29 September 2015

A delegation of four trade unionists from Scotland: Stephen Smellie, deputy convenor of Unison Scotland; Viv Thomson, Chaiperson of UNISON’s national women’s commitee; Sarah Collins, UNISON East Ayrshire branch; and Paul Smellie, young member of Unite the Union, along with”Glasgow girl” Roza Salih*)  visited Diyarbakir in southern Turkey last week following news reports of military curfews in the predominantly Kurdish region.

The group went to the region to see for themselves what the situation was like for Kurdish people and for trade unionists in the area. Following meetings with leaders of civil society, NGOs and trade unions, Stephen Smellie said “Following the Turkish Government’s decision to end the ceasefire with the PKK the whole Kurdish region has been convulsed in violence. Trade unions have been attacked, with the local health workers union having their office door kicked in and members terrorised by the police. Towns which voted for the Kurdish supporting HDP have been placed under curfew and whole populations intimidated. There is now speculation that these towns, such as Suruç and Cizre, won’t be safe enough to have a polling station at the election in November.”

The delegation spent an afternoon at one of the refugee camps on the outskirts of the town. Currently, there are around 3000, mainly Yezidi refugees living in the camp which is organised by the local municipality. Viv Thomson, Chairperson of Unison’s National Women’s Committee said “Whilst a humbling experience visiting the camp, it was heartening to see the women being so proactive in learning new skills. For example, they have developed courses in English, music and craft making. They are making fabulous bags, clothing and jewellery, and selling it at the local markets to fund additional classes. However, they do need basic supplies such as pens and paper, sanitary products and baby bottles. They said that if they had more sewing machines and computers they could run additional classes. Music therapy has been used to help many of the women recover from the horrific experiences they have faced, and more musical instruments would be welcomed. To assist with their recovery they would like to be able to pay a permanent psychologist to work with the women and children. Considering the horrors that they have been subjected to they are showing amazing resilience and strength in taking back control over their lives and planning for a better future.”

The group also visited a young filmmaker who lost both legs when a bomb exploded at a rally of the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) in Diyarbakir before Turkey’s election in June, killing 5 people and injuring over 400. Salih, who is originally from Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan, said “I am a fortunate Kurd living in Scotland, as for the first time I witnessed directly my people are suffering under the Turkish State”. They told us “help us”, “we want democracy and peace”. I noticed a glimpse of tears in their eyes asking us to do something. My highlight of our journey has to be visiting the Yezidi camps and speaking with Lisa who lost both of her legs in the bomb blast. At the Yezidi camps, I spoke with one of the families who lost 6 families. She spoke of children being leaved behind because no one could take care of them and said this is the 74 times that we have faced genocide! They wanted to leave the camp and come to Europe but she said, “we just can’t afford it”.

When we spoke with Lisa it just brought everything into perspective. A  bomb went off just before the general election in Turkey and she and many other lost part of their bodies for showing support to the HDP party. I can’t imagine how must she feel and how angry she must be against this inequality and injustice. These are human begins who want to live in a democratic society, but the state murders innocent civilians. She spoke of her experience what happened to her and I just couldn’t help it, I was crying inside when she was speaking out to us. what an incredible and brave woman she is for going though such a horrible experience in her life. She is now recovering and very hopeful for the future to continue on making films. We hope the international community and our friends can help her to get the prosthetic legs she hopes to have in Germany.

Finally, I just want to say that the Kurds are a friendly nation who want peace and prosperity. We want people to live in harmony and no more hardship of the innocents.”

Following the HDP reaching 13% in June’s election and the ruling AK Party failing to form a coalition, another election will be held on 1st November. Prior to this, Turkish trade unions are holding a demonstration in Ankara on 10th October calling for the government to respect workers, democracy and peace.

Sarah Collins, Unison member said “it is imperative that we take the trade unions’ call seriously. Amidst the growing refugee crisis in Europe, many of whom are from the Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, it is abhorrent that the government in Turkey are now provoking more violence in the region. Imprisoning HDP elected officials and imposing military curfews in pro-HDP areas is entirely undemocratic and is being used as a means of intimidation. The Scottish Government should be calling on Turkey to ensure due process during the elections, and should warn them that international election observers will be attending in November to report on how the election is run. We call on everyone to lobby their MPs and MSPs to take action now.”