Scottish politicians and writers in call to remove the PKK from the Terrorism list
Last week saw the launch of an international petition for delisting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK. Its thousand initial signatures include almost 100 parliamentarians and three dozen lawyers, as well as municipal councillors, academics, doctors, trade unionists, journalists, and writers. Scottish names feature strongly, with signatures from MPs Chris Stephens and Tommy Shepherd; MSPs Bill Kidd, Ross Greer, and Maggie Chapman; award-winning writers, James Kelman and Paul Laverty; and trade unionists Mike Arnott (Chair of Dundee TUC) and Stephen Smellie (Depute Convenor, UNISON Scotland). They join signatures from all round the world, including Yanis Varoufakis, Greek economist and politician; Jean Luc Mélanchon, MP and French presidential candidate for the Union Populaire; Elfriede Jelinek, Austrian playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Ken Loach, British filmmaker and twice winner of the Palme d’Or; and Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. While the petition is addressed to the European Union, the same arguments can be made to the governments of the UK and also of the USA.
Of course, no one expects a petition to achieve such a change on its own, but it both demonstrates the widening of support for this call, and helps to put the issue into the public consciousness. One day, governments will distance themselves from this criminalisation of the Kurdish freedom struggle in the same way that politicians now demonstrate their anti-apartheid credentials by making pilgrimages to Robbin Island.
The PKK is included on terrorism lists because Turkey asked for it to be there. The Turkish Republic has ethnic nationalism written into its constitution. It has always refused to recognise minority rights or allow the free expression of minority cultures. Kurds are expected to see themselves as Turks, and those who refuse are punished. With every other route closed to them, the Kurdish freedom movement turned to armed struggle, initially for national independence and then for autonomy and minority rights within Turkey.
As the old empires crumbled after the Second World War, international law recognised the validity of struggles for freedom and independence. That is why the criminalisation of the PKK was recently ruled unlawful by Belgium’s highest court. It was successfully argued that the PKK is a party to a non-international armed conflict and is thus subject to the laws of war, not criminal law. The PKK has been signed up to the Geneva Convention since 1995.
The European Court of Justice has also found against the listing of the PKK, though technical reasons have restricted this ruling to past years and prevented it from being applied to the current situation
But political considerations have been allowed to trump law. Turkey is a strategically important NATO ally, a major trading partner and buyer of arms, and an effective holding centre for refugees who might otherwise come to Europe.
The petition, as well as citing the legal arguments, makes the political case for delisting.
The solution to peaceful coexistence must come through political negotiations involving the PKK, who have long shown themselves ready to negotiate. The terrorism designation puts a major barrier in the way of such negotiations. A political solution is vital for Kurds to live in peace and dignity in Turkey. It is vital, too, for the restoration of Turkish democracy.
Delisting would also recognise and respond to the role that the PKK has played in the war against ISIS. While ISIS was receiving support from Turkey, the PKK were helping to liberate large parts of Syria and Iraq from ISIS control. And it would recognise the role the PKK has played in supporting the rights and freedom of women.
The petition points out that, in criminalising the PKK, governments are effectively outlawing the political representation of millions of Kurds in the Middle East and in the Diaspora; and that Turkey is using the “terrorist” designation to de-legitimise and suppress all people and organisations that campaign for Kurdish rights or oppose government policy.
The EU’s listing is helping to prop up and whitewash an increasingly authoritarian system that has imprisoned thousands of Kurds and opposition activists, including the HDP’s former co-chairs – Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ – other elected HDP parliamentarians, co-mayors, and local representatives, and many journalists. The listing is used to provide support for the ongoing court cases that could see many leading members of the HDP imprisoned for life and the party closed down. It has also been instrumental in restricting the freedom of speech of Kurds and their supporters outside Turkey, including providing an excuse for dawn raids on the homes and community centre of Kurds in Edinburgh, which have not led to any court cases, but have left community members feeling insecure after they had come to Scotland for safety.
You can find the petition – and add your name – here: . https://justiceforkurds.info/call/
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