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Turkey, the Kurdish Struggle and the New Middle East

Fri 20th Jul 2012

The Marxism 2012 Festival hosted a discussion on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey where speakers challenged the Left in Britain to take the nature of the Turkish regime more seriously.

The significance of the continuing Kurdish struggle for the future of Turkey and the Middle East as well as its implications for politics in Britain were issues in focus at the Marxism 2012 conference which took place in central London from 5 to 9 July.

A seminar, organised by the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign as part of the conference programme held on 7 July, brought to the attention of delegates the plight of Kurdish activists within Turkey and drew attention to the key democratic demands of the Kurdish movement for democratic autonomy and constitutional rights.

Turkey, a NATO member, has historically been a key strategic ally of the West in the Cold War and remains a regional partner in the attempts by Washington and the European Union to reshape the Middle East in the aftermath of the 'Arab Spring'. However, while Turkey is held up as a model of a secular, democratic Moslem state to the outside world, the political situation inside the country is far from tolerant of opposition and democratic dissent; in fact Turkey has been stepping up its repression especially of Kurdish political and civil organisations. Arrests of political and civil rights activists have been increasing and draconian legal manoeuvres are being taken against the main pro-Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in an orchestrated attempt to render it incapable of operating effectively. Several of the party’s MPs are currently in jail. The resilience of the Kurdish people in the face of decades of savage repression in this context is inspirational, a point made forcefully by participants at the seminar.

Dr Felix Padel, a Social anthropologist, explained how the struggle of the Kurdish people provides hope for the whole of humanity. Padel, who has is based in India, but has visited Turkey and Kurdistan, was particularly impressed by the leading roles taken by women within the Kurdish movement. Akif Wan, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) representative, briefly explained the roots of the Kurdish struggle and the responsibilities of European states for the precarious conditions facing the Kurdish people today divided among hostile states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. As is well known, the borders were drawn up by the victorious European powers after the First World War and failed to take account of the existence of the Kurds. Journalist David Morgan (Peace in Kurdistan campaign), who chaired the seminar, pointed to the contradictions in Turkey’s policy of support for insurgency in Syria while simultaneously stepping up repression against its own Kurdish opposition including guerrillas. Turkey was doing deals with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, including oil deals which were viewed as illegal by the Iraqi government, but it was refusing to deal seriously with its own Kurds to resolve a conflict over grievances that has been festering for decades. It should be stressed that the Kurds are not now demanding an independent state but calling for more regional autonomy and thus are not threatening the break-up of Turkey.

The meeting attracted a broad range of political activists, trade unionists and socialists who expressed solidarity with the Kurds in their struggle for recognition as a people free to determine their own future. The seminar also provided a rare opportunity to discuss some of the key Kurdish concerns such as the historic significance of the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the relevance of his proposals embodied in the 'road map' for the achievement of a new settlement leading to peace in Turkey and its feasibility as a new model of devolved democracy with relevance for the wider Middle East.

The Socialist Workers’ Party, the organisers of Marxism 2012, was thanked for agreeing to hold this detailed discussion on the Kurds and Turkey, a subject too infrequently debated among the left.

Kurds and the Turkish left have for many years been very visible with their banners and slogans on the traditional May Day rallies in London, but apart from this their involvement with the labour movement could be much closer. An appeal from the meeting went out to the labour movement to support jailed Kurdish trade unionists and other political prisoners and to take a much closer interest in what is happening inside Turkey. Kurdish activists in the UK were also encouraged to get involved in the unions and to work with political parties to raise greater awareness of legitimate Kurdish demands.

Three volumes of political writings by Abdullah Ocalan have so far been published in English; the latest came out earlier in the year and includes his 'road map' for a political solution to the Kurdish question.
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