On Adam Uzun and “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It – By Desmond Fernandes.[i]
This text was presented at the UK launch of Adem Uzun’s report, written for the Berghof Foundation, which was held at SOAS University on 20 June 2014. The report can be downloaded from the Berghof Foundation’s website.
Thank you for inviting me to speak. There are a few key points that I wished to emphasise about the significance of Adem Uzun’s timely and much needed report, “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. As Veronique Dudouet has remarked, concerning the Berghof Foundation’s Resistance and Liberation Movements in Transition series of case studies, the case studies “are significant because they reflect important voices which are usually excluded or devalued in the analysis of conflict”.[ii]
In the case of Adem, the ‘deep political’ attempt to exclude and devalue his perspectives and conflict resolution initiatives may be seen by the very manner in which publicly unaccountable intelligence agencies were involved in placing him under surveillance and trumped up charges. As his lawyer, Selma Benkhelifa, who has provided chilling details at this meeting today, had earlier clarified: “It seems that Mr Uzun had been trapped and he did nothing forbidden by law”.[iii] In terms of the smears used against him, which were absurd beyond belief as his lawyer Selma Benkhelifa has detailed here today, it is worth noting that in the mainstream press, Reuters, for example, on 12th October 2012 reported that his targeting occurred as a result of “suspicion” of him “being involved in the purchase of anti-tank missiles”.[iv]
The charges which were eventually exposed for what they were – i.e. entirely groundless – resulted in him being arrested on 6th October 2012, criminalised and imprisoned unjustly for almost a year before his release in France on 9th August last year. His targeting in France, I might add, followed the shameful and absurd publicly unaccountable ‘guidance’ that had earlier been provided by the US Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which had attempted to to criminalise him, this time on the totally unsubstantiated grounds of ‘drug trafficking’.[v]
Concerning recently revealed documents on the Paris murders of three Kurdish activists on 9th January 2013, “including a sound recording … and a secret MIT [that is, Turkish intelligence] document instructing the assassination of Sakine Cansız, … Uzun”, as reported by ANF, “said the documents have once again exposed [the fact] that the assassinations were organized by Turkey and executed in the scope of an international conspiracy … Uzun, referring to the secret document published on 14th January 2014, which mentioned his name as well, said the document was evidence confirming that his arrest wasan international conspiracy and instructed from a centre”.[vi]
The court hearing which resulted in Adem’s release further revealed the manner in which an intelligence agency had fraudulently sought to entrap and criminalise him in a Kafkaesque manner (Selma Benkhelifa’s presentation is instructive in this matter). Adem was charged, denigrated, misrepresented, criminalised and imprisoned in order to silence his and his organisation’s conflict resolution work – so I think it’s important to read and reflect upon the document that he has produced, which charts the past and ongoing conflict resolution initiatives of the PKK, and the obstacles to peace and conflict resolution that he clearly identifies as having taken place.
Adem Uzun also seeks to detail the manner in which the PKK, since 2004, has transformed itself “into the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), … an organisational model suited to the new paradigm and ideological outlook that Öcalan described in his writings”.[vii] Many people will find these sections of immense interest as well as other equally important ones explaining the People’s Defence Force’s (HPG’s) “principle of self-defence described by” and inspired by “United Nations” norms.[viii] Also the sections on ‘Unilateral ceasefires, indirect dialogue and political repression’; ‘the Oslo meetings’; ‘operations and pressure against legal Kurdish politics’; ‘cessation of dialogue’ and more.
We need to appreciate that a lot of trouble was taken to attempt to silence Adem Uzun, and his perspectives relating to how the PKK has meaningfully attempted for a number of years to politically negotiate and provide spaces through which conflict resolution can be achieved, will be news to some who have mainly been reliant on the mainstream press. But they are usefully detailed in this report.
Adem wrote this whilst he was a member of the Administrative Council of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK). It is worth pointing out that one of his key conclusions in this report is that: “When one compares the tools available to the Turkish state with those available to the PKK, it is obvious that the state is far better equipped to take larger and more significant steps. However, the state has almost always wanted to come out on top by expecting the Kurds to ‘surrender’ or be satisfied with minimal compromises, supposedly because of a need to satisfy the opposition”.[ix]
Since this report was written, the KCK has further voiced its extreme concern at the manner in which the AKP ruling government has continued to spurn vital opportunities to practically formalise the peace process. This, when the Kurdish side is readily committed to conflict resolution and the formalised peace process. On 8th June this year, the co-presidency of the KCK Executive Council stated that:
The Kurdish Freedom Movement has been in a non-action position for one and a half years.The AKP administration has misused this position as an opportunity for building new military posts, new dams and new roads for military
– as opposed to conflict resolution –
purposes. It attacked the people who were protesting against the building of military posts, killed 2 Kurdish patriots and injured many others … The AKP administration started building new military posts immediately after the non-conflict situation. They fortified old military posts and built new ones in those areas where it had been impossible to build posts during the clashes. This attitude
– and these actions, which have further militarised rather than demilitarised the area, I might add, has, in the opinion of the KCK –
de facto ruled out the non-conflict situation. Our resolve for a political and democratic settlement has been abused … The AKP … has decided to suppress people’s resistance.[x]
But as Adem importantly argues in this report:
The Turkish people are ready for a solution, but there is no courageous political will to solve the problem.The history of the Turkish and Kurdish people could be transformed into a tremendous forward march towards democracy that is as important, if not more, for the people as water and petrol. A future based on democratic norms is crucial …
Kurds … deserve to be viewed as a democratic force in the region’s march towards democracy. This project could serve as a role model for the whole Middle East … The dialogue process between the Turkish state and the PKK and Öcalan must be restarted. No solution that excludes Öcalan and the PKK is possible.
This paper has sought to show that the Kurdish people have sought to solve the Kurdish question through peaceful dialogue and negotiation, while the Turkish state’s approach has used policies of assimilation, delay and oppression. Had the state taken a different approach to the process of dialogue and the numerous peace proposals presented by Öcalan, we might have been discussing this situation differently today. Nevertheless, I believe that only negotiations will lead to a solution.[xi]
It would seem that this message of Adem’s – “that only [meaningful] negotiations will lead to a solution” – something that many of us here would assume to be a worthwhile and reasonable conflict resolution and peace building initiative – represents a key threat to the designs and plans of certain circles in the intelligence agencies and foreign policy departments of key EU states, as well as that of the USA.
Adem points out that we need to be mindful of, and need to address, these obstacles, for, as he points out in this report :
At this stage, the EU and the US are as important as the Turkish government in solving the Kurdish question. Unfortunately their support encourages the Turkish state to leave the problem unsolved. Were this support to become conditional, the road to peace would be smoother. The most significant step which might be taken in support of a peaceful solution would be to remove the PKK from the so-called EU terrorist list.[xii]
This key recommendation is also one that many concerned others also hold to be key and essential if the realisation of a meaningful peace and conflict resolution process is to occur. We only need to look to the failure of the Sri Lankan-LTTE peace process and the resultant physical genocide and ongoing state-directed genocide there to see the way in which continued criminalisation of the LTTE (via the ‘terrorism list’) by the EU and US ensured that a meaningful peace and conflict resolution process could and would not occur.[xiii]
The recent 2014 judgement of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in the People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka[xiv] makes clear that:
The EU … contributed to the implementation of the genocidal process with its acceptance of the US government position on the “terrorist” nature of the Eelam Tamils [ie, via the proscription list] … The EU decision to ban the LTTE, taken on 29 May 2006, was the most devastating blow to the peace process, destroying the ‘parity of status’ and paving the path to a full scale war. This crucial decision, which disregarded the views of the Scandinavian ceasefire monitors, was taken under US pressure, as later was revealed in a parliamentary speech made by Sri Lanka’s then Foreign Minister … and confirmed in leaked US diplomatic cables.[xv]
Ulf Henricsson, who was heading the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in 2006, could not be more clear about the consequences of placing the LTTE on the ‘terrorism’ list:
[He] criticised the European Union for having ignored a “seven-point memo” sent … before banning the LTTE. The EU ruling meant the Sri Lankan government thought it had “carte blanche” to take on the Tigers … “The EU decision was made following a “more high-level decision made in the cafes of Brussels,” [he] was quoted as saying.
“If one is suddenly on a terrorist list [ie during formal peace negotiations], it’s not very difficult to see we’re going to run into difficulties – which we have done”, [he noted].[xvi]
Henricsson just four months ago reiterated his view that “it was a big mistake for the EU to ban the LTTE. There was pressure from the USA and the Sri Lankan government … ‘I would say that was a big mistake, because it stopped the possibility to get a peaceful solution and negotiation’”, he clarified.[xvii]
As Adem recognises in this report, the inclusion of the PKK on the terrorist list, despite the peace and conflict resolutions and initiatives it has undertaken, has been designed to frustrate any meaningful peace process.
Other linked publicly unaccountable political initiatives aimed at criminalising Kurds as well as those organisations advocating a formal conflict resolution and peace building process also need to be recognised, exposed and opposed, he has eloquently argued this evening in his video-link message. We need to take on board these expressed concerns by Adem when we reflect upon the nature of current constraints and obstacles to the peace process. As he stated this evening: “Those who criminalise us; those who put Kurds on the terrorist lists; those who put our names on Interpol lists; those who carry out these attacks and denigrate us are not just damaging those groups and peoples but they are also threatening everyone”.
The failure of the peace process in Turkey will inevitably have global repercussions and we need to be mindful of this as people and organisations work towards conflict resolution. As with the situation just described concerning the LTTE once it too was placed on the ‘proscription list’, it destroys any possibility of a parity of status’ during peace and conflict resolution negotiations and initiatives. This is a conscious act that destabilises any meaningful possibility of conflict resolution, argue many.
As Adem points out in this report:
In May 2002, just as a channel for dialogue was being opened between Öcalan and the Turkish authorities and intelligence services, the EU put the PKK on their list of ‘terrorist organisations’ … Including the PKK in the EU list of terrorist organisations is a case of the EU disregarding its own rules because it did not clarify why the PKK was included (Breau 2001).
The EU decision dealt a massive blow to peace efforts … The EU decision, which seemed to ignore all the positive steps taken by the Kurdish movement, caused many Kurds to lose faith in the EU and question why the EU was working against them”.[xviii]
The PKK’s continued listing, he points out, continues to deal a massive blow to peace and conflict resolution efforts. Several organisations, political parties, peace and conflict resolution campaigners and practitioners, in fact, share these concerns. Despite Abdullah Ocalan’s ‘Democratic Autonomy’ initiative and the PKK’s stance to effect a political rather than a military solution (within the territorial borders of Turkey) via a much reported ‘Kurdish opening’ with the AKP, the PKK remains on the proscription list in the UK, US and EU even though it is the AKP government, as Adem persuasively argues in this report, that is stalling and frustrating the peace and conflict resolution initiative.
In mid November last year, Demirtaş, the co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) held a press conference in the European Parliament in which he clearly:
stressed that the EU and the European Parliament should also take more courageous steps and produce more courageous policies regarding the recognition of Kurdish rights in Turkey. Demirtaş criticized the EP and the EU for failing to encourage the Turkish government to take steps on the issue. Demirtaş stressed that the EU in particular should put forward encouraging proposals … Demirtaş called on the EU to remove the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) from the list of terrorist organisations, and underlined that; “The EU should definitively review its list of ‘terrorist organisations’ because of the fact that it provides no contribution but constitutes an obstacle to the peace process in Turkey to keep an armed organization which guarantees disarmament in the list of terrorist organisations”.[xix]
CAMPACC, alongside people from the legal profession – such as Gareth Peirce (of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors), Melanie Gingell (of Doughty Street Chambers), Professor Bill Bowring, (Professor of Law and president of the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights – ELDH), Mike Mansfield QC (and President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers), Ali Has (solicitor advocate), Bronwen Jones (Tooks Chambers), Margaret Owen, Phil Shiner (of Public Interest Lawyers), Francis Webber, Louise Christian and several other lawyers, concerned people and organisations such as the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, have argued that:
The case for the delisting of the PKK is now quite overwhelming … Recent initiatives to secure peace through talks can still be jeopardised by the continued listing of the PKK as a terrorist group in Turkey which is reinforced by the UK and European Union’s ban on the organisation …
The ban on the PKK distorts the whole political process by ensuring that anyone who expresses an opinion on controversial issues in Turkey can be held to be an associate of terrorism and prosecuted with the full force of a law that is as indiscriminate as it is unjust. This … is an intolerable situation …
There is an urgent need to look again at the proscription of the PKK as this may become an obstacle to any future negotiations that will be required to achieve the peace settlement to which everyone is publicly pledged.[xx]
In May of this year, European lawyers appealed again to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against the EU terrorism listing of the PKK. They argued that it represented a threat to a permanent peace and to conflict resolution processes. Zubeyir Aydar, a member of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Committee, a Kurdish lawyer and a former member of the Turkish parliament stated that:
“Listing of the Kurdish movement in the EU and in the US terror list, which is directed from Ankara in accordance with the Turkish dirty policy against the Kurdish people, only strengthens the hands of the war lovers in Turkey and weapons sellers who are living in the bloody market. This inhumane policy goes against the peace process”.[xxi]
One of the lawyers submitting the appeal to the ECJ reiterated her view that:
“For a permanent peace to be achieved in the four parts of Kurdistan and in all of the Middle East, the PKK … must be delisted from the EU list of terrorist organizations. The ban on PKK which has obeyed the international law of war is not based on international laws”.[xxii]
It is important to appreciate that there are political and governmental circles that actively oppose these as well as Adem Uzun’s recommendations. On April 24th 2013, for example, “the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said .. that the … PKK was still on the European Unions’ terrorist groups list”.[xxiii] In October 2013, “EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Kerchove sa[id] … it is not on their agenda to remove the PKK from the terrorist list in a short term … [He] ruled out … the possibility of removing the PKK from the terror list in a short period of time. ‘Member states will decide on if the PKK should be removed from the list or not. This matter is not on our agenda. It is out of question to remove the PKK from the terror list in a short period of time’, [he] told Anadolu Agency (AA)”.[xxiv]
Adem Uzun’s report is a timely one that deserves our serious scrutiny and reflection because it challenges the basis of these types of decisions and publicly unaccountable formulations just described by the EU Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator. It challenges the US and EU governments to re-evaluate their postures if they are seriously concerned about meaningful peace and conflict resolution in the Near and Middle East and, indeed, globally.
It highlights the urgent need to address several key issues if the small spaces that exist to resuscitate the conflict resolution process are not to be shut down and closed off. I’ll end with Adem Uzun’s statement to the European Parliament on 29th January 2009, which remains as relevant today as it was then:
“It is unfortunate that those profiting from the war in Turkey are being allowed to continue escalating it. There is no limit and boundary for these actions. As much as 80% of incidents that are taking place … do not get reported in the press … All civilian Kurdish people in the region are [still] forced to live in fear and panic …
Secret meetings to liquidate the Kurdish freedom movement are continuously [still] being held. This approach will not only fail to solve the problem, but it will also shed more blood.Unfortunately, the EU countries do not act on this matter [urgently or meaningfully enough]”.[xxv]
[i] Desmond Fernandes is a member of the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign. He was a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Genocide Studies at De Montfort University (UK) and is the author of The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: From Censorship and Denial to Recognition? (Apec: Stockholm, 2007; Peri, Istanbul, 2013), The Struggle for Kurdish Language Rights in Turkey (Peace in Kurdistan, London, 2011), and co-author of The Targeting of ‘Minority Others’ in Pakistan(BPCA: London, 2013) and The Education System in Pakistan: Discrimination and the Targeting of the ‘Other’ (BPCA, London, 2014).His articles have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Genocide Studies and Prevention (the official journal of the International Association of Genocide Scholars); Kurdistan Aktuell, L’Appel du Kurdistan, Armenian Forum, the Thailand Environment Institute Journal, the International Journal of the Sociology of Language; Peace News; Law, Social Justice and Global Development and Variant: Cross Currents in Culture.
[ii] Dudouet, V. (2014) ‘About this Publication Series’, in Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin, p. 8.
[iii] Quoted in KNK (2012) Information Dossier on the Kurdish Politician Adem Uzun. 26 November 2012. KNK: Brussels (accessed at: https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/adem-dosya_eng.pdf
[iv] Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC (2014) ‘Release Kurdish political campaigner Adem Uzun!’, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC, 20 October 2014 (accessed at: http://kurdistantribune.com/2012/release-kurdish-political-campaigner-adem-uzun/).
[v] Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC (2014) ‘Release Kurdish political campaigner Adem Uzun!’, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC, 20 October 2014 (accessed at: http://kurdistantribune.com/2012/release-kurdish-political-campaigner-adem-uzun/).
[vii] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin.
[viii] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin.
[ix] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin.
[x] The co-presidency of the KCK Executive Council (2014) ‘KCK statement: “Our resolve for a political and democratic settlement has been abused”’, 8 June 2014 (accessed at: https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/kck-statement-our-resolve-for-a-political-and-democratic-settlement-has-been-abused/).
[xi] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin, p. 34.
[xii] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin, p. 34.
[xiii] In the Sri Lankan situation, one should note that the Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka and the IMB (Internationaler Menschenrechtsverein Bremen) submitted the following charges for the Bremen [Permanent People’s] Tribunal to consider last year:
1. In the island of Sri Lanka, a Genocide is being committed against the Tamil people in the north and east of the island. The process of the Genocide has occurred in stages and is ongoing.
2. The Sri Lankan state and its armed forces are guilty of carrying out the crime of Genocide against the Tamil people … During the internationallybacked peace process – that started in February 2002 – the USA with the assistance of the UK, deliberately took a series of calculated measures to alter the balance of power between the Sinhala State and the de facto Tamil administration and succeed in destroying the negotiations process that had provided succour to the victims of the genocidal process.
These US/UK measures [and this significantly included the deliberate inclusion of the LTTE in the ‘terrorism list’, alongside the PKK] created the conditions for the war to start and ensured its continuation until the Tamil resistance was physically exterminated – with genocidal results. With the elimination of the political/physical force that had hitherto shown the capability to halt the actions of the Sri Lankan State and its principal backers, the genocidal process was restarted and is proceeding with unprecedented tempo” – Permanent People’s Tribunal(2014) Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, 07-10 December 2013. Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal & The International Human Rights Association: Bremen.
[xiv] Permanent People’s Tribunal(2014) Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, 07-10 December 2013. Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal & The International Human Rights Association: Bremen.
[xv] Permanent People’s Tribunal(2014) Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, 07-10 December 2013. Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal & The International Human Rights Association: Bremen. Indeed, even as early as 2001, when the LTTE was proscribed by the UK government, it had been reported by Tamilnet that:
Britain’s decision to include the Liberation Tigers on the list of proscribed terrorist organizations “will impose severe restraints” on the Norwegian initiative, the LTTE said … The ban will, ‘adversely affect Tamil interests and severely undermine the current peace initiatives [and] will encourage the repressive Sri Lankan regime to be more uncompromising, intransigent and to adopt a military path of State violence, terrorism and war’ the LTTE’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham was quoted as saying … ‘The peace initiatives depend precariously on the leniency or the harshness in which this draconian legislation will be implemented by the law enforcing agencies in Britain’, Mr Balasingham said – Tamilnet (2001) ‘UK ban imposes restraints on the peace process – LTTE’, Tamilnet, 28 February 2001 (accessed at: http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=5821).
[xvi] Quoted in: Tamilnation.org (2007) ‘Tracking the Norwegian Conflict Resolution Initiative’ (accessed at:
[xvii] Tamilnet (2014) ‘EU made big mistake in banning LTTE: Henricsson, former head of SLMM’, Tamilnet, 24 February 2014 (accessed at: http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=37067).
[xviii] Uzun, A. (2014) “Living Freedom” – The Evolution of the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey and the Efforts to Resolve It. Berghof Transitions Series No. 11. Berghof Foundation Operations: Berlin.
[xix] Ekurd.net (2013) ‘Turkey’s pro-Kurdish BDP leader called on EU to remove PKK from the list of terrorist organisations’, Ekurd.net, 14 November 2013 (accessed at:
[xx] CAMPACC (2013) Petition: ‘To the UK government, the European Union and the Turkish Government’.
[xxi] Alasor, R. (2013) ‘The role of EU and US in the war against Kurds’, Ararat News, 12 May 2014 (accessed at: http://www.mesop.de/2014/05/12/the-role-of-eu-and-us-in-the-war-against-kurds-by-roni-alasor/).
[xxii] Alasor, R. (2013) ‘The role of EU and US in the war against Kurds’, Ararat News, 12 May 2014 (accessed at: http://www.mesop.de/2014/05/12/the-role-of-eu-and-us-in-the-war-against-kurds-by-roni-alasor/ ).
[xxiii] Hurriyet Daily News (2013) ‘PKK still on terrorist list, the Council of Europe confirms’, Hurriyet, 24 April 2013 (accessed at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/pkk-still-on-terrorist-list-the-council-of-europe-confirms.aspx?pageID=238&nid=45589).
[xxiv] World Bulletin (2013) ‘Removing PKK from terror list out of question: EU’, World Bulletin,19 October 2013 (accessed at: http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=121006).
[xxv] Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC (2014) ‘Release Kurdish political campaigner Adem Uzun!’, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and CAMPACC, 20 October 2014 (accessed at: http://kurdistantribune.com/2012/release-kurdish-political-campaigner-adem-uzun/).