The federal government relisted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation on August 11.
This means it is illegal for Australian citizens to belong to it, actively support it or raise funds for it.
The PKK was first placed on Australia’s list of terrorist groups in December 2005 by John Howard’s government after Turkey’s then Prime Minister — now president — Recip Tayyip Erdogan visited Australia. It was relisted by Howard in 2007, by Labor under Kevin Rudd in 2009 and by Julia Gillard in 2012.
On the national security website the entry for the PKK has been changed. Gone are the claims that the PKK financed itself through the drug trade and prostitution rackets. Given the tremendous emphasis that the PKK places on women’s rights and the role women play in the organisation, this latter assertion was complete fantasy. These claims were unsustainable and only damaged the government’s case.
Also gone is the admission that the PKK posed no threat to Australia’s security. That simply gave a free kick to opponents of the ban so it had to go.
The old list of armed activities of the PKK has gone and is replaced by a new, longer list. However, it suffers from the same problems as the previous one.
First, the fundamental reality that the government’s website doesn’t mention is that Turkey’s Kurds, who make up about a quarter of the population, suffer heavy oppression. Their very existence is denied by the constitution, which says all citizens belong to the “Turkish nation” — they clearly do not. Kurdish students are denied public school education in their mother tongue — Turkish is the only language permitted in state schools.
Second, the Erdogan government and the PKK were engaged in peace talks. These were making encouraging progress. The PKK began to withdraw its guerilla units to its bases in northern Iraq, despite the lack of legal guarantees of their safety. In February, a 10point agreement was made public.
The next month, Erdogan repudiated everything. Fearing that his party was losing from the peace process, he turned to conflict and antiKurd racism.
After Erdogan’s big rebuff in the June 7 elections by the left-wing Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP), this has developed into a fullscale war on the Kurdish people. Erdogan hopes that in a climate of violence and fear, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) can win back enough rightist support to gain a clear parliamentary majority and rule in its own right.
Fresh elections have been set for November 1. By the time they come around, it is by no means impossible that top HDP leaders may be in jail and the party banned. And how can elections be held if a large part of the country is under martial law and free movement is made impossible?
None of this is mentioned on the government’s website. Instead, in its surreal universe everything is sheeted home to the PKK.
The case of the ‘abducted’ children
Included on the national security website is the following charge: “The group is reported to have kidnapped more than 300 children between December 2013 and May 2014.”
This claim is a complete fabrication.
A report in the Hürriyet Daily News of June 3 last year gives a sense of what is really going on. There were no kidnappings. In conditions of ongoing oppression, in which many young people feel that Kurds have no place in a racist Turkey, they make contact with the PKK of their own accord.
The Hürriyet article reported the comments of Ertugrul Kürkçü, then coleader of the HDP: “Do you want children — who passed to the other side of the border, who believe that they have found a safe space there and who chose to go there — to rejoin their families? The most important thing that you will do is attach importance to the peace process and eliminate inequalities and unlawfulness ... Who can give assurances to these children about their future if they decided to return?”
In its attempt to blame the PKK for the young people’s decision, the Turkish regime is standing reality on its head. The Australian national security website is happy to repeat its lies.
Stop the war, restart peace talks
The Erdogan regime is waging a war on the Kurds. Cities, towns and villages in the Kurdish-majority southeast are under attack by the security forces. People have been killed in their homes and on the streets; thousands have been arrested. More than 100 areas have been declared “special security zones”. Recently, HDP offices across the country were attacked by rightist mobs.
Naturally the PKK is helping people resist these attacks. But despite everything, its response has been limited. PKK leaders have said its forces should attack only those police and army units that are involved in attacks on the people.
The war must be stopped and the settlement process restarted. This is what a big majority of the people of Turkey want. The war is the project of the Erdogan regime.
Australia should not be its accomplice. The government should pressure Turkey to stop the war and restart genuine peace negotiations. Lifting the ban on the PKK would be an excellent start to such a campaign.