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28 September 2021 | Mark Campbell

Medya News Podcast

In today’s Podcast I will be exploring the issues surrounding the UK’s criminalisation of the Kurds as they face an existential struggle for survival in the Middle East against a full-scale political and military onslaught from the Turkish state.

Since the establishment of the modern state of Turkey in 1923 out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the newly formed Turkish state abandoned any idea of granting the sizeable population of Kurdish people living within the borders of the newly defined Turkish state mostly in the south east, autonomy or rights of self determination as was stipulated and required in the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres signed just 3 years before.

Then, after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 establishing the present day borders of Turkey, Kurds were denied not just their rights of self determination but the newly formed ‘Kemalist’ government now announced that any non Turkish citizen of Turkey will be forcibly ‘Turkified’. Ismet Inönü one of the founders of the Turkish state, speaking to the Turkish Congress of the Turk Ocakları in 1925 said:

“We are frankly nationalist and nationalism is our only factor of cohesion. Before the Turkish majority other elements have no kind of influence. At any price, we must ‘turkify’ the inhabitants of our land, and we will annihilate those who oppose Turks or ‘le turquisme’.

With this chilling statement of intent the Turkish state began a forced assimilation policy against the Kurdish people who, it is estimated make up anything between a quarter to a third of the population of Turkey. What followed were massacres on genocidal scales as the Turkish state labelled any Kurd who refused to abide by this new ‘policy’ and forcibly assimilate to be ‘a Turk’ giving up their ancient language, culture and history as ‘terrorists’ and Kurdish leaders were hung and exiled while villages were burnt and millions of Kurds forced into exile. This has essentially been the Turkish state’s policy ever since and today Turkey are still destroying towns, bombing villages criminalising elected Kurdish politicians and mayors and still attempting to ‘forcibly assimilate’ the Kurds against their will to ‘be Turks’ and still labelling any Kurds who do not submit to their will, as ‘terrorists’.

The list of crimes that Turkey has been found guilty of at the European Court of Human Rights is very long and the United Nations and European Parliament have both condemned Turkey for it’s war crimes perpetrated against the Kurds.

However, while this policy of framing the Kurdish issue from an angle of ‘security’ requiring only military and repressive solutions, has clearly failed, even from a Turkish perspective, leaving the Kurdish people’s identity and struggle for basic rights stronger after nearly 100 years of repression and an enormous human cost. What is also clear is that the Turkish state is running out of ideas and options and that a peaceful and political solution has never been more urgently needed for the Kurdish question to bring peace and stability to not just Turkey but to Syria, Iraq the wider region in the Middle East.

However, successive British governments, despite knowing full well the crimes committed against the Kurds by the Turkish state have supported Turkey’s failed strategy of continuing to label the Kurds struggle for basic rights and justice as ‘terrorism’ blocking all avenues or possibilities for a political peaceful settlement of this long running issue that has caused so much human suffering on both sides…

To find out to what extent the UK is complicit in the repression of the Kurds and to discuss the issues surrounding this support given by the UK government to Turkey we are joined today by Alastair Lyon from the law firm Birnberg Pierce. Alastair is probably one of the leading experts in this field in the UK having dealt with dozens of legal cases that have involved the British government attempting to criminalise Kurds on behalf of the Turkish state. Alastair has been a solicitor at Birnberg Pierce for 25 years specialising in criminal defence with a very strong human rights component.