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The Kurdish Betrayal: Ethnic Cleansing On Europe's Doorstep

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot today met with supporters of Imam Sis, a 32-year-old Kurdish man who has been on hunger strike for over 100 days. The longest hunger strike in British history.

Since December 17 2018 he has been living on vitamin B1 and B12 tablets, and one fresh lemonade a day, supplemented with herbal teas and salty water. He is now finding it difficult to swallow liquids and will almost certainly die within six weeks if the hunger strike continues.

His hunger strike was inspired by Leyla Guven, a socialist-feminist MP in the Turkish Parliament for the pro-Kurdish left wing HDP (People's Democratic Party) who has been on hunger strike since November 8 2018.

There are now over 7000 Kurds on hunger strike in the prisons of Turkey, in Kurdistan, Europe and North America.

The hunger strikers demand an end to the isolation of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. The leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) has been held mostly in solitary confinement by Turkey since 1999. Turkey is being called upon to respect its own laws and international human rights obligations and permit Öcalan visits from family and legal team.

The Kurdish Betrayal: Ethnic Cleansing On Europe's Doorstep

While the plight of the Palestinians is well documented among left wing circles, an equally sick and pervasive act of ethnic cleansing is happening on Europe’s doorstep that few seem to know or care about.

In the Kurdistan regions of Turkey, Iraq and Syria a coordinated and brutal repression of a unique and distinct people with their own language, culture, history, music and art is taking place.

At the end of the First World War, the partitioning of the Ottoman empire by the Allied powers resulted in nothing short of abject betrayal of the Kurds who were promised a referendum on establishing their own autonomous region.

The length of time it took the victors to resolve minor disputes over the borders of the defeated Turkey meant that the door was left open for a fresh conflict – the War of Independence.

The Kemalists regained lands in Anatolia, deposed of the government in Istanbul and refused to recognise the conditions laid out in Treaty of Sèvres. In 1928 a new treaty was drawn up – one that did not automatically recognise Kurdish sovereignty but left the door open for Kurds to present themselves at the League of Nations once a geographical area had been decided and proof of their ability to self-govern could be demonstrated.

The League of Nations effectively dissolved in 1938 and with it, any hope that Kurdistan would be formally recognised as an autonomous, self-governing region. The plight of the Kurds would go unheard, relegated to shadows and abandoned by Europe for half a century.

The 40 million Kurds are often called the largest stateless nation in the world.

A hundred years ago Kurds were promised their own state of Kurdistan, but great power and regional politics instead saw Kurdistan divided between four states: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

In all of these states Kurdish rights have been denied. In Iraq on March 16 1988 infamously the Saddam regime perpetrated the Halabja chemical attack, an act of genocide resulting in 5000 deaths.

In Turkey, for decades a policy of forced assimilation saw Kurdish people denied language, cultural, and political rights. The Turkish government even denied there was such a thing as a Kurd calling them "Mountain Turks". Until 1991 the words "Kurds", "Kurdistan" and "Kurdish" were banned.

This denial of rights led to a full-scale insurgency beginning in August 15 1984 when the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) announced a Kurdish uprising. The bloody conflict between Turkey and PKK saw more than 40,000 die, the majority Kurdish civilians. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for thousands of human rights abuses including systematic executions of civilians, torturing, forced displacements by Turkish security forces, destroyed villages, food embargoes placed on villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists and activists.

Abdullah Öcalan is the founder and leader of the PKK and recognised by friend and foe as a national leader of the Kurdish people. The international campaign for his freedom has already received 10 million signatures.

From the early 1990s, Öcalan became the Kurdish movement's biggest advocate for a shift from a predominantly military strategy to a political solution orientated one. For several years it looked like a peace process would emerge between the PKK and Turkish state, but from 2015 onwards there has been a crisis in Kurdish relations with the Turkish state.

The roots of the crisis are many: In 2015, the pro-Kurdish left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) made a major election breakthrough derailing Erdoğan’s AKP from forming a single-party government, and is now Turkey’s second largest opposition party. Along with growing Kurdish autonomy in Northern Syria, Turkey’s political establishment saw the political advance of Kurdish aspirations as an ‘existential threat’ and responded by bombing Kurds inside and outside its borders.

Erdoğan used the failed 2016 coup to crack down on political opposition and dissent. The HDP saw its leaders and numerous democratically elected politicians jailed, while the Committee for Protection of Journalists announced in December 2018 for the third year running that Turkey continues to hold the record for imprisoning the most journalists in the world.

Many Kurds now feel a ‘political genocide’ is underway in which the political space to advance Kurdish aspirations has been closed: The Turkish state has ended all peace talks, the isolation of Öcalan has intensified, the legal political parties that support the Kurds are being banned.

In recent history, the Kurds have been instrumental in the battle against ISIS. Kurdish forces drove ISIS from the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Without their assistance, the liberation of Mosul would have taken considerably longer and resulted in even greater loss of life. It was the Kurds who led the assault on ISIS’s last stronghold, Baghoz in Syira.

Despite supposed alliances with Turkey, the Kurds fighting ISIS found themselves under attack from Turkish forces. Many have speculated that the last thing Turkey wanted at the end of the conflict with ISIS was confident, armed and organised Kurds who may see their victory as an opportunity to bring international support and pressure on forcing their recognition.

It is this desperate situation that has led to the most politically significant hunger strikes since the 1981 Irish republican hunger strikes, and they have attracted international solidarity. In France, last month tens of thousands of people marched in Strasbourg and the council of Paris voted to make Leyla Guven MP, an honorary citizen of Paris. In German, Martin Dolzer MP for Die Linke (Left Party) went on hunger strike for three days to show his solidarity with Kurds. In Wales, the Senedd became the first parliament in the world to declare solidarity with the hunger strikes passing a Plaid Cymru motion with support from backbench Labour politicians calling for the Welsh government to write to the European Committee for Prevention of Torture to fulfil its duties and visit Ocalan to check on his conditions of imprisonment.

Many believe that freedom for Öcalan is a precondition for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.

The international campaign for freedom for Öcalan and reconvening peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK has been supported by the TUC, Unite, GMB and 12 other unions, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Plaid Cymru, Noam Chomsky, Professor Angela Davis, the novelists Wole Soyinka, J.M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa and others.

Recently 50 Nobel Laureates called 'on the government of Turkey and the International Community at large, to take immediate action at this critical moment to end the solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan and all political prisoners in Turkey. In so doing we stand in solidarity with the hundreds of hunger strikers who are now pressing this same demand'.

Signatories of this call included 10 winners of the Nobel Peace Prize: Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina), Betty Williams (Northern Ireland), Desmond Tutu (South Africa), F. W. De Klerk (South Africa), Jody Williams (USA) Jose Ramos-Horta (East Timor), Leymah Roberta Gbowee (Liberia), Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Northern Ireland), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica) and Shirin Ebadi (Iran).

The Labour leader and Shadow Home Secretary met with activists working closely with Imam Sis, and three other Kurdish activists in London who have been on hunger strike since 14 March 2019.

Corbyn expressed sympathy with the hunger strikers and agreed to raise the issue with the Foreign Secretary as well as to inform the Labour Shadow Cabinet on the matter. He expressed a will to visit the three hunger strikers in London and was surprised about the lack of media attention on the hunger strikes.

He asked about Imam Sis’s physical condition and was informed that the hunger striker's physical health has deteriorated. Diane Abbott also expressed concern and agreed with Corbyn that it would be possible for senior Labour figures to visit the three hunger strikers in London.

Connections were made between Corbyn’s team and activists. After the meeting Corbyn spoke at a Labour rally and highlighted the importance of Abdullah Öcalan’s involvement in any peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

“... campaigning for the rights of lawyers to visit Ocalan in prison and that in turn will help to bring about a peace process that can ensure the Kurdish people achieve their rights and we end the ghastly wars that have gone on for so long which have lost the lives of so many Kurdish people. I represent a constituency that has many Kurdish people. I’ve been proud to work with them many years, as indeed has Diane Abbott - our Shadow Home Secretary who also represents a constituency that has many Kurdish people in it.”

“It’s about our approach to human rights. About our approach to justice. If you walk by and ignore the abuse of a people, as the Kurdish people has been abused in every single one of the countries where they happen to be living, then eventually it becomes a very serious problem and eventually more people lose their lives.”

“The thing to do is to support human rights, support peace, support justice, and be a motivator for justice which will in turn bring about peace. ... Human rights, peace, justice, democracy: those are the issues that motivate us as a party.” – Jeremy Corbyn

The Kurdish Struggle is a Human Struggle

This situation cannot be allowed to continue any longer. We can no longer allow our indifference to be perpetuated by our ignorance. Our friends, allies and comrades need us and we cannot afford to look away any longer.

If human rights, democratic rights and freedom of speech can be counted among your personal values then it is not simply your obligation, but your duty to stand up and make the voice of the Kurds heard in the West.

We have been given this chance to be the power for the powerless, the opportunity to be the voice for those who are not being heard and we have the strength to fight for those who’s fight has gone unaided for far too long. We owe it to our friends to light the fire in our bellies, to be once again fuelled by the flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope for a better World. To take up this fight of international comradery; I implore you! Stand up, shout, make your voice heard about an issue that has been swept away for far too long. The Kurdish struggle is our struggle and they must not be allowed to go quietly into the night.

Ask your elected representatives how they are seeking to address the plight of the Kurds. Raise the issue at local party meetings. Hold your candidates to account. Talk to your family, friends and co-workers. Spread and share the word about this struggle on social media before it is too late.

Evil thrives in the darkness, so it is up to us to drag this into the light where the goodness that illuminates our internationalist social spirit can prevail. I call on you, comrades of all lands - UNITE!

  • By Adam Johannes and Ben Rice

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