Meeting report by David Morgan, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Witnesses to the recent Kurdish victory at the polls speak out and urge support from the UK and EU for the advance of democracy in Turkey.
A report back meeting by members of the independent UK observers of the recent Turkish general election raised alarming questions about the conduct of the balloting and the impartiality of officials. The meeting took place in the Wilson Room of Portcullis House, Westminster on 5 July and provided an opportunity to discuss the outcome of the election and the implications for the advancement of Kurdish civil, social and political rights.
Speakers in particular described how they were witnesses to the mood of great jubilation in the main Kurdish conurbations on election night when the results were announced and their chosen representatives standing as part of the Labour, Freedom and Democracy platform, were successfully returned against the odds and in numbers, 36 in all, that exceeded expectations. The delegates felt that it was a great privilege to have been present and shared in the celebrations with the Kurdish voters who amassed outside the public buildings where the votes were counted eagerly awaiting for the results to be announced one by one. As one speaker, Mithat Ishakoglu stated, an independent Kurdish candidate was even elected in Bingol, a previously unheard of development as this important city has always been regarded as strategic for the state and thus been a special target for its assimilation efforts. This result was a clear indication of the rising level of support for the main pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, whose candidates were standing as part of the independent block along with progressive and Socialist candidates.
While the election outcome was generally welcomed by the speakers as a political watershed and a potentially highly significant breakthrough for Kurdish representation, real concerns about the future turn of events were also expressed. Immediate signs were not so good, with the Supreme Election Board (TSK) reversing its decision on Hatip Dicle’s candidature once he was elected and the decision to replace him as an MP for Diyarbakir with the failed candidate from the AKP; a provocative move that seemed calculated to enrage the Kurdish people who had been so overjoyed just days earlier. Dashed hopes could quite easily slip into open defiance and the return to conflict remains a genuine fear, several of the speakers indicated. In response the entire group of newly elected MPs from the block were now boycotting the election in solidarity and protest. One of the new MPs was the keynote speaker at the meeting and passionately called on democrats in the UK to demonstrate solidarity with their stand.
The guest speaker on the evening was a newly elected MP for Istanbul from the Labour Party EMEP, Abdullah Levent Tuzel, (former president of the party), who expressed his gratitude for all the support shown by the delegation and other human rights activists and progressive forces in the UK. Tuzel stated that the block of MPs would remain firm in their support for Kurdish rights and condemned as undemocratic the decision to revoke Hatip Dicle’s election as well as the failure to release elected candidates.
The group were convening in Diyarbakir and preparing their response to the likely repercussions of the boycott which may see the calling of by-election in the areas where MPs were refusing to take up their seats. The exact constitutional procedure in Turkey was unclear and people at the meeting took the view that research needed to be done in order to develop a considered response to the rapidly unfolding events. The independent MPs were receiving mass popular support from among the Kurdish population for the stance that they were taking and the likelihood seemed to be that if by-elections were held then progressive Kurdish candidates would once again be elected. Whether the MPs currently engaging in the boycott would be permitted to stand again in such circumstances was once of the key issues that needed to be ascertained.
The MP stated that the group would remain united in a stand of “either all of us or nothing” and would continue to boycott the Turkish Assembly and refuse to swear the oath until all their duly elected candidates were permitted to do so. He received strong support from the meeting for this statement.
He insisted that a solution to the Kurdish question needed to be put forward in a democratic way under a new constitution and his party was seeking a commitment from the new government on this.
Jeremy Corbyn MP observed that a major problem was the position adopted by the ruling AKP which continued to insist that it should be the sole decision maker and wished to frame a solution to the Kurdish question in own way. This could only lead to more denial of Kurdish rights and threatened a renewed conflict, he warned.
Margaret Owen said that Turkey was now at a crossroads and stressed how important it was for people, including the UK government, to do their utmost to stop any return to violence. She said the demands of the Kurdish people, as expressed overwhelmingly at the election, were eminently reasonable, such as the right to use the Kurdish language, and should be supported.
Another delegate, Jonathan Fryer echoed the view that Turkey was at a turning point but wanted to emphasise that now was an opportunity for democracy to emerge stronger in the country and everyone should work for that end. Real dialogue needed to be opened up between the AKP government and the Kurds and the European Union should play its part in encouraging this outcome.
Evidence of blatant manipulation during the polling was cited by Hugo Charlton among other, who said that AKP supporters seemed to be in control of some election stations. The fact that the counting of votes in some areas was carried out behind closed doors without any witness present opened the process up to abuse and manipulation, he said. Hugo also highlighted the gender bias in voting, noting that men were voting on behalf of women in some villages.
Omer Moore reminded everyone of the numerous courageous human rights activists in Turkey who remained in prison for standing up for people’s rights by reading out a letter she had received from the jailed Diyarbakir lawyer Muharrem Erbey, former vice president of the Human Rights association (IHD) who was currently serving a prison sentence for asking for justice for the Kurds. She called for solidarity with Erbey and the many other prisoners detained in Turkey for their human rights activities.
Members of the independent UK delegation who spoke at the meeting were Margaret Owen, barrister, member of Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), whose visit was sponsored by Britain Peace Council; Ali Has, a lawyer and spokesperson for Britain Peace Council; Hugo Charlton, criminal barrister; Jonathan Fryer, journalist, academic and Liberal International; Sherri Semsidini, human rights advisor and Omer Moore, human rights lawyer, both from Trott and Gentry Solicitors; Emily Apple, activist, NETPOL & Fitwatch, whose visit was sponsored by UNITE, London North West Branch 9708; Mithat Ishakoglu, a Kurdish PhD student from Exeter University.
The meeting, hosted and chaired jointly by Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Rea, was supported by the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), the Kurdish Community Centre (KCC), the Kurdish Federation UK, the Halkevi and Croydon Community Centres, Roj Women’s Assembly, the Britain Peace Council, Liberation, the International Committee Against Disappearances (ICAD) and Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.
Attention was directed to a favourable review by former MP Stan Newens of the recent book, Prison Writings, by Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, which appears the latest edition of the Liberation magazine. Copies of this publication and other material intended to be distributed at the meeting were temporarily held up at security (to check if they included “extremist” literature) until representations were made.
The meeting agreed to seek a meeting with the Turkish embassy on the issues surrounding the political stalemate, as well as the All-Parliamentary Party Group for Turkey which earlier in the day had held a parliamentary meeting with the Turkish Ambassador as a keynote speaker.
12 July 2011