The following article was printed in the Times newspaper on 17th December. We have responded in an open letter also published on this site.
Hannah Lucinda Smith, Istanbul
December 17 2016, 12:01am, The Times
Jeremy Corbyn is a patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign which is part of a web of UK-based groups linked to the PKK, a separatist militia
Jeremy Corbyn and some of his closest Labour allies are linked to a network of campaign groups lobbying for the Kurdish terrorist group that killed 44 people in Istanbul last weekend, The Times can reveal.
Mr Corbyn and Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, are patrons of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, part of a web of UK-based groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Unison, a Labour-affiliated union, is also linked to the campaigns.
The PKK, a separatist militia with Marxist leanings, has been fighting a violent insurgency against the Turkish state since the early 1980s. It has been listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK since 2001, partly due to its involvement in European drug-trafficking networks.
The PKK called off a ceasefire 17 months ago and has since been locked in a struggle with Turkish security forces in town in the east of the country. Amnesty International estimates that the conflict has killed more than 2,300 people and displaced up to 500,000.
It was the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), the urban warfare wing of the PKK, that launched the double bombing close to the Besiktas football stadium last Saturday evening, the PKK’s deadliest terrorist attack in more than two decades. The TAK also claimed two bombings in Ankara earlier this year that killed a total of 67 people and an attack on a police bus in Istanbul in June that killed 11.
Peace in Kurdistan is linked to the Kurdistan National Congress, which is the PKK’s main European outreach group. One of its primary objectives is to lobby for the PKK to be delisted in the UK as a terrorist organisation.
Both Mr Corbyn and Ms Osamor are active members of Peace in Kurdistan, and appear to have used their political positions to further the group’s agenda. Mr Corbyn spoke in September at a rally organised by the Kurdish People’s Assembly, also pro-PKK, and has previously submitted an early day motion calling for the PKK to be delisted.
Ms Osamor hosted a Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan event in the House of Commons in April, chaired by Sir Paul Kenny, former leader of the GMB.
Mr Ocalan is one of the founders of the PKK. Once Turkey’s most wanted man, he was arrested in Nairobi in 1999 and is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement in an island prison off the shores of Istanbul. In its statement claiming responsibility for the Besiktas bombing, the TAK cited Mr Ocalan’s imprisonment as one of its motives.
Neither Mr Corbyn nor Ms Osamor made any public comment on the Besiktas attack. When approached by The Times about Peace in Kurdistan, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party support a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Turkey and Jeremy Corbyn is glad to work with those who share that goal.”
One London-based Kurdish activist, who asked not to be named, told The Times that he felt the PKK had been romanticised by members of Mr Corbyn’s circle. He said: “There needs to be more aggressive condemnation of these attacks. I think that Jeremy Corbyn does genuinely support Kurdish people, but he also genuinely supports the PKK’s leftist ideology.”
This week Turkish officials confirmed that one of the Besiktas bombers had recently crossed into Turkey from Syria, where a swathe of frontier territory is held by the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia. Although often lauded in the West for its fight against Isis, the YPG is also tied to the PKK.
On Tuesday, three days after the Besiktas attack, Salih Muslim, the YPG’s political chief, spoke at an event at Edinburgh University organised by Stephen Smellie, Unison Scotland’s senior officer. A warrant for Mr Muslim’s arrest was issued in Turkey last month.
The Times contacted Ms Osamor and Unison for responses but did not receive any reply.