On Wednesday 23rd September at 4pm, a delegation of women delivered an open letter signed by a coalition of prominent women’s rights activists to 10 Downing Street. The letter urgently calls on David Cameron to use his influence with the Turkish government to stop the violence being perpetrated against Kurdish civilians in the south east of the country.
The delegation includes Michelle Allison (Kurdistan National Congress), Evrim Yilmaz (Roj Women Assembly) and human rights barrister Melanie Gingell, who has just returned from a fact-finding mission to Cizre, south east Turkey, which has been under curfew for several days and which has been a flashpoint of violence between Turkish security forces and Kurdish civilians in recent weeks.
Cameron has long insisted that Turkey, a NATO partner, is a strong friend to the UK. On his last official visit to Ankara, Cameron stated that Britain and Turkey would work “hand-in-glove” to combat ISIS. And yet he has turned away as the Turkish government used their apparent entry into the anti-ISIS coalition as a veil to break the ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and attack Kurdish towns and villages.
The letter states: “In recent weeks more than 1,500 Kurdish civilians, including elected politicians, have been arrested by the Turkish authorities, resulting in Turkey being condemned by both Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch for such “unlawful acts” and for abusing and torturing many detainees. The shocking siege of Cizre, a town of 100,000 people, sealed off by the Turkish army for more than a week, is another case in point.”
It calls for the British government to make a stand for the Kurdish people, to recognise the emerging democratic self-administration of Rojava as a legitimate entity and take steps to remove the PKK from the UK’s list of terrorist organisations. It calls unequivocally for and end to attacks on the PKK and YPG/YPJ. Without these basic steps being taken, the conflict raging in Turkey could have grave implications for the whole region.
Dear Prime Minister,
We, the Women’s Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria, a coalition of women’s organisations working with the Kurdish women’s movement, urgently wish to draw to your attention the serious threat to the Turkish-Kurdish peace process caused by Turkey’s indiscriminate bombing of innocent Kurdish civilians living in villages in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq.
Since Turkey, at the end of July, agreed to join the anti-ISIS coalition, and won the support of NATO to participate in airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria, the fact is that by far the majority of its attacks have been against Kurdish targets, and not against ISIS.
Moreover, in recent weeks more than 1,500 Kurdish civilians, including elected politicians, have been arrested by the Turkish authorities, resulting in Turkey being condemned by both Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch for such “unlawful acts” and for abusing and torturing many detainees. The shocking siege of Cizre, a town of 100,000 people, sealed off by the Turkish army for more than a week, is another case in point. Erdogan has now said that the peace process, launched in 2012 to put an end to a 30-year conflict that has killed over 40,000 people is “impossible to maintain.”
There are severe implications, for the whole region, if the peace process collapses. The attacks against the Kurds are surely not what the UK government nor NATO intended, given the remarkable and effective military actions against ISIS taken by the Syrian Kurds’ YPG (Peoples’ Defence Unit), the YPJ (Women’s Defence Unit) and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party – for example, defending Kobani, rescuing the Yezidis from Mount Sinjar – and the refuge Rojava is providing for over 1.8 million Syrian IDPs, of all ethnicities and religions.
We ask that you use all your influence to halt Turkey’s attacks on the Kurdish population; that its forces restrict its military actions to defeat ISIS, and that the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is resumed. We women urge you to help build peace with the Kurds, rather than extend the war.
Prime Minister, we want your support for the struggle of the Kurdish people for their rights. Neither the PYD in Syria nor the HDP in Turkey have any desire to “change borders”, or for separatism, as the Erdogan government asserts.
We urge you to recognise the Rojava democratic initiative as a legitimate entity within Syria. Their self-administration is now a model for all countries coming out of conflicts in which women have been the victims, of displacement, bereavement, sexual violence, and poverty. The Kurdish Women’s Movement has become an inspiration to many women and girls across the world, because in Rojava, (Syrian Kurdistan) women play an equal role in every area of both civilian and military life.
Finally, we urge you to use all available diplomatic means to stop Turkey’s attacks against the PKK and the YPG and YPJ. The reality is that the Kurds are far and away the strongest regional force consistently resisting ISIS, and they deserve your support. We urge you to work with your EU colleagues to remove the unjust terror tag on the PKK and for the release of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, whose “Road Map for Peace”, written from his island prison, inspires millions of peace campaigners across the world. Without his presence at negotiations there can be no progress.
Baroness Glenys Kinnock
Baroness Joan Bakewell
Baroness Jenny Tonge
Leslie Abdela MBE
Annette Lawson OBE, Past Chair, NAWO (in personal capacity)
Margaret Owen OBE
Kate Osamor MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Liz Saville MP
Roj Women Assembly
Michelle Allison, KNK UK Women’s Representative
Melanie Gingell, human rights barrister
Dr Radha D’Souza, University of Westminster
Cynthia Cockburn, author
Amrit Wilson, Freedom Without Fear Platform
Dr. Shatha Besarani, Iraqi Women’s League (in a personal capacity)
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women Organisation (KMEWO)
Turkan Budak, co-chair, Kurdish People’s Assembly UK
Martha Jean Baker, Human Rights Lawyer, (former) International Vice-President of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Anni Pues, Scottish Green Party International Committee
Maggie Chapman, Scottish Green Party Co-convener
Angie Zelter, peace and environmental campaigner, UK
Professor Mary Davis
Hagir Ahmed, CAMPACC
Sofia Beatty, Kurdish Solidarity activist
Isabel Marler, UK feminist activist
Celia Shenouda, UK feminist activist
Ifra Asad, activist, London UK
Meredith Tax, Chair of the Board, Centre for Secular Space.
Elahe Amani, Chair, Global Circles, Women’s Intercultural Network
Intsar Saeed, Lawyer, Chairperson Cairo Center for Development (CCD)
Nihal Zaghloul, Women’s right advocate, Cairo, Egypt
Donna Swita, Women’s Activist, Indonesia
Evi Zain, Women Activist, Indonesia
Nargis Azaryun, activist, Kabul, Afghanistan
Noorjahan Akbar, Afghan social activist
Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Melanie Sirinathsingh, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Women’s Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria.
Find out more: www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/activities/womens-alliance-for-kurdistan-iraq-and-syria