An Incongruous UN Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul

April 26, 2016 1:48 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is planning to open the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on 23 and 24 May 2016. On the face of it, this seems like an extremely laudable initiative.

But it is with a certain amount of disbelief that one learns that, of all the places where it might have been held, this World Humanitarian Summit will be hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. How incongruous is this choice of venue and host.

Of all locations where a prestigious international event like this could be held, Turkey at the present time is among the least suitable of all. There is a civil war raging there which has been launched as a deliberate action by the government of the country. Turkey is at war with its own people.

It is systematically destroying all the infrastructure of towns and cities in the southeast region which has a Kurdish majority population. The Kurds are currently being collectively punished for expressing their free political choice at the ballot box in voting for the HDP. The pretext for this military operation is supposedly to eliminate the PKK and weaken its popular support base, which is quite considerable. The way that Erdogan believes he can defeat the PKK once and for all is to take on the entire Kurdish population and, as a result, towns are bombarded, and homes are reduced to rubble, leading to the cruel displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

There is much justice in the repeated claim from Kurds that they are under attack simply for being Kurdish. Whatever the truth of the claim, it is appalling that an international institution like the UN, to which the world looks for impartiality, not only averts its eyes and remains silent while Turkey’s latest atrocities continue, but actually lends support to bolster a government that is committing major human rights violations, as Turkey is currently doing.

The world currently faces a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. That is the prime motive for the UN in holding its forthcoming humanitarian summit. All decent people will of course wholeheartedly concur. Indeed, urgent action needs to be taken at an international level to foster peace, to reduce conflict and to ameliorate the social divisions that are literally tearing countries apart.

As publicity for the coming UN summit states, “In our rapidly changing world, we must continually seek better ways to meet the needs of millions of people affected by conflicts and disasters.”

The conflict that has been unfolding in Turkey’s southeast over the past few months is one such conflict that needs to be brought to a halt urgently and resolved. It is precisely because the Turkish government has chosen an unwinnable military solution to the Kurdish conflict that a humanitarian disaster is now looming in many parts of the southeast. This protracted conflict makes the location of the forthcoming UN Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul a wholly inappropriate one.

The government headed by President Erdogan has consciously exacerbated a conflict with its Kurdish minority population in reaction to the surprise result of last year’s first national election which saw the pro-Kurdish HDP achieve a historic breakthrough that denied the AKP its political majority. The AKP was left unable to do as it pleases and quickly took action to foment conflict with the Kurds to win back support and marginalise the HDP by smearing it as a mouthpiece for the PKK and as such a front for terrorism.

As a result in Turkey today people are slaughtered as part of a malign state policy that is fanning sectarian conflicts and deepening social tensions. Peace-making has been taken right off the agenda and the whole country is suffering the consequences. It is therefore very hard to understand how the government in Ankara deserves to be rewarded with the great honour of hosting such an important international initiative of the UN.

One of the main themes of the planned summit is to be, “Serving the needs of people in conflict”, which alone surely renders it utterly inappropriate for Turkey to be hosting the event given the current humanitarian disaster taking place in cities across the country’s southeast which have been subjected to curfew, bombardment and systematic destruction by Turkish state forces.

This important and timely initiative by the UN Secretary-General will bring together governments, humanitarian organisations, representatives of peoples affected by humanitarian crises and others to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges and set an agenda for future humanitarian action. It seems bizarre to hold such a summit in Turkey while an increasingly bloody confrontation is taking its toll on the country’s population.

The Kurdish people desperately want international action to help resolve their plight but the government headed by President Erdogan is making their lives increasingly intolerable and destroying their communities. His brutal military crackdown on the Kurds means that he is getting away with murder because there has been a deafening silence from the international community as the military operations have been pursued over the past few months.

So, at this time when the Turkish state is waging this relentless war against its own people, under the pretext of fighting the PKK, a UN summit on humanitarian action definitely should not take place in Istanbul.

It is shocking to discover that the UN seems to need reminding of what is taking place in Turkey today.

It is a time also when independent Turkish journalists, academics, lawyers and creative artists are harried, intimidated and prosecuted for exercising their legitimate rights to free expression.

It is a time when basic democratic, political and human rights are under serious assault from an increasingly authoritarian AKP government”Ž.

It is a time when the Kurdish people as a whole are collectively targeted and punished mercilessly for alleged support for the PKK.

It is a time when Kurdish men, women, children and old people, are not spared the indiscriminate bombardment by Turkish military operations against their towns and villages; a time, when hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people have been forced to flee their homes in fear, and are not ever likely to be allowed to return because the government now intends to confiscate their land.

All this suffering is rooted in a sectarian domestic policy, unprecedented in modern times, which is taking Turkey right back to the dark days of the 1990s when martial law, death squads and targeted assassinations were a regular feature of daily life; when political prisoners were detained without a fair trial, when the country was notorious across the world for its torture of political dissidents, when activists simply disappeared and when the bodies of Kurds were ritually mutilated by security forces whose activities were protected by a secretive state that flagrantly snubbed all international human rights standards and norms of legality.

In view of the worsening situation inside Turkey, let me strongly urge the UN to reconsider its decision to select Istanbul as the venue for this important event. Please think again even at this late hour.

The UN’s valuable initiative will be seriously undermined and tainted by association with a regime that routinely abuses its powers; a divisive government that poses a threat to democracy, free speech and civil rights; an authoritarian government that has been accused of pursing a sectarian foreign policy, and one that has even been alleged to be an active supporter of Islamic State terrorism in Syria.

Indeed, it is widely alleged, in particular, that Ankara has been assisting ISIS and its affiliates with the supply of weapons; that it has facilitated illegal trading by ISIS and other Islamist groups that it openly supports like Jabhat al-Nusra; that it is turning a blind eye to ISIS fund raising, permitting the transport and delivery of lethal military equipment across Turkish territory and likewise permitting volunteers to travel through Turkey to join the ranks of ISIS.

There is much more than circumstantial evidence to indicate that Turkey is heavily involved in the ISIS support network and as such these allegations need to be subject to a thoroughgoing, independent investigation.

While such question marks hang over Turkey and its record, the policies of the AKP government should give grave cause for concern for the UN and all who uphold freedom and democracy. We therefore genuinely believe that the country at present constitutes a totally unsuitable host for the forthcoming humanitarian summit.

Erdogan has been given credit for providing shelter to millions of refugees but he has manipulated the refugee crisis like a ruthless chess player calculating every move for personal advantage. It is hardly surprising to see how eagerly Chancellor Merkel has jumped into bed with him, it is equally unsurprising to witness the EU dutifully following suit, but it is profoundly worrying to find the UN snuggling up to President Erdogan.

If the summit is held in Istanbul as planned, it will only be exploited by Erdogan as fuel for his own well-oiled propaganda machine. It will be interpreted by Turkey’s tethered media as a ringing endorsement of Erdogan, the AKP and the increasingly divisive policies it pursues at home and abroad.

In particular, it will help to prolong the conflict with the Kurds when this historic conflict demands impartial mediation to achieve a lasting peace, which seemed to be a real possibility less than two years ago when the peace process was starting to get under way.

Furthermore, to proceed with holding a humanitarian summit in Turkey will be an affront to the Kurds and all those who are now suffering under the oppressive measures pursued by the government of Erdogan, who is dismantling his country’s fragile democracy by seeking to acquire more and more presidential powers to his office.

Not so long ago Turkey was held up as a model of moderation to be emulated all over the Middle East and Asia; it has now become a real threat to its neighbours, to the democratic process inside the country and to its own people. The Kurds right now are facing the full force of the Turkish state’s brutal onslaught. Other democratic forces are in the firing line too. This creeping authoritarianism must be stopped by raising our voices loud and clear against it; rather than being passed over in silence.

In order to maximise the potential success of this humanitarian summit and to command universal support, the UN needs to think again and relocate the summit to a more suitable country; preferably a place where civilians are not being shot dead by their country’s own armed forces.

Surely it is not beyond the collective wit of UN diplomats and event organisers to find a better location for such an important gathering.

For more information on the UN summit see

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This post was written by David Morgan

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