Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

Statement, 20 December 2015


Following the collapse of the peace process with the Kurds and the victory of the ruling AKP in the second general election of 2015, Turkey is actually now laying siege to its own cities in the Kurdish southeast. This brings back horrific memories reminiscent of the dirty war against the Kurds that was waged in the 1980s and 1990s by Jitem, a special unit of the Turkish gendarmerie, charged with “intelligence gathering and counterterrorism,” leading to some of the darkest chapters in modern Turkish history.

At that time, thousands of civil rights activists, politicians and business people who were suspected of having links with the PKK were kidnapped and murdered by state forces acting covertly. The exact number of the victims has never been entirely established because of the secrecy surrounding these state-backed operations. At the same time, millions of Kurdish people were displaced as thousands of their villages were destroyed. Despite exacting huge suffering, this tactic totally failed to subdue the Kurdish population. Since those years, the Kurdish movement has grown stronger year by year.

Tragically, Turkey’s current leaders seem not to have learned much from past policy failures and appear intent on repeating previous blunders in a bid to punish the Kurdish civilian population for its attachment to the PKK. The only way that Turkey believes it can defeat the PKK is by waging war on Kurdish civilians, as is now unfolding with the brutal military curfews that are being enforced on towns and cities such as Cizre, Silopi and Diyarbakir.

If Turkey wants to make live so intolerable for these communities that they will blame the PKK and rise up against it, this will prove to be a futile exercise. Attempts to subdue the spirit of an entire people only breed the resentment that fuels future resistance. It is not possible to win people’s loyalty by force and it is a grave tactical error to confuse sullen obedience with support.

Historically, there is little evidence of such policies really working. For example, in Vietnam under John F Kennedy’s presidency the US adopted what was called a ‘Strategic Hamlets’ programme which saw the military forcibly moving Vietnamese peasants into controlled compounds in an attempt to isolate them from the communist insurgents. This policy failed miserably. Turkey today is adopting a similar policy against the Kurds, seeking to isolate members of the PKK from the wider civilian population by using brute force. This colonialist attempt to subdue a subject people will surely fail as it has failed in the past.

A proud, politically aware, people like the Kurds cannot be bullied into submission. Resistance is more likely to grow and succeeding generations embittered by memories of past injustices will be less ready to reach a mutual accord, as was on the table for discussion just a few months ago when the peace process looked like it was slowly edging towards a successful accommodation between representatives of the Turkish state and the Kurds.

Now Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed Kurdish leader, whom it is widely agreed has made a fundamental contribution towards achieving peace, has been silenced by the Turkish authorities and, meanwhile, the conflict has worsened day by day. There should be a lesson here. Ocalan is an asset for peace but he has been set aside deliberately by the state’s enforced isolation as President Erdogan pursues the option of trying to defeat the PKK by military means. This cannot succeed. The Kurdish movement is not a tiny armed group but the great mass of millions of people.

The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdogan who perceives the Kurds – whether it is the HDP, the PYD in Syria or the PKK – as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.

Turkey under Erdogan has become increasingly intolerant of any dissent and organised opposition, which is clearly seen in the persecution of the media and the intimidation of independent journalists. The Kurds however are regarded as the biggest obstacle to Erdogan’s grand designs because they are millions of people and they have remained united in their demand for justice. With the sieges imposed on their communities in the southeast, Turkey has effectively declared war on its own people. This will be a disaster for the future of the country. The only realistic option is to change course even now and resume the steps towards a peace process where a mutual accord between Turkey and the Kurds can still be reached.

This current crisis is manufactured and totally unnecessary. It demonstrates once again that Erdogan is a deeply divisive force. The Turkish voters who supported the AKP in the recent election need to wake up to this fact as must Erdogan’s NATO and EU allies who remain silent in the face of all the evidence pointing to his dangerous authoritarianism. A new democratic Turkey is desperately needed, but it cannot be built on the blood and oppression of the Kurds.

Lift the siege on Kurdish town and cities; restart the peace process.


Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie  Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell