A new online petition has been launched by the Federation of Democratic Kurdish Society – Australia to call on the Australian government to remove the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from the terrorist list. The campaign is being supported by solidarity groups such as Australians for Kurdistan, Rojava Solidarity Sydney, North and East Syria Solidarity as well as progressive political parties, including the Greens and the Socialist Alliance.
The PKK has been fighting for the freedom of the Kurdish people, who are an oppressed minority nationality in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
While the PKK has carried out an armed struggle since 1984, it has also implemented at least four unilateral ceasefires, the first in 1993 and the latest in March 2013 when it began withdrawing its armed units to camps in northern Iraq.
Further, the PKK has dropped its call for an independent Kurdish state and instead calls for autonomy within a democratised Turkey.
As the preamble to the petition notes:
“The PKK seeks to enter into direct negotiations with the Turkish government. Its acknowledged leader, Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in Turkey since 1999, will play a key role in any such negotiations and the PKK wants his harsh conditions of imprisonment significantly eased to facilitate this.”
The PKK was added to Australia’s list of prohibited organisations in 2006 after a visit to Australia the previous year by Turkey’s dictator President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was then PM. It has been re-listed since, the latest in August 2021.
Listing an organisation as “terrorist” means that it is illegal for Australian citizens to belong to it, raise funds for it or in any way to actively support it. This imposes a serious restriction on the freedom of political expression of Kurdish Australians and their supporters.
Members of the Kurdish community in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney have previously had their homes and community centres raided by the Australian Federal Police and ASIO and in 2016, Kurdish-Australian journalist Renas Lelikan was arrested and charged with being a member of the PKK after he spent some time in the Middle East reporting first-hand on the Kurdish freedom struggle.
While he was eventually convicted for being a member of the PKK, in sentencing Lelikan in 2019, the NSW Supreme Court’s Justice Lucy McCallum recognised that “the ideology of the PKK as expressed in the writings of Abdullah Öcalan has more in common with the values of our democracy than it does with extremist violent jihad. It is based on the notion of ‘democratic confederalism’, which Öcalan describes as being ‘open towards other political groups and factions (…) flexible, multi-cultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented’ and an ideology of which ‘ecology and feminism are central pillars’.”
While the Australian government’s listing of the PKK left the court no choice but to convict this brave journalist, the judge added that “there was no available evidence that the PKK seeks to harm Australians or Australia’s democratic institutions. Nor is there evidence to suggest that Australia faces any threat from the PKK.”
The Supreme Court judge added:
“Returning to the definition of a terrorist act, which underpins the specification of an organisation as a terrorist organisation, the evidence establishes that acts of the PKK falling within that definition have been done or threatened with the intention of advancing the cause of self-determination of an ethnic group in a foreign state and with the intention of influencing the government of that state, by intimidation, to tolerate that self-determination. Whilst I accept that support for terrorism is inherently serious, the ideal of self-determination espoused by the PKK is not the most dangerous ideal of our times. That assessment confirms my overall characterisation of the present offence as being towards the lowest order of seriousness.”
In 2020, the supreme court of Belgium ruled that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation.
After the PKK was first listed as a terrorist organisation by the Australian government, two Labour MPs who were members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in 2006 issued a minority report dissenting from the proposed relisting. That is the first and only time the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been divided as to whether an organisation should be listed.
Greens MPs and independent MP Andrew Wilkie have supported the call for de-listing of the PKK.
NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker told MedyaNews:
“The PKK poses no risk to the people of Australia. The listing denies the important role they can play in a peace process and their key role in the defeat of ISIS.
“The Australian Greens opposed the original listing of the PKK under the John Howard government in 2005.”
“The PKK played a key role in the defeat of ISIS forces on the ground in Syria with the support of the United States,” Parker added.
“Delisting the PKK would give extra impetus to a peace process between the Kurds and Turkey.
“The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, can play an important role in a peace process and should be released from his inhumane imprisonment.”
Fionn Skiotis, a Melbourne-based activist and the Co-Chair of North and East Syria Solidarity, told MedyaNews that the new petition was part of an international campaign. The Belgium supreme court decision, he said was “one of the first cracks in the crumbling of this ridiculous labeling of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, which it is not”.
The labelling of the PKK as terrorist helps the Turkish state continue its oppression of the Kurdish people.
“In Turkey, people can be sent to jail for something as simple as saying a Kurdish expression or singing a Kurdish song because this can be presented as some for of support for ‘terrorism’.
“Many Kurdish politicians who have been democratically elected have been removed from office and jailed because they are claimed to be supporting PKK ‘terrorism’.
“In is used in an international context by Turkey to justify its now very open warfare against the Kurdish people right across Kurdistan.
“The recent attacks in North and East Syria and in Shengal in Iraq and in Kurdish area in Turkey are justified by Turkey as acts in pursuit of ‘terrorists’.
“As long as the listing of the PKK remains in countries like Australia and its allies in the West, Turkey will be able to use that excuse to continue its war on the Kurds.”
* Peter Boyle is a well known journalist and political activist living in Sydney, Australia. He is also a correspondent of the Green Left Journal.