PEACE IN KURDISTAN WOMEN’S ALLIANCE FOR KURDISTAN, IRAQ AND SYRIA The Rt Honourable Theresa May MP
10 Downing Street
6 September 2016
Dear Prime Minister
We are writing to ask you and the British Government to condemn the recent shelling of majority Kurdish areas near to Jarablus in northern Syria, since 24th August 2016, by Turkish State forces. This is a shocking and deeply disturbing attack on the forces which have consistently been acknowledged as the most effective force on the ground in the battle against ISIS. According to the official statements from the Turkish government, the offensive, “Euphrates Shield”, is aimed at both ISIS and the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG). From the outset it was clear that the primary focus of this operation was to be Kurdish forces including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and not ISIS. There have been consistent reports of Turkish State complicity with ISIS, by, for example, allowing fighters to cross the border into Syria and of supplying military equipment, as reported for example, in the Washington Post on August 12th 2014. It appears that Jarablus fell to Turkish forces without there being any ISIS casualties.
Since 29th August 2016 the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and several other media outlets have confirmed that Turkish airstrikes and tank shelling has killed at least 40 civilians in the village of Bir/Jubba al-Kusa 13 km south of Jarablus, a village previously liberated by the SDF from ISIS. Hours after the massacre in Jubba al-Kusa another 20 civilians were killed and 25 wounded in Turkish air strikes near the town of Al-Amarneh. According to SOHR, at least four Kurdish fighters had been killed and 15 injured in Turkish bombardments of the two areas. It is clear that this attack on democratic, primarily Kurdish forces will continue as long as the US-led International Coalition remains silent.
The ISIS military campaign has been characterised by a brutal catalogue of sexual violence primarily against women. The widely documented mass abduction of women and girls for sexual violence demonstrates ISIS’s view that women are the spoils of war, and was among the factors which led the British Parliament and the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry to conclude that a genocide had occurred of the Yezidi people in Iraq.
In stark contrast to this victimisation of women has been the Kurdish women’s defence units, which have been in the frontline of the fight against ISIS. The Kurdish women’s movement has been developed over two decades amidst the struggle for Kurdish liberation. Women have emerged at the forefront and are an outstanding example of women’s self-determination and self –defence in the Middle East, a region often lagging behind in progressive gender policies. Women make up 50% of the fighting force, over 40% of elected representatives in the Kurdish autonomous region of Rojava and within their political parties in Syrian and Turkish Kurdistan.
Rojava has given refuge to 1.8 million Internally Displaced People and refugees, from across the region, of all ethnicities and religions, of whom 80% are women and children, including many of the Yezidi women and girls who have escaped the genocide underway in Iraq.
Given the UK Government’s stated commitment to working to prevent sexual violence in conflict, in particular, at the high profile Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, in London in 2014, we wonder where is the government action on this? We suggest that it is imperative, in order to further this stated aim, that support be given to the women of Rojava in Syria who are at the forefront of the fight against ISIS now. The Rojavan social contract, its constitutional document, guarantees equality in all walks of public and private life, makes the co-chair system (one man and one women as joint chairs of any political or civic body) legally binding, and prohibits polygamy, child marriage, forced marriage and bridal dowries. Any true commitment to supporting the advancement of women and in preventing sexual violence in conflict will begin, in the present context, with supporting the women of Rojava in their struggle.
The US-led coalition against ISIS has, until now, supported the major contributions to the struggle by the women and men of the YPJ (the women’s units) and YPG and has provided air cover for their operations. However the US and Germany have now turned a blind eye to Turkish airstrikes against them. This invites the accusation of treachery.
Turkey has been accused of committing war crimes against the Kurds inside its borders and has refused to allow UN teams to investigate these allegations. It is now slaughtering civilians inside Syria in full view of western governments and of NATO.
We call on you and the British Government to take a principled stand against the Turkish offensive against the YPG/J, to support the women at the forefront of the struggle against ISIS rather than appease a State which has collaborated with Salafist groups, and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in the north of Syria from this new attack.
We, the undersigned, look forward to your urgent response.
Margaret Owen, Barrister, Director of Widows for Peace Through Democracy
Baroness Helena Kennedy
Dr Annette Lawson OBE
Dr Scilla Elworthy, Founder of Oxford Resaearch Group, Nobel Peace Price Nominee
Dr Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies, SOAS
Prof Mary Davis, Royal Holloway, University of London
Anni Pues, Human Rights Lawyer and Member of the International Committee, Scottish Green Party
Alison Johnstone MSP, Green Party, Scotland
Amber R. Huff, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University
Shula Marks, FBA, Emeritus Fellow of the British Academy and Emeritus Professor and Hon.Fellow, SOAS
Dr Radha D’Souza, University of Westminster
Rahila Gupta, Journalist and Activist, Southall Black Sisters
Dilar Dirik, PhD student, Cambridge University
Michelle Allison, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) UK Women Representative
Turkan Budak, Vice-Chair Roj Women’s Assembly
Fran Robertson, Director, Two Step Films
Pennie Quinton, Feminist Activist
Amrit Wilson, Writer and Activist
Lindsey German, Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Rojin Tasman, Solicitor
Isabel Marler, Feminist Activist
Houzan Mahmoud, Kurdish Women’s Rights Activist
Aysegul Erdogan, Islington Councillor
Sarah Parker, Haringey Left Unity
Dr Johanna Riha, Epidemiologist
Bronwen Jones, Barrister
Jillian Gordon, Barrister at Law, Retired JP
Amy Murtagh, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Miriam James, Historian
Cynthia Cockburn, Researcher and Writer
Inge Relph, Gender and Conflict Advisor
Cerry Hayes, Gender Matters
Martha Jean Baker, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Yagmur Savran, PhD Student, University of Bradford
Tabitha Bast, Activist and Writer, Leeds Friends of Rojava
Roza Salih, Vice-Chair of UNITE Scotland Young Members Committee
Rachel Bird, human rights campaigner
Melanie Singhji, human rights campaigner
Chrissie Charvill, Co-ordinator of Oxford Kurdish and Syrian Association
Ruth Lady Morris of Kenwood CBE, Consultant
Elizabeth Taylor, Retired Academic, Anthropologist
Charlotte Watson, Counsellor
Jessica Winby, Artist
Sheila Mosley, Support Kurds in Syria –SKS
Irene Austin, Chair, Herts Welcomes Syrian Refugees (HWSF)
Maggie Hamand, Author
Rachel Gundry, Stone Carver, Somerset
Veronica Cecil, Writer
Charlotte Keatley, Playwright
Katherine Wright, Youth Worker, Artist
Jo Magpie, Journalist
Melanie Gingell, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
44 Ainger Road, London NW3 3AT
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Patrons: 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, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary, Simon Dubbins. UNITE International Director Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell