Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’

An Historic Moment for the Kurds?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th February, 2015

Thousands of Kurds from across Europe gathered in Strasbourg this afternoon for a rally by the city’s stadium. As one of their foreign guests I gave the following short speech in English, simultaneously translated into Kurdish:

image We are gathered here under the Strasbourg sun at what I believe may be an historic moment in the long struggle for Kurdish cultural and political rights in Turkey. Yesterday, a petition with more than 10 million signatures, calling for the release from prison of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was delivered to the Council of Europe in this city. It was a remarkable tribute to the determination of the Kurds and to the growing solidarity from people across Europe.
Tomorrow, 15 February, in Ankara, the HDP and AKP are due to publish the framework of an agreement for a settlement of the Kurdish question and to declare their intention to move towards making Turkey a genuinely democratic republic, with a new constitution. If this does indeed happen it will mark a giant stride forward.
Of course, we cannot take success for granted. There have been so many disappointments as well as hopes regarding Kurdish rights. At times it has seemed that the government in Ankara was taking one step forward and then one step back. But an agreement is possible, with sufficient good faith on all sides.
I know that from the experience of my own country, Britain, where decades of
political strife and violence in Northern Ireland were largely laid to rest by the courageous Good Friday Agreement, which integrated the IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein into the mainstream, with an agreed ceasefire, power-sharing and the release from prison of militants. So it can be done.
Finally, I would like to send two messages to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Firstly, Mr President, please carry forward measures to ensure that Turkey’s Kurds enjoy full cultural and political rights in the future. And secondly, Mr President, please release Abdullah Ocalan so that he can sit at the negotiating table with all the dignity of a free man.

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Kurds Petition for Abdullah Ocalan’s Release

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th February, 2015

imageKurds from all over Europe — including many who had matched long distances — converged in Strasbourg today to mark the handover to the Council of Europe of a petition signed by more than 10 million people calling for the release of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the banned PKK, who has been in prison on an island in Turkey since his capture and rendition by the CIA in Kenya. The PKK figures on the list of terrorist organisations in several European countries, but many Kurds believe that is unjust. Though there was a bloody war between Kurdish militants and the Turkish security forces for decades, the AK Party government that has been in power in Ankara for over a decade has conducted a stop-start peace process with the Kurds, granting certain cultural rights after long years of oppression. But some of the international speakers who were present at a press conference this morning to highlight the petition handover argue that just as the release of Nelson Mandela was an essential element in the move towards reconciliation and more racial justice in South Africa so the release of Abdullah Ocalan is a prerequisite to a permanent settlement of Turkey’s question. It was pointed out that PKK fighters fought alongside Peshmerga forces in liberating the town of Kobane in the Kurdish area of Syria recently, scoring an important victory over Islamic State, which maybe might help a review of how the PKK is viewed. As someone who lived through the years in Britain when IRA bombs were a feature I know how important it was for the British and Irish governments to talk to former terrorists in order to make the Good Friday Agreement a reality. As has often been said, one does not make peace with one’s friends. And if there is going to be a Kurdish settlement in Turkey it seems crucial to me that Abdullah Ocalan should be a full party to the negotiations, however difficult some Turks might find that to stomach.

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Newroz in Finsbury Park

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd March, 2014

Newroz Finsbury ParkThis afternoon I stood in bright sunshine on a stage in London’s Finsbury Park, speaking to a crowd of several thousand Kurds, to mark the festival of Newroz. In traditional Kurdish villages, people would jump over a fire at Newroz, but as I said in my speech, although there was no fire in front of me I could feel the fire in the people before me. They are right to be proud of their long history, culture and language, and to struggle for greater rights in the Middle East. In recent years I have been to Amed (Diyarbakir) and surrounding districts in predominantly Kurdiah areas of south-eastern Turkey, monitoring elections, though I won’t be able to go to cover the local elections in Turkey next month as I’m staying in London to campaign for the European elections. I said to the crowd it is important that they — if they have British or other European Union passports — vote on 22 May for a party that supports the rights of minority peoples and is committed to Britain remaining in the EU, or otherwise urge their neighbours and friends to do so. Apart from Sarah Ludford MEP (who also has a longstanding interest in Kurdish issues) and myself, on the LibDem list for London we also have a Turkish Kurd, Turhan Ozen. The situation in Turkey is frustrating in that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made some significant moves towards recognising Kurdish rights but like so much of his policy, this has often been a situation of one step forward, one step back. In Syrian Rojava the situation is critical for many Kurds and in Iran several Kurdish leaders have recently been executed or harassed. Only in the Kurdish region of Iraq (KRG) — which I visited this time last year — is the situation markedly better. So Kurds have a lot to struggle for. But as I concluded in my short speech, today is a day for celebration. Newroz Piroj Be!

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Iran Invited to Geneva2. And the Kurds?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th January, 2014

Kurdish area of SyriaThe UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has announced that Iran has now been invited to attend the Geneva talks on the future of Syria, due to be held on Wednesday. That is welcome news, though it is a little odd that the significance was almost lost in the revelation that a whole host of other states have also been invited, including Bahrain, Luxembourg and the Vatican. Given the small size and, at least in some cases, marginal direct involvement of some of the likely participants, it is maybe not surprising that Syrian Kurds — many of whom have also risen up against the regime of Bashar al-Assad — are asking, why not them too? The quick answer from the UN would doubtless be that they are not a state, though some of the other Syrian actors who will be present do not represent a state either. But of course there is a more substantial matter involved, namely the position of Kurds in the whole region. Only in Iraq have Kurds gained a high degree of autonomy; in fact, it is not inconceivable that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq could become an independent country one day. The issue then is, which other areas in the region with a high percentage of Kurds among their population would like to try to become part of some putative Kurdish state? The Iranians stamp hard on any attempts at Kurdish separatism, and Turkey — which houses almost half of the region’s population of Kurds — strongly resists any attempt to undermine the territorial integrity of the Republic of Turkey. Moreover, Kurds in Turkey are themselves divided about how far they ought or ought not to be autonomous, let alone independent. But what is clear from even a cursory study of Middle Eastern history following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire is that the Kurds were denied a proper opportunity for self-determination by the Allied Powers. And if Syrian Kurds are excluded from Geneva2 it will strike some Kurdish activists as yet more of the same.

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Kurdish International Liberal Congress

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th December, 2013

Arif BawecaniParti Serbesti KurdistanKurdish political parties, both in the Middle East and in exile, have tended to be Marxist in orientation, or at least Socialist, so the idea that Liberal Democracy might be appealing to Kurds is intriguing (though of course there are some Kurds originating from Turkey who have joined the UK Liberal Democrats). Dividing his time between Oslo and Erbil (in Iraq’s Kurdistan autonomous region, KRG) Arif Bawecani, a Kurd of Iranian origin, formed and now leads a party, the Parti Serbesti Kurdistan (PSK), which he wants to align with Liberal forces worldwide. This past weekend I went to Oslo to attend the First Kurdish International Liberal Congress hosted by the PSK, which brought together not just Kurds from Iran and the KRG (Iraq) but other national minorities, notably ethnic Arab Ahwazis from the Iranian coastal region, also living in exile. Foreign visitors apart from myself included a Liberal (Venstre) from Norway and a French member of the International Network of Liberal Women, as well as one US Democrat and one Republican, and a couple of human rights activists from Dubai — a modest and somewhat heterodox group which nonetheless led to some interesting speeches and discussions. In my presentation, I defined from a Liberal perspective the key words of the opening article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights: freedom, equality, dignity, rights and brotherhood, in the context of diversity and tolerance. I don’t know how far this will help the PSK, or the Gorran (Change) Movement from KRG, which was also represented, develop their ideology but it will be interesting to see what evolves.

Link: http://www.psk2006.org/index.php?lang=en

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Iraq 10 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th April, 2013

The Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe Cordoba Foundation - Iraq 10 Years : Examining A Decade Of Turbulence Conference-The Commonwealth Club, London, United KingdomThe tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has provided an occasion for reflection on the pluses and minuses of that operation and its aftermath. Having been in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) last month I know that many Kurds there think of the War as a Liberation, and I can understand why, given the dreadful persecution they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen; it did indeed constitute genocide. But I am also aware, from my last visit to Baghdad, in December 2012, just how shattered Iraq remains as a state. Sunni have been pitted against Shia (who are now dominant) and fatal bombings in the capital are commonplace. As I said in a speech to the Cordoba Foundation and Al Sharq Forum’s Conference at London’s Commonwealth Club, “Iraq 10 Years On”, the Americans made a terrible mistake in pushing de-Ba’athification so far that they sacked the army and police force, as well as many officials — a mistake they notably did not make in Germany in 1945 after the defeat of the Nazis. Saddam was a monster, of that I have no doubt; his torture centres bore all the hallmarks of a true sadist. But the Bush-Blair invasion did not usher in a period of faultless democracy and peace. I never believed it would. Moreover, as Wadah Khanfar — former head of Al Jazeera — pointed out at the same conference, the Iraq War, together with the new Arab Awakening, and all the baggage of Western interference in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian situation, has left a region in turmoil. It is not just Iraq that is dysfunctional but the entire MENA region, and I suspect it will take decades before things settle down. Whether that will be within the same b0undaries as the current countries is by no means sure. After all, most of the countries in the Middle East are artificial constructs, the result of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour declaration and the British betrayal of Arab nationalists led by the Hashemites. Moreover, given the Syrian civil war and renewed political activity regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is not impossible that some time in the future there will be an independent Kurdish state. The KRG are currently sticking to their line that they will be happy with devo-max in Iraq, but if Iraq effectively ceases to be a coherent country then there will be a big temptation to go it alone, which could have far-reaching regional implications.

Photos by Richard Chambury (richfoto). 1: Daud Abdullah, Rosemary Hollis, JF, Matthew G Banks; 2: JF.

Links: http://www.thecordobafoundation.com & http://www.sharqforum.org

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Halabja 25 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013

Halabja monumentHalanja museumThe name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.

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The Citadel at Erbil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th March, 2013

Erbil citadel 1Erbil Citadel 2Towering over the old town centre of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Citadel must be one of the largest and most imposing mud-brick structures in the world. At its entrance, up a steep incline, sits a substantial statue of the historian and scholar Mubarak Ben Ahmed Sharuf Aldia (1169-1239), who was a Minister in Erbil under Sultan MuzaFaradin. Within its walls are approximately 500 dwellings, though many of these are in a dire state of repair having suffered decades of lack of maintenance and water damage. Ten of them are currently being restored, notably the magnificent Rashid Agha House, with its courtyards and terraces and rooms that have stunning views over the town below. That house  is being painstakingly conserved with the assistance of Italy’s Foreign Ministry as well as Kurdistan regional government funds. Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds included willful cultural suppression so it is not surprising that people here are keen to see their heritage brought back to its former glory. The arrival of our international solidarity delegation from paying homage to martyrs of the Anfal at the Memorial at Kasnazan caused understandable curiosity among the many Kurdish youths in and around the Citadel, but I guess in a few years time Kurdistan will have established itself on tourist itineraries and Europeans will be a commonplace. Much of the modern city of Erbil is rather identikit, with its tower blocks, shopping malls and upmarket suburban housing, though the Hotel Rotana, where I’m staying, can hardly be faulted and the Kurds are genuinely pleased to have foreign visitors.

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The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013

Halabja victimsSaddam Hussein2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014

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Turkey in a Fast Changing World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd December, 2012

Ibrahim KalinOmer CelikOne of the most striking developments of the past decade has been the rise of Turkey, not only as a regional power but increasingly as a global player. The AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that it wants to see the Republic amongst the top 10 world economies by 2023 — the centenary of its foundation. This is no idle boast, as Turkey enjoys growth rates that European states can only envy. On the diplomatic front, Ankara has seized the opportunities offered by the Arab Awakenng to recalibrate and extend its relations in the eastern and southern Mediterranean. Of course the goal of EU membership remains elusive, though officially Turkey still wishes to accede, even if many Turkish voters have become disenchanted with the idea. All these issues were discussed earlier this week at a seminar organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), moderated by Jonathan Eyal, at which Omer Celik, the AKP’s Vice-Chairman with responsibility for Foreign Relations, and Ibrahim Kalin, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan, spoke. Omer Celik pointed out that before the AKP won its first landslide election victory in 2002 the economy in Turkey had collapsed and inflation was rampant. There was no effective foreign policy. Some in Turkey have described what then happened as a Silent Revolution as the country was turned around. Ibrahim Kalin stressed how the rise of a comopolitan world has offered new challenges, not least to th eurocentrism of recent centuries. He thought the evolving relationship between Turkey, the new government in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East coul be a crucial turning point. Mr Celik said that Mr Erodgan has lobbied Bashar al-Assad to help Kurds in Syria gain equal rights, though this rather begs the enormous question of why no workable settlement with Turjkey’s own Kurds has yet been achieved.

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