Labour Co-operative MP John Woodcock is on the right of the Labour Party. He has been linked to arms giant BAE systems, has voted in favour of military interventions abroad, and has essentially voted against holding Saudi Arabia to account for alleged abuses in Yemen. While initially hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he apologised for his previous lack of faith after the 2017 general election.
But now, Woodcock has sparked anger by apparently echoing the propaganda of an alleged war criminal.
An “unofficial government mouthpiece”
In an interview with The Daily Sabah, a “passionately pro-government” paper in Turkey which Slate has called an “unofficial government mouthpiece”, Woodcock echoed the propaganda of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He spoke about “the plurality and the tolerance and the progressive changes that are happening right now in your country”, and presented the current war in Turkey as a straightforward fight against terrorism. He also gave a hostile and one-sided opinion of the Kurdish-led forces (YPG and YPJ) in northern Syria, which have reportedly been some of the most effective ground forces in the fight against Daesh (Isis/Isil) in recent years, and said “I deplore their links with the terrorist PKK”.
The Turkish state has fought against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for decades. There have been significant losses on both sides and, as in most conflicts, civilians were often caught in the middle. But the PKK and its allies condemn all attacks on civilians; and have reportedly never attacked Western targets. And in recent years, a peace agreement looked increasingly possible; until Erdoğan ended the process in 2015 and began to repress his political opponents.
The missing ‘reality’ about Turkey
In the interview, Woodcock said his recent visit to Turkey had “reinforced my new understanding of the reality”. But many aspects of Turkey’s reality today were notably missing from the article. For example, Erdoğan’s government has reportedly: forged an alliance with neo-Nazis; turned Turkey into “the world’s biggest prison for the media profession”, according to Reporters Without Borders; organised massacres and destruction in majority-Kurdish cities and towns; helped jihadi groups in Syria; and cracked down on human rights in Turkey.
The regime has also targeted democratically elected politicians from the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In November 2017, HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen said that authorities had arrested around 11,000 party members since 2015, putting about 4,500 of them in prison. And according to a letter in December from numerous public figures and UK MPs, HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ are “in court on trumped-up charges of terrorism” – participating in what are “nothing more than show trials”.
There was also no mention in the Daily Sabah piece of the fact that the left-wing YPG and YPJ in northern Syria have been defending what author Rahila Gupta recently described as a “secular, direct democracy with a focus on women’s liberation” – a “beacon of hope” in a region full of conflict.
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Britain’s response to Woodcock ‘pushing Turkish propaganda’
There has been an angry reaction back in Britain to Woodcock’s Daily Sabah interview:
🚨Myth-busting thread to counter the Turkish state propaganda being pushed by Labour MP John Woodcock 🚨
Turkey is not engaging in a "fight against terrorism" but is using this as a cover to commit grave human rights abuses: https://t.co/sRRCf4Fsde
— Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign (@KurdsCampaign) December 21, 2017
.@JWoodcockMP sorry you think @macergifford and @kimmieslife are terrorists, devastated to see you attacking them and other brave people from UK in #YPG who saved lives in Syria and freed women enslaved by #ISIS pic.twitter.com/Ql2EjeMyxM
— AnotherGreen (@Anothergreen) December 21, 2017
And there was particular anger from the family of one former British volunteer with the YPG:
— Chris Scurfield (@coppermining) December 21, 2017
Sadly I will not be renewing my #Labour party membership @jeremycorbyn due to Mr @JWoodcockMP sucking up to the oppressive, fascist state of Turkey and ignoring the brave and courageous struggle of the Kurds against Daesh. #TwitterKurds
— Kosta's Olive Tree (@Vasiliki66) December 21, 2017
The Labour Party leadership, however, has a very different stance from Woodcock. In the party’s 2017 manifesto, it spoke about urging Turkey to respect “human rights and the rule of law”, saying it would “review all training and equipment contracts with repressive regimes, to ensure that Britain never colludes in the mistreatment of civilians”. Jeremy Corbyn himself, meanwhile, said in 2016 that:
If peace is wanted in the region, the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination must be accepted… I have been to Kurdistan many times and witnessed the injustices there personally. On this matter, the British government must base its foreign policy on human rights, and make efforts serving the peoples’ cultural and political rights and self-government.
Woodcock essentially sided with the Turkish government in his interview with what is essentially a propaganda outlet. And in doing so, he showed that not everyone in Labour has the same vision for the world as the party’s leadership. But fortunately, there seem to be more voices opposing Woodcock’s stance than supporting it.
The Canary contacted Woodcock, but had received no comment by the time of publication.
– Read more Canary articles on Turkey, and watch our recent interviews with people who have witnessed the current situation in Turkey and northern Syria first hand. Also see more international reporting from us at The Canary Global.
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