In this Medya News podcast, Martin Dolzer and I discuss issues and concerns relating to the nature of the criminalisation of the Kurdish diaspora in Germany, the criminalisation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the criminalisation or repression of initiatives by peace campaigners, human rights defenders, concerned members of the public, political activists and organisations that seek to criticise the Turkish state’s repressive policies and the German state’s ‘special relationship’ with Turkey.
Martin Dolzer is a former German parliamentarian who is based in Germany and is the author of ‘The Turkish-Kurdish Conflict. Human rights – peace – democracy in a European country?’ He is also a member of the Defend Kurdistan Initiative, an activist who has been involved in refugee rights and wider human rights concerns for almost three decades, and has been closely observing the nature of the criminalisation of the PKK and Kurdish diaspora in Germany. Martin is also a journalist and has written for Junge Welt and Neuess Deutschland.
Criminalisation of the kind outlined above has continued even after German police revealed in July that they were aware of “the existence of a Turkish ‘hit list’ of 55 critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” of Turkey. The criminalisation continues even after the repression of the opposition in Turkey was condemned by the European Parliament (amongst many other human rights bodies) and a resolution condemning the repression of opposition political parties in Turkey, particularly the Peoples’ Democratic Party (the HDP), was adopted in the European Parliament.
Criminalisation, indeed, has continued against the Kurdish movement and diaspora in Germany alongside Turkey’s continued “both defacto and dejure support from almost all EU governments as well as the US-led NATO, with the implied endorsement of Germany, a prominent actor in both organisations.” This is despite the fact that the Turkish government and the state’s armed and ‘security’ forces, apart from severely repressing the Kurds within the country, provoking violence against them (as targeted ‘Others’) and criminalising the HDP and Kurdish politicians, has attacked and taken over numerous North and Eastern Syrian Kurdish populated areas, “heavily backed by drone power and perpetrated innumerable crimes against humanity in the process,” particularly in Afrin, Ras el-Ayn (Serêkaniyê) and Tal Abyad (Girê Spî). “And they show no sign of stopping,” Sinan Önal concludes, even as no “world” – or economic – “power,” inclusive of Germany, exhibits “any intent of trying to stop them.”
The German government’s support for the Erdoğan presidency and the ruling Justice and Development Party and Nationalist Movement Party (AKP-MHP) coalition, accompanied by the criminalisation of the PKK and the Kurdish diaspora in Germany and targeting of peace initiatives such as the Defend Kurdistan Initiative, also continues despite the recent revelations by Sedat Peker, “a high-level, organised criminal and once fervent supporter of the president and his regime” and “notorious gang leader in Turkey’s underworld.” After falling out with his colleagues, Peker revealed how he has “been involved and acted as a ‘black hand’ of Erdoğan’s regime, doing his dirty work in quelling dissidents and exposing the illegal actions committed by leading politicians such as the current Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. (…)
“He has cast shadows on Erdoğan’s inner circle with accusations made against key political figures of them being involved in organised crime, corruption, drug-trafficking and the illegal seizure of assets from business people, and more: he has made allegations to Turkey’s role in the illegal cocaine trade with several Latin American countries. (…) He confesses,” Gulten Sari adds, “to having committed crimes, allegedly at the behest of the AKP. (…) Among Peker’s allegations” is “that the Turkish government has supported jihadist group Al Nusra – an offshot of Al Qaeda – through the supply of arms under the guise of delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. (…)
“In one video, Peker stated that a marina located in the country’s popular tourist hotspot of Bodrum was used in drug trafficking operations between Columbia and Venezuela, and that it was agreed and consented by the Turkish government. (…) Peker alleges that Turkish Airlines flights were used to freight cocaine between the two countries.” He additionally stated that “several business people were threatened and forced to hand over assets to individuals related to the AKP, bribing them with accusations that they were linked to [the ‘terrorist organisation’] FETO if they failed to comply with the demands.”
Dolzer: Germany’s ‘geostrategically oriented policy towards Turkey’ explains its criminalisation policies
Why has this policy of criminalisation been put in place? According to Dolzer: “First, when I look at German politics, I have to say that the federal governments have been pursuing a geostrategically oriented policy towards Turkey for more than 100 years now. Instead of a policy oriented towards human rights and international law – what I would prefer and many citizens and people who live in Germany, as well, would prefer – it’s really based on a kind of a ‘brotherhood in arms’ with Turkey, with this beginning with the Armenian genocide, or even before.
“The German government at that time was involved in the Armenian genocide and the politics of Turkey” – when it was formally established – “was supported by German governments ever since that: [It] doesn’t matter what happened; it doesn’t matter if there was a military coup in the 1980s or whether there were the attacks on the villages and deportations from villages in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey during the 1990s up to today where the government of the fascist president Erdoğan who works together with the fascist MHP [governs]. Yes, it’s a very sad ‘brotherhood in arms'” based on “security policies. And so what happens here in Germany” – in terms of the criminalising policies it has adopted against the Kurdish diaspora and the PKK – “doesn’t happen in the interests of the population.”
Defend the Kurds Campaign: ‘An estimated 400 Kurds’ were being ‘detained in German prisons’ in 1995
It is evident (as I have noted elsewhere extensively) that, as a consequence of the above-stated ‘special relationship’ between Turkey and West (and later united) Germany, European Union (EU) superstate ‘Fortress Europe’ policies and guidelines, the operationalisation of NATO-US-Turkey (inclusive of paramilitary ‘Gladio’) policies and decades long arms trading and counter-insurgency and psychological warfare ‘assistance’ provided by the German government to Turkey’s armed forces in its struggle against the PKK (which remains proscribed in Germany as opposed to Belgium, for example, where it has been de-criminalised), prison, immigration, security and policing initiatives in Germany have targeted and criminalised large sections of the Kurdish diaspora as well as people supporting Kurdish struggles for liberation from oppressive Turkish state practices.
Several lawyers, human rights defenders, human rights groups and investigative journalists and Kurdish organisations have described these German state linked initiatives as institutionally racist and publicly unaccountable on a number of levels. The significant role of much of the tabloid press, political parties (both in power and in opposition), far-right groups, corrupt police, unaccountable security services and Turkish MIT security services in further targeting and/or criminalising Kurdish asylum seekers and refugees and the Kurdish diaspora in Germany also cannot be overlooked.
There have been politically questionable trials, arrests, closures of cultural and news centres, prison terms and deportations of Kurds back to Turkey ever since the1980’s. The Defend the Kurds Campaign, in its report ‘Discussion Document on the Case of PKK European Representative Kani Yilmaz: The Criminalisation of the Kurdish Communities in Britain and Europe and the Erosion of Democratic and Civil Rights,’ disturbingly noted that by the mid-90s, for example, that Kurds in Germany continued to be questionably targeted and criminalised using Article 129a of the Penal Code.
It reported that use of that article in the penal code “makes the ‘establishment of terrorist associations’ a punishable offence without clearly defining what actually is to be understood by the term ‘terrorist.’ The provision is thus open to manifold interpretations of ‘terrorism,’ according to the convenience of the state security forces and demands of politics.” Consequently, it was “possible to be arrested for leafleting” in Germany and a political environment had been created whereby “pre-trial detention has no limit and can extend for years.”
By 1995, the Defend the Kurds Campaign had ascertained that “an estimated four hundred Kurds” were being “detained in German prisons, many under Article 129a in exceptional and inhumane conditions of solitary confinement that amounted to a form of torture, because of its grave consequences for their health.”
It reported that “the Kurdish language is effectively banned during visits, as it is throughout Turkey and North Kurdistan. (…) Pro-Kurdish press” editions are “forbidden to Kurdish prisoners in German jails. Following the ‘PKK ban,’ an almost boundless criminalisation of Kurds has been taking place.”
It continued: “Operations against them have become increasingly repressive and brutal and have involved completely disproportionate and spectacularly large-scale operations by the police and special forces, using checks, searches, a systematic rejection of applications for asylum, and expulsions aimed at specific persons (‘the risk of imminent political persecution’ no longer constituting an obstacle to deportation); surveillance and preliminary proceedings for violations of the Association Act.
“Homes are routinely raided and offices emptied,” it documented, adding: “Demonstrations are attacked by armed security forces and numerous people are rounded up and arrested; cultural festivals and New Year (Newroz) celebrations are banned and freedom of movement over borders severely restricted or even prevented. Even simple manifestations of Kurdish culture and ideology are now banned.”
Even the use of “logos, emblems and flags,” it emphasized, were prohibited: “Books, videotaped TV coverage, publications, posters, photographs and paintings of Kurdish martyrs and leaders, sashes and scarves in the Kurdish colours – all are liable for confiscation.” Young Kurdish refugees caught fly posting ERNK/PKK posters were also targeted by police in brutal and sometimes tragic ways.
The German lawyer Hans Eberhardt Schultz, writing in the March-May edition of Kurdistan Report in 1996, described the way in which “Kurdish Associations have been banned or closed down, among these the Kurdistan Information office, which was deemed a substitute for the Kurdistan Committee; every single local Kurdish association in Bavaria, despite the fact that they had already been banned by the Federal Minister of the Interior in 1993 and had won the appeal against this action; and even the Kurdish news agency and Kurdish publishers were banned.”
He added: “All Kurdish Associations are placed under blanket surveillance and control, police raids, searches. (…) Confiscations occur almost daily.”
Targeting and criminalisation in more recent times
Martin Dolzer further explained the context in which criminalisation has occurred in the past two decades: “Then, at the end of the last millennium, the paragraph was changed to 129b, which is a paragraph against so-called ‘terrorist organisation’ abroad and it causes sentences between three and six years. And it’s more than 30 persons who have been prosecuted in between three and six years for organising peace demonstrations or taking care of Kurdish conflicts within the Kurdish community because this paragraph allows prison sentences without persons having been accused of any concrete crime.
“Just because the German government analyses” and goes along with the interpretation and Turkish government projection that the PKK is designated a ‘terrorist organisation’ in Turkey, “everyone who is declared or labelled a member of this organisation in Germany can be sentenced to these long prison sentences,” he noted.
“This is clearly” in contravention, he asserted, of “the German constitution as well as the politics of the German government. It’s” in contravention of “international law and (…) the human rights declarations of the United Nations. If we look at that, we can see clearly that the German governments are kind of aware, but they don’t want to be really taking into account the aggressive [tendancies] of the neo-Ottoman project of Erdoğan.”
Dolzer, in the podcast, expresses the view that the German government “is aware” of Turkey’s war crimes, for example in Afrin, where it is “collaborating with Islamist terror groups.” It is additionally aware, he observed, that there have been multiple (20 – 30) reports of the Turkish army’s use of chemical weapons in South Kurdistan/North Iraq. “The German government knows that, and so to my mind, it’s a kind of a perversion to say that a delegation, for example, like our delegation [the Defend Kurdistan Initiative] that was aiming to bring forward a dialogue between the Kurdish actors in Northern Iraq and to document what is going on in that war” that relates to destabilising Turkish armed forces’ cross-border operations in Iraqi Kurdistan/northern Iraq, should be targeted.
“And to not allow people” – the Defend Kurdistan peace delegates and human rights defenders, he pointed out – “to travel to northern Iraq with the excuse, let’s call it ‘excuse,’ that that would ‘risk (…) foreign relations with Turkey'”, at a time “when I see the will and the idea of the German population, which in evaluations regularly says, ‘We don’t want any war,’ more than 70% of the German population always is for that. (…) No one you talk with tell, ‘My interest is that any army uses chemical weapons’ or whether any Euro government tries to bring forward genocide, like the Turkish government does against the Kurds at the moment, no one would say, ‘I would like that my name or my fellow brother or sister in northern Iraq should be shot by any Turkish soldier who is ordered to do an intervention in that country.’ No, no one wants that. (…)
“And so, it cannot be in the interests of Germany towards Turkey that people cannot link in dialogue” – as our peace delegation attempted to do – “because dialogue is the only way to peace. But that is the problem of the German government and the German authorities to my mind, that they have decided, due to geostrategical aims, to still work together with a dictator like Erdoğan, who is responsible for more than 30,000 politicians, human rights activists, women activists [being] in Turkish jails where torture is a daily practice.
“A dictator like Erdoğan who works together with the MHP which is a fascist party, a dictator like Erdoğan who works together with the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) to conquer Afrin and other parts of Rojava, North Syria and who, now, against international law again, tries to conquer parts of northern Iraq. And the German government still prefers to work together with such a ‘political actor’ because Turkey is ‘part of NATO’ and because the German government might be afraid of refugees who leave from the Syrian war and hopes that the government of Erdogan, for a lot of money, keeps ‘them’ outside of Germany.”
Analysing such a stance, Dozer concluded: “I think that is a kind of capitulation towards international law and towards the self-declared will of the German government to keep onto the human rights conventions of the United Nations and of the European Union and worldwide international law and worldwide war law.”
In the podcast, Dolzer also details the way in which two legal criminal charge claims in 2011 and 2016 by civil society organisations against Erdoğan and other politicians and generals regarding war crimes they were conducting against Kurdish guerrillas and civilians (including extra-judicial killings and chemical warfare) and war crimes in Cizre were frustrated in Germany.
He noted that German federal prosecutors and the general prosecutor controversially chose not to bring those claims to court. This was done without offering “any comprehensive justification” for such a decision, he observed. “Political reasons” again explained such actions, in the same way, he noted, that the PKK has continued to be criminalised in Germany despite its concerted efforts to engage in peace processes in Turkey, prevent greater genocidal carnage against the Yazidis from Sinjar (Shengal) by ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan and despite its promotion of a governing ‘democratic confederalism’ based framework in the wider region (inspired by the thoughts of its leader, Abdullah Öcalan) that advocates non-conflict between peoples, religious freedom and gender equality within an autonomous structure.
Meral Çiçek: ‘Germany has been assigned in NATO with the objective of keeping Kurdish dynamics under control’
The podcast examines the recent assessments that have been made by analysts such as Meral Çiçek, peace initiatives such as the Defend Kurdistan Initiative and Kurdish diaspora platforms such as the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E).
Meral Çiçek, writing in Ozgur Politika (and as also translated into English by Medya News), noted the following last month: “The ban on the PKK in Germany, the first Western state to ban the organisation in 1993, has been used as a resourceful instrument of criminalisation for almost 30 years.
“This ban has not only denied the universal rights of organisation, political expression and the right of resisting the oppression of the Kurds, but it has also created the grounds upon which ‘special warfare methods’ have been utilised to manufacture a social perception that favours the German state’s hostile policy. (…) It is stated – actually known for some time now – that Germany has been assigned in NATO with the objective of keeping ‘Kurdish dynamics’ under control. (…)
“The aggression of the German state against Defend Kurdistan Initiative campaigners, the recent house raids and the ban on the assembly of the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E) must all be read in the same context.”
“It has become clearer,” she concluded, that “after the recent NATO meeting, the West, especially the US and Germany, has once again shown its intent to keep the fascist regime of the Justice and Development Party and Nationalist Movement Party (AKP-MHP) alliance in power. (…) The German state is a part of the ‘Kurdish Problem.’ Despite its own past, it is now maintaining a policy of supporting a fascist regime. This policy must be exposed to the public.”
KON-MED: ‘The German government … is on the side of the fascist Turkish state’
In June this year, even as Turkey’s destructive military operations (inclusive of drone operations) continued in Iraqi Kurdistan, proposals to impose arms embargoes on Turkey, submitted to the Bundestag by two of the main opposition parties in Germany, the Greens and the Left Party, were rejected.
The Defend Kurdistan Initiative is an international delegation for peace, consisting of journalists, feminists, politicians, academics, ecologists and members from anti-war groups from various European countries, including Germany. Some members of the delegation arrived in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan in June to try and halt the conflict taking place there after the Turkish armed forces began their major cross border military offensive on 23 April.
It is worth pointing out that several peace activists from the Defend Kurdistan Initiative, which Martin Dolzer is a member of, were controversially prevented from even leaving Germany to get to Erbil by the German authorities. Dolzer provides further information regarding these acts in the podcast. Some delegates from the Defend Kurdistan Initiative were also harshly treated on their arrival back in Germany.
ANF reported, for example, that, at Frankfurt Airport, police officers harassed members of the delegation: “Eight delegates were subjected to identification treatments, several people were pressed with their heads against the wall and detained without justification.”
Twenty-seven members of the delegation who went to Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport on the morning of 12 June were detained by the police and had their passports confiscated. The delegates were questioned by the police at the airport.
German police reportedly issued a statement that the visit by the peace delegation “harms our relations with Turkey, which is a NATO partner.” The Confederation of Kurdistan Communities in Germany (KON-MED) protested against these actions, and stated: “The German police said in a statement that the visit planned by the delegation ‘harms our relations with Turkey, which is a NATO partner.’ This statement is actually a confession, and confirmed that Germany is a partner in the genocidal war in Kurdistan. (…) The German government, which has been financing the Turkish massacre policies in Kurdistan for years, has once again shown that it is on the side of the fascist Turkish state and its representative, dictator Erdogan.
“Just as the AKP-MHP fascism does not tolerate any alternative thought and democracy in Turkey and attacks elected deputies, co-mayors and non-governmental organisations, the German government once again stands by the fascist Turkish regime by preventing the Peace Delegation which includes elected deputies from doing their work.”
Despite these obstacles, some members of the delegation reached Iraqi Kurdistan and concluded that: “Genocidal acts from Turkey are continuing right now, using military technology from Europe.”
The ban on the KCDK-E congress by German authorities
The 4th annual meeting of the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E), scheduled to be held on the 11 July this year, was banned by German authorities at the last minute. As reported by Medya News: “It was stated that the reason for the ban was the claim that 200 senior officials of the PKK were planning to attend the congress. However, KCDK-E, which was formally established in Belgium and is recognised under European law, has the legal right to hold congresses anywhere in Europe, and with the last-minute ban of the congress, Germany, it stated, was attempting to criminalise hundreds of Kurdish institutions working legally in Europe.
“The KCDK-E issued the following statement: ‘In banning the congress, is the German police taking instructions from the dictator Erdoğan? We absolutely refuse to accept that our congress, which even received a message of congratulations from the mayor of Cologne, can be banned in this way. We do not accept the criminalisation of the KCDK-E. (…)
“That 200 high-ranking PKK members were to be present at the congress is a fabrication. (…) We call on the German Government to change this attitude,” the KCDK-E stated.
It should be known that, in defiance of and in resistance to this ban, the KCDK-E “held its Congress in an open area and thus frustrated the German ban.”
German lawyer Roland Meister, who applied to a Cologne Court to challenge the ban, stated that “the ban on the Congress of the biggest Kurdish institution in Europe violates the existing legal framework of the European Court of Human Rights and of the German Constitution.”
The arrest and trial of Özkan T: ‘The aim was to criminalise the PKK in the eyes of the European public’
In another notable incident, in July this year, upon his release after a trial that he claimed was prejudiced against him from the start, a Kurdish activist – named Özkan T, who had been imprisoned in Germany since 2018 – shared details of violations of human rights that he stated had been perpetrated by German security forces and prison officers against him and others.
“The aim was to criminalise the PKK in the eyes of the European public, and accordingly, they made up accusations referring to a ‘terrorist organisation,'” he noted.
As reported by Yeni Özgür Politika and Medya News, indicating that their arrest was like “a show trial” by the German government, Özkan stated that many special teams were involved in the operation. “Explaining how he was brought to the court room in a convoy of police cars, accompanied by special teams with automatic weapons, his hands cuffed behind his back, his ankles in leg irons, he said there were extreme security measures in the court room and on the premises too.
“He went on to explain that they were placed in cells under the court first, then taken to the court room where there was a glass wall between them and their lawyers. So they were even not even able to communicate with their lawyers satisfactorily. He said he was punched by some of the guards in the cell after the court session before he was transferred back to prison.
“He was then physically dragged to the vehicle by the guards.” Özkan stated that “that none of their demands were accepted by the court during the court hearings and almost all objections made by their lawyers were rejected. (…) Pointing out that the verdict against them seemed to have been decided before the trial had even began, Özkan T. also said that they refused to be kept in glass cages during the first hearing.”
Eventually, they were released after it became all too clear that there were multiple inconsistencies in the chief witness’ statements that the authorities were using against them.
Ban on carrying images of Abdullah Öcalan
The chilling political environment in Germany, as detailed in the podcast, can be seen by the fact that a Kurdish activist was fined by a German court in July this year for the second time for carrying a poster with the image of Abdullah Öcalan. She had also been sentenced to pay 3,400 Euros before in a similar case in 2019. As Medya News had reported, the cases are linked to incidents including a demonstration against the Munich Security Conference on 15 February last year, the freedom rally for Öcalan on 10 March this year, and a protest against the Turkish cross border military operation into Iraqi Kurdistan this year.
The German Interior Ministry, it should be noted, banned the usage of the symbols of many Kurdish organisations including People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), as well as photographs of Öcalan, on 2 March 2017.
Denial of asylum in Bavarian courts
At the beginning of this month, as also noted in the podcast, two political asylum seekers from Turkey were denied asylum by Bavarian courts, which are even more extreme than other courts in other parts of Germany.
Regarding the German Court’s judgement, and as reported in the podcast, one of the asylum seekers said: “The court says the country ruled by Tayyip Erdoğan is a democratic one. They say it is not their concern that there is a possibility of us being tortured in prison.”
Dolzer: Three reasons for the criminalisation
“Instead of seeing what would be development in respect of human rights and humanitarian ideas in that region” [i.e., Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, the wider Middle East and Asia], based on the ideas and formulations of democratic confederalism (as conceptualised by the PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan), the German government’s policy towards Turkey and its linked criminalisation of the PKK, the Kurdish diaspora and peace initiatives domestically is, Dolzer concludes, “based on geostrategic aims and it’s not based on a strategy where every human being and every political actor is seen as equal. So it is based on a ‘brotherhood in arms with Turkey’ which is very, very, very sad for the population” in terms of its consequences.
Considering an alternative “vision” to the one being promoted by the German government and EU member states (barring Belgium), Dolzer in the podcast suggests that decriminalisation of the PKK and the Kurdish diaspora could lead to so many positive outcomes: “I would say: ‘Why can’t Abdullah Öcalan be respected as a leader of a Kurdish population as Mandela was in South Africa?’ Because he could play a similar role if the US government and the German government would like him to do so or would allow or would put pressure on Turkey to let him play that role.”
Dolzer points to three key reasons which explain ‘why’ the German government isn’t embarking on this course of action: “It’s about oil in the Middle East, the control of oil and trade routes and still it’s preferred that the government of Erdoğan or other reactionary powers are preferred as ‘association partners’ more than the socialist-anarchist movement like the Kurdish movement, which is really bringing forward democracy but self-determined development of the region as well, and so there is a big fear, the third reason, [of] the PKK because, in Germany, the left wing, since 1989,” had its “structure (…) destroyed very brutally. (…)
“Now, they have recovered a little bit but none of the organisations have, let’s say, a lot of power to organise people. So the Kurdish movement is one of the only actors in Germany, because we have a large Kurdish community” of “more than one million of Kurdish origin. So, the German government is afraid of the organisational power of the PKK and of the Kurdish movement. And so they are afraid of Abdullah Öcalan, and so even the flags [of Öcalan] are forbidden. How can you fear a person who brought forward a peace process from 2013-2015 until Erdoğan decided to stop the peace process? (…) So, why is the German government still afraid of that man?” These and other related issues are explored in depth in the podcast by Martin Dolzer.
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University and the author of ‘The Targeting and Criminalisation of Kurdish Asylum Seekers and Refugee Communities in the UK and Germany’ (2001) and ‘The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: from Censorship and Denial to Recognition?’ (2007, 2013 – Turkish edition). He has written a number of articles and book chapters focusing upon the criminalisation of the Kurdish diaspora, most recently for ‘The Kurdish Question’ and for the ‘Routledge Handbook on the Kurds’ (2018, 2019).