Press release - 16th February 2018
Kurdish groups in Britain have demanded an urgent meeting with Labour frontbench pleading for them to speak out against Turkey’s war on Afrin
A small group of Kurdish activists attended Jeremy Corbyn's constituency surgery today and handed him a letter signed by 26 organisations including representatives of political organisations from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava), the Kurdish Assembly UK, Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign, and a number of Kurdish and Turkish community groups.
Operation Olive Branch in its fourth week and over 200 Afrin civilians have been killed with many more maimed and injured.
President Erdogan says the operation is to protect Turkey’s borders which he claims are under attack, although Turkey has never faced attack or threat of attack from Afrin, or any part of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.
The letter called for the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to meet with representatives of Kurdish political representatives and community groups to discuss this urgent matter in more detail and specifying two main areas for action: calling on Turkey to stop its military invasion of Northern Syria, and calling on the UK government to cease its arms trade with Turkey.
Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign’s Co-Secretary Rosa Gilbert said: “Jeremy Corbyn has always maintained an ethical foreign policy position against war, and supported the rights of the Kurdish people facing repression particularly by the Turkish state. With this new aggressive assault on the Kurds, and whilst hundreds of anti-war campaigners inside Turkey are being arrested by the authoritarian regime, it is incumbent on the Labour Party frontbench to speak out against the UK government’s appeasement.”
See letter below:
Dear Jeremy Corbyn MP
Since 20th January, the Kurdish province of Afrin in Northern Syria has been under aerial bombardment by the Turkish military forces. Afrin has provided sanctuary to over 300,000 refugees from surrounding regions, including at Rubar camp in the east of Afrin City which has twice come under Turkish attack. Civilian deaths from the Turkish offensive are already in the hundreds and many more have been injured. As reported in the Independent, there is evidence that Turkey has been retraining ISIS fighters and collaborating with Jabhat Al-Nusra & Al-Qaeda in the ground invasion of Afrin. The Syrian government did not give Turkey permission to invade – this is an illegal and unprovoked aggression, directed at a hitherto peaceful region.
The Labour Party quite correctly takes an anti-war position in favour of reducing military intervention in sovereign states. Whilst this stance is satisfactory, it is insufficient, for two important reasons. First of all, Turkey’s provocation signals a new departure in the Syrian civil war; just as ISIS are almost defeated, this military assault breathes new life into ISIS, as well as Turkish and Gulf-backed rebels. This is based partly on Turkey’s desire for regime change and to extend its own power and influence, encroaching into Syrian land, which aligns with the ambitions of the Salafist rebels it uses as proxies. Secondly, and more practically, the UK is both explicitly and implicitly supporting Turkey’s actions – Boris Johnson and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have stated support for Turkey’s military aggression, and the UK’s relationship with Turkey via NATO and arms sales implicates the UK government in any military action Turkey takes against the inhabitants of Afrin.
Given the Labour Party’s stated support for the rights of Palestinians, its opposition to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and solidarity with the people of Yemen, it is surprising that neither you nor Emily Thornberry has explicitly condemned Turkey’s actions, called on the UK government to cease arms sales to Turkey, or expressed solidarity with the Kurdish people suffering Turkish aggression seven years into a bloody conflict during which Kurds were attacked by both ISIS and Turkey.
There is popular support for the Kurdish YPG forces amongst the British people for their role in defeating ISIS, and for their model of a democratic, secular, pro-women, humanitarian society. Furthermore, due to Turkey’s long and aggressive war on its own minority Kurdish population, Britain is home to a large diaspora of Kurdish refugees and migrants. Britain should be positioning itself as a friend of the Kurdish, Turkish and Syrian people, not a friend of authoritarians like President Erdogan who described his war on Afrin as “jihad”.
We ask for you and the Shadow Foreign Secretary to meet with representatives of Kurds in Britain, including people from Afrin, and a representative from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey, to discuss this urgent matter.
PYD (Democratic Unity Party) in UK
Kongreya Star – Kurdish Women’s Congress of Democratic Federation of Northern Syria
Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign
Kurdish Assembly UK
Kurdish Women’s Movement
Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT)
Gorran movement in the UK
Tilkililer SOLİDARİTY Centre
Nurhak Culture House
Kırkısraklılar Solidarity Centre
Hundred Flower Cultural Centre
Tohum Cultural Centre