Representatives of the Kurdish political movement met lawmakers from Britain’s largest opposition party at this year’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool to discuss the situation of Kurds amidst a worsening political crisis in Turkey, escalating conflicts in Syria and Iraq and anti-government protests in Iran.
Speakers at a 28 September meeting held at the conference, including prominent members of the Kurdish political movement from Britain and Turkey, called on the Labour Party to bolster its support for pro-Kurdish political parties and activists in Turkey.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)’s Hişyar Özsoy featured in the Centre for Kurdish Progress and UK Kurdish Assembly’s discussion entitled “Rights, Democracy and Security in Erdoğan’s Authoritarian Turkey: Why Labour Needs to Work with the Kurds”. He was joined by UK Labour MP Kim Johnson, whose Liverpool constituency played host to the conference. The UK Kurdish Assembly co-chair Miraz Yolcu and academic Iida Käyhkö also joined the discussion, which was chaired by Medya News’s Matt Broomfield.
Yolcu welcomed ongoing engagement between the Labour Party and the Kurdish political movement, and highlighted the particular relevance of Kurds in the ongoing uprising in Iran, where protesters have staged mass anti-government demonstrations for weeks since the 16 September death of a 22-year-old woman killed by the Islamic Republic’s morality police.
“Iran itself is currently seeing massive Kurdish-led uprisings following the death of a Kurdish woman, Jîna Amini, with at least 42 protesters killed to date,” Yolcu said. Rights groups on Sunday estimated that the number has risen to 92.
But Amini’s death and the ensuing protests are only one of a series of political flashpoints in a region where the Kurdish political movement is under intense pressure, and Yolcu also noted the importance of international support in Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council has been fending off Turkish military attacks.
“To do this, we need support from our friends and partners in Labour. Kurds need the support of the Labour Party and the Labour Party needs the ever-growing Kurdish constituency,” Yolcu said.
“In opposition or in government, we hope Labour will take steps like sending observers to the 2023 elections in Turkey, officially meeting with representatives of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council, and engaging with and supporting the Kurdish opposition movement now growing in Iran,” he said.
The 2023 national elections and the broader repression of the political opposition, press and civil society in Turkey was a key issue for Kim Johnson, with the MP – who also sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan in Turkey and Syria.
“This year has seen a massive growth in human rights abuses across the world, and abuses against the Kurdish movement in Turkey, North and East Syria, and Iraq,” said Johnson. “Turkey now imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world, and has more recorded cases of sexual violence against women in Turkish custody.”
“Unlawful arrests and imprisonments of HDP politicians have left only six out of sixty-five democratically elected HDP mayors still in office,” she said.
The lawmaker added that UK Labour must work to support the HDP, its sister party, for example by sending observers and delegations to monitor the 2023 elections, where the HDP are expected to play a kingmaker role if they are not banned during an ongoing process in Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
Johnson went on to lend her voice for calls to rethink the listing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as a terrorist group, on the basis of the recent Belgian Supreme Court decision which found the PKK were engaged in a legitimate civil conflict with the Turkish authorities.
“We must look at our own courts to reassess the status of the PKK, and to ensure that Kurdish collective rights are upheld as a people and we continue to support their struggle for liberation, autonomy and democracy,” she said.
The PKK has fought for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984, and the group is classified by Turkey and actors including the EU and NATO as a terrorist entity.
But Iida Käyhkö of the Royal Holloway University’s Information Security Group argued during her own contribution that listing the PKK as such is a tactic used by Turkey to delegitimise all representatives of the Kurdish movement.
“This allows for quite extraordinary powers in covert surveillance and targeting political activists in a number of different ways,” she said. “It also creates a powerful narrative in which the Turkish state can say that these people are terrorists, thoroughly evil, and a danger not just for Turkey but for the entire world.”
As an example, she pointed out that three leading Britain-based organisers in the Kurdish political movement were summarily banned from attending the conference, provoking condemnation from Johnson and other speakers, with the Liverpool MP promising to “demand answers” amid “an increasingly oppressive climate for the Kurdish people”.
HDP’s Özsoy also sounded the alarm over parliamentary repression in Turkey, but added a positive note by highlighting how the HDP hopes to work with other opposition movements to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the upcoming 2023 elections.
“The HDP and the HDP’s allies will be the kingmakers in the next elections. I want to emphasise this, because often the HDP is treated as the ultimate victim of President Erdoğan’s policies.”
“Yes we are, we have been victimised by Erdoğan. [But] the HDP is composed not just of the Kurdish movement, which is the major component and the backbone, but we have many other political parties and progressive movements.”
This means that the HDP poses a serious challenge to the Erdoğan government and must be supported by global progressive movements, Özsoy added.
“We show the peoples of Turkey and the international community that if people come together, they can win. There is still hope for Turkey.”
The whole conference can be watched here.