Why the ban on the PKK is wrong

July 28, 2016
Protesters rally in Turkey
Protesters rally in Turkey in 2013.

Since late 2005 the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been included on Australia's list of terrorist organisations. It is illegal for Australian citizens to belong to the PKK, actively support it, raise funds for it or otherwise engage with it. Just this month Australian-Kurdish journalist Renas Lelikan was charged in Sydney with being a member of the PKK.

The PKK was first placed on Australia's list of terrorist groups in December 2005 by the John Howard Coalition government following a visit here by Turkey's then-prime minister — now president — Recip Tayyip Erdogan. It was re-listed by Howard in 2007, by Labor under Kevin Rudd in 2009 and by Julia Gillard in 2012. And in August last year the PKK's listing was confirmed by the Tony Abbott Coalition government.

Twenty organisations are included on Canberra's terrorism list. All but the PKK are Islamist outfits.

Initial ban opposed

Right from the start the ban on the PKK met significant opposition. In the first part of 2006, when the federal parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security reviewed and approved the initial ban, the two Labor members, Duncan Kerr and John Faulkner, dissented.

In a May 1, 2006 opinion piece in the Melbourne Age, Kerr pointed out some of the problems with the ban: “The ban on the PKK potentially exposes thousands of Australians of Kurdish background to imprisonment, because belonging to the PKK now carries a 10-year jail term. Just associating with the PKK carries a three-year term.

“Many of those affected could be people who have lived perfectly ordinary lives in Australia and who have had nothing to do with terrorism, but who identify the PKK as 'their party' in the sense that they support it as a legitimate national liberation movement fighting for the freedom of the Kurdish people…

“The committee received no evidence that a ban on the PKK would directly benefit Australia's national security. There was no evidence of any terrorist activity by the PKK or members of the Kurdish community in Australia.”

Greens leader Bob Brown argued against the original ban. Liberty Victoria President Brian Walters said the ban “undermines negotiations for peace". While the government acknowledges the PKK's initiation of negotiations for peace, this listing criminalises any Australian dialogue with the PKK on solutions for the resolution of conflict”.

The real situation

From the inception of the Turkish republic in 1923 the country's Kurdish population has suffered severe national oppression. For many years their very identity was denied and even their language was banned.

The formation of the PKK in 1978 put the struggle for Kurdish rights on a new level. Whatever mistakes may have been made, the organisation has endured and developed and has millions of supporters at home and abroad.

Today, in a very significant change of orientation, the PKK has dropped its call for a separate Kurdish state. Instead, it now aims for Kurdish autonomy within a democratised Turkey. In 2013 it unilaterally declared a ceasefire and sought to enter into negotiations with the Turkish government.

Just as these talks started to make serious progress, in early 2015 Erdogan scuttled them and turned towards conflict and war. That is now playing out in Turkey's Kurdish-majority south-east where the army and security forces have devastated Kurdish towns and villages. Hundreds have been killed and large numbers of people displaced.

A revolutionary force

The revolutionary democratic wing of the Kurdish freedom movement is today the most progressive force in the Middle East. This wing includes the PKK and the People's Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), and the new organisations of the Yazidi people in Sinjar in Iraq and the Party for a Free Life in Iran.

In the midst of the murderous ethnic and religious sectarianism practiced by despotic regimes and the Islamic State killers, the philosophy of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan (jailed in Turkey since 1999) stands as a beacon of humanity and hope.

This is what is being put into practice in Rojava. In the most inauspicious of circumstances, menaced both by Islamic State terror gangs and the Turkish regime, a people's revolution is taking place.

A new society is being built, one in which the various ethnic and religious groups can live together in peace and cooperation, based on grassroots assemblies and in which women are being empowered to step forward and participate equally in society.

This inspiring and democratic project is what the PKK wants to see implemented everywhere in the Middle East. To call such an organisation “terrorist” and say it is beyond the pale of the normal political process says a lot about those governments doing the banning. To say the PKK is “terrorist” and the Erdogan regime in Turkey is not, is completely farcical.

Lift the ban on the PKK!

[More information at Lift the ban on the PKK.]

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