I interviewed Dr Lukas Theune who is a lawyer based in Berlin, who has worked for several years on legal cases against Kurdish activists in Germany.
Exactly 28 years ago, on 26 November 1993, at the height of Turkey’s systematic destruction of Kurdish villages in the south east of Turkey, the then German Federal Minister of the Interior, Manfred Kanther, issued a ban on the PKK in Germany. This essentially aided the Turkish government in quashing any opposition to Turkey’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurds in the south east of Turkey.
Since the Ottoman Empire, Germany has been a very strong ally of Turkey with leading German generals such as Baron von der Goltz and Helmuth von Moltke being charged with reorganising and training the Ottoman armies and even being accused of giving advice to the Ottoman army during the early days of the Armenian genocide.
Indeed, Adolf Hitler is famously quoted as saying, “Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?,” when he was justifying his brutal military policies of the mass murder of civilians in Poland.
Turkey also exported chrome to the Nazi regime for use in building their weapons during the Second World War and Germany has continued selling weapons such as rifles and tanks to Turkey for decades for use against the Kurds, both civilians and Kurdish armed fighters.
But it is the insidious psychological strategy of the labelling of the legitimate Kurdish resistance to Turkey’s brutal repression that has been most problematic, essentially aiding the Turkish state to politically repress the Kurds legitimate struggle against racism and the official policies of forced assimilation and forced denial of the Kurdish identity and culture in Turkey.
This Saturday, 27 November, there is a call for a demonstration in Berlin to call on the German government to remove the PKK from the list of proscribed organisations on the 28th anniversary of the notorious ban and to call on the German government to use its relationship with Turkey to press for a much needed political and peaceful settlement to the ‘Kurdish question’ in the Middle East – made ever more urgent as a result of the Kurds’ defeat of ISIS in North East Syria and their establishment of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
The ‘Kurdish question’ has now become one of the largest unsolved political questions in the Middle East and more urgently than ever before, needs a political solution.
One of those people in Germany who knows more than most about the political and repressive nature of the labelling of the PKK in Germany is Dr Lukas Theune, a lawyer who has represented many Kurdish people who have been caught up in this political ‘game’ and ‘labelling,’ sometimes with very serious consequences for those indivduals targeted.
Dr Lukas Theune began by giving a brief history of Germany’s policies towards the Kurds in Germany, including the imposition of the infamous ban on the PKK in November 1993 but also spoke of how Germany criminalised Kurds even before then, during the late 1980s. He stated that, over the years, there have been approximately 100-120 people jailed in German prisons (presently around 9 people imprisoned) and also gave an example of a woman who had her children taken away from her, simply for attending a Kurdish demonstration in support of Kurdish rights in Turkey.
Lukas urged people to attend the Berlin demonstration this Saturday, gathering at 12-1pm local time at Hermannplatz, Berlin, whether Kurdish or not, to show solidarity. He explained that ‘democracy should win’ and that the German government should be forced to end its unjust discrimination of an oppressed minority in Germany.
He said that the Kurds were now much more widely known about in Germany after the defeat of ISIS in North East Syria.
The framing of the German government of over one million Kurdish people living in Germany as ‘terrorists’ is dangerous and ends up discriminating against the whole community, Lukas explained. He also explained how it is difficult for the German public to be able to identify the differences between Turkish and Kurdish people in Germany, which, he explained, also relates to the forced assimilation policies of the Turkish state in Turkey towards the Kurds.
However, over the years, there have been small advances in strengthening the Kurdish identity with the emergence of Kurdish languages courses and Kurdish film festivals, so people can see that ‘Kurdish’ is a distinctive identity and language when compared to Turkish. He stated that people can also see that the Kurds have been an oppressed people, not just in Turkey but also in Iran, Iraq and Syria for decades.
Slowly, people have become more aware of the Kurds through their fight against ISIS in North and East Syria and see them as brave freedom fighters. Lukas also stated that the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is quite active in German politics, lobbying the German government. Many HDP ex-MPs are in political exile in Germany, he said, after the attempted ban on the HDP in Turkey. But the criminalisation of the PKK also affects this political work as well.
Lukas described some of the tactics used by the German authorities to intimidate and threaten the Kurdish community in Germany, including threats of revoking visas and passports.
He explained that the Belgium court case that ruled that the PKK is not a ‘terrorist’ organisation but rather a party to an armed conflict against the Turkish army was very important and a useful legal tool that opens the whole issue up. He confirmed that he has used the Belgium case himself in legal cases in Germany. It gives lawyers a new argument to be used in the German courts, he said.
He also explained that there is a case that is proceeding through the European Union legal system by his colleagues from Amsterdam, challenging the whole notion that the PKK should be on the list of proscribed organisations at all.
This law suit was actually won in the first instance, but at the moment, it has been appealed by the European Commission. All these cases are very useful for us in Germany, he said, to argue that the PKK should not be legally defined as a ‘terrorist’ organisation and to be able to say in the German courts that the matter has been argued in different courts in Europe and neighbouring countries and found to be a false argument and should be dropped in Germany.
Lukas concluded by providing some advice on how to fight the criminalisation of the Kurdish movement and said that although there are some legal opportunities to challenge the label, people should work politically together and those who are working on these issues should join together to forge better connections and get organised on how best to fight this.
There needs to be a political movement to organise also on the streets. He urged people to come to the demonstration in Berlin on Saturday and bring their neighbours and speak out about this important issue.