Trade Unions Launch Freedom for Ocalan Campaign


Peace in Kurdistan Campaign Press Release:

On 25th April 2016, the trade unions, GMB and Unite, joined forces to launch a campaign to free Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from prison. The launch took place at a meeting at the Houses of Parliament packed with members of the Commons and the Lords, Journalists and members of the public.

Speakers at the meeting, chaired by Scottish MP Natalie McGarry, included Bert Schouwenburg (GMB), Steve Turner (Assistant General Secretary Unite the union), Stephen Smellie (Peace in Kurdistan Trade Union Liaison and Scottish Deputy Convenor of Unison), Simon Dubbins (Unite the union), Lord Rea, and from Kurdistan, Democratic Regions Party (BDP) co-chair Kamuran Yüksek and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP in the Turkish Parliament, Dilek Öcalan.

The unions intend to build the campaign by involving trade union members across all unions, MPs of all parties and the general public in demanding that Ocalan be released from prison in order to lead the negotiations for peace in Turkey.

Dilek Ocalan MP, niece of Abdullah Ocalan, told the meeting that the Turkish government had arbitrarily ended the peace process, initiated by Ocalan, between the Turkish government and Kurdish representatives, had placed Ocalan in total isolation and had “plunged Kurdistan into a brutal war. His isolation is unlawful, arbitrary and against basic human rights. He has been the architect of the peace process and over 3.5 million people in Turkey see him as their legitimate representative and have called for his release. That is why we are launching this historic campaign in the British Parliament today. “

She explained that the HDP had put forward proposals for, ‘Societal Peace and Resolution to the Kurdish Question’ in the Turkish parliament.

“The proposals are designed to resume the peace process involving the Turkish state and Ocalan as the interlocutor of the Kurdish people. In order to take the process further than previously Ocalan needs to be free and able to lead the negotiations.”

Simon Dubbins, International Officer of Unite, reminded the packed meeting that it was Ocalan who had said “Let the guns fall silent and let the politics begin.” This statement had initiated the peace process which the Turkish government ended last year. He said of his recent visit to Diyarbakir in Eastern Turkey, “The situation is dire. The civil war in Syria is now in Turkey. What we witnessed in Sur (the district in Diyarbakir which has been under curfew by the Turkish forces) is outrageous. It is the worst brutality I have seen. Ocalan is utterly dedicated to plurality, women’s rights and democracy, he has written extraordinary books whist under extreme conditions of isolation in prison. He is a formidable intellect. It is an outrage that President Erdogan is being given a free hand to do as he likes with freedom of expression, attacks on Trade Unions and an outright war against the Kurds, it has to end. By launching this campaign today we have broken through the taboo which has surrounded Ocalan ”

Kamarun Yuksek told the meeting that Ocalan’s freedom was very important for peace and a democratic solution, not only for Turkey but, for the Middle East. Ocalan is, “against religious nationalism and individual sectarianism.. the cause of conflicts in the Middle East and the conflict between the Middle East and the West. Integration of the Middle East and Europe can only be achieved through democratisation. Ocalan stands for the democratisation of the Middle East and for peace.

The Kurdish people have the potential to be at the vanguard of democratisation in the Middle East. We have shown this in Shengal, Kobane and Rojava.”

Welcoming the launch of the campaign Stephen Smellie, UNISON’s Scottish Deputy Convenor and Peace in Kurdistan’s trade union officer, who has visited Kurdistan a number of times, told the meeting, “Ocalan’s teachings are the inspiration that drives forward the Kurdish movement’s fight for democracy, equality and for non-sectarian, gender equal institutions. Anyone who has attended a trade union course knows that these are trade union values that we fight for every day in workplaces and in society generally. It is therefore entirely appropriate that trade unions in Britain initiate this campaign to free Ocalan.”

Unite Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner said that for too long unions had ignored the plight of the Kurds and that this needed to be rectified. “Britain played an important part in the pains suffered by the Kurdish people, for this reason it is important to launch this campaign in the UK Parliament”, said Turner.

He also stressed that it was not possible to conduct peace negotiations while one of the two sides was jailed and deprived of basic human rights. “This has to stop and the British state should help do it. This parliament shouldn’t accept the actions of the Turkish state,” he added.

Messages of support were received from Past General Secretary of the GMB, Sir Paul Kenny. In his statement he addressed the question of why the GMB should support a man labelled as a terrorist. He said “labels are often written by those who wish to prevent progress and dialogue. Abdullah Ocalan is not Nelson Mandela. But the parallels between the two are somewhat striking: both sought freedom for their people, both paid a heavy price in being deprived of their liberty and more so in Ocalan’s case, lengthy periods of isolation.”

Further messages of support were received from Sinn Fein MPs and the current General Secretary of the GMB, Tim Roach.

For more information contact
Stephen Smellie, Trade Union Liaison, Peace in Kurdistan:

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