The International Volunteers of Rojava – Part 3 – Criminalisation

Mark Campbell

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Malcolm X

The Kurdish people have been subjected to a campaign of misinformation, labelling and insidious psychological warfare since 1923 when the modern state of Turkey was formed after the signing of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 with UK, Italy and France.

The Turkish state wanted to eradicate the Kurdish identity with an official state policy of forced assimilation to force everyone ‘to be happy to be Turkish’, but the Kurds had other thoughts, having lived on their mountainous homeland for thousands of years with a distinct and rich language and culture.

Rather than coming to a political accommodation with the Kurds, granting autonomy and rights in a peaceful agreement (as had been granted the Kurds in the Treaty of Sevre signed only a few years before in 1920 but ripped up by Mustafa Kemal and his young Turkish nationalists) the Turkish state pursued a disastrous military policy and has been unsuccessfully trying to annihilate the Kurdish identity in Turkey ever since.

Any Kurd who resists this annihilation and assimilation campaign is labeled a ‘terrorist’ and so we know the consequences of this sad story for the Kurdish people but what does this have to do with the criminalisation of the returning International Volunteers?

The short answer is, everything.

But we need to explain some of the murky details and identify some of the unscrupulous ‘partners in crime’ of the Turkish state.

Only a minority of the world’s 149 countries have sufficient trade dealings with Turkey to make it financially necessary to go along with the unpalatable policy of criminalising victims of almost one hundred years of brutal oppression. This is a non negotiable clause in any trade deal with ultra nationalist Turkey.

US, UK, Germany, Italy and others depending on the size of financial investments in Turkey at any given time.

In my opinion it’s a historic crime to label an oppressed people ‘terrorists’ so as to then justify subjugating them with ever greater cruelty.

The same tactic was used during the forced capture and enslavement of Africans transported to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean Islands during slavery. The historical justification given then by the slave owners, was that Black people were ‘inferior’ and so justified enslaving and brutalising them, giving rise to modern day racism.

Exactly the same type of labelling of the PKK and Kurds as ‘terrorists’ is happening today encouraging ever more brutality against the Kurds as a people.

So, International Volunteers who have acted with honour and dignity by fighting side by side with the Kurds, victims of these Turkish policies, against an enemy such as ISIS who posed a major threat to the world, is a particular problem for Turkey as it’s not so easy for them to frame the International Volunteers as ‘terrorists’, therefore Turkey ‘sub contract’ this challenge out to the countries of origin that the International Volunteers return to, in our case the UK.

So, the UK authorities, if they don’t want their trade with Turkey to be affected have to go through the motions of attempting to convince us these International Volunteers are in some way supporters of ‘terrorists’ or involved in some shady ‘terrorist’ activity themselves.

It’s frankly been a theatre of the absurd with every case failing. Josh Walker’s example a good case in point, with the police dusting off an old student magazine under his bed, confiscating it and presenting it as ‘proof’ he was a terrorist.

But in this theatre of the absurd, the British state has seriously destroyed many lives by putting the International Volunteers through serious psychological pressure and even going to the lengths of incarcerating some individuals behind iron doors, for months and even years in one case.

Silan Özçelik is a particularly nasty example of the state’s callous willingness to torment completely innocent people in the interests of trade with Turkey.

Silan, a young British/Kurdish teenager who, like many of the International Volunteers, simply wanted ‘to fight ISIS’ when she watched how ISIS were taking Kurdish women as sex slaves and cutting off the heads of Yazadis. Silan didn’t even make it to Rojava and was put into the dock at The Old Bailey and treated like a dangerous terrorist and locked away behind metal doors in Holloway Women’s Prison with hardened criminals for years.

A particularly heinous and callous sacrifice by the British state to favour UK arms sales to Turkey by the British government at the time.

International Volunteers, Aiden James, Daniel Burke, Alexander Norton, Josh Walker, Jim Matthews, Jamie Janson, all subjected to harassment instigated by the UK government and having catastrophic and devastating effects on their personal and professionals lives.

Losing jobs, bank accounts, homes, friends and worse. Jamie Janson, who fought with Anna Campbell in Rojava took his own life in September 2019. There are many other examples of British state harassment I could list.

Paul & Sam Newy, father and brother of an International Volunteer, Dan Newy and Daniel Burke who was held in a high security jail for over 8 months were set to be ‘tried’ for ‘terrorism’ offences in Birmingham Crown Court in October of this year but the case collapsed in July, with the prosecution offering no evidence.

“Mr Burke’s legal team said they believed the change was directly linked to their application for the prosecution to disclose “information relating to diplomatic pressure placed on the UK government by Turkey to treat the Kurdish YPG as ‘terrorists’”.

A statement said threats about future trade links, and the “unwillingness of the authorities to risk the embarrassment” of revealing communications may have played a part in the CPS’ decision.” As reported in The Independent in July 2020.

Again, when the case against Jim Matthews collapsed in exactly the same way, Jim’s legal team then said more or less exactly the same thing.

Jim Matthews’s solicitors, Birnberg Peirce, also said the attorney general should provide parliament with an explanation as a matter of urgency and suggested that the UK’s geopolitical and business interests were entwined with the case.

“He was accused of attending a terrorist training camp organised by the YPG, an entirely lawful Kurdish organisation,” the lawyers said. “There never was a credible case of terrorism to be made against Mr Matthews, either factually, morally or legally.”

The lawyers noted that when Matthews was arrested the YPG was a “politically necessary ally of the UK” but by the time of the charge it was not.”

“Political calculations had changed as the YPG had by then all but defeated Isis,” they said. “Turkey, an avowed opponent of the YPG and any signs of a Kurdish independence movement, is an important market for British arms sales, perhaps ever more important in the current political climate.”

In Italy too, there have been odd legal attempts by the state, designed to obviously pacify the Turkish government and grease the way for arms deals, in Italy’s case military helicopters sold by the majority Italian State owned arms firm, Rome based Leonardo-Finmeccanica which is the ninth largest arms company in the world.

A recent case against YPJ International Volunteer, Maria Edgarda Marcucci known as ‘Eddie’ has made the news in Italy for its obscure use of some old laws that have not been used since the years of Mussolini in the fascist era.

The struggle goes on. The legitimate and just struggle to decriminalise the Kurds and the International Volunteers is the same struggle and must be won.

Alexander Norton, a British International Volunteer explained to me how he was persecuted by the British State but remains unaffected by the state’s attempts to intimidate and criminalise him.

“I was only interviewed by the anti-terror police after someone named me on Twitter.

I decided not to cooperate with the interview, I don’t recognise the state’s legitimacy in this area. They have played a dirty game in the region and continue to use Jihadis to further their agenda — Libya, which led to the Manchester Arena bombing, is good example. Not answering questions is an offence under anti-terror legislation but that’s what I did and have not yet faced charges for it — I think Jim Matthew’s day in court has made them wary of the massive public support for volunteers.

About 6 months later I had a full-blown terror raid on my London flat with police cars parked all around the block and officers filling all the corridors, even a bomb squad — the irony is that my neighbours probably thought it was an anti-ISIS operation.

One of them said “Mr Norton! You must remember me from your interview,” as if to say: this is what you get. But I didn’t and don’t remember her. I don’t remember any of the police who interviewed me, raided me, or have pulled me off flights since. I don’t see them as having much agency if I am honest, the complete opposite of volunteers who left their villages in Kurdistan and homes in the West to join the YPG.

I know some other volunteers have suffered from this treatment and my heart goes out to them. Personally, I always expected it — I saw volunteering in Rojava like going to fight in the Cuban revolution, or for the Sandinista’s in Nicaragua in the 1980s. I knew the British state would always crack down on socialists taking up arms, even if it was in another continent — but I didn’t care. I knew it was worth the risk, and I was right: for a brief, joyful period, I was a soldier in the service of a revolution, surrounded by comrades. It was the happiest and most meaningful thing I’ve ever done, and it can never be taken away from us.” Said Alexander with a combination of pride and determination.

Although pessimistic about the future of Rojava given the connivance of countries such as the UK and Italy, Anna Campbell’s father Dirk Campbell continues to seek justice for his daughter Anna Campbell and Rojava.

Dirk Campbell told me about the International Volunteers:

“The main potential benefit they have to the Rojava project is to raise global awareness of Rojava and the threats to its survival.

Anna contributed greatly to international awareness of Rojava by her death. For some reason, probably as she was the first woman internationalist to die, her story made the headlines whereas the men’s didn’t. Public attention is fickle, however, and a week is a long time in politics. Rachel Corrie’s sacrifice in Gaza in 2003 on behalf of the Palestinians has faded from view and a court case in Israel cleared the Israeli army of responsibility.

Anna’s death could continue to exert some traction if my legal action against the Turkish State for failing to honour its obligation under the Geneva Convention to return her remains succeeds in hitting the headlines. The Israelis returned Rachel Corrie’s body so they complied with that obligation. The court ruled that Rachel was in a war zone so the army was not responsible for her death. That is not my case against the Turkish State.

The case is now on its way to the International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but there are still mandatory correspondences to be gone through before that and it is a very protracted business. However the arm of the law is long and patient. I hope that this can come to public attention in time to help ameliorate the future for the Syrian Kurds.”

Video link for Further watching. Belgium Courts case finding PKK is not a terrorist organisation.

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The International Volunteers of Rojava – Part 3 – Criminalisation

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