Labour officials are visiting northern Syria in a “first” for the war-torn region. And during a meeting with Kurdish officials, the Labour delegates raised the controversial issue of Britain’s sale of arms to Turkey.
Inspired by the Kurdish experiment
MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle and lifetime Labour peer Maurice Glasman are currently touring the mainly Kurdish region of Rojava – home to a secular, feminist, and democratic system which Syrian Kurds and their allies have been creating in recent years. And Glasman reportedly said on 3 April that the pair are visiting:
because we are very inspired by what we hear about Rojava and we want to see it with our own eyes.
The Labour delegates are joined by other representatives from the UK including Simon Dubbins, international director of Unite the union. A senior Kurdish official claims this group is the “first such public, high-level delegation”.
UK weapons in Turkish hands
During the 3 April meeting, Russell-Moyle highlighted Britain’s ongoing sale of arms to the Turkish state. The MP, who sits on the parliamentary committee on arms export controls, said during the meeting:
my role will be to make sure those committees are first of all preventing and scrutinizing weapon exports to Turkey and stopping that as much as possible.
On 19 January, Turkey launched ‘Operation Olive Branch’, which saw the state invade and seize the largely Kurdish city of Afrin. During the invasion, Turkey attacked the YPG, a largely Kurdish military force previously backed by the UK in its fight against Daesh (Isis/Isil). And it also killed Anna Campbell, the first British woman to die while fighting against Daesh in Syria.
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Britain’s arms arrangements with Turkey include a £100m deal in 2017 for UK-based BAE Systems to develop new fighter jets for Turkey’s military. BAE Systems is also involved in the development of a missile defence system for Turkey called Eurosam. And in 2016, “secretive” licences were reportedly used to boost exports of assault rifles.
MP David Lammy called out Theresa May’s government for selling weapons to Turkey during a parliamentary debate on 12 March. And a tribunal in Paris held on 15 and 16 March found Turkey guilty of war crimes against Kurds.
Homegrown action against arms sales
On 31 March, approximately 1,000 people attended the Defend Afrin demo in central London. It called for the end of UK arms sales to Turkey. And on 27 March, protesters made similar demands at an arms fair in Cardiff.
Edinburgh Antifascist Action dropped banners on 29 March, highlighting arms manufacturer Leonardo. The group claims Leonardo, which has a branch in Edinburgh, sells attack helicopters to the Turkish military. And on 23 March, protesters blocked the entrance to BAE Systems’ Bristol office.
– Write to Theresa May and your MP. Ask them to urge Turkey to stop its war on Afrin, to resume peace talks with its internal opponents, and to release all political prisoners. Until that happens, ask them to cancel and stop approving arms sales to Turkey; and support Campaign Against Arms Trade to help make that happen.
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