DiEM25: Kurdish plight continues as the EU and US pander to Erdogan’s regime

The destructive earthquakes are being used by the Turkish government to continue piling pressure on the repeatedly betrayed Kurdish people.
Last month, PI member DiEM25 took part in an international fact-finding mission to learn about the current situation of political prisoners in Turkey. This is a brief report from that delegation.
Last month, PI member DiEM25 took part in an international fact-finding mission to learn about the current situation of political prisoners in Turkey. This is a brief report from that delegation.

A couple of weeks before the tragic earthquakes that hit the Turkish-Syrian border, I took part in a five-day fact-finding mission in Istanbul. There, as part of an international delegation, I met with lawyers, civil society actors, and opposition party spokespersons to gain insight into the state of human rights in Turkish prisons. The picture painted by those we spoke to was truly grim, and it wasn’t limited to the state of prisoners.

Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK and leader of the Kurdish people, has been imprisoned since 1999 and has now not been seen or heard from for almost two years. The Turkish regime has him imprisoned in the infamous Imrali island prison, together with another three inmates. He enjoys one hour of “social time” (outside his isolation cell) each week.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is killing Öcalan, slowly and painfully, with the implicit support of Europe and the USA, who are turning a blind eye to the obvious human rights violations. The Council of Europe is dragging its feet for years on a judgment on whether Turkey is infringing the rights of prisoners.

It became apparent to all of us that Imrali is but a launching pad — the laboratory where inhumane practices are introduced, under the pretext of “emergency measures”, only to be later exported as the norm to other prisons across the nation. There were multiple examples of lawyers being prosecuted for defending their clients, of prisoners without access to lawyers, doctors, or their legally-guaranteed time with family and loved ones.

Suspicious ‘suicides’ are on the rise, as are cases of sexual, physical, and psychological violence against prisoners. The imprisonment of dissenting academics, activists, civil society actors, and journalists who report on violations is also on the rise. The conditions of LGBTQI+ people and women prisoners are also particularly worrying.

Even the earthquakes, which affected the Kurdish region to a massive extent, have been used as an excuse to further crackdown on dissent. A ‘state of emergency’ has been declared in ten cities, under the pretence of expediting aid, but it has instead been used to crack down on dissent and criticism. Journalists have been detained and reporters from Turkey are required to acquire a ‘turquoise card’ from the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications to be allowed to report on the disaster.

Rescue teams have been stuck at airports across the country before being allowed access into the city, and mayors of Erdogan’s AKP party were prioritised over those from opposition groups when it came to information sharing from the President’s office. Even citizens who have taken to social media to criticise the government’s response to the crisis have been detained. At the time of writing, access to Twitter was disrupted in Turkey, as was access to the Internet in certain parts of the country.

This is the Turkish regime that Europe is so cynically financing through the internationally condemned Europe-Turkey deal, which supports Erdogan’s struggling economy with millions of Euros in return for incarcerating economic and war refugees in Turkey — the only detainees who face worse conditions than political prisoners in the country — and for helping FRONTEX and the Greek coastguard to deter and kill people trying to cross the Aegean.

This is the same regime that Sweden and Finland are bending backward to please in a desperate attempt to gain Erdogan’s approval for their NATO membership bids. Among Turkey’s demands is the extradition of Kurdish asylum seekers back to the country, to face the horrors described above. While purportedly challenging the rise of the far-right across the continent, the European establishment has adopted large swathes of the far-right's policies as its own. Nietzsche’s warning of “when fighting monsters, beware that you yourself do not become one” has never been more apt: the blood of those who suffer and die under Erdogan’s rule is also on Europe’s hands.

The Kurdish people, who are being tested yet again after the recent earthquakes, have been repeatedly betrayed by the international community, despite their critical help in defeating ISIS and their long struggle for recognition. They are the world’s largest ethnicity without a nation, and since the 90s their demands have shifted from independence to autonomy, and their methods from armed struggle to political means. The EU and the USA both continue to list the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Last week, I reported on the findings of our mission at a demonstration in front of the European Commission in Brussels, on the occasion of the delivery of 3.5 million signatures demanding that the EU de-list the PKK from its terrorist list.

The Kurdish people, quite like the Palestinians, have been subject to vicious propaganda for decades, which has isolated their struggle at the international level. It is important to both acknowledge their rights and the ways in which they are being trampled — not just in Turkey, but in Syria and Iraq too. Together with the Palestinian and Cypriot questions, the Kurdish is the third pillar on which peace in the Middle East depends.

Turkey, even before Erdogan’s time, has used the Kurds to militarise Turkish society around an imagined permanent Kurdish threat, and develop social support for an aggressive internal and foreign policy. The entire region suffers — from Greece to Armenia, Syria to Bulgaria. The de-listing of the PKK as a terrorist organisation in Europe, and a closer engagement between European, Kurdish and Turkish democrats, is a pre-requisite for the Turkish polity to be shifted towards de-militarisation, and for Turkey to become a power for peace rather than war in the South-eastern Mediterranean.

Erik Edman is the Political Director and a Coordinating Collective member of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.

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