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Theresa May Wishes Kurds Peace and Justice Amid UK Complicity in Turkey’s War Crimes

Theresa May’s wish for peace and justice on Newroz stands in haunting contrast to her complicity in war crimes against civilians in Kurdistan

Afrin Operation 2018

"According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, since July 2016, the UK-approved arms exported licences for Turkey exceed £143 million. Since 2008/09, the Department for International Trade's Defence & Security Organisation (DSO) has listed Turkey as a “priority market” every year, despite thousands of civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands displaced, as confirmed and documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights Council over time."


On Newroz 2018, the new year celebration of Kurdish and other communities on March 21st, UK Prime Minister Theresa May wished the Kurdish community a year of “peace, harmony and compassion, and hope for a world that further advances universal human rights, social justice, and freedom of expression”.

Mere days before this letter was issued, the Turkish army, alongside al Qaeda affiliated recruits entered the majority Kurdish city of Afrin in the northwest of Syria, after a two-months long ground invasion in violation of international law. Since January 20, hundreds of civilians have been murdered by the second largest NATO army and its recruited extremist allies. One of the first things that the Turkish-backed FSA forces, did upon their invasion of Afrin city was to destroy and tear down the statue of Kawa, the Kurdish symbol for the resistance and rebellion of Newroz. Around the same, on March 15, Anna Campbell (Hêlîn Qerecox), a 26-year-old much loved British anarchist, feminist activist, who had joined the Women’s Defense Units in northern Syria as an internationalist to fight against fascism and who had repeatedly condemned UK complicity in war crimes, was killed by Turkish airstrikes in Afrin. Her father, Dirk Campbell, is struggling to be heard by the UK government in his plight to recover his daughter’s body from the ruins to give her a proper burial at home.

Despite the UN 2401 resolution for a universal ceasefire in Syria passed on February 24, the Turkish state continues its military occupation, the so-called “Olive Branch Operation”, with the claim of defending its national security. At the beginning of the illegal operation, UK foreign minister Boris Johnson issued a statement reiterating Turkey’s “right to defend its national borders”.

This comes as no surprise, considering that Theresa May signed a £100 million deal to develop fighter jets for Turkey with BAE Systems and TAI in January 2017, at a time when human rights abuses, war crimes, and crackdowns on civil liberties were widely reported in Turkey. This cooperation will render the authoritarian, war-mongering Turkish state more independent and less reliant on other states in its military capacity in the long-term.

Since January 20, Turkish airstrikes have deliberately targeted civilian urban settlements, as well as schools, hospitals and vital infrastructure in Afrin, a majority Kurdish canton of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly uses the language of ethnic cleansing, when publicly stating that the operation will “cleanse” the whole of northern Syria, from Afrin to the Iraqi border “from terrorists” to “return the lands to its rightful owners”. When ISIS and similar groups, now recruited by the Turkish army, were beheading and crucifying civilians, enslaving women at the Syrian-Turkish border since 2013, Turkey did not seem as concerned about terrorism at its borders. In fact, in addition to the substantial evidence of direct Turkey-ISIS cooperation, the invasion of Afrin has proven objectively to re-strengthen the hand of ISIS, a group which was nearly annihilated by the majority Kurdish fighters, who are now under attack.

Since the beginning of the invasion, dozens of videos have emerged on social media, clearly illustrating the horrific war crimes committed by the participants of the Turkish state operation. In February, the dead body of female Kurdish fighter Barîn Kobanê was filmed in a circle of jihadists, insulting her beyond her death, after having mutilated her breasts and tortured her body. Other videos show the execution-style shooting of civilians, as well as mass lootings of civilian property by the FSA fighters. The fact that these war crimes were recorded and circulated by the aggressors themselves illustrates their lack of fear of accountability.

In the summer of 2017, hundreds of Kurdish activists, many of whom are former refugees who fled the European arms-trade sponsored wars in Kurdistan, and solidarity campaigners protested the DSEI arms fair in London against the Turkey-UK arms trade. Millions of Kurds and their friends have been occupying the streets around the world to cry for accountability and an end to the ethnically-motivated violence by the Turkish state, an EU candidate and NATO member.

Theresa May’s wish for peace, human rights and justice on Newroz stands in haunting contrast to her complicity in war crimes and ethnic cleansing against civilians in Kurdistan. Her Newroz message not merely adds insult to injury but is a spectacularly twisted ridiculing of hundreds of thousands of people under threat of ethnic cleansing by her arms deal partners.

According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, since July 2016, the UK-approved arms exported licences for Turkey exceed £143 million. Since 2008/09, the Department for International Trade's Defence & Security Organisation (DSO) has listed Turkey as a “priority market” every year, despite thousands of civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands displaced, as confirmed and documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights Council over time.

Jeremy Corbyn, who has long been a supporter of the Kurdish struggle, has vied to take up an anti-war government agenda. However, the Kurdish community in the UK, which has been occupying streets, airports, train stations, political party offices, etc. every single day since January 20, is left disappointed with public engagement in the UK. Whilst several MPs and public figures have voiced their concerns about Afrin, practical steps must follow to pressure the government. All public officers must show democratic leadership and moral clarity both require a clear denunciation of the criminal invasion of territory, as well as a credible public commitment to hold the Turkish authorities accountable for the state terror and genocidal onslaught that has been unleashed upon the Kurdish people. 

The Democratic Federaton of Northern Syria (DFNS) has been a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and even Iraq for the past 7 years. The betrayal of the Kurdish Freedom Movement by the Russians and the USA after the nearly complete defeat of ISIS, though thoroughly hypocritical, was of course predictable. The Kurdish Freedom Movement's project of democratic confederalism, which features direct democratic assemblies, struggles for women’s liberation, provides institutional guarantees for multi-ethnic and multi-religious accommodation, and aspires for ecological sustainability constitutes a threat to the murderous plans of extremist forces and suppressive states in the region.   Which is why all anti-Imperialists, all freedom-lovers, all democrats, must unite to demand an immediate cessation to the hostilities against Afrin. 

Clearly, since western governments with the power to hold Turkey accountable, such as the UK, US, and Germany are engaged in billions of pounds worth of arms deals with the anti-democratic, increasingly fascistic regime under Erdogan, there is little to expect from these governments in terms of accountability for human rights abuses and war crimes.

In such times, the only weapon that the people of Afrin can rely on is international anti-war solidarity.

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