On the 9th December, the Peace in Kurdistan campaign organised a public meeting at the House of Lords to discuss ‘Kurdish Peace Initiatives – Pathways to peace and dialogue?’. The meeting was hosted by Lord Rea and was addressed by guest speaker Medeni Kirici of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) Foreign Affairs Committee. Also addressing the meeting were Hywel Williams MP, Michael Ivers, Barrister & Chair of Kurdish Human Rights Project and Margaret Owen, Director of Widows for Peace through Democracy and Founder Member of GAPS UK (Gender Action on Peace and Security) and Adviser on Women’s Rights.
Just the day before the meeting, on the 8th December, Turkey’s Constitutional Court convened to determine the closure case brought by the State Prosecutor against the pro-Kurdish DTP, first initiated two years ago. It has postponed giving its decision for a further two weeks. This dramatic development comes at a critical time, when negotiations for a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question are in a fragile state. As the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign note: ‘The interest of the AKP in achieving a solution remains in doubt; the party seems to be calculating politically to win Kurdish votes in the forthcoming elections in a bid to outflank the DTP which has become increasingly popular among Kurds.’ It would seem that eliminating its opponents is the AKP’s priority, a move which would certainly de-rail the peace process by excluding Kurds from being represented politically.
Medeni Kirici explained that as the main opposition party, the DTP is a key locus for resolution of the Kurdish issue, Turkey’s key problem. As such, the closure of the DTP continues a policy of assimilation in place for 86 years since the establishment of the Turkish republic. Under such a policy Kirici emphasised that Kurds are told they are a minority, but that this label undermines the position of Kurds as part of the ‘majority’ who deserve collective rights as human. For those Kurds who fight for this right, the options are either to move to the Diaspora, or, to be imprisoned in Turkey. Indeed, Kirici pointed out that in the last two days some 800 Kurds have been arrested and one killed in demonstrations. Kirici outlined how the closure case against the DTP rests on the prosecution’s claim that the DTP has not sufficiently distanced itself from the PKK, and has notdenounced the PKK as terrorists. The DTP instead have argued that Ocalan needs to be either directly, or indirectly involved in discussions for peace – neither option has been considered by government.
Hywel Williams MP, stated that the AKP’s attempts to shut down the DTP were lamentable and ‘would get the AKP nowhere’. Rather, the AKP must engage with Abdullah Ocalan’s proposals for peace. Williams noted the UK’s experiences of the process of decolonisation prove that a critical step towards peace is to talk with the other side. Looking at the Northern Ireland conflict, Williams pointed out that bitter enemies now share government. Williams outlined how the restrictions on Kurdish language rights and cultural identity represent a major obstacle to self-determination and drew parallels with the struggles for Welsh language rights. The attempts to close the DTP are an affront to the democratic will of the people and will thwart Turkey’s attempts at accession to the European Union. Williams argued that the principle of ‘internal expansion’ of the EU, where minority identities are recognised, is just as important as the concept of ‘external expansion’ of the EU, where nation states gain membership.
Michael Ivers argued that in the long negotiation process regarding Turkeys accession to the EU, Turkey agreed to meet basic human rights, guarantees for the rule of law and the protection of minority peoples. While there have been some positive changes in Turkey brought about through the accession process, Turkey must actually commit to Human rights in practice. Despite some welcome legal changes and the democratic initiative, the reality for Kurds in terms of their everyday lives has not changed much in the last five years. The bid by sections of the Turkish state to ban the DTP only removes the elected representatives and the people who the state need to negotiate with to achieve a lasting settlement. An obsession with the ‘indivisibility of the Turkish state’ should not prevent such progress. Big issues need to be addressed, for instance the 3.5 million IDP’s and the overall position of women in society. Ivers spoke of the response of the state to the calls by the CPT and others to end the social isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. The resort to what may be minimum standards in terms of the cell etc. has all the appearance of lifting of his social isolation only to deliberately worsen other conditions, this ignores the legacy of the previous conditions of detention and the effect of these on him.
Margaret Owen highlighted the critical importance of Kurdish women’s involvement in dialogues for peace. Drawing on her experience of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, Owen argued that this process had been hampered by the fact that women do not have a voice, but bare the brunt of the conflict. Owen highlighted the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires that all state parties need to examine the impact of conflict on women, and ensure that women’s voices are heard in peace building negotiations.. Owen spoke of the inability of Turkey’s legal system, as it is presently structured, to deliver on any real reforms , as required by the Copenhagen Critieria, so that the human rights of the Kurdish population are protected and justice is accessible to all. Instead, archaic and repressive measure remain in the constitution and the penal code,such as the infamous Article 301, and civil society is not allowed to function in the south east of Turkey, where even small peaceful NGO meetings are broken up by the police. Meanwhile, it was the PKK who initiated ceasefires and the DTP who maintain gender equality in the party.
The meeting concluded with a discussion of next steps including lobbying the UK Parliament. This included urging local MPs to support two Early Day Motions tabled this week, on Ocalan’s deteriorating prison conditions, and the peace process, respectively.
By Vicki Sentas
12 December 2009
Information: Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
Estella24@tiscali.co.uk Tel 020 7586 5892