No to the Ban on Kongra Gel

All the voices of Kurdish politics must be heard, including those in Kongra Gel – an avowedly peaceful organization" – Mark Thomas

Time for Justice: No to the Ban on Kongra Gel

Report by David Morgan

A public meeting in the House of Commons timed to coincide with the Queen's Speech on 15 November has been held to draw attention to the ban on Kongra Gel, a Kurdish organization committed to entirely non-violent political change inside Turkey, erroneously listed as a terrorist group earlier this year by Home Secretary John Reid. The meeting called by Mark Thomas, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, CAMPACC and Liberation was hosted by Plaid Cymru MPs Elfyn Llwyd and Hywel Williams. The gathering in Parliament, which the UK authorities did not want to take place, was titled "Time for Justice- No to the Ban on Kongra Gel", and sought to put on the UK agenda the implications of the ban on leading Kurdish political organizations for both civil liberties here and in Turkey and the Middle East as a whole. It also came at a time when Turkey’s progress on its accession to the European Union has been stalling as a direct result of its failure to improve human rights, in particular its continued denial of the rights of the Kurdish people.

A scheduled keynote speaker was to have been Remzi Kartal, a European spokesman for the banned Kongra Gel, but he was not given a visa to enter the UK, despite strong representations made by the organizers of the event. The decision to refuse Remzi the right to come to London set a new precedent, given his frequent visits to this country in the past and the fact that he is permitted to live openly in Brussels.

As was pointed out at the meeting, it should be stressed that Remzi is not only a respected former elected member of the Turkish Parliament, but he a leading figure in an organization that has never advocated violence in any shape or form; on the contrary, Kongra Gel has consistently advocated a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey. The ban on his visit turned out to be another indication of the unfairness of the UK ban on Kongra Gel and the remarkable silence of UK politicians in general on the appalling abuses that take place in Turkey.

The meeting occurred at a time when the Turkish state's war against the PKK and Kongra-Gel continues, despite the recent renewal of the ceasefire by the PKK and Kongra-Gel, and when human rights violations of Kurdish organizations, journalists, publishers, writers and trade unionists have been increasing at an alarming level.

Speakers at the meeting urged support for a ceasefire, dialogue and a political solution to the unresolved conflict between Turkey and the Kurds. Prominent human rights organisations, peace campaigners, intellectuals and writers in Turkey - and internationally - have been supporting this peace initiative. Failure to do so, the meeting heard, could well lead to a return of the terrible times of the 1990s – a dark era in Turkish history when thousands were 'disappeared' by state-linked forces, an 'Emergency' was declared, 'thought' was declared a 'crime', villages were bombed and depopulated, the economy was destabilised, the 'contra-guerrilla' and the unaccountable 'mafia-deep state' was allowed to hold sway.

Pointing to the recent unilateral ceasefire announced in October by the Kurdish side, Remzi, in a message read out by Estella Schmid, reminded the meeting that this was the fourth successive ceasefire that the Kurds had adopted over recent years.

All previous ceasefires had eventually collapsed because of the failure of the Turkish side to respond in equal measure. The responsibility for this lay not only with Turkey, however, but with the powers in Europe and the US, who were in a position to exert some influence on their ally, he stressed.

Remzi's message continued: "It is time to solve the Kurdish issue in Turkey, which is a serious obstacle to achieving democracy in the whole region. I also believe that the European countries, in particular the UK, have a historic responsibility to play a role in finding a solution.

"I urge the UK Government to rethink its decision to ban Kongra Gel and the PKK and to recognize that this ban is an obstacle to any permanent peace and stability not only in Turkey but in the whole region.

The UK Government should lift this ban which criminalises the Kurds and urge the EU to take action to find a solution to the conflict during this ceasefire period," Remzi concluded.

Comedian Mark Thomas, who has long campaigned to highlight the discrimination facing Kurdish people in Turkey, was planning to carry out an interview with Remzi for one of his television programmes. In a solidarity message, the comedian expressed disappointment that Remzi had been refused a visa by the UK authorities, a "!blow for liberty" which he described as a form of censorship of his work.

"The UK government has made a fatal mistake: rather than using the opportunity of Turkey trying to gain entry into the EU as a moment to pressure Turkey into reform, the UK government has squandered this chance. Now that the EU has said that Turkey must improve the rights of minorities, surely one would think that this would be the time to press for Turkey to chance and engage with the Kurds on trying to resolve the Kurdish Question," Mark Thomas said.

"Instead the UK has sought to back Turkey's further oppression of the Kurds under the guise of fighting terrorism. This in particular applies to Kongra Gel. The UK government has no evidence to back their claim Kongra Gel is the front of the PKK. Yet they added Kongra Gel to the proscribed list, thus denying legitimate chance for Kurds to enter the political debate on their own future. Rather than sponsor this chance for dialogue, the UK government choose to back Turkey in its attempts to silence Kurdish dissent," the message continued.

"All the voices of Kurdish politics must be heard, which include those in Kongra Gel- an avowedly peaceful organisation whose members feature prominent Kurdish leaders from the democratic and non-violent movements for Kurdish human rights. Yes, there are some ex-PKK members in Kongra Gel, but this is no reason to justify the claim that it is a PKK front. Without these voices, the dialogue for peace can mean nothing," Mark Thomas stated.

A young female Kurdish activist, who described herself as a former member of Kongra- Gel based in the UK, appealed for the repeal of the ban which she described as unjust and dispiriting for all Kurdish people. The ban had gagged her from speaking out freely. She also called on UK politicians to acknowledge that any proposed solution that excludes Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK would never be accepted by the Kurdish people.

The threat posed by the terrorism bans on civil and political liberties of the wider population was highlighted by other speakers at the meeting. These included Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hugo Charlton, human rights barrister, Ben Hayes, from Statewatch, Desmond Fernandes, a member of the Advisory Council of the EUTCC, Les Levidow, from CAMPACC, policy analyst Nick Hildyard and barrister Hugo Charlton. Completing the panel was Alattin Erdogan, Vice-Chair of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party of Turkey, who was currently on a delegation to London.

18 November 2006

Abbreviations
  • CAMPACC = Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
  • EUTCC = EU Turkey Civic Commission
  • KONGRA-GEL = People’s Congress of Kurdistan
  • PKK = Kurdistan Workers Party

Text of messages of Mark Thomas and Remzi Kartal

MARK THOMAS message to meeting in Parliament

Dear all I am sorry I can not be at this important meeting tonight but I wish that it goes well and send solidarity to you. Let me start by saying how sad I am that the UK government has choosen not to allow Remzi Kartal into the UK - this is not only a blow to liberty, but to understanding. On a personal level I had hoped to interview Remzi and now find that my work is censored by not allowing him into the country.

The UK government have made a fatal mistake rather than using the opportunity of Turkey trying to gain entry into the EU as a moment to pressure Turkey into reform the UK government has squandered this chance. Now that the EU has said that Turkey must improve the rights of minorities surely one would think that this would be the time to press for Turkey to chance and engage with the Kurds on trying to resolve the Kurdish Question.

Instead the UK has sought to back Turkey's further oppression of the Kurds under the guise of fighting terrorism. This in particular applies to Kongra Gel. The UK government has no evidence to back their claim Kongra Gel is the front of the PKK. Yet they added Kongra Gel to the proscribed list thus denying legitimate chance for Kurds to enter the political debate on their own future. Rather than sponsor this chance for dialogue the UK government choose to back Turkey in its attempts to silence Kurdish dissent.

All the voices of Kurdish politics must be heard, which include those in Kongra Gel- an avowedly peaceful organisation whose members feature prominent Kurdish leaders from the democratic and non violent movements for Kurdish human rights. Yes tthere are some ex PKK members in Kongra Gel but this is no reason to justify the claim that it is a PKK front. But without these voices the dialogue for peace can mean nothing.

Let us work together to see an end to the discrimination of Kurdish political movements and the beginning of a resolution of the Kurdish Question.

In peace and solidarity. Mark

Message from Remzi Kartal

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I would like to send my sincere greetings to this meeting which gives an opportunity to discuss developments on the Kurdish issue at a crucial political phase. I also would like to send my best regards to everyone present. It was my great wish to be here with you tonight, but I regret to tell you because of the UK ban on Kongra-gel, the People's Congress of Kurdistan, I am not able to enter your country.

Politics and in particular the politics of banning and criminalizing our struggle, led by the UK and other EU member states, have played a critical role in the continuation of the military conflict in Turkey and in preventing the democratic political solution of the Kurdish question. European governments have given political, diplomatic, psychological and moral support to the traditional "deny and destroy" politics in Turkey in relation to the Kurdish issue. It is clear that these politics are exacerbating the conflict at a time when an increasing number of people are supporting peace and democracy. A democratic political and negotiated solution based on dialogue is the only way forward to make progress. I believe that your meeting will discuss these critical issues and help enable the UK to play a more positive role on the way to finding a solution.

Dear Friends,

The social and political crises resulting from Turkey's politics of violence against the Kurds are a major factor for instability, not only in Turkey but in the whole region. Kongra-gel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 1 October with the aim to create a political environment and a basis for dialogue and peace which received positive reactions both at home and abroad. The Turkish General Staff responded by stating they would not recognise the ceasefire; they would go on fighting until they killed all guerrillas. Military operations were stepped up. During the past month there have been 43 operations and 12 guerrillas were killed. This poses a serious threat to the ceasefire.

The Kurdish freedom movement has declared four unilateral ceasefires in the past but they ended because of the continuing military assaults by the Turkish army.

Despite all our calls for peace we are perceived as a source of violence and put on terrorism list by the EU, an act that is we blieve to be entirely unjust. It is clear that the Kurdish people were again sacrificed to foreign policy interests. Kongra Gel and the Kurdish people have always supported Turkey’s membership of the EU on condition that a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish question was found.

It is time to solve the Kurdish issue in Turkey, which is a serious obstacle to achieving democracy in the whole region. I also believe that the European countries, in particular the UK, have a historic responsibility to play a role in finding a solution.

I urge the UK Government to rethink its decision to ban Kongra Gel and the PKK and to recognize that this ban is an obstacle to any permanent peace and stability not only in Turkey but in the whole region.

The UK Government should lift this ban which criminalises the Kurds and urge the EU to take action to find a solution to the conflict during this ceasefire period.

The EU should do all it can to achieve a bi-lateral ceasefire and stop the military conflict and thus help to create an environment for peace and a political solution. If the EU can take an active role in solving the Kurdish issue, this will play an effective role in achieving democratic change in Turkey.

In relation to EU Turkey membership and the process of democratic change, the government has not demonstrated the necessary determination regarding the implementation of reforms and democratisation, it has remained timid and passive faced with the pressure of the military and nationalist groups. The government also was not able to initiate a project for the solution of the Kurdish problem, it has left it to the military.

The EU too has avoided to take a clear and consistent stand on the recognition and solution of the Kurdish problem. Instead, it appears to have deferred the problem to some future time in order to appease Turkey and by doing so it has encouraged them to continue with their present policies. I strongly believe that a clear demand for a solution of the Kurdish issue will contribute positively towards Turkey's future and the process of democratization.

Dear Friends,

If Turkey could solve the Kurdish issue by democratic methods it would mean solving the basic problem facing the country and the Middle East. Then Turkey could play a strategic role for Europe both in the region and in the Islamic countries.

I call on you to act and take initiatives to lift the ban on Kongra-gel and to publicise and build support for a bi-lateral ceasefire that will lead to a lasting peace.

Once again I would like to thank you all. I firmly believe that peace and freedom and democracy will be won.

Remzi Kartal
Kongra Gel Executive-Council
09.11.2006