Feleknas Uca Speech at Labour Party Conference 2016

Dear all, today I will talk about the political situation in Turkey.

In April 2016, the ‘Freedom for Öcalan’ campaign was started in the UK. The members of the campaign are now totally convinced that a peaceful solution to the current conflict will only be found if the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan is freed and allowed to play a full role in the development of a new peace process. Indeed, for the Kurdish people and supporters across the world, these campaigns that build solidarity amongst trade unionists, for the freedom of Öcalan constitute a significant initiative.

Under the ‘Freedom for Öcalan’ campaign, thousands of people have written to the members of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) urging them to visit Öcalan at Imrali Island for a face to face meeting with him, accompanied by his family and his lawyers. There has also been a call to the CPT and the European Court of Human Rights demanding that the Turkish government arrange this visit urgently. Kurds believe that Ocalan is the key to a peaceful solution in Turkey. He has the support of the Kurdish people as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that over 10 million people signed a petition last year calling for his release. Similarly, thousands of people have written to the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary to seek assurances from the Turkish government that Öcalan is safe and well.

As is well known, the Turkish government suspended the peace process (in effect between 2013 and 2015), of which Mr. Ocalan was the chief architect. He has been kept under conditions of strict isolation; his family members and lawyers have not been allowed to visit him, which is a clear violation of the national and international law. As you also know, the coup attempt in Turkey on 15th July 2016 proved to be unsuccessful, however it has led to the most dangerous situation for democracy in Turkey. President Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency and gone well beyond arresting the coup plotters, suppressing political organizations, media outlets and imprisoning journalists. In these volatile circumstances, millions of Kurds have grave concerns about the safety and wellbeing of Abdullah Öcalan. This concern was shared by his family, his lawyers, the Kurdish people and the wider public. Unfortunately, the pronouncements and actions of the government did little to allay these concerns for a long time. 50 people from the elected deputies, mayors, civil society representatives – went on an indefinite hunger strike in Diyarbakır until their demand was met. Their demand was, within the scope of international human rights, allowing either his family or his lawyers of a party delegation to see Mr. Abdullah Öcalan. After a while, his brother was able to visit Mr. Öcalan and the meeting allayed the concerns of millions of Kurds that he is safe and well. After the meeting, the politicians gave up the hunger strike. In this last meeting Öcalan has called repeatedly for a democratic resolution within Turkey to secure a peaceful and lasting solution. However, Erdoğan still says “we will continue our fight until not one single terrorist remains.” Öcalan has the respect and influence to unite the Kurdish people around these democratic demands for peace. The Committee fort the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) must visit İmralı urgently, this is the demands of millions of Kurds.

Dear friends, as you are well aware, the war started in Turkey in September of 2015. It has led to the most dangerous situation for millions of Kurds in Turkey. In August 2015, President Tayyip Erdogan said that “the solution process is now on ice”. This statement was the declaration of the end of the peace process. Since August 2015, the Turkish government has declared a kind of state of emergency by imposing many curfews at various times in Kurdistan. During these curfews, hundreds of people were killed or arrested; political organizations, media outlets and journalists were suppressed.

During the blockade imposed during the curfew, government security forces used heavy weapons including artillery, in the district center. The curfews were of long duration in many Kurdish cities and town such as Şırnak, Silopi, İdil, Nusaybin Yüksekova, Silvan, Derik, Sur and Cizre. Two examples of these neighbourhoods are Cizre town of Şırnak and Sur town of Diyarbakır. There have been 6 curfews since July 2015 in Sur. During the last sixty-nine-day curfew, twenty-five citizens were killed by security forces. Although the curfews were officially lifted on February 3, 2016, they have been going on practically and physically for a long time. The curfew of Sur, the historic city centre of Diyarbakir, designated a UNESCO heritage site, has resulted in great strictures and scarcity. Dead bodies were left to rot in the streets for many months before they could be safely recovered. Their families were forced to start a hunger strike at Sumerpark, the nearest place to the curfew zone of Sur, as their efforts to recover the bodies were not met and/or answered. Similarly, in the curfew that had been going on in Cizre for more than 2 months, 251 people were killed, 172 of whom could be identified. 79 people could not be identified and 55 people were buried in a common grave. Hundreds of people have been wounded with firearms. Citizens wounded with bullets and shrapnel could not be taken to hospitals for days. Citizens wounded in these attacks, who had to take refuge in houses and basements of buildings were not allowed to be taken to hospital for “security” reasons. The notorious the military and police operations attacking houses and basements in Cizre, where wounded people had taken shelter, resulted in the deaths of dozens of people who were executed or burned to death. During this period, we wrote many letters to the numerous, different institutions of any responsibility or action and the Turkish government continued to commit war crimes with impunity.

What has been going on in Kurdistan will have a significant impact and will increase the threat, not only to the Kurdish region, but also to Middle East regionally, and to the World globally. That war should be extinguished as soon as possible. There is no land on the Earth that has gained peace through wars. Peace can only be accomplished via dialogue, negotiations, discussions.

Further, in the wake of the coup attempt on July 15th, the regime declared a State of Emergency which has been put into practice by gradually repealing the system of checks and balances, and disabling the separation of powers. Parliament is rendered ineffective and the public will has been nullified through an autocratic rule by Presidential decree. As part of the purge since the abortive July 15 coup, thousands of employees have been either barred or suspended from public service by these emergency rule decrees.

On 8 September, 11,300 primary and secondary school teachers were suspended from duty for their alleged ties to “terrorist organizations.” 87 percent of these are members of the Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen); a trade union which defends democracy, pluralism and secularism in education. Eğitim-Sen had already bourne the brunt of successive governments’ anti-Kurdish policies since the 1990s for its advocacy for education in mother tongue and had been accused of being “teachers of PKK.” The government has announced that it will suspend thousands more teachers.

Dear friends, on September 1st 2016, Kurdish people woke up to the invasion of 24 municipalities in the Kurdish region, by Turkish police forces at 7 AM. That day, the internet connection was cut from morning until noon with the aim of imposing a total black-out in the region, this was more extreme than the news blackout during the coup attempt.

The Democratic Regions Party (DBP) won 106 Municipalities in municipal elections held in 2014 and proved that the majority of people in the Kurdish region believe that our party is a pioneering force of local democracy in Turkey. But today is the Black Sunday for local democracy in Turkey. Municipal bodies governed by democratically elected mayors since 2014 have been taken over by the central government appointed governors or district governors in those municipalities. Such a sheer repressive measure could only take place in the worst totalitarian regimes. Now, 25 municipal buildings are occupied by Turkish police and soldiers and surrounded with armored vehicles. Also, many cultural centers and women associations closed. Local people who protest seizure of municipalities peacefully and attempt to make press statements are silenced by police brutality and tens of people are under custody now. 24 co-mayors of cities of were detained and 20 co-mayors were removed. The co-chair of People Region Party (DBP), Kamuran Yüksek, was detained 5 months’ ago.

Dear friends, as you know, it is not only municipalities that are under attack, but also the HDP as a political party, has been under pressure. HDP has been very active on the parliamentary front, challenging the siege of Kurdish towns, endemic police violence against peaceful demonstrators, growing gender-based violence, religious and minority problems and cases of abuse of children in closed institutions. The parliamentary move to lift immunities gained momentum in January 2016, after Mr Erdoğan had “advised” the Parliament and the judiciary on 2 January that “[HDP MPs] should go to prison.” He said, “my nation wants them in prison.” He was accompanied by the heads of the higher courts, who listened to his accusations against the HDP MPs. Now the Court has ruled that deputies of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) including Co-Chair Demirtaş would be brought to the court by force.

By lifting the immunities of HDP MPs, the Erdoğan regime achieved something that they could not have previously achieved through available legal and paralegal means: exclusion of the Kurdish and allied opposition. This is a systematic campaign of political exclusion. This should be evaluated in the context of a broader campaign with respect to the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and of women and sexual minorities, as well as the right to freedom of expression, information and assembly, which are radically suppressed to curtail any meaningful debate and criticism of the policies and established facts of the Erdoğan regime. Kurdish people’s concrete demands, require urgent action. It is important to remember that the Kurds in Turkey have always been supportive of democracy, rule of law, justice and freedoms. They are a unique forces that is in the forefront of the fight against ISIS. Thank you so much.

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