but the accession process at least gives us a framework, an equal footing, a forum for negotiation. We need to open the chapter on the economy, as trading partners don’t go to war with each other. Chapters 23 and 24 dealing with Human Rights need to be reopened. Cyprus: yes, there have been some developments, which will help us, move forward.
We need answers now though. How long will the state of emergency last, how many more people have to die? We want to try and control this. We don’t want Turkey to be drawn into the larger conflict. We need courage to reach a cease-fire as a pre –requisite for the peace process. We need pressure from Europe on this. No one is speaking about the Kurdish issue. I hope its being discussed but not mentioned for diplomatic reasons, for some reason. European pressure needs to be increased. Both sides have to come together. The parties need someone from the outside to help them achieve their goal. The accession process might provide this. It was helpful in Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement. There was help from the diaspora, Irish people in America getting involved, playing a mediating role. We’ve been able to reach peace this way in other places, moving towards dialogue.
In Austria, politicians are always speaking about speaking to the enemy, we need to get to know each other, we need to move past the assaults and raise the esteem of the other party. Part of this is recognition of the role Kurdish people have taken in protecting the European region. Who else would have taken this role? The Kurdish representatives need to be involved in the Syrian peace process. I agree with Katie Piri, the PKK needs to be removed from the terror list. It’s of secondary importance, but it needs to done. It’s impossible to exclude someone with whom you need to discuss. We don’t want his to spiral out of control, it would endanger Europe, could lead to war in Europe. I thank you for your help here.
Professor Joost Jongerden, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, spoke about the theoretical context of the Kurdish question. He referred to the thinking of Murray Bookchin who he said, claimed that; “perhaps the greatest single failure of movements for social reconstruction, referring to organisations that claim to speak for oppressed peoples, or leftist organisations, is the lack of a politics that will carry people beyond the limits of the established status quo. In his Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization, Abdullah Ocalan also links social reconstruction and the democratization of politics to the problemisation of capitalist modernity and the need to surpass it. It depends on two important factors: the ability to speak, to be heard and exchange views and to be able to make decisions, the very essence of political life.
“Through language, we are able to make assessments about the present and formulate competing political projects for the future. The HDP victory in June 2015 showed the possibility of a new future, a new horizon, a project that could guide people beyond the conditions of today. It gave people a voice or voices. The prime reason behind the violence with which the state renewed its war against the PKK and of its confrontational policy on Rojava, has to do with the destruction of this possibility and the idea that tomorrow will not be significantly different to today. This is what Ocalan also refers to as the suffocation of Utopia, the suffocation of the idea that the future can be different.
Democratic struggle is not only related to the use of voice, for the formulation of alternatives, its also about the possibility of assembly, to be visible and the response of the authorities in Turkey has been a refusal, a denial of a public space for the HDP, for the Kurds, in the name of security. Many HDP meetings have been banned for reason of public security. The most vicious denial of the right to appear in public has been the bomb assaults on the HDP meeting in Diyarbakir on 5th June, and in Ankara in October 10th. It is in the possibility of coming together that people can express a kind of popular sovereignty, can express voices that show themselves to be separate from those that are in power, an expression that is beyond state control. And I think the fear of no longer being in control is another reason behind the antagonism with which the state renewed the war against the PKK and for Erdogan and the AKP to push for a Presidential system. Let me then conclude by saying that the repressive measures that continue to be employed are a response to what is still regarded as an existential threat to the Republic. The expression of Kurdish identity and the quest for civil rights and the PKK, an illegal organisation, engaged in the struggle for the right to have rights are being hampered, are being closed down and all this is an expression of a problem of securitization of politics, Its an attempt to project the PKK as a military organisation but the key response of the PKK has been primarily political, in the announcement of the policy of self-administration, a political reaction to the securitization of politics, which is being imposed.
Going back to the issue of the terror list, the European approach shows, I think, the dominant approach, is to see this as a security issue. And it is not a security issue, what we have here is a political situation. We do not need this. We do not need a list with the PKK being on it. We need a political approach, political engagement, including political engagement with the PKK.
Mr Antoine Comte, Lawyer, France, discussed the legal framework of the situation: “We need to strengthen the legal environment. The peace process has been violently quashed but how to get it going again? The European Convention, drafted by the founding fathers of Europe in which these rights were supposed to form the basis for justice and peace world wide. In coming to this current situation in Turkey, this global chaos, centered in the Middle East, this will not be resolved without a legal solution. The rights: to life, liberty, thought, religion, to organize, and to be free from torture, all of these are central. The Convention applies to other countries acceding to it too, to Russia , Turkey also, they are bound by it. Turkey’s violations are numerous: fair trial, liberty, 700 cases, inhuman treatment, 300 cases of freedom of expression, the right to organize. More than 300 journalists are in prison. Information is being destroyed. Twitter , You Tube are being censored or taken down. 19 people have been jailed for making statements. But this is the tip of the iceberg. The situation in the southeast overshadows all of this.
The French interior minister made an agreement with his Turkish counterpart on fighting jihadi fighters. We believe other political dissidents have been targeted under these measures. French authorities criticized the agreement and criticized the academics so as to avoid damaging the agreement. We see the principles of Europe being unraveled. Schengen is being questioned. Dubious agreements abound. Security yes but not at any cost, we can’t leave Turkish democracy in the lurch like this.
Michael Werz, Centre for American Progress, USA
“Obama first went to Ankara in 2009 and developed a notion of the strategic relationship. 2009 was an important year for US /KRG relations also. But Kobane was the turning point, it was then that Airdrops began, US air power was utilized. This has mostly been analyzed in military terms, but politically, this would not have been possible without the notion of self-governance in Syria.
If we fast forward to the June elections, when the Government, didn’t accept the result. This was a complicated situation for the US, because military cooperation is obviously important. Kurdish fighters are part of solution but only a limited part. The US has an obligation to assess how to maintain relations with Turkey; Turkey needs to be part of it. The US has air bases there etc. There is a notion in Washington that Turkey is not acting in its own interests. Ankara needs to move forward.
DC knows that the PKK shouldn’t be on the list but the reality is that delisting is at least half a decade away. Its true there has been successful cooperation with the PYD but Turkey has a veto on those relations. The notion of regional autonomy is not based on the reality of Turkey, its based on Syria. It looks like a trade off – it doesn’t make sense.
The PKK violence in S.E. Turkey is undermining the cause, setting the discussion back 5 years in DC. Further, HDP relations with Russia are problematic. Russia is bombing civilians in Syria and this undermines the HDP standing at every level.
Its important to note that the US is overinvested in the Middle East and we will see a reduction of US interest in the region, so we’re running out of time for a solution.
Lord Hylton, House of Lords, UK talked about his travels in the region, and his attempts to get the issue raised higher up the agenda in the UK: “ Lord Avebury and I travelled to Lake Van and to may other places across the region. I observed elections and participated in several Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakir. I observed a mass trial in Ankara before a military tribunal. I’ve visited Brussels in order to appear on Kurdish television channels. I’ve travelled from Baghdad to Erbil to meet the parliamentarians of the KRG. Last year, I was again in Erbil where I spent time with the many IDPs. From KRG I crossed the river into Jazira, where I met all political parties but sadly I can’t convince the FCO to visit the cantons. Last November I was in Diyarbakir again for the elections. I saw the bullet holes in the façade of the famous mosque, which has since been gutted. There was a heavy armed presence and since then, brutal repression throughout S.E. turkey. It’s difficult to get attention for this given the still worse situation in Syria, but I continue to do my best. I do hope that the PYD will be included at the negotiating table for Syria as I also hope that Kobane will turn out to be a turning point in this war, as Stalingrad was for WWII.
Professor Marie Toivanen, Doctor of Social Science, University of Turku (Finland) and also CADIS_EHSS (Paris).
Professor Toivanen discussed her research on the Kurdish diaspora. In summary she said that: “there are 1.5 million Kurds in the diaspora. They are mostly visible, often in monthly protests. They have a great capacity to mobilize and have been broadly successful in attracting attention and as such constitute a very significant non-state actor. The Kurdish issue remains high on the political agenda, creating political space of engagement out side states. Simultaneously at local level, national and supra- national, they are involved in conflict resolution, in the peace process, until last year.
Day by day, the security situation is growing ever more critical in Turkey. This also means that the Kurdish diaspora will have a shifting role in near future and will once again be the primary actor to advocate and disseminate political messages to wider European audiences. Indeed, Diaspora can play an important role in the process of finding a political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey, both through lobbying national and EU-level institutions, creating alliances with more local political parties and organisations in Europe, as well as through participation in grass-root level democratic initiatives in the region. Such efforts can and need to be supported.”
The final speaker was Mr Rebwar Resid, Co-President of the KNK. His full speech follows:
“Agenda for change: expectations and alternatives”
Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
“In this brief speech I would like to bring to your attention the bitter fact that, whenever the Kurdish people have stood up for themselves, we’ve been labelled as “separatists” and “terrorists”. Turkey has been successful in labelling Kurdish people as terrorists due to all kinds of support it has got and still gets from NATO and the Western democracies.
The colonialist mentality demands that Kurds abandon their own identity and accept assimilation and total surrender. Thus Turkish colonialism is unlike classical European colonialism because Turkish colonialism is based on total denial. Kurdish resistance and struggle for democratic autonomy therefore has not only a democratic liberation character, but also a perspective of strong humanism.
Our people will never accept slavery. We demand a fair and sustainable solution. We will not look back. We will continue to take steps forward toward a better future. Our fight against dark and reactionary forces in Rojava continues. Rojava is the only proven and workable platform for a peaceful and democratic Syria. Peace, democracy and stability can’t be brought there from Turkey. Reactionary forces can’t contribute to stability and democracy.
The Kurdish people’s struggle in Turkey goes back to the very first days of the establishment of the Turkish state. We have fought alone and we have suffered. Now, Turkey’s most highly trained military forces, which have access to the best of NATO’s sophisticated weapons, have surrounded Kurdish cities such as Sur, Cizre and Silopi. Sur has been under a military siege, which Turkey calls a “curfew” for 54 days now. According to neutral sources children, women and the elderly are among the causalities.
Turkey continues with its fabricated lies and psychological propaganda, while Europe behaves like the blackmail victim of Turkey. Turkey threatens that, unless Europe complies with its wishes, it will open its gates for Syrian refugees. As a matter of fact the Turkish state is largely the mastermind behind the Syrian refugee crisis. Turkey encourages Syrians to leave their homes through propaganda about “promised lands” outside Syria and “Heavens in Europe” and also through helping ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups. These groups are spreading the fear of death across Syria.
The aim of Turkey is to destabilize Syria through its proxy wars. Turkey is a smuggler-state which has gained a lot by destroying and devastating Syria. Turkey’s war against the Kurdish people knows no limits. Turkey is now doing everything to crush the Kurdish resistance in Botan and Amed. Turkey has succeeded before in implementing atrocities and genocides and will try to do the same again if it is not stopped. The Turkish state aims to starve the people, especially by stopping electricity, water and other basic necessities to the besieged areas while using sophisticated weapons to kill those who resist. It wants to enforce total destruction in silence. The aim of Turkey is to kill all in order to terrify the Kurdish people in Northern Kurdistan and all over Turkey.
As you are aware, Turkey has stationed its military in Bashiqe, near the city of Mosul, despite the pleas of Kurds, the Iraqi Federal government and International actors for it to withdraw back to Turkey. Turkey has fallen into the habit of harming the stability and coexistence in the Middle East. The EU’s refugee problem will remain unresolved as long as the EU continues turning a blind eye to an increasingly totalitarian government in Ankara which not only contravenes the Copenhagen criteria and democratic values every day, but also demands total silence and a license to exterminate Kurdish people. The EU should never allow Turkey to make it a partner in criminalizing Kurdish people.
The EU’s refugee problem can be solved through a wider solution to the Kurdish problem which contributes to a lasting stability in the area. The European democracies, and also the US, can be a third party in a negotiation process between Turks and Kurds. To encourage the
Turks to go back to the negotiations table, to give Mr. Ocalan a chance to break a deal and to give the PKK leadership a chance to mobilize the masses for a peaceful coexistence based on mutual interest and mutual respect: these are the right steps toward a true solution to the refugee crisis.
The EU must understand that the Turkish blackmail policy will haunt Europe forever. A stable Rojava can definitely embrace a couple of million of the displaced refugees: a model that doesn’t involve Syrian homelessness and doesn’t cost Europe and the International Community so much risk and resources as we are now witnessing.
We do believe that our people’s struggle is not just against tyranny and colonialism but it’s also against totalitarianism and dictatorship in Turkey; it strengthens the struggle for democracy in Turkey and the area. We therefore ask the democratic opinion, the democratic forces and countries, liberals, social democrats, anarchists, feminists and all who believe in peace and democracy to support the Kurdish people.
We ask the friends of the Kurdish people to put pressure on Turkey to go back to the negotiations table with the PKK. Mr Ocalan’s doctrine for more a pluralistic, democratic, secular and gender equal society with women’s empowerment, based on the decentralization of power in Kurdistan and the Middle East give the peoples a chance to enjoy a peaceful coexistence.
We know that we are contributing to a better Middle East. Kindly help and support us. Together we can do it! Thank you.”
12th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON
“THE EUROPEAN UNION, TURKEY, THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE KURDS”
Tuesday 26th & Wednesday 27th of January 2016
European Parliament, Brussels (B)
OLD CRISIS – NEW SOLUTIONS
Throughout the year in many regions across the world armed conflicts and occupations have caused significant human rights infringements. Radical extremist Islamic organisations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda have added a new dimension to assaults on the right to life in attacks carried out in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The attacks carried out in Diyarbakir, Suruc and Ankara in their increasing ferocity outraged humanity. After the Turkish general elections June 2015 in which a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question was shelved, it was again the right to life that was most readily infringed upon when hostilities between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK flared up. It was especially when towns and residential areas were besieged while illegal curfews were implemented by the Turkish state that the young, the elderly, women and children were deprived of their right to life.
After the Turkish general elections on June 7, a peaceful solution to the most important component of Turkey’s human rights and democracy problem was unilaterally abandoned by the Turkish Government and destroyed the achievements of the last years not only concerning the Kurdish question but also economic and politic acquisitions, a new repression approach that resurrected the human rights abuses of the 90s was once again put in place. It is especially worrisome that the allegedly illegally implemented curfews in Kurdish towns have led to the affected population being deprived of basic supplies such as water, food, electricity and medical supplies; while at the same time; many civilians have been purposefully targeted and killed. The economic activities and social life of the towns and cities where the curfews have been unremittingly imposed have come to a virtual standstill. The mayors and elected officials of these towns and cities are being imprisoned or forcefully unseated. These measures show a complete disregard of the democratic will of the people.
We call upon social movements, trade unions, professional associations, non-governmental organisations and allies in government and inter-governmental institutions to mobilise collectively to ensure that the following actions are taken:
- During the conflicts in Turkey and Kurdistan since the 24th of July, 2015, cities are being destroyed, civilians of all ages are being targeted, and humanitarian tragedies are being witnessed every day. Therefore
- The besiegement of cities and curfews must be terminated immediately.
- Turkish forces and the PKK must act in accordance with international law, and must not target civilians and residential areas.
- Those that were forced to flee must be allowed to return, and must be compensated for their loss.
- An independent commission must be formed to research the human rights abuses committed during this time; those responsible should be held accountable.
- The ongoing conflict is a direct result of the intractability of the Kurdish question. A peaceful and democratic solution will bring stability to Turkey and the Middle East and will also have a positive impact on the struggle in the region against Jihadi groups such as ISIS. To this end:
- Both sides must stop their attacks and commit to a ceasefire. The party who does not adhere to this ceasefire should be condemned.
- All sides must return to the negotiating table under the previously drawn up framework announced on the 28th of February, 2015 (named the Dolmabahce Agreement). During these negotiations there should be third party monitoring.
- The solitary confinement of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan that has been put in place since the 5th of April, 2015, must be terminated. Mr. Ocalan’s health and security must be guaranteed in order for him to effectively take part in the negotiation process.
- Turkey must cease its support for Jihadist groups in Syria and must commit to being an effective member of the international coalition against ISIS. It must abandon its anti-Kurd policies in Syria, and must work with the Kurds and the democratic opposition in Syria towards a political solution.
- Turkey and the EU must approach the issue of the refugees of this region as a humanitarian issue, and must not use the refugee crisis as a bargaining chip for their own short term interests. In responding to the situation of the refugees Turkey must uphold the Geneva Convention.
- Freedom of thought and expression must be guaranteed, the suppression of the media must be abandoned and all imprisoned civilians with among them journalists, lawyers, local administrators, mayors, activists, students must be freed.
- Anti-democratic suppression of the opposition must come to an end. The lynching campaign against the academic world must end immediately.
- The constitution of the military coup of 12 September 1980 must be abolished; a new constitution must be drafted. This constitution must be in line with all international declarations Turkey signed, contribute to a democratic, ecological and gender-equal society and respect the right of self-administration and democratic autonomy
- The ongoing conflict in Turkey and Turkey’s anti-Kurdish policies is not only weakening the struggle against ISIS in the region, but is also hampering the efforts of the coalition. The EU must not remain silent and must actively contribute to the solution of the Kurdish question. To this end:
- The EU must not confine itself to mere calls for a ceasefire, but must also be proactive in implementing a roadmap for a peaceful solution. In order for a peaceful solution to become more feasible, the PKK, as a party to the solution, must be taken out of the terrorist organisations list. Violence against civilians must be condemned.
- The EU must not stand by and merely watch Turkey’s repressive, extra-judicial and anti-democratic practises.
- The EU accession negotiations should only continue if Turkey returns to negotiating table.
- The issue of the Kurdish question should be addressed as a political issue and not as an issue of terrorism.
- The members of the International Coalition against ISIS, primarily the USA, must stand against the anti-Kurdish policies of Turkey and must take a proactive stance in the quest for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.
- The international community, the EU, the USA and other Western countries should recognize the important role of Kurds for contentment and stability in the region.
- PYD should be a part of the Geneva II Conference on Syria.
- We call upon trade unions, social and academic organisations, non-governmental organisations to continue to express their support for a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question.
- A humanitarian corridor at the border between Turkey and Syria should be established.
*) Kariane Westrheim,
Chair of EU Turkey Civic Commission
Department of Education
Faculty of Psychology
University of Bergen
5020 Bergen, Norway
Office +47 55 58 87 97
Mobile +47 976 42 088
e-mail: Kariane Therese Westrheim <Kariane.Westrheim@uib.no>