Dear Friends,

I apologise for not being able to be with you today. As a politician who previously worked in the arts I will be involved in a prior arranged day of cultural activism in the U.K. I nevertheless wish to express through this letter my profound solidarity with the Kurdish people.

As a member of UNITE, the trade union, as a patron of Peace in Kurdistan, and as a long-standing supporter of the Kurdish movement, especially in Turkey, I want to assure you that the Labour Party’s unwavering commitment to you still stands strong. Our current popular leader Jeremy Corbyn has visited all parts of Kurdistan over the years and understands that the Kurdish people “have been very, very badly treated”. In an interview at Chatham House on May 12th 2017 he said that Syria and any settlement in the Middle East must include recognition of the rights and needs of the Kurdish people.

I and many others were therefore shocked to read John Woodcock MP’s recent accusations of terrorism against the Democratic Union Party and the Peoples Defence Unit. I would like to assure you that this is not the position of the Labour Party. As a supporter of the arms trade and the continuing production of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Mr Woodcock places himself on the very opposite of the values I, and many of my colleagues, stand for.

In the same May 12th Chatham House interview Jeremy Corbyn also stated, “If arms are being used to oppress people internally in violation of international law then they [arms] simply should not be supplied to them.”

When asked if his foreign policy would do anything to renew the peace process in Turkey to ensure that the Kurds are represented in the UN-sponsored Geneva talks aimed at ending Syria’s civil war, Corbyn stated that, “If you suppress somebody’s identity, which is what has happened with the Kurdish people, then you actually end up with the danger of a much greater conflict later on. It is a question about recognizing people’s language and their identity which I think is an important part towards peace.”

As a Member of the European Parliament who cares passionately about human rights, I feel it is my responsibility to give a voice to oppressed communities around the world and I will continue to do this until the end of my mandate. Unfortunately, after the UK leaves the European Union, my country will lose access to the European Parliament, one of the greatest platforms for human rights and democracy in the world. This will mean that British supporters of the Kurdish people like myself throughout the world will need to speak out even louder in new and alternative fora, and you can be sure that I will be one of them.

The situation in Syria at the moment requires for all of us to focus on intercultural dialogue in order to lay the ground for genuine peace building. Despite the extremely complex geopolitical situation of the country, peace campaigners like me will continue to emphasise the importance of people-to-people contact, notably through arts and culture. I realise that this may seem difficult during current war conditions, but there will be no prospect of launching an efficient peace process unless we are bold and determined in this respect.

Our commitment to peace must be solid, and I trust the great Kurdish people will not fail.

In solidarity,

Julie Ward MEP