Sinn Fein’s international office released this press release today detailing their concerns over the election in Turkey. Sean Crowe TD, foreign affairs spokesperson for Sinn Fein, also used his priority question to challenge the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs on his view of Turkey’s elections. You can read Mr Flannagan’s surprising response here.
Sinn Féin Press Office
Leinster HouseKildare Street
For immediate release 5 November, 2015:
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Seán Crowe TD, raised his concerns over the recent bombings and attacks against Kurdish and left wing activists in Turkey with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, in the Dáil, and directly with the Turkish Ambassador in the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee.
Meeting report by David Morgan, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Witnesses to the recent Kurdish victory at the polls speak out and urge support from the UK and EU for the advance of democracy in Turkey.
A report back meeting by members of the independent UK observers of the recent Turkish general election raised alarming questions about the conduct of the balloting and the impartiality of officials. The meeting took place in the Wilson Room of Portcullis House, Westminster on 5 July and provided an opportunity to discuss the outcome of the election and the implications for the advancement of Kurdish civil, social and political rights.
Speakers in particular described how they were witnesses to the mood of great jubilation in the main Kurdish conurbations on election night when the results were announced and their chosen representatives standing as part of the Labour, Freedom and Democracy platform, were successfully returned against the odds and in numbers, 36 in all, that exceeded expectations. The delegates felt that it was a great privilege to have been present and shared in the celebrations with the Kurdish voters who amassed outside the public buildings where the votes were counted eagerly awaiting for the results to be announced one by one. As one speaker, Mithat Ishakoglu stated, an independent Kurdish candidate was even elected in Bingol, a previously unheard of development as this important city has always been regarded as strategic for the state and thus been a special target for its assimilation efforts. This result was a clear indication of the rising level of support for the main pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, whose candidates were standing as part of the independent block along with progressive and Socialist candidates.
While the election outcome was generally welcomed by the speakers as a political watershed and a potentially highly significant breakthrough for Kurdish representation, real concerns about the future turn of events were also expressed. Immediate signs were not so good, with the Supreme Election Board (TSK) reversing its decision on Hatip Dicle’s candidature once he was elected and the decision to replace him as an MP for Diyarbakir with the failed candidate from the AKP; a provocative move that seemed calculated to enrage the Kurdish people who had been so overjoyed just days earlier. Dashed hopes could quite easily slip into open defiance and the return to conflict remains a genuine fear, several of the speakers indicated. In response the entire group of newly elected MPs from the block were now boycotting the election in solidarity and protest. One of the new MPs was the keynote speaker at the meeting and passionately called on democrats in the UK to demonstrate solidarity with their stand.
The guest speaker on the evening was a newly elected MP for Istanbul from the Labour Party EMEP, Abdullah Levent Tuzel, (former president of the party), who expressed his gratitude for all the support shown by the delegation and other human rights activists and progressive forces in the UK. Tuzel stated that the block of MPs would remain firm in their support for Kurdish rights and condemned as undemocratic the decision to revoke Hatip Dicle’s election as well as the failure to release elected candidates.
The group were convening in Diyarbakir and preparing their response to the likely repercussions of the boycott which may see the calling of by-election in the areas where MPs were refusing to take up their seats. The exact constitutional procedure in Turkey was unclear and people at the meeting took the view that research needed to be done in order to develop a considered response to the rapidly unfolding events. The independent MPs were receiving mass popular support from among the Kurdish population for the stance that they were taking and the likelihood seemed to be that if by-elections were held then progressive Kurdish candidates would once again be elected. Whether the MPs currently engaging in the boycott would be permitted to stand again in such circumstances was once of the key issues that needed to be ascertained.
The MP stated that the group would remain united in a stand of “either all of us or nothing” and would continue to boycott the Turkish Assembly and refuse to swear the oath until all their duly elected candidates were permitted to do so. He received strong support from the meeting for this statement.
He insisted that a solution to the Kurdish question needed to be put forward in a democratic way under a new constitution and his party was seeking a commitment from the new government on this.
Jeremy Corbyn MP observed that a major problem was the position adopted by the ruling AKP which continued to insist that it should be the sole decision maker and wished to frame a solution to the Kurdish question in own way. This could only lead to more denial of Kurdish rights and threatened a renewed conflict, he warned.
Margaret Owen said that Turkey was now at a crossroads and stressed how important it was for people, including the UK government, to do their utmost to stop any return to violence. She said the demands of the Kurdish people, as expressed overwhelmingly at the election, were eminently reasonable, such as the right to use the Kurdish language, and should be supported.
Another delegate, Jonathan Fryer echoed the view that Turkey was at a turning point but wanted to emphasise that now was an opportunity for democracy to emerge stronger in the country and everyone should work for that end. Real dialogue needed to be opened up between the AKP government and the Kurds and the European Union should play its part in encouraging this outcome.
Evidence of blatant manipulation during the polling was cited by Hugo Charlton among other, who said that AKP supporters seemed to be in control of some election stations. The fact that the counting of votes in some areas was carried out behind closed doors without any witness present opened the process up to abuse and manipulation, he said. Hugo also highlighted the gender bias in voting, noting that men were voting on behalf of women in some villages.
Omer Moore reminded everyone of the numerous courageous human rights activists in Turkey who remained in prison for standing up for people’s rights by reading out a letter she had received from the jailed Diyarbakir lawyer Muharrem Erbey, former vice president of the Human Rights association (IHD) who was currently serving a prison sentence for asking for justice for the Kurds. She called for solidarity with Erbey and the many other prisoners detained in Turkey for their human rights activities.
Members of the independent UK delegation who spoke at the meeting were Margaret Owen, barrister, member of Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), whose visit was sponsored by Britain Peace Council; Ali Has, a lawyer and spokesperson for Britain Peace Council; Hugo Charlton, criminal barrister; Jonathan Fryer, journalist, academic and Liberal International; Sherri Semsidini, human rights advisor and Omer Moore, human rights lawyer, both from Trott and Gentry Solicitors; Emily Apple, activist, NETPOL & Fitwatch, whose visit was sponsored by UNITE, London North West Branch 9708; Mithat Ishakoglu, a Kurdish PhD student from Exeter University.
The meeting, hosted and chaired jointly by Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Rea, was supported by the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), the Kurdish Community Centre (KCC), the Kurdish Federation UK, the Halkevi and Croydon Community Centres, Roj Women’s Assembly, the Britain Peace Council, Liberation, the International Committee Against Disappearances (ICAD) and Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.
Attention was directed to a favourable review by former MP Stan Newens of the recent book, Prison Writings, by Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, which appears the latest edition of the Liberation magazine. Copies of this publication and other material intended to be distributed at the meeting were temporarily held up at security (to check if they included “extremist” literature) until representations were made.
The meeting agreed to seek a meeting with the Turkish embassy on the issues surrounding the political stalemate, as well as the All-Parliamentary Party Group for Turkey which earlier in the day had held a parliamentary meeting with the Turkish Ambassador as a keynote speaker.
12 July 2011
On 1 November 2015 Turkey’s snap election saw the AKP re-gain their majority in the National Assembly following an intense few months of state-sponsored violence and pre-election media crackdowns. With concerns over police intimidation and election fraud, the HDP called for independent observers to witness the election take place. Hundreds of volunteers from across Europe took part and Peace in Kurdistan Campaign helped to facilitate three groups from the UK, who travelled to some of the areas worst effected by the violence.
A raft of reports are surfacing that question the possibility of any kind of free election given the atmosphere in which they were held, including from the European Council and the OSCE. Independent observation of polling on the day, however, more intimately reveals what voting was really like in Kurdish cities and towns – as well as the reaction to the final results.
Margaret Owen, who joined Lord Hylton, barrister Melanie Gingell, journalist John Hunt, and human rights advocate Kawa Besarani on the delegation to Sur, Diyarbakir, puts it this way:
The results, that came in on Sunday night took many of us, the international observers of the election, by surprise. Last night we wept, as the first fireworks, music and song, of what everyone thought would introduce a night of celebration, turned into dark hours of grief and anger, which ended when the armed police arrived with their tear gas and water cannon, stone throwing from the youth, arrests and more violence.
The rest of Margaret’s report lists several concerns about the fairness and transparency of the election. Read the rest of the report here.
A second group, including Prof. David Graeber, academic Rebecca Coles, postgraduate student Elif Sarican and Islington Councillor Aysegul Erdogan, travelled to Silvan on the day of the vote. Their report also raises serious questions about the heavy military presence at polling stations and the restrictions on HDP campaigning that would have had major impact on the outcome of the election:
“According to these accounts, the bias of official institutions in favor of the ruling party was explicit on every level. For instance, in
the June elections, the AKP granted itself $330 million for campaign expenses, and all other parties received such funds, except for the HDP, which received nothing. Even the MHP, which had in fact received a smaller share of the vote, was granted $100 million. All institutions were said to show a systematic bias against villages or neighborhoods known to be HDP strongholds: we were even told that municipal authorities would not collect the trash in such areas. One frequently mentioned problem was that the structure of government allowed for Ministerial Offices to override almost any decision made on lower levels, or for that matter, even constitutional principles (such as those banning any military presence in polling places) more or less at will – as a result, even when the HDP received 95% of the vote in certain districts, and all locally elected officials were HDP, ministerial representatives could simply overrule all local decisions rendering such elections effectively meaningless.” (The report can be read in full here.)
John Hunt, journalist and editor for Kurdistan Tribune, published a piece in Pasewan criticising the ‘blood-stained election’. His final conclusions are powerful:
Bloodied but unbowed, the HDP emerges with a daunting responsibility to lead the resistance to one-man rule, while promoting its “civil, democratic and libertarian”alternative. Across the country millions dread an Erdogan dictatorship and the HDP can continue to inspire them with its vision of a Turkey for all its peoples. In the south-east, the Kurdish movement will defend itself while seeking to develop Rojava-style structures of ‘democratic autonomy’ circumventing the authority of the state.
Following a grisly contest that consumed perhaps a thousand civilian, guerrilla and military lives, Ergogan can sit comfortably in his vast palace, enemies vanquished, corruption scandals evaded, basking in the glow of Putinesque success. But he may yet face blowback — from the ISIS monster he has fostered, the deteriorating economy and, more hopefully, the resilient Kurdish movement and its allies. (Read the rest of his article here.)
Melanie Gingell, who accompanied the delegation, also wrote this report.
The Kurdish Solidarity Network took part in a third UK delegation, which travelled to Siirt. Their report lists several incidences of police and military intimidation as they travelled to different polling stations. The strength of the military presence is plain to see:
The police we saw in the Baykan areas were almost all armed with handguns, and some carried automatic rifles. At the first school we were denied entry to, two automatic rifles with grenade launchers attached were propped up against a wall behind four police sat at the school’s main entrance. The village guards we saw – in both the Baykan and Kurtalan areas – generally carried Kalashnikov rifles, and the soldiers in the same areas carried Heckler & Koch G3s. In front of one school in the Kurtalan area – Kayabağlar Çok Programlı Anadolu Lisesi – a light machine gun stood on the ground with a British-Canadian Arwen 37 grenade and tear gas launcher behind it, and four soldiers carrying G3s sat to the side.
The rest of the report can be read on the Kurdistan Solidarity Network blog.
The full report with all delegates’ contributions can be downloaded here: HDP election reports UK Nov 2015
A delegation of independent election observers from Britain, supported by Peace in Kurdistan Campaign monitored the proceedings of June 2015’s vital general election in Turkey, the outcome of which looks set to determine the country’s future direction for a generation.
The delegation included: Sean Hawkey, official representative of the Green Party for England and Wales; Melanie Gingell, human rights lawyer; barrister, Doughty Street Chambers; Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Lecturer in Political Sociology in Department of sociology at Cambridge University; Bronwen Jones, family and immigration barrister at Mansfield Chambers; John Hunt, Journalist, writer, and editor; Dr Austin Reid, consultant in international university development.
The delegation were lucky to witness a historic victory by the HDP – the first time in the history of modern Turkey that a pro-Kurdish party has officially won seats in the National Assembly. Smashing through the 10% threshold, which has been condemned by human rights organisations and the European Union for deliberately keeping Kurdish parties out of the political arena, the party eventually won 13.1% and 80 MPs took seats in the Assembly. As you can imagine the celebrations across Turkey’s southeast, Bakur, went on for several days.
The delegation produced a report, called Witnessing the Turkey elections, with their eye-witness observations over the election period and the implications of the HDP’s success. It is available to download here. The delegates also spoke at a meeting in Parliament, hosted by Kate Osamor MP, which you can read a report about here.
Jeff Miley wrote this statement on behalf of the delegation:
People’s Historic Victory.
The recent election in Turkey marked a historic turning point for the country. As members of a delegation from Britain of lawyers, academics, human rights advocates and journalists, we had the opportunity to witness this vital election in the cities of Diyarbakir and Gaziantep. During our five-day trip to these cities, we spoke with Human Rights activists, representatives of trade unions, and met with and accompanied activists and candidates of the HDP in visits to hundreds of polling stations on election day.
Political tensions ran high across the Republic during the campaign, in the run-up to an election that was interpreted by many as a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions to further tighten his grip on power by introducing a new constitution to convert the Parliamentary Republic into a Presidential regime. The stalling economy, and rising unemployment, certainly did not help Erdogan. Even more damage was done to the President and his ruling AKP by the influx of Syrian refugees, not to mention the role played by the Erdogan government in destabilizing the neighboring Syrian state.
Perhaps even more important than all of these highly salient issues, the election constituted a critical juncture for the fate (1) of Abdullah Ocalan, (2) of the long-stalled peace process with the PKK, and (3) of the prospects for political compromise on the main grievances articulated by the Kurdish movement.
The Kurdish movement in Turkey has evolved dramatically since the arrest of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1998. Spurred on by Ocalan himself, the movement has officially renounced its commitment to an independent Greater Kurdish nation-state, and has come to embrace a program of “democratic confederalism” in its place. It has at the same time come to express a clear and firm commitment to a peace process, despite substantial and ongoing violent provocations by the Turkish state.
The leadership of the Kurdish movement had a lot riding on this election. In past elections, they had opted to run candidates as independents in particular districts only in Kurdish strongholds in order to avoid having to cross Turkey’s extremely high 10% threshold for representation (established by the military after the 1980 coup). However, this time around, they decided to run the risk, hoping to pass the threshold and presenting candidates as a party throughout all of Turkey, by joining forces in coalition with the Turkish left as well as with other marginalized groups and ethnic minorities including Alawites, Alevis, Armenians, Arabs, Assyrians as well as the lesbian and gay community, feminists, and labour and environmental movements, all under the umbrella organization of the HDP.
The heroic defense of Kobane in the Kurdish region of Syria did much to boost the image and morale of the Kurdish movement, especially in and around the Kurdish capital, Diyarbakir, but also to a certain degree even throughout the rest of Turkey. Simultaneously, Erdogan’s open hostility to the plight of the Kurds in neighboring Syria has done much to sour his popularity among devout Kurds, who had previously sympathized with him as a fellow Muslim.
The corresponding surge in popular support for the HDP has been responded to with intimidation and violence on the part of the Turkish state and the AKP government. The prospects that HDP representation in the Turkish Parliament would block Erdogan’s ambition to introduce a new presidentialist constitution helped fan the flames of this animosity, resulting in a climate quite unpropitious for freedom of expression as well as widespread concerns about the possibility of electoral fraud.
Throughout the campaign, HDP election offices, bureaus, and activists were the targets of harassment, intimidation and violence on over 170 occasions. Indeed, during our brief stay in the country, we witnessed murderous provocation up close in Diyarbakir twice: first, at the HDP’s final election rally on Friday, where bomb explosions killed 3 and wounded over a hundred; and second, two days after the election, when 3 HDP supporters were gunned down at a coffee house that had been used as an election bureau during the campaign.
Despite the climate of intimidation and violence, the Human Rights’ activists, trade union representatives, and HDP members with whom we met over the course of our stay displayed consistent courage and restraint, while repeatedly expressing their commitment to both a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question as well as to a deepening and strengthening of democracy throughout Turkey, even in the face of murderous provocations.
Fortunately, we witnessed no serious incidents on election day, though in many districts of the mixed city of Gaziantep a climate of tension and hostility was palpable even to the outsider. As Osman Demirci, one of the HDP candidates whom some of our members accompanied on visits to polling stations, remarked: “People here are like bombs ready to go off. You have to know how to defuse them.” Our delegation itself was received with a good dose of suspicion, especially among pro-government and Turkish nationalist stalwarts involved in running the election, one of whom angrily commented to Demirci upon witnessing our members enter a room where citizens were voting: “How dare you bring foreigners with you to come and audit me in my own country.” To which Demirci responded smoothly by offering his hand and saying: “We wouldn’t ask for them to be here if we weren’t rightly concerned about the possibility of electoral fraud. But this is a festival of democracy, and they have only come to witness it. Let us stand here together to show the world that we know how to govern ourselves, that we all can get along.”
In the end, the HDP scored a great victory in the election, surpassing the 10% threshold by a wide margin, winning more than 12% of the vote and 80 delegates in the 550-seat Turkish parliament. The result was received with elation – though tensions still ran high in its wake. The atmosphere in Diyarbakir the day after the election – where close to 80% of the electorate had come out in support for the HDP – was festive, to say the least. Yet much tension remained, and was clearly on display even at the official post-election celebration, attended by tens of thousands, and held at the same venue where the annual Newroz celebration has taken place ever since its legalization in 2000. Attendees at the post-election celebration had to pass through fully three security checks – one controlled by the police, two by the HDP – in order to access the venue. Amid all the singing and the dancing, barely suppressed by all the elation, more than a hint of nervousness could still be detected, and surfaced for example when a sudden loud boom among the crowd probably caused by a drum was confused for a bomb, causing many to jump.
The murder of 3 HDP members the very next morning only confirmed that the election result does not mean a miraculous end to the continuing climate of intimidation and violence. Erdogan has been stymied for now in his ambition to increase his grasp on power, but the AKP remains the number one party in Turkey, with over 40% of the vote. Perhaps even more disturbingly, the country’s third most-voted party was the far-right Turkish-nationalist MHP, which managed to capture close to 17% of the vote. What’s more, it remains unclear whether the AKP will be able to form a stable governing coalition, and so there is talk of new elections in as soon as three months’ time.
Nevertheless, the election result on June 7th was a great victory for democracy in the country. The representation of the HDP in the Turkish Parliament significantly strengthens the prospect of achieving a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question, at the same time that it constitutes an important step in the reconstruction of a united Turkish left.
John Hunt, freelance journalist, wrote this article about the HDP’s potential success the day before the election.
Freeelance photographer, Sean Hawkey, has also published his photos of the delegation on his own site.
Original Press Release:
5 June 2015
The campaign has primarily pitted the authoritarian politics of Erdogan’s AKP against the challenge from the HDP which offers peace and democratisation.
The HDP, advocating a peaceful settlement to the Kurdish problem as well as greater democracy, openness and inclusiveness, has been picking up support well beyond its core Kurdish constituency. The party needs to do this to surpass the hurdle of the 10 per cent election threshold absolutely essential to guarantee it any seats in the new parliament.
Posing a strong challenge to the AKP’s long dominance of Turkish politics, the HDP has been subjected to strident hostility from the pro-government media and faced serious physical attacks on several of its party offices, which has left several party officials seriously injured and exacerbated social tensions ahead of Sunday’s poll.
The British delegation, which consists of lawyers, academics, human rights advocates and journalists, will be based in the city of Gaziantep and is responding to an invitation from the HDP to help ensure fair voting. The delegation will be in Turkey from 4-9th June.
It is anticipated that the presence of foreign observers will deter the more blatant abuses and irregularities in what is expected to be a close poll where every vote counts.
It is essential that the HDP gains political representation to act as a counterweight to the country’s authoritarian drift under President Erdogan and the AKP. In particular, the outcome is going to be vital for the future complexion of Turkish society and the peace process with the Kurds.
Dr. Thomas Jeff Miley, lecturer in Political Science in Cambridge University and member of the delegation, says the HDP stand a good chance of passing the 10% threshold, adding, “Such an outcome would significantly strengthen the prospect of achieving a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question. At the same time, the coordination and alliance between Kurdish and Turkish left-wing forces distinguishes the HDP, and means that its representation in Parliament would be a highly positive development from the perspective of the territorial integrity of the Turkish state as well.”
Sean Hawkey, delegation member representing the Green Party, also agrees HDP success could have a major impact on the Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds, including in Syria, saying, “If the threshold can be passed, the Kurds will achieve political representation that will help the Turkish/Kurdish peace process and influence Turkish policies towards Kurds in Syria. The future of the Kurdish people and their fight against ISIS will be impacted by the result of this critical election. The Turkish Greens are part of the HDP, and the Green Party of England and Wales – that supports HDP’s firm positions on democracy, ecology and equality – is monitoring the process closely.”
DATE AND TIME: Thursday 8 May, 6.30-8.30pm
VENUE: Room L67, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG
Speakers: David Morgan, historian and writer, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign; Father Joe Ryan, Chair of the Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission; Barry White, National Union of Journalists representative to the European Federation of Journalists; Michelle Allison, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) UK
Chaired by Evrim Yildiz, SOAS Kurdish Society
8 December 2019|Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Jean Lambert has been an active member of the UK Green Party since 1977 and was Principal Speaker for the Green Party of England and Wales from 1992-93 and 1998-99. She was chair of the Green Party Executive in 1994. She has been London’s Green MEP from 1999-2019. Jean has a close working relationship with community groups, NGO’s, trade unions and policy makers across the capital.
NEWS IN BRIEF Update – Turkish invasion of Rojava/North East Syria – No 8
No 8 18 – 27 Nov 2019
For all of the latest developments, see these sources:
Rojava Information Center:
Women Defend Rojava:
Kurdish people began arriving in the UK in significant numbers in the 1980s and today there are Kurdish communities across much of the country, with a concentration in London. The people came from Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Armenia, generally fleeing conflict and repression.
British governments have a particular historical responsibility for the fate of the Kurds. At the end of the First World War the victorious British and French states partitioned much of the former Ottoman Empire. Initially, at the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, the Kurds were to be given land and an administration. However, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne excluded all mention of the Kurds and their rights, and they were annexed between Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. Ever since then, each of the four states has been founded on and imposed the denial of rights to the Kurds. The Kurds have periodically resisted their suppression in each state, often with tragic consequences; the Halabja massacre in Iraq in 1988 when 5,000 Kurds were gassed to death drew the world’s attention to the Kurds’ plight. The maintenance of the status quo in the Middle East has depended, to a significant degree, on the denial of the Kurds to the right to self-determination and democratic representation. There can be little progress towards democracy in any of Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq without recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people. The Kurds have variously at different times in different countries been denied their rights to use their language, express their culture, form associations or have political parties and representation. Continue reading
For all of the latest developments, see these sources
Rojava Information Center:
We stand in solidarity with Rojava, an example to the world
1 Nov 2019 | LaDonna Brave Bull Allard et al., The Guardian
Leaders from social movements, communities and First Nations from around the world, including LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Eve Ensler and Stuart Basden on the Turkish invasion in north-east Syria