Kurdish groups accuse Theresa May of ‘racism’ in the House of Commons

theresa may
Emily Apple

Kurdish groups have accused Theresa May of racism after her meeting with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The groups were responding to May’s comments at a joint press conference held with Erdoğan on 15 May. She stated:

It is important that in defense of democracy, which has been facing extraordinary pressures from the failed coup, instability across the border from Syria and from Kurdish terrorism, Turkey does not lose sight of the values it is seeking to defend.

In response, Kurdish groups held a press conference at the House of Commons. As a press release explains:

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This level of racism in labelling 40-million people as terrorists is deeply worrying, especially in the wake of the rise of far-right groups across Europe, including the Turkish grey wolves, a notorious Turkish fascist group who believe in a pure Turkish Turkey and have been exposed while planning assassinations against Kurdish politicians and community leaders across Europe.

The Canary attended the meeting.

“Kurds are not terrorists”

The press conference had a clear message – “Kurds are not terrorists”.

Elif Sarican from the UK Kurdish People’s Democratic Assembly said:

Today, on behalf of the Kurdish community across this nation, I express our deep hurt and worry about the recent comment of the prime minister. Following the Windrush scandal, Theresa May has once again demonstrated the racist attitude of the government by demonising the hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Britain and labelling us terrorists…

We call upon all to say Kurds are not terrorists. They are our crucial allies in the fight against ISIS [Daesh]. And we, the Kurds, should not be betrayed.

Sarican also pointed out that Erdoğan has a very broad definition of whom he calls ‘terrorists’:

140,000 people have been arrested and most of them are imprisoned. 152,000 people have been sacked. And 160 journalists have been jailed. Turkey is the biggest prison for journalists in the world. All of these victims of Erdoğan’s rule are accused of being terrorists, as he repeatedly stated on his visit here in the UK.

Mark Campbell from the Kurdish Solidarity Campaign also challenged the notion that Kurdish groups are terrorists:

Give us one example of how the Kurdish freedom movement are terrorists… I always do this in meetings – I challenge so-called experts. Give me one example, even if you can’t give me hundreds, just give me one…. We have so much evidence of state terrorism against the Kurds but no one can ever give us one.

Human rights

The press conference also highlighted the numerous human rights abuses committed by Erdoğan’s government, including the invasion and occupation of Afrin in northern Syria.

Melanie Gingell from campaign group Peace in Kurdistan spoke about the human rights violations committed between July 2015 and December 2016 in the majority-Kurdish regions of southeast Turkey. She spoke about violations in 30 towns and neighbourhoods that displaced half a million people:

The government used heavy weaponry and aerial strikes on densely populated areas. Approximately 2,000 people were killed as well as numerous other violations. One of the most horrific allegations described was the killing of around 189 men, women and children in early 2016 who were sheltering in basements in Cizre in Şırnak province. They had no food or water or power for days on end, and were eventually burnt to death as the army shelled those buildings.

Gingell then quoted Kurdish MP Leyla Birlik:

We can talk about statistics, but this was an attempted genocide of the Kurdish people, not an ‘armed clash’. The state did not let people collect bodies; there were no available places in morgues so bodies were just thrown about. Among the killed, there was a 73-year-old woman, a 3-month-old baby, pregnant women. Funerals could not be held, so dead bodies were kept in refrigerators. My brother-in-law’s body was tied to an armoured vehicle and dragged through the streets. 

When you hear these matters, you cannot avoid the question, ‘who are the terrorists here?’

The arms trade

Given these circumstances, Campbell asked why the UK government is labelling Kurdish people as terrorists. And he believes the answer is the arms trade:

The obvious answer is the multimillion-pound arms deals that Turkey and the UK sign, which is obscene to anybody with any morals.

Since 2016, the UK has reportedly sold Turkey over $1bn worth of weapons. In May 2017, Theresa May and BAE Systems sealed a £100m contract to help Turkey develop fighter jets and improve trade relations. And Rolls Royce partnered with Turkish firm Kale in 2017 to build the engines for its fighter jets.

What can we all do?

One message that was clear from the press conference is that UK citizens must take a stand to support Kurdish communities and to keep pressure on our government. So The Canary asked what people could do. Campbell said:

We have been lobbying in parliament for many, many years and I think, obviously, that lobbying should go on. I very much believe we need to reach out to most British people in this country who would be completely shocked if they knew in detail what our government is doing on their behalf.

But he also highlighted the people who occupied the roof of an arms company during Erdoğan’s visit:

After 36 hours, having gone onto the roof, dropped banners, when they came down, they were not arrested. And that is the point. Why? Because this is an incredibly sensitive issue.

And he pointed out the need for people to take action:

I personally feel we should be pushing ourselves to be arrested and to get it out in court… We should be looking at ways of peaceful direct action to raise this question… It’s so blatant and so racist that Kurdish people are being lynched in the streets of Turkey, and we actually have to up our game.

Campbell is right. Turkey is carrying out atrocities funded and fuelled by the UK arms trade and May’s schmoozing. It is down to all of us to take action and to scream from the rooftops that this is not happening in our names.

Get Involved!

Support Peace in Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign.

– Support Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Featured image via screengrab

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