By Mary Pole
The Kurdish diaspora in London is not homogenous. Differences in dialect, culture and political persuasion all contribute to a community that is often recognised as divided. Despite this, Turkey’s banning of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) has provoked a strong uniform reaction from within London’s Kurdish community.
A relatively new party founded in 2005 the DTP holds 21 seats out of a total 550 in parliament, making it the first pro-Kurdish party with elected members of parliament since 1991. On the 11th December 2009 a unanimous ruling by the Turkish constitutional court demanded the closure of the DTP due to its links with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, more commonly known simply as the PKK. These were alleged to make the party the ‘focal point of activities against the indivisible unity of the state, the country and the nation.’ In addition to the party ban, the DTP leaders Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk were stripped of diplomatic immunity and banned from politics for 5 years.
Protests and demonstrations have taken place across the Kurdish regions and the diaspora since the ban of the DTP was announced. These have included major demonstrations in Turkey that have seen violent clashes between protestors and state police. Although protests in London have remained peaceful their message is no less clear than that of their counterparts in Turkey.
On the 15th December the Kurdish Federation in the UK organised a demonstration outside the Foreign Office in London protesting the ban and calling for equality for Kurds in Turkey. Attended by over 200 people the event brought together representatives from a wide variety of Kurdish organisations in London and expressed the sense of solidarity felt by many towards the 10million Kurds in Turkey.
The chair of the Kurdish Federation in the UK Arzu Peshman stresses that the event was organised ‘in order to raise awareness of the injustices committed against Kurds by the government of Turkey. The closure of the DTP has removed the only political voice of the Kurds and has left them without a voice.’ She adds that ‘Not only does this affect the Kurds but it is a move sharply in contrast with the democratisation of Turkey.’
In a statement given to the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, the Kurdish Federation refers to the ruling of the Contemporary Lawyers Association of the closure as a ‘massacre of justice’ and calls on the British government to condemn the closure of the DTP by the Constitutional Court, and to pressure the Prime Minister of Turkey to ‘solve the Kurdish issue by democratic and peaceful methods.’
Other key Kurdish organisations in London have expressed similar sentiments. ‘Closing elected political parties down in Turkey is a clear example that the rights to freedom of association, free expression, and to free and fair elections are not safe in Turkey’ said Kerim Yuldiz, Chief Executive of The Kurdish Human Rights Project. He also drew attention to Turkey’s EU accession bid, arguing that this decision is a blow to the reform agenda of the government and displays the severe failings of the Turkish legal and political system.
On the eve of the announcement of the ban Medeni Kirci, a member of the DTP Foreign Affairs Committee, addressed a predominantly Kurdish audience at a seminar organised by the Kurdish Studies and Student Organisation (KSSO) held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. The DTP member shared instances of human rights abuses in Turkey and the importance of retaining a Kurdish voice within the political process in order to seek justice peacefully through change in legislation rather than through fear and violence. His message was particularly poignant given the sentencing of Leyla Zanar, a prominent Kurdish politician in Turkey, to one year and three months imprisonment following a speech given at a KSSO seminar in London in May 2008.
In all these instances the message is clear. The Kurdish community in London may be geographically distanced from the events unfolding in Turkey, but their voice will be raised nonetheless. Given the political isolation of Kurds in Turkey and the impact this may have on a militarization of Kurdish efforts to achieve equality, the voice of the diaspora is becoming increasingly important in the hope for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue in the region.
Mary Pole is a writer based in London, whose research interests include forced migration, the Middle East and Central Asia. She holds a Master of Science degree from the University of Oxford in Forced Migration.