DAVID MORGAN, from the Kurdistan Solidarity Committee, shows why we should not forget the plight of the Kurds
While Kosovo now dominates international attention, the plight of the Kurds is ignored. However, it was only a few weeks ago that the Kurds shot dramatically into the news headlines when the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in Nairobi and handed over to Turkish special agents.
At the time of writing, Ocalan is still in solitary confinement awaiting his trial due to begin on 30 April. What purported to be a statement of his calling on the PKK to lay down its arms and prepare for legalisation was published in a Turkish newspaper recently.
It is being dismissed by Kurdish activists since it can only have been made under duress and its authenticity cannot be verified. In addition, by releasing such statements Turkey is violating the norms of international law on the treatment of prisoners under the Geneva Convention.
Meanwhile, thousands of Turkish troops backed by air cover have continued an invasion of northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK fighters. Turkey is being supported by about two thousand village guards and the Iraqi KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) which has run the area since Baghdad lost control after the 1991 Gulf War. So far 44 PKK members have been massacred, but Turkish troops and the KDP are also reported to have suffered heavy losses.
Unsurprisingly, Turkey’s main NATO ally, Washington, has defended Turkey’s actions.
“The PKK are terrorists. Turkey is going after terrorists. The PKK are indiscriminately killing their own people. They are not supported by the majority of the Kurds”
, a state department official claimed.
Clearly this is all untrue. As reported in detail in the last issue of LALKAR, Kurds throughout the world immediately responded to Ocalan’s arrest with angry protests; in London this included the occupation of the Greek Embassy and in Berlin led to the shooting dead of four Kurds outside the Israeli Embassy. A demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 20 February saw about 10 thousand people, mainly Kurds, turn out in support of Ocalan. Large rallies were also held in Sulaymanya, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Tehran, the capital of Iran which has its own large Kurdish population; the latter was only contained by brutal repression.
This world-wide show of support for Ocalan should have put paid once and for all to the allegations that the PKK are terrorists. It is in fact the KDP which has lost all credibility and only survives on cash handouts from its backers in Washington and Ankara.
Since the arrest of Ocalan, conflict inside Turkey has intensified particularly in the run-up to general and local elections to be held on 18 April. Members of HADEP (People’s Democracy Party), a legal pro-Kurdish party, have faced an orchestrated intimidation campaign that has included mass arrests, beatings and the closure of local party offices. Voters are being systematically threatened by police and party candidates are put in custody.
The state appears afraid of an upsurge in Kurdish votes for the party ensuring that it wins control of regional assemblies and gains a presence in the national parliament. In Istanbul fascist Grey Wolves attacked an election convoy, but only HADEP members were arrested. In Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish Southeast, 15 thousand people were taken into custody when a HADEP rally was banned. Journalists were beaten up and parliamentary candidates were among those held.
Turkey’s chief public prosecutor was making a last minute bid to get HADEP banned before the poll. The decision is not yet known.
The New Year or Newroz celebration on 21 March were completely banned in Turkey this year and led to running street battles between police and Kurdish protestors and thousands of arrests across the country.
In contrast, in North London a peaceful torchlight procession finished up with a music festival attended by about 10 thousand people in Finsbury Park. It was both a joyful and defiant occasion with solidarity messages from British politicians and human rights activists, including Harpal Brar for the Socialist Labour Party executive committee. This was the last event broadcast by MED-TV before it was shut down.
In Turkey no serious discussion on the Kurdish question is permitted. Writers, journalists, elected politicians like Leyla Zana, are imprisoned on charges of
simply for raising the issue. Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country, according to human rights observers.
Kurdish trade unionists are equally persecuted; the state is particularly harsh on teachers who confront the total ban on teaching in the Kurdish language that is in force in all Turkish schools.
Even serious newspapers in Turkey describe Ocalan as a
and they repeat ad nauseam the accusation that he is responsible for the 30 thousand deaths during what is in reality a 15-year war between the Kurds and the Turkish state.
The vast majority of this 30 thousand figure are in fact victims of the Turkish security forces. They should be recognised as casualties in a war and internationally brokered peace talks should be started. However, what seems about to happen is a lurid show trial of Ocalan which will provide no long term solution to the Kurdish problem.
It is therefore tragic that, despite Robin Cook’s new ethical foreign policy, Britain continues to lend support to a regime such as the one in Ankara which is responsible for so many atrocities. The West’s attitude is in marked contrast to the way they are currently bombing Belgrade into the Stone Age, allegedly for
It should be recalled that only a few months ago Robin Cook was describing the Kosovo Liberation Army as
. Now they are receiving the full military support of NATO and Albanians in London are even shown on BBC news bulletins raising funds to buy arms for the KLA.
The truth is that NATO imperialism wants to gain control of the Balkans; the KLA are convenient stooges, armed and trained by the US, while the PKK remains a great obstacle to imperialism’s designs for the Middle East.
So the Kurds are ignored when they are not being vilified in the western media. Even their own satellite news channel MED-TV has been suspended by the Independent Television Commission for allegedly broadcasting items “likely to promote violence”; meaning they reported the anger expressed by Kurds at the abduction and torture of their political leader Ocalan.
Repeated peace proposals and unilateral ceasefires have been announced by Ocalan over the years, but all have been completely rejected by Ankara. If the Kurds try to pursue a peaceful route to achieve their legitimate rights in Turkey they are repressed. HADEP is facing a ban and it does not even ask for Kurdish independence or even autonomy; only that the Kurdish identity be recognised.
To date no lawyers or independent observers have been allowed any private access to Ocalan for more than a few minutes and only then under the watching eyes of his Turkish captors. It is clear that he is not being allowed to prepare a proper defence case, which is a basic requirement for even the most common criminal under international law; it is glaringly obvious to all but the Foreign Office and the US State Department that he will not receive anything like a fair trial.
Bill Clinton was quick to accuse Milosevic of violating the Geneva Convention when the captured American army personnel were shown on Serbian television, but when Ocalan was shown bounds, blindfolded, apparently drugged and tortured on Turkish television, no one in authority in the West made any comment whatsoever. Such hypocrisy is nauseating and not lost on the Kurds who know who their friends are.
These gross double-standards are appalling, but sadly not surprising: Turkey is a member of NATO and part of the alliance currently waging war on Yugoslavia. It is itself a lucrative market for US and European arms sales. With its own breathtaking hypocrisy Turkey has taken 20 thousand Kosovan refugees; Turkey by its own military actions in the Kurdish Southeast is responsible for nearly 4 million Kurd refugees, displaced either to Europe or as
to cities like Istanbul and Ankara, where they live neglected in atrocious conditions.
The silence of Western governments represents an obvious complicity with their ally Turkey. They have no solution to the Kurdish problem: the Kurds, a nation of some 30 million, will not simply go away, and now since the detention of Ocalan they have united as never before. Their anger and resistance can only grow as their sense of betrayal by the West deepens.
The Kurds have a saying that
“We have no friends but the mountains”
. It is up to the anti-imperialists to show that this is not true.
A Rally for Ocalan will be held in Trafalgar Square on 15 May.
[For further information contact the Kurdistan Solidarity Committee, 44 Ainger Road, London NW3. Tel: 0207 250 1315, Fax: 0207 250 1317]