n this Medya News podcast, I interviewed Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP, Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kurdistan in Syria and Turkey. He discusses the findings of the APPG’s June 2021 report, entitled ‘Kurdish Political Representation and Equality in Turkey’ and the context in which it was produced.
The report was researched and funded by the Office of Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP and Unite the Union.
The 56 page report concluded that it was being released “at a time of acute crisis: a crisis of human rights and freedom of speech, and a fundamental collapse of democracy. This report outlines the dire situation in Turkey regarding repression of political representatives, violence against women and girls, quashing of journalistic freedoms and militarised attacks targeting of majority-Kurdish regions.”
“Recent years under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party have seen a return to repressive and violent targeting of Kurds,” it noted, adding: “The treatment of the Kurdish population and of elected representatives is one of the greatest threats to democracy in Turkey and the wider region. As the repression of democratically elected representatives has increased in severity, the violence directed at Kurdish civil society has also become more pronounced.”
As Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP noted during the podcast, “Our view is that there is a particular problem around these issues of how Turkey is treating political representation, is treating cultural representation and then particularly, women and journalists of a Kurdish background.”
He noted how some members of the APPG, in an earlier visit of trials in Turkey in 2016, noted with concern that “there were trumped up trials.” The new APPG report, published in June this year, based on careful documentation and research, has established that severe concerns persist.
“Now, of course, out of politeness and courtesy,” he noted, “the first thing I did was write to the ambassador [of Turkey] to say we were looking into this. And I must say it was very unfortunate that we got a letter back that was very dismissive of the issue. ‘We do not recognise the Kurds. We do not recognise ethnic minorities as having a status in Turkey. The only ethnic minority we recognise is because of the treaties with Greece and some of the Christians.’
“Now, we all know,” Russell-Moyle pointed out in the podcast, “that if you don’t recognise groups of people,” as was indicated by the reply he received, “then that is the first step to being able to oppress them and not allow them self-autonomy and expression. And so, that immediately set alarm bells ringing.”
Russell-Moyle continued: “Now, we also mention in the report, of course, that it was recently that Jo Biden, the president of the USA, talked of the Armenian genocide for the very first time. So it is a moment, I think, for us to start re-looking at Turkish history and re-looking at the current actions of Turkey to see where, in the past, maybe western countries have been too afraid to point out these genocides and massacres and they are now more willing to be critical.”
Concerning what is now happening in Turkey, he added: “Does that mean the current situation is a genocide, is a violation of international humanitarian law? I am not a court to make that judgment. We are not a court to make that judgment. But what we do say is that these things need to be investigated, that the British government needs to ask serious questions about particularly some of the curfews, for example, some of the other restrictions that Turkey is putting on, particularly in ethnically dominated areas of Kurds and if they are not able to provide suitable answers, then we should look at whether these are then – are they triggering those thresholds?”
For Russell-Moyle: “The first step is that we must be asking very serious questions, and breaking that link where the British government accepts everything that the Turkish government says. I mean, [concerning] one of the examples around the ‘terrorism’ and the HDP [issue in Turkey]: One of the HDP colleagues gave evidence” to the APPG “that he was facing trial for ‘forming the PKK.’
“Well, the PKK was set up when he was five years old. So, this idea that he could have been involved in ‘founding the PKK’ – and, of course, in the latter part [of the APPG report] we talk about how the PKK should be reassessed anyway. But even if you considered the PKK a ‘terrorist organisation,’ to try and prosecute people who are five years old when it was founded for ‘founding the organisation,’ is totally and clearly an abuse of power and an abuse of due process.”
Turkey, Russell-Moyle emphasized in the podcast, “is meant to be a Council of Europe member abiding by certain human rights standards. Turkey is meant to be a NATO ally abiding by certain democratic and western liberal standards and when it fails to do that, and our report identifies a number of areas – the restrictions on cultural expression, the restrictions on democratically elected mayors, the restrictions on journalists, arresting them and making collective punishment [where] it seems to happen in a number of areas around curfews, etc – those things seem particularly problematic and we need to be questioning them.”
The report found, for example, that Kurdish women in Turkey have experienced and are experiencing “particular challenges both in their professional political roles and in their personal lives,” within a “backdrop of a hostile environment for women’s rights in Turkey more generally” where “women have been arrested for speaking up in support of the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and girls.”
Moreover, the report found that, upon the basis of earlier 2018 and 2019 findings from visits that the APPG made to the region, “it was clear that Turkey’s infringements and annexation of parts of Syria” were “intrinsically linked to their treatment and perception of Kurds in Turkey itself.”
Russell-Moyle also recently noted in his twitter account that “the Turkish state” – as highlighted by the findings of the APPG report – “has used the PKK listing as a terrorist organisation to target innocent journalists, activists and politicians.”
“Now, since this report has been published,” Russell-Moyle observed in the podcast interview, “the situation in Turkey has got no better. In fact, it has got worse. (…) It is even more concerning now than it was, maybe, even six months ago. And I know that is something we will bring up in the [UK parliamentary] debate. (…) I will be persistent and we will get a debate one way or another.”
The APPG’s recommendation to the UK government to ‘review the classification of the PKK as a terrorist organisation’
In the podcast, Russell-Moyle extensively details the reasoning behind the APPG’s recommendation to “the UK government to review the classification of the PKK as a terrorist organisation based on contemporary evidence, recent legal cases in both Belgium and the European courts and to outline its findings.”
The APPG report was also submitted to the Foreign Secretary and the UK Department of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.
Concerning the criminalisation issue, as noted in the podcast, the APPG report points out that “Belgian Supreme Court case Lawyer Jan Fermon successfully argued in a Supreme Court case in Belgium that the PKK should be internationally recognised not as a terrorist organisation, but as a non-state group acting within an armed conflict.
“Fermon also contributed to the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) in 2018 which concluded that the PKK should not be listed as a terrorist organisation but that, ‘There is no doubt that this organisation meets all the criteria that allow it to be considered as a political-military organisation, which carries out an armed struggle against Turkish security services, army and authorities, towards the realisation of the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people.’”
“This ruling,” the APPG noted in its report, “was echoed in the Court of Cessation (Belgium’s Supreme Court) where they ruled that the PKK is a party active in a war against the Turkish government; in effect, the PKK does not meet the criteria to be listed internationally as a terrorist organisation.”
The APPG report pointed out that “Fermon argued in his submission that once the PKK are internationally recognised as a non-state party in a civil war, the path to peace would be more straightforward; governments would be able to begin to find ways to solve the conflict, rather than committing resources to fighting a terrorist organisation.”
The report pointedly notes that, “so far, no European or international court has found that the PKK meets the requirements for a terrorist organisation, or that the listing is legally applied.”
Indeed, in its criminalisation linked analysis of the political situation in Turkey, the APPG asserts that “the accusation of the Republican People’s Party (CHP – i.e., the Official Opposition) MPs of links to terrorism when they have spoken in support of Kurds highlights the absurdity of the accusations of terrorism for elected officials. The APPG urges the UK government to make clear that the application of the label of ‘terrorism’ cannot be applied to a broad range of Kurdish political and cultural organisations just because they are Kurdish or support Kurdish self-autonomy.
“The APPG urges the UK government to consider the reliability of the Turkish government’s rhetoric in Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) prosecutions, and in regard to the PKK itself. The APPG” additionally “recommends that the UK government unreservedly diverge from Turkey on its definition of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – Democratic Union Party (PYD) as terrorist organisations in line with its current practice to not list them and to work with them on the ground.”
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).