Friends in Need

Should the SNP and Scottish Nationalists in general be publicly supporting the Kurds?

They aren’t just trying to establish a homeland, they are being targeted by the forces of Turkey – a NATO ally – in a war-within-a-war that includes civilian murders AND they’re on the front line against Daesh, helping in the UK’s number one foreign policy priority.

There is much about Kurdistan that pro-independence Scots can relate to – a powerful sense of identity, the ambition for statehood, attempts against the odds to create a functioning economy and a pride in punching above their weight. Our countries are mountainous, lightly populated with two main cities and a bloody history. Unlike Scotland though, the Kurds really do need help desperately.

There was an army siege on Kurdish towns in southeastern Turkey that claimed the lives of more than 20 while tens of thousands suffer shortages of food, water and electricity. The Turkish army said that 195 rebels were killed in the recent operations in Şırnak. Local people said the Turkish operation is aimed at punishing the entire Kurdish population in the region for cooperation with the PKK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

This is no one-sided struggle. Although the Turks are more powerful, the PKK has ambushed and killed Turkish forces in acts of violence that provide a reason for political opinion here at home to stay silent or neutral. We have been here before in Ireland, South Africa and Palestine as well as numerous former colonies in Africa where violent insurgency morphed into constitutional politics once the case for democratic change was made.

Selma Irmak, a Kurdish MP in Turkey, claims President Erdogan, rapidly gaining a despotic reputation, seeks dictatorship.  ‘Erdogan announced earlier that the peace process between Turkish authorities and PKK has been terminated. In fact we do not find any difference between the crimes committed against the Kurdish people by the Turkish army, the terrorist group of Islamic State and the Baathist regimes of Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. They have been trying to obliterate the Kurdish identity for decades.’

The Kurdish military, the Peshmerga, are the most effective force in the Daesh conflict but, despite the donation of mainly light arms, they are hopelessly hampered in the struggle against the superior arms of Daesh who captured massive loads of armaments from fleeing Iraqi forces. There are over 60,000 Kurdish fighters in the conflict including the 10,000 women of the YPJ.

They are the West’s allies and toughest anti-Daesh fighters. They are praised by NATO and Washington yet they are attacked by our NATO friend Turkey who has their political party branded as terrorists because they are terrified of a Kurdish state on their frontier and partly formed from Turkish territory.

This summer the Turks made air strikes on Daesh yet only a few hours later started dropping bombs in Northern Iraq —on the PKK. There are regular reports, and pictures, of murdered civilians, the suggestion being Western nations turn a blind eye to appease Ankara, a tactic that works so long as world opinion remains deaf and blind.

Kurdistan is wedged between Syria, Iran and Turkey. Recognised as a federal entity by Baghdad, whose Iraqi forces have no mandate to enter, Kurdistan holds the world’s ninth-largest oil reserves and control over its territory and its own armed forces, although it is not a full sovereign state.

Iraq is a domineering ally. Those oil reserves which once bankrolled an expanding economy open to western investment, are tumbling in value and restricting the Kurds’ ability to raise the money needed to run their autonomous region effectively.

Tricky, of course, and fraught to attempt direct comparisons, but Scottish Nationalists may at least experience a fellow feeling for a united people whose political future is historically at the mercy of bigger neighbours. The reference to oil will resonate too.

Yet this looks like an area where the Nationalists fear to tread. They do need to pick their fights carefully and no doubt publicly endorsing a people with a complicated relationship with the West would be seen as unnecessary meddling at the Foreign Office. But, given what the Kurds themselves are going through, would it really be too dangerous – too ‘brave’ – to indicate Scottish moral support. If we take at face value the British Prime Minister’s remarks, then the Kurds are laying down their lives to keep us safe. Maybe we could manage a Thank You… The Kurds after all sent an official letter of congratulation to Nicola Sturgeon after the SNP’s win last May

To be fair, there was an early day motion in the Commons last summer backing the arming of the Kurds. It received just 16 signatures, five of them SNP. And the MEP Alyn Smith has a record of support. The persecution of a Kurdish politician drew this response: ‘I find it the height of ignorance that the Foreign Office has shown a reluctance to indicate their strong opposition to the use of Turkish anti-terror laws to target respected Kurdish politicians such as Leyla Zana.’ But that was seven years ago. There are various community initiatives where SNP people meet with Kurds living here and occasional opinionated forays by MPs like Roger Mullin but, despite an undoubted low level backing, you’d be hard pressed to expect the Scottish public to either know what was going on or if their government had a view.

Wouldn’t a backbench debate in Holyrood provide an opportunity to hear SNP ministers rally to the Kurds’ cause as fellow travellers seeking independence? MSPs have the right to discuss any subject they wish and there is no ideological reason why there shouldn’t be cross party support. It might cause mild embarrassment to London but isn’t that partly what devolution was about – giving voice to our distinct view? The SNP has a patchy record in international engagement, usually because we are pursuing economic advantage as with China or Iran, but there is surely space for a social democratic party to express moral support to those engaged on a course of action with which we identify.

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24 thoughts on “Friends in Need

  1. One of my earliest mentors as much a younger member of the SNP in the 1960s was Jimmy MacLachlan from Oban who as a youngster himself had been chased down the Imbros Gorge in Crete by the invading German army and rescued off the beach with many others, including Australians and New Zealanders, at Chora Sfakia on a Royal Navy corvette to Alexandria.
    Jimmy finished his war in the troubled territory of Palestine and was well read in the complex history of the Middle East. He was a great admirer of the Kurds, of their independent spirit and their refusal to accept domination from larger neighbouring states.
    I am sure he would have approved of your article above

  2. Gordon Bickerton

    Agree 100% Derek. What has the SNP Foreign Affairs spokesman got to say on the matter?
    (I’m off to research :-))

  3. Derek, I remember during the “no fly zone” enforcement over Iraq before the second Gulf War, I read a report from an RAF pilot that they were often ordered to return to base because of “TMI” i.e. Turkish Mission Incoming. They were not to be in the air while the Turks were over the Kurdish villages. The RAF pilot stated that he was sickened by the fact that the villages which had been intact on prior missions were burning from bombing when they patrolled after the TMI.

    Certainly we should be supporting the Kurds. Well done for writing this piece.

  4. Steve Asaneilean

    My fundamental problem with all these conflicts is that few of us (myself included) know enough of the history, background and details to have a valid opinion.

    As Ireland was on our doorstep I tried really hard to understand it. This took years and hours and hours of reading and left me broadly neutral and still feeling that I had barely scratches the surface.

    But how can one do that for every conflict past and present?

    And how can an opinion based on partial or no knowledge be seen as valid?

    So all we are left with are the generalisms – opposing violence as a means of achieving political ends, supporting the innocents caught up in the violence over which they have no control or say, and so on.

    That’s about as much as we can expect from Scottish Government in my view.

  5. Doubt if yet another western country should meddle in the tribal affairs of an eastern country. Help one lot in their battles only to make enemies with another lot and have an understanding of neither. If the destitute and oppressed arrive on our doorstep then by all means offer food, clothing, shelter and a pathway to making a life in their adopted country.

    • Gordon Bickerton

      Should we stand by and watch genocide?

    • So, you have just denigrate the Kurdish nation as a ‘tribe’. How would you react if an English politician were to describe Scots as a ‘tribe’ or our politics as ‘tribal affairs’?

      i don’t pretend to know all the history of the Kurds but I know enough to know they have long sought nationhood but have never really known it. Unlike Scotland. Imagine if Longshanks had been victorious or the Northumbrians had triumphed at Nechtansmere and the nascent Scottish nation as a union of Pict, Scot and Clydsider Briton never happened?

      Then we would be like Kurdistan with part of the land still owned by Norway and part by the English crown with ‘tribes’ in the hinterland mounting guerrilla raids against both and being bombed from the air by England and Norway. Aviemore in flames, Pitlochry a smoking ruin.

  6. Whilst we find one neighbour from Hell as enough, Kurdistan has four.

  7. It’s wrong to turn a bond eye to persecution ; it could do easily be us and as for not understanding the situation as some commentators have said above, the more you raise the profile and enquirer, the more you’ll nderstand.
    Good for you Derek.

  8. Surely the question is not whether the SNP SHOULD support the Kurds, but whether it COULD. So long as the PKK is branded a terrorist organisation by the UN and the EU, it is politically problematic for any political party to express solidarity with the Kurdish people, no matter how just their cause. For a party of government, it is politically impossible.

    But a Holyrood debate is another matter. There seems no obvious reason why that couldn’t happen. Other than the issue of getting someone to propose it.

  9. I lived and taught In Turkey (Turkiye) for nearly 4 years before going further East.

    I loved the Kurds and their progressive Turkish colleagues in their collective, mutually supportive struggle for genuine democracy and human respect between peers from across the different communities in this wonderful part of the world.

    I loved these folk then and now (including the multiplicity of ethnic minorities across the wonderfully bamboozling spectrum of peoples rooted there for multiple generations which encompassed both the Ottoman Empire and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s attempt to establish a modern, secular, progressive, democratic state in what we now know as Turkey (Turkiye). However, democratic business remains unfinished. And the Kurds aka “Mountain Turks” as ethnically defined by the early, modern Turkish state in the quest for unity in the ashes of the Osmanli collapse with the vulture Western and Russian imperialists circling, needs to be put a stop to out of principle’s sake and the completion of Ataturk’s democratic vision).

    I retain such like-minded comrades and friends way out here in the Far East where they have vibrant communities who still maintain their contacts with home.

    Many tell me, even if they are spiritually Islamic (primarily of Sunni backgrounds) that Erdogan is an utter reactionary bastard seeking to undermine the, albeit, very imperfect Turkish constitution (which is at least
    written down compared to the Brits’s fantasy one).

    Beyond this technicalia, I wonder if Cameron and Erdogan are somehow related in their neo-Con/Lib oversights of their respective, imploding artificial states so intimately linked to their elitist perspectives of their post-imperial micro-management of the ethnic fringes who have sustained their on-going hubris?

    I suspect that they are both soon to be well fcuked by the march of democracy and self-determination by, not only our respective peoples, but others globally as big state imperial urine is pished upon by the re-emergent, suppressed folks of our globe in full human solidarity and aided by our modern technology which allows and facilitates the free-flow of ideas generally as well as those more specifically addressed to each of our specific circumstances (pace Prof Paul Cockshott @Glasgow/Strathclyde universities who predicted this free-flow of ideas at least 30 years ago and was a comrade of mine in the Workers’ Party of Scotland along with Matthew (Matt) Lygate).

    Personally, I am in full solidarity with the Kurdish peoples as well as other oppressed minorities across our mutually inhabited world.

    This is non-negotiable for me and always has been.

    However, Derek, may I ask you a question, please?

    Why raise this out of the blue, now?

    How many bloody generations has this bloody struggle going on for without a peep from aye but a few angst-driven, Western liberals?

    So why trot it out for the first time as I am aware of now? {Please cite references if I am wrong. Thank you.)

    An epiphany of sorts along the way of our fraternal and sisterly struggle against apparent, long-running attempts at the respective genocides of our respective peoples by our respective, artificial super-states on-going for aeons?

    Are you under-going a RISE-style opportunistic frisson of conscience in order to undercut the immediate objectives of our domestic, democratic struggle perchance via a wee soupcon of trendy deflection from the key democratic, self-determination issue(s) upon these shores?

    A wee touch of the BELLA CALEDONIA/COMMON SPACE/Trotskyite come pseudo-anarchist posturings in order to sustain the British state?

    Simply curious and thank you should you reply.

    I suspect FM Emeritus Salmond – in his current role – has already pipped you to the post of de facto establishing an independent Scottish foreign policy (no matter how much the in-your-face Brit Unionists boak and heave at the prospect; nor the BritNat B Team of Hassans, Riddochs, Smalls, etc, of the above-mentioned contemplate vomiting at this reality).

    The Holyrood elections results should help further clarify these matters.

  10. In reply to Gordon I am afraid we already stand by and watch genocide in Palastine

  11. ERRATUM: … bloody struggle been going on for…”.

    Apologies, fellow readers!

  12. Excellent article, Derek. However, is the PKK still egardd as a terrorist organisation? I think the USA took them off their list and I wasn’t aware the UN regarded them as terrorists at all. Only Turkey does I think. Damn right we should be supporting the Kurds.

  13. Timely article – excellent. Scotland’s Government should prioritise recognition of Kurdistan. It is effectively independent in Iraq, and as far as we can see, establishing themselves politically in Syria. It will take time to free their land in Turkey and Iran. The Kurds are victims of Imperial Britain and France; something we should surely discuss in Holyrood.

  14. Full support for the Kurdish people and their fight against Daesh would hardly be controversial, and needn’t mention the PKK explicitly.

    In fact, an independent democratic Kurdish state between Europe and the current disaster area to the south would be a better ally than the current Turkish regime, and probably create a more stable condition in Turkey too, if they could get over the butthurt.

    And If it was up to me, I wouldn’t give a fuck about offending Erdogan or his regime. Any country that makes it illegal for its own people to insult the government forfeits the right for anyone else to give that government any respect whatsoever.

  15. The Kurds’ situation is complex (i.e. they have lots of enemies, not all of whom are allies with each other). However, there are other parts of the world where nascent independent states are suppressed with the tacit or even explicit support of the United Kingdom. We all remember the East Timor problem – which has not entirely disappeared – because of campaigners with conviction.

    I would like to propose another victim of posturing by great powers – a country with a commitment to democratic government and the rule of law. Its very existence is threatened by a combination of the big, anti-democratic, aggressive neighbour (which threatens other neighbouring states and supports one of the world’s rogue states) and a (thankfully shrinking) group of political fifth columnists, who want to see it absorbed into that neighbour of which it has only ever been a colony. (Imagine, if you will, an Australian pro-colonial party – if you can.)

    That nation is Taiwan. Because the USA exported the losers of the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan, it was subjected to a rule of terror by the Stalinist Chinese Nationalist Party – for the longest period of martial law (38 years) ever recorded. Ever since the arrival of that military dictatorship, it has been officlally labelled, albeit anachronistically and without reference to geography, the Republic of China. Thankfully, circumstances have improved and a Taiwanese political party has now been voted into the office of the presidency and into the majority in the legislature. Taiwan supplies much of our demand for electronic goods, and is a natural ally of the other major Far Eastern industrial power (its other former colonial ruler), Japan.

    The recognition of Taiwan, as the independent state it really is, is long overdue: it is a participant in international help for deprived countries and a significant contributor to the World Health Organisation, yet because of the historic backing of the USA and the UK for the long-dead dictator Chiang-Kai Shek and the desire of the People’s Republic of China to absorb its former colony (given up by internationally recognised treaty in 1895!), the USA and the UK continue to maintain the fiction that Taiwan does not exist: it is denied entry to the UN and China demands that it is referred to internationally as a mere province of China – a complete fiction.

    Within Taiwan, growing national self-awareness is not likely to be held back, but China keeps thousands of missiles pointed at this democratic state, and threatens to invade on a whim. Why should Scotland not support a democratic nation struggling under the imposition of political and media retribution by its larger neighbour?

  16. A lot of people don’the know what is actually going on there our news media seem to be ignoring have got to ask why ignore what a fellow members of nato is have been waiting seemingly in vain to hear someone bring this up in parliament. Are the kurds only of use to the west when fighting an enemy of the “west”

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