Members of Sydney’s Kurdish community and supporters gathered outside the Sydney Opera House on January 28 to protest the Turkish military attack on the Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria (also known as Rojava). Turkey began bombing Afrin on January 20 and has since begun a land invasion with the help of pro-Turkish Syrian opposition groups.
One of the organisers of the rally, Ismet Tashtan from the Kurdish Democratic Community Centre of NSW (Nav-Dem), called for unity among Kurds as protesters chanted “Turkey, hands off Afrin”. Speakers called on the Australian government as well as the international community to act, and put pressure on Turkey to halt its invasion.
NSW Green’s MP for Balmain Jamie Parker gave this speech at the rally, emphasising that “the world must not let the Kurdish people down again”.
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For centuries the Kurds have struggled for recognition and autonomy and repeatedly this has been denied in the wider geopolitical struggles in the region.
Again and again the Kurds have assisted in the overthrow of oppressors, in defeating the Ottomans and most recently in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Despite promises of recognition, history is littered with broken promises to the Kurds; in fact, they continue to be oppressed by the nation states in which they are embedded, being denied citizens' rights.
They have put their lives on the line to help to defeat ISIS.
Kurdish fighters from across the region played a critical role in helping the Yazidi people escape genocide — as they fled Mount Sinjar; the Kurds were there to help secure corridors to ease their escape.
Turkey claims they need a security buffer, but from what?
This area is one of the most stable and secure parts of Syria.
The Kurdish region of Rojava has been called “a relative oasis of security and opportunity in a desert of anarchy and oppression”. The Kurdish people are conducting a democratic experiment, based on the principles of democratic confederalism.
Now this Kurdish enclave is under threat.
Turkey’s stated aim is to provide a so-called “security zone” 18 miles deep into Syria, and to eliminate “terrorist nests”.
But where was the President of Turkey when Kobane was under attack from ISIS terrorists and their allies. When these terrorists were only miles from the border did Turkish troops enter Syria to protect civilians and defend Kobane? No.
Instead, there were reports that Turkey was in fact doing precious little to stop the flow of ISIS fighters into Syria.
The Syrian people have suffered enough. Turkey’s actions seriously risk provoking another humanitarian crisis in Syria. It is jeopardising whatever prospects there are for peace in Syria.
The Greens call on Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to express Australia’s concerns directly and publicly to Turkey. Our ambassador should be recalled for briefings and the Turkish ambassador should be summoned to Canberra to explain. Ties with the Turkish military should be reviewed.
The PKK has been labeled a terrorist organisation by Turkey's allies, including the US and the European Union, but, interestingly, not by the United Nations, Switzerland or Russia.
The Greens opposed the listing of the PKK back in 2005 and even moved that the proposal be disallowed in the Senate, but were unable to gain the support of either the Labor or Liberal parties.
The PKK is no risk to Australia but is instead on the front line defending Kurds and the wider community from ISIS and other Islamic extremist militias.
The President of Turkey must realise the path to a resolution of the “Kurdish question” is through negotiation, not violence. And while there are large differences among Kurdish national movements, Abdullah Ocalan is supported by many Kurdish groups. Ocalan must be released from his island prison, where he has suffered in solitary confinement, and allowed to sit at the negotiating table.
The Kurdish people deserve the support of Australia. We must all work together to ensure the future for Kurdish people is one where there is real respect, where the Kurdish people have far greater autonomy and they can enjoy a genuine peace and cultural rights.