The festival of Newroz on 21 March, which the Kurds will soon be celebrating in their millions, is a key date in the Kurdish cultural calendar and, over recent decades, it has taken on extra political significance as a rare occasion when Kurds can freely come together to express their identity as a people and demonstrate their strength of feeling and unity of purpose for the basic demands of peace, freedom and their democratic rights.

This year it has been announced that the main celebrations in North Kurdistan will take place in Diyarbakir on Sunday 18 March. A mass turnout is expected for what will be a major public display of resistance by Kurds against the repressive measures of the Erdogan government. Celebrations marking Newroz are to be held also in 127 different locations this year under the slogan, ‘Enough is enough, either freedom or freedom.’

Newroz is an ancient celebration and affirmation of cultural identity, but it is also an opportunity for the Kurds to remember their tragic history as well as the innocent victims who are still being slaughtered today. As one of the few occasions when Kurds are permitted to exercise their collective voice in public in recent decades Newroz has taken great political significance in Turkey. It remains a celebration of culture and heritage, but it is also an occasion for demonstrating the strength and solidarity of the Kurdish people and their support for the peace demands put forward by their leaders.

This year, the BDP points out, Newroz will occur at a time when more people are still suffering as casualties in Turkish military operations. The village of Roboski still awaits justice following the callous massacre of 34 civilians, mainly youths, on 28 December by a Turkish bombing raid that allegedly hit the wrong target. The ramifications of this appalling slaughter of innocent civilians are still being felt throughout Kurdish society with an incalculable damage to relations between the Kurds and the Turkish state.

The plight of their jailed political figurehead, Abdullah Ocalan, inevitably remains a persistent concern and priority for Kurds everywhere, given his abusive treatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities.  The significance for the Kurdish people of the treatment of Ocalan is a key and urgent issue because it is symptomatic of Turkey’s dismissive attitude towards the Kurds as a whole and its refusal to respond to their demands constructively and respectfully. An astute political spokesman Ocalan has been able to put into words the yearning for peace of his people and has put forward practical demands that command a groundswell of support.

The latest seven-month isolation imposed on Abdullah Ocalan, who is still held in Imralı island more than 13 years after his abduction, is not only seen by Kurds as amounting to effective torture but as marking a personal injury to each and every one of them.

Turkey is a country that regularly locks up children and mistreats them appallingly while in detention. It has only recently emerged that between the years 2006 to 2010 more than 4,000 Kurdish youths have been sentenced and detained for expressing pro-Kurdish sentiments. These twelve- to seventeen-year-olds have been jailed simply for daring to say they are Kurds or for throwing stones at demonstrations. Children who have been released have described various torture and abuses. And thousands of children and youths are still being held as “terrorists” in Turkish prisons. They are often left with little or no protection at the whims of judicial authorities and officials.

The Kurdish people have been roused into action by the reports of rape and sexual abuse carried out inside prison against the Kurdish young offenders. Such abuse is but the latest evidence of the Turkish state’s historic mistreatment of the Kurds and its systematic attempts to degrade and humiliate them. Such abuses carried out by state officials can only make the Kurds feel that the best they can hope for from Turkey is to be treated as second class citizens, at worst as aliens in their own land.

The state’s political attack on the Kurds is also seen in the thousands of people of all ages and professions who have been arrested, possibly 8,000 in total. In response, since the end of February hundreds of people are now on hunger strike inside and outside prison as part of a mass protest against this injustice and discrimination inflicted on the Kurdish people. Hunger strikes in solidarity are now taking place across among Kurdish communities in Europe including London.

In the run up to Newroz 2012, the resolution of the Kurdish question has become a focus of political gamesmanship between the ruling AKP and main opposition parties. Stepping up the rhetoric on the Kurdish issue, Prime Minister Erdogan recently likened the PKK to a “subcontractor for Turkey’s enemies” and denounced “dark circles” at home and abroad who allegedly collaborate with the organisation, clearly seeking to taint opposition parties including the BDP. At the same time, government officials are again talking about “new democratisation steps”.

In tandem with this renewed talk of “democratic initiatives”, the AKP is pressing on with its dual strategy of addressing Kurdish concerns on its own terms with minimal reforms while seeking to detach the mass of the Kurdish people from their political leaders whom it insists on defining as terrorists and relentlessly widening the definition of groups it regards as terrorists.

Air strikes across the border in Iraq by Turkish warplanes have continued as military operations have been stepped up. Turkey has also recently signalled that it intends to go ahead with what amounts to a “bounty hunt” against PKK leaders with the offer of financial inducements to people to come forward with information that could lead to their arrest. The Interior Ministry offered to pay 4 million Turkish liras as a reward (blood money) to anyone providing such information leading to the capture of Murat Karayılan, leader of the PKK, or one of 49 other people deemed to be “leading staff” of the organisation. Some 20 of those listed as PKK leaders by the Turkish government are living in exile in Europe, which could lead to renewed threats of extradition.

In its anti-terrorism campaign, Turkey is receiving the full support of its powerful allies in NATO as is clear from CIA chief David Petraeus’s recent visit to Turkey for secret talks with top Turkish officials. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Petraeus met with Prime Minister Erdogan on 13 March and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, head of the National Intelligence Organisation (MİT), the day before. A US Embassy spokesperson said that Turkish and American officials had discussed “more fruitful cooperation on the region’s most pressing issues in the coming months.” Erdogan and Petraeus reportedly exchanged views on the Syrian crisis and anti-terrorism.

To some it may seem at best ironic that Turkey can lend support to the uprising in Syria while it persists in labelling even peaceful resistance by Kurds inside Turkey itself as acts of terrorism. Earning plaudits from its allies and raising further its international foreign policy profile, Turkey has announced that it is to host the second “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul on 2 April, which follows the first such meeting in Tunis in February. While Turkey is seeking actively to bring the Syrian crisis to a conclusion by going so far as to support an armed uprising, at home it stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it might have its own problems to address. In the face of these double standards, Kurds are saying, ‘Enough is enough, freedom is our only option.’


For information contact

Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 4131

 Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Alyn Smith MEP, Bairbre de Brún MEP,  Jeremy Corbyn MP,  Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Mark Thomas