Jan Royall on getting the Turkish government and PKK back to the negotiating table
Sitting in my warm kitchen in the peace of an English village, it is difficult to believe that a few days ago I was in Diyarbakir – a Kurdish area of South East Turkey, where the sound of explosions and the after smell of smoke is the norm.
I was there with socialist colleagues to talk with representatives of the HDP (the People’s Democratic Party) and BDP (the Peace and Democracy Party), the local Governor and families of some of the 2,000 civilians trapped and suffering as a result of the curfew in the district Sur.
I totally condemn violence and killings whether the perpetrators are the PKK or the Turkish authorities, and it was with great sadness that during our visit six members of the security forces were killed. It was also with sadness that we spoke to relatives of people – some sick, including babies and the elderly – who for 80 days had not been able to leave Sur because they are considered to be terrorists. Delicate negotiations at the highest level secured a brief cease-fire while we were there, and the 'release' of six people. One however, died on the way to hospital while the other five were immediately taken into police custody.
Since the breakdown in the peace talks last year, there have been 57 curfews in Kurdish towns and cities. In Cizre, during a recent military crackdown, scores of people were burnt to death in the ruins of a building and doctors whom we met during our visit were not allowed in to help. I realise the government are faced with difficult challenges due to the threat posed by the PKK and other terrorist groups at its borders. But the only outcomes of the curfews appear to be deaths, the escalation of violence, and increased anger in the suffering Kurdish community.
Our delegation called upon the PKK to cease all attacks on the security forces and upon the government to end the curfews. But with the latter still in place, we also made strong arguments in favour of a humanitarian corridor. This would allow urgent medical help to get in, and the bodies of those killed to be released to relatives for burial; and enable those wanting to leave to do so.
While democracy and the rule of law are not properly respected throughout Turkey, there is a complete violation of freedoms in Kurdish areas. As well as the curfews, many elected representatives have been dismissed, arrested or imprisoned in the past six months. Their only offence being to speak out against government policies and in favour of the sort of decentralised systems common to all European Union member states.
Turkey is a valued international partner to the EU, and the benefits of developing our strategic partnership are mutual. We face many common challenges: not least the refugee crisis and the need to find a political solution leading towards peace in Syria, and collaborative work on EU enlargement. But we also have a duty to call on the President and the government to respect fundamental human rights. Yes, they have a legitimate right to fight against terrorism but security measures must be targeted and proportional, and adhere to obligations under international law.
Resolution of the Kurdish issue is vital for the whole of Turkey, and it was deeply regretful when negotiations broke down. Examples exist around the world, in South Africa, the Philippines – where Turkey’s Foreign Minister played a key role – and Northern Ireland of negotiations between the State and terrorists have brought lasting peace. The EU should call on the Turkish government and the PKK to get back to the table, without preconditions, and help bring social stability and economic development not just to the country but the wider region.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is a Labour Peer and a Vice President of the PES. She tweets @LabourRoyall
Published 23rd February 2016