Actually, it should have been the 20th conference already. But in the last three years the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) conference had to be cancelled due to corona virus. So this year it was the 17th EUTCC conference. The EUTCC was founded in 2004 in cooperation with members of the European Parliament and takes place in the EU’s legislative body’s Brussels building.
Since the first conference in 2004, the event’s theme has been “The European Union, Turkey and the Kurds”. Its original aim was to accompany Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU critically and to make Kurdish interests and perspectives heard in the European Parliament as part of this process. Initially, the conference saw itself primarily as a civil society contribution to a political-diplomatic solution of the violent conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurds living in Turkey, which has been going on for decades. Due to the political developments of recent years, the conference is now also looking towards northern Syria, northern Iraq and this year also Iran.
The conference took place in the context of the deadly 6 February earthquake which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and put the political crisis in Turkey in the spotlight
The fact that the one-and-a-half-day conference started on 8 March was due to the schedule of parliamentary work. However, the organisers of the conference took International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March, as an opportunity to invite mainly women to speak on the conference theme this time. The two main organisers of the conference were Kariane Westrheim and Dersim Dagdeviren, both female members of the EUTCC Board.
The 17th EUTCC conference was strongly influenced by the severe earthquake that hit south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria. Accordingly, the conference began with a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of this earthquake. The earthquake, which hit many Kurdish residential areas, was also discussed in the debates later on. Participants complained that help for Kurdish earthquake victims was often hindered. In addition, it was also noted that Turkey continued to carry out military attacks on Kurdish areas even after the earthquake, although the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had stopped all armed actions shortly after the disaster in consideration for the earthquake victims.
Unlike in previous EUTCC conferences, this time there was also focus on Iran. That was due to the state femicide of the young Kurdish woman Zhina Mahsa Amini in Tehran on 16 September 2022. This murder, which was the responsibility of the Iranian morality police, triggered the longest and still ongoing resistance against the Iranian terror regime. Maryam Fathi, the director of the East Kurdistan Free Woman Society emphasised that this protest movement is carried by women and that essential impulses for the protests came from Kurdish women. The slogan of the protests “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) is by no means just a slogan, said Fathi, but an expression of a different lifestyle this woman stands for, in which human rights, equality and ecology are the defining elements.
Another topic was the Turkish war against the Kurds in northern Syria, which is against international law. Jan van Aken from the NGO IPPNW and a former member of the German parliament, addressed the presumed use of banned warfare agents by the Turkish army against the PKK guerrillas. According to an IPPNW report, there is sufficient evidence that the member countries of the Chemical Weapons Convention could hold Turkey accountable and demand that it immediately stop the use of these agents.
The conference spotlighted Turkey’s use of drones to target military and civilian figures, particularly in the Yezidi homeland of Sinjar (Shengal) in Syria.
Turkey also repeatedly uses combat drones. Yezidis in particular suffer from Turkish drone terror. The insidious thing about the drones is that they appear very suddenly and without warning. There is hardly any time for those being attacked to seek protection from the drones. In order to protect the Kurdish and Yezidi population in northern Syria from Turkish drone terror, a no-fly zone was called for, as existed several years ago in Kurdish-populated northern Iraq. A ban on the use of combat drones was also called for.
Another panel recalled that 100 years ago – in 1923 – the present Turkish state was founded. The Turkish expert on international relations, Baskin Oran, recalled that the Ottoman Empire knew no Kurdish question. The Ottoman Empire was a multi-ethnic one. Nor was Turkey a nationalist and minority-excluding state from the beginning. According to Oran, Turkey’s first constitution did not yet use the terms “Turkish” and “Turk”, but used the term “Turkic”. This recognised that different ethnic groups lived together on Turkish territory. But as early as 1924, this openness was displaced by Turkish nationalism. This marked the beginning of the discrimination, oppression and persecution of the Kurds living in Turkey, who represent the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, lasting until today.
The continued detention of Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish political figurehead, was also in the spotlight
The 1st panel focused on the leader of the PKK, and his prison conditions on the Turkish prison island of Imrali. Once again, it was recalled that Öcalan has now been held in solitary confinement for years and is unable to maintain contact with either his family or his lawyers. Such detention conditions contravene international human rights. Once again, there were calls for an end to these conditions of detention, which are contrary to human rights, and for Abdullah Öcalan’s relatives and lawyers to be given access to him again.
The Spanish MEP Ana Miranda, who has repeatedly raised the Kurdish issue in the European Parliament for many years, underlined that the EUTCC conference had played an important role during Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU to date. According to Miranda, the conference had repeatedly reminded people of the Kurdish question, which still remains unresolved. However, she criticised the international political institutions for not pressing Turkey in time, and also not consistently enough to comply with international law, in view of the war Turkey has been carrying out for years against the Kurds in Turkey and northern Syria. She summarised her demands as follows: “The time has come for the international institutions and the public to act on this situation. We must push them even more in this regard. It is crucial to give more support to the Kurdish people who have been harmed politically and in many other ways by this dirty war. It is more important than ever to pressure our own institutions to put crimes against humanity committed against the Kurdish people on their political agenda.“
Nilüfer Koç, spokesperson of the Kurdish National Congress (KNK) for Foreign Affairs in Brussels, concluded by naming key demands of this Congress: An end to the solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan, an end to Turkish attacks on Kurds and Yezidis, an increase in political pressure from the EU on Turkey to comply with international law and to solve the Kurdish question politically while respecting Kurdish interests. Another central demand is the removal of the PKK from the so-called terror list of the European Union. This demand is central because then the EU – and, as Koc pointed out, also the German government – can no longer regard the Turkish action against the Kurds as an internal Turkish action against terror. Rather, the EU must then recognise the Turkish action for what it is: discrimination and oppression of an ethnic minority. At least the Belgian Supreme Court had ruled in 2017 that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation, but a party to an internal armed conflict.
The results and demands of this 17th EUTCC conference were summarised in a resolution presented at the end of the conference and then discussed and voted on. The English text of the resolution is published on the EUTCC website.
Jürgen Klute was a Die Linke (The Left) MEP and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.