Emergency Motion Speech at UK Trades Union Congress Conference on Kurdish Question

Drone footage showing destruction of Kurdish city of Nusaybin this year following bombardments by Turkish forces

Drone footage showing substantial destruction of Kurdish city of Nusaybin this year following bombardments by Turkish forces

Speech by Tommy Murphy, Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference delegate:

Chair, conference, ………………. Unite the Union moving emergency motion ….. on Turkey and solidarity with the Kurdish population.

Colleagues it’s absolutely right that various unions have come together to submit this motion to conference.

Anyone with even one eye on the news will have seen the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Turkey and the slide towards a violent and authoritarian regime.

While this has been going on the wider world has kept disgracefully quiet, in the hope that if they say nothing then President Erodgan will stick to the deal and keep the refugees from Syria in Turkey and stop them disturbing us here in Europe.

The silence and lack of action is an outrage and has got to stop.

Colleagues, we all know that Turkey has always had an authoritarian streak and has never been a fully-fledged democracy.

It has always been a place where being journalist, a trade unionist or human rights activist could very likely end up with you being locked up.

But less often talked about is the sustained act of repression against the Kurds who make up some 25% of the population.

Until very recently the Kurds were denied language rights, were discriminated against in employment and generally repressed on huge scale – even the very existence of the Kurds was denied by the Turkish state.

And like in so many other countries this repression prompted a reaction and has led to an on-going conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state.

Over the last 30 years that conflict has led to over 40 000 people being killed, 3500 villages being destroyed and some 4 million displaced people.

President Erdogan initially promised to address the question and there was a brief period of real optimism when a cease fire was called and peace talks between the PKK leader Abdullah Ojalan took place from 2012 until 2015.

But then with events in Syria unfolding and a declining popularity Erdogan decided on a different course of action.

And once he failed to get the majority he wanted in the June 2015 election the crackdown went into overdrive.

We have witnessed the mass arrest and detention of journalists, trade unionists, human rights activists, and anyone who dares to speak up against the government.

And above all we have seen a brutal crackdown on Kurdish activists who dare to stand up for their rights.

At the same time Erdogan also abandoned the fledgling peace process that had been underway with the PKK.

Instead of continuing down the sometimes difficult road of peace – of the sort we witnessed in Northern Ireland and more recently in Colombia – Erdogan returned to looking for a military solution and this is once again costing the lives of thousands of people.

And Erdogan’s repression of the Kurds is not confined to the borders of his own country.

It’s widely reported and known that Turkey has been supporting Islamic State fighters in Syria and using his own forces to attack and bomb the Syrian Kurds who have so courageously been pushing back IS in northern Syria.

Colleagues, this motion quite rightly expresses support for the actions that the TUC has taken so far in demanding respect for ILO standards and the reinstatement of sacked workers, as well as for freedom of expression and assembly.

But it also outlines further steps that we need to take, such as demanding that governments and international organisations finally start acting to pressure Erdogan to change course and stop the oppression.

Just as importantly it calls for the release of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ojalan and for the immediate restart of a dialogue and a peace process.

Ojalan has been in prison for 18 years now and is without doubt seen as the leader of the Kurdish people.

A couple of years ago over 10 million people signed a petition calling for his release as the only credible means to start a real peace process.

In my own union we held our first packed fringe on the Kurdish issue this year and passed a motion calling for the release and other solidarity measures.

The GMB has done likewise and other unions are also beginning to get very active on issue – we even launched an official ‘Freedom for Ojalan’ campaign in parliament during April this year, and we urge all of you to get involved and support this important struggle.

The Kurds are one of the few secular and progressive forces left in the whole Middle East region, and their record in promoting women’s and minority rights in such a difficult part of the world is second to none.

It is vital that we give our support, vital for them and vital for the future prospects of peace, democracy and tolerance in the region and wider world.

Colleagues, it’s great that this motion is in front of you and will be a major step forward if the TUC speaks with one voice and calls for the release of Ojalan too, please support the motion.

First published by the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

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