By Mark Campbell
On 27 October 2022, I received a letter informing me I am being charged under Section 13 (1) and (3) of the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act 2000.
The letter said: “On 23rd April 2022, in a public place, namely Whitehall London displayed an article, namely a flag, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that you were a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation, namely PKK.”
On the day of the alleged crime, dozens of police blocked off the road in front of our peaceful demonstration as it came into Whitehall and senior officers sent ‘snatch squads’ into the crowd in a pre-planned operation to aggressively target and seize people whom they had identified as holding a flag.
I was genuinely horrified at the disproportionate level of violence and aggression that the Metropolitan police showed towards peaceful protestors simply because of a flag that upsets the Turkish government.
The flag, with a red star, set in a yellow circle ringed with green on a red background, known as the Kesk Sor u Zer (Green Red and Yellow), was adopted by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as their flag in 2005 because of its widespread popularity amongst Kurdish people, who saw the flag as a symbol of the Kurdish national struggle for their identity. From 1985 on, before being adopted by the PKK, it was the flag of the Kurdish National Liberation Front (ERNK), so it has always been associated with the Kurdish people’s struggle for identity in Turkey.
And so, in an emotional and spontaneous reaction, I held up a very large flag, which is seen by millions of Kurds as a national symbol of struggle, to make a very big political statement against the continuing criminalisation by the UK Government of the Kurdish community and of the wider Kurdish movement in Turkey and the Middle East.
Such criminalisation policies continue to see the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK simply as a security issue. But in the verdict in the now-famous PKK case, the courts in Belgium ruled that the PKK was not a ‘terrorist’ organisation but rather a party to a two-sided conflict that is governed by international laws such as the Geneva Convention, which the two sides to the conflict have both signed.
Tens of thousands of Kurdish political activists, including dozens of elected Mayors, MPs, journalists, singers and human rights advocates, continue to languish in Turkish jails, some having been left incarcerated for decades, many imprisoned without trial in a state strategy of mass internment reminiscent of the UK’s policies against Irish people in the 1970s. Dozens more are continuously imprisoned on a weekly basis, always with the same purposefully fabricated and spurious lie and label of being a supporter of ‘terrorism’.
The same charge I now face as a pro-Kurdish rights campaigner in the UK.
The UK has clearly highly politicised UK law in favour of one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, Turkey, which is now considered one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Turkey is ranked 103 among 167 countries in the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (DI), and is described by the Index as a ‘Hybrid Regime’, meaning it has failed to make a transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one.
Largely as a result of its failure to solve the Kurdish question.
The Kurdish question in Turkey remains unsolved nearly 100 years after the Lausanne Treaty was signed, establishing the borders of modern Turkey.
Kurds have historically made up roughly one third of the people who live within the borders of modern Turkey, and call a region spanning around one third of its geography their homeland.
Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü announced on 4 May 1925: “Nationalism is our only factor of cohesion. Before the Turkish majority, other elements have no kind of influence. At any price, we must Turkify the inhabitants of our land, and we will annihilate those who oppose Turks or ‘le turquisme.”
The Kurds’ language, culture and history was suppressed as a stated policy of the new Turkish government. An official racist policy of forced assimilation and annihilation began.
Kurds who refused to give up their identity, language and culture were branded as ‘terrorists’ and a well-documented, brutal campaign of Turkish military suppression began against them, including mass killings, village burnings, mass displacements, imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings.
By the 1980s the Kurds were struggling to survive as a people with their identity, language and traditions banned, and living under a constant state of brutal Turkish ‘emergency law’ and military repression.
Total assimilation looked increasingly likely.
However, in the 1970s a group of Kurdish and Turkish students including a young student called Abdullah Öcalan, who had been jailed in 1972 for leading a student strike in Ankara University, were heatedly discussing the dire situation and existential threat facing the Kurds in Turkey. The ideas they began developing in the 1970s would eventually crystallise and form the basis of an organisation that would lead the struggle for the revival of the Kurdish identity.
Abdullah Öcalan and his friends left Turkey after officially establishing the PKK, on 26/27 November 1978 in a village called Fis, near Diyarbakir. Foreseeing the dangers of the oncoming military coup of 1980, they crossed over the border into the Kurdish city of Kobane in Syria where they met with local Kurdish activists and began to build the Kurdish people’s freedom movement, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or PKK.
The seeds of an intense organisational struggle for the survival of the Kurds were sown in those days and for the 40 years since then the PKK, which rapidly grew into a national liberation organisation, has been defending the rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey.
In recent years, the PKK has also been at the forefront of battles to defend the Kurds against ISIS in Syria and also to defend the Yazidis from genocidal attacks by ISIS in Iraq. Indeed, the Kurdish women’s cries of ‘Jin, Jîyan, Azadî’, which echoed first around the front lines of the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and now again on the streets of Iran, directly originate from the Kurdish women’s freedom movement within the PKK.
So, it is ironic that while the ideologies and ideas of the PKK are behind the frontline struggles for democracy in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, the British government have added them to the list of proscribed organisations in return for lucrative weapons deals with the undemocratic, misogynistic regime of the Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is pursuing genocidal policies towards the Kurds and destroying democracy in Turkey.
And in the meantime, British law enforcement are wasting tens of thousands of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money on the criminalisation of the country’s Kurdish community with continued harassment and political show trials in favour of Turkey.
Neither I nor the Kurds are guilty as charged. The flag we held, which ‘aroused suspicion’ and resulted in us being charged with being supporters or members of an apparent ‘terrorist’ organisation, is seen by tens of millions of Kurds as a symbol of Kurdish national survival and self-defence.
It is time to turn the tables on the British government, who are guilty of complicity in Turkey’s labelling of the legitimate struggle of the Kurds for justice and rights as ‘terrorism’.
It’s time for the UK government to stop criminalising the Kurds and their supporters, to delist the PKK from the list of proscribed ‘terrorist’ organisations, and to persuade Turkey that it must seek a peaceful, political resolution to this conflict that has caused so much misery and pain.
The flag I held is known as the Kesk, Sor u Zer, and is seen by millions of Kurds as a symbol of national survival and self-defence against policies of forced assimilation and discrimination.
UK law should not be politicised in favour of Turkey, one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
We will plead ‘not guilty’ with pride and highlight the abuse of the UK government towards the Kurdish community in the UK and Turkey’s ongoing repression of the Kurdish people in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
Stand with us in solidarity for our first hearing: 9am on 18 November 2022, Westminster Magistrates Court, 181 Marylebone Rd, London NW1 5BR.
(Nearest tubes, Marylebone, Edgware Road and Baker Street)