Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.
Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.
I was anxious for the Turkish airline plane to take off but it was being held up by Turkish State security agents. Two of them were walking down the airplane aisle from the forward exit, casually casting eyes over the passengers of the plane. Not looking at them would have been suspicious and would have conveyed guilt or fear, so I glanced equally casually at them and then away.
Average height, in suits and sunglasses, dark-haired, one of what might be termed “Mediterranean” appearance in his mid-thirties, the other “Middle-Eastern”, forties perhaps. Secret police for sure – not that their profession was in any way secret. Political police.
Almost certainly the same ones who had passed us in town a couple of times as we sat in the cafe killing a few hours before we headed for the airport. Nothing secret about that either – nor even subtle, driving a couple of times up and down the deserted street. They wanted us to know that they knew. Knew what we were. Tightening the cords of fear.
The two came slowly down the airplane aisle towards me. I tried not to tense as they drew near ….. and then they passed on towards the rear. I did not turn to look at them. This might have been a regular kind of security check as far as other passengers were concerned but I knew it wasn’t — they were here for us.
So what now? Drag us off the plane? Drag one or two and leave the rest? What would I do if they arrested one or more of the others but not me? Keep quiet until I got back and raise hell there? Or make a fuss here and get arrested as well? Think about it too much and I’d get really scared. Fear can paralyse. Also might send out the wrong signals. Put it to the back of my mind now …… wait to see what happens, then react. Or not.
I didn’t want to be in any prison, least of all a Turkish one — I’d seen Midnight Express. OK, some people, including the original central character of the story, had protested that the film was not true to life, that it made the Turks out to be monsters. But even those people had not defended Turkish prisons. And if even a tiny percentage of Turks were nasty psychopaths, the police, army and prison service were sure to have more than their share. And I knew what those elements had been doing to the Kurds …. which is why we were there.
Time was slowing down. They were still behind me somewhere but caution was telling me not to turn to look.
If we were detained, even for questioning only, they’d go through our luggage. Maybe had done so already.
I really wished that thought had not occurred to me.
* * *
The Kurds are a huge ethnic group, population estimates varying between 35 and 45 million, with parts of their people spread through the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Azerbaijan, also with a large diaspora over much of the world, the most numerous in Germany (often those we think of as Turks, for example in kebab shops, are actually Kurds). It is what many might consider the Kurds’ good fortune to be sitting on oil and huge water reserves and a very strategic situation between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But that had turned out unluckily for them. They’d been overrun by the armies of many conquerors and, as is the way of these things, had participated in a fair few of those armies themselves.
Kurds are usually classified ethnically as an Iranian people and their language as in the Iranian group but the dominant language in the states in which they find themselves, apart from Iran itself, is mostly Turkish, Arabic or Azeri. Although with long-held nationalist ideas, the Kurds had experienced self-government twice and only for a total of eight years, each time under the protection of the Soviet Union: 1923-1929/’30 (Azerbaijan) and for almost all of 1946 (in northwestern Iran).
But neither the British nor the French, world masters before WW2, wanted an independent Kurdistan. The British had bombed Kurdish villages, probably the first deliberate aerial bombing of civilians, in their repression campaigns in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Persia (now Iran). The bombing was under the command of Squadron Leader Arnold Harris1, developer of the area-bombing tactic, essentially to strike terror into civilian populations and damage their infrastructure. He later put his expertise to use against the German population in WW2, including the horrific bombing of Dresden. By then, of course, the Italian Fascists and German Nazis had learned from Harris’ earlier innovation, the Italians using them against the Ethiopians and the Nazis against Gernika and other towns, later they and the Italian fascists over much of Europe and the Soviet Union.
Neither the post-WW1 treaties among the victors nor the upsurge of anti-British and anti-French nationalism and republicanism across the region had done the Kurds much good. Those carving states out of former empires wanted them as big as possible and would brook no independentism from different ethnic groups on the territory they claimed for their state. Kemal Attaturk, who led a secularising and modernising movement in building the Turkish State, denied that there was any such thing as a Kurdish people – they are just “mountain Turks”, he famously said.
In 1946 the USA, by then the top imperialist power, didn’t want an independent Kurdistan either and nor of course did the Shah of Persia (Iran) and his supporters so, some time after the Soviets withdrew, the Royal Iranian army invaded and suppressed first the Azerbaijan Republic and then the Kurdish one and executed its leadership.
By 1984 the PPK’s2 communist-led guerrillas, including female units, were fighting a war of Kurdish national liberation against Turkish troops, who were occupying areas, bombing suspected guerrilla bases, destroying villages and forcibly relocating civilians3 and carrying out atrocities, including torture, rape and summary executions.
In Iraq, the Kurds seemed mostly under the tribal leadership of Barzani and Talibani, their peshmergas or guerrillas sometimes collaborating with the Kurds in the Turkish state and more often not.4
During the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988, the Hussein regime had bombed Kurds with chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in one incident at Halabja killing up to 5,000 and injuring twice as many, mostly civilian men, women and children. But, strange to know now, atthat time the western imperialist powers were supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran, because Iran was the ‘big monster’ and Hussein was friendly towards the West. Journalists found it difficult to get their editors interested in the massacre story. And the CIA tried to pin the attack on the Iranians! Only when, years later, Hussein had annoyed the western powers sufficiently by invading Kuwait and they soon afterwards went to all-out war against him, did the story suddenly become generally newsworthy and the then Iraqi military commander Ali Hassan Al-Majid become known as “Chemical Ali”. The chemicals came from west-European companies and US satellite surveillance supplied the targeting references.
Following the defeat of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by the USA-led coalition forces of the time (35 states overall but with Saudi Arabia and British forces next in number to the USA’s), the CIA called on the Kurds to rise up against the Saddam Hussein regime, leading them to believe that the USA would support them and that Hussein’s overthrow was imminent. They rose but neither the external support nor Iraqi-wide uprising was delivered and they faced heavy military suppression and repression with many atrocities, causing millions of Kurds to flee to the Kurdish areas of Iran and Turkey, hundreds being killed on the way by helicopter strafing attacks or by wandering into minefields. Of the 200 mass graves the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry had registered between 2003-2006, the majority were in the South, including one believed to hold as many as 10,000 victims5.
The Assad regime in Syria suppressed Kurdish national aspirations, forced Arabic while punishing expression in Kurdish and jailed a number of Kurdish artists, in particular musicians.
The Kurds of Iran had been repressed under the Shah of Iran but after his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution, they also suffered repression by the fundamentalist clerical regime that took power and executions of Kurdish activists took place. This although during the eight-year Iraq-Iran War, two of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Barzani-led KDP and the Talibani-led PUK, had supported the Iranians against the Iraqi regime.
* * *
The earliest I can remember reading about the Kurds was about Turkish State repression of cultural expression by their Kurdish ethnic citizens, banning of language and song, suppression of history and extending even to arrests of Kurdish women who hung their washing out in the red, white and green sequence — sometimes with yellow in the middle — of Kurdish national colours. Being Irish, I felt something of an identification with them, of course I did. Being a revolutionary socialist in addition, I had no love of the rulers of the repressive Turkish State, nor of the fact of its membership of the USA-dominated military alliance of NATO since 1952.
London, a major European city with a population of over eight millions, larger than the entire population of Ireland (but about the same as the latter’s pre-Great Hunger levels), was temporary or permanent home to a large number and variety of people of non-English ethnic background. Foremost in number was my own, the Irish, largely unacknowledged in multi-racial discourse but the opposite in terms of security, surveillance, harassment and racialisation. I had not heard of the Kurds previously but as one becomes newly aware of the existence of something, it tends to start popping up into one’s consciousness in different places. And so not long after reading of them, I found myself at a Kurdish solidarity meeting in London and leaving my email address with them. Which is how eventually, a couple of years later, I sat in a Turkish airplane in a Kurdistan airport, watching Turkish state political police walking down the aisle towards me.
The Kurdish solidarity people in London set up a committee of activists and I became part of it. The idea came up of building trade union links between Britain and the Kurds, for which it was proposed to send a delegation of British-based trade unionists on a tour of Turkish Kurdistan, whose report could then be used to generate further and increased solidarity work. A boycott of Turkish tourism was one tactic being considered by some of us which, if promoted by the trade union movement in Britain, would have a significant impact on the Turkish economy. Friendly relationships already existed between British trade unions and Turkish ones, which were sometimes repressed by their State but the social-democratic and Moscow-style Communist leaderships on both sides had no sympathy for independence movements which they saw as weakening and splintering the workers’ movement within the Turkish state. There were no specifically Kurdish trade unions but large sections of Turkish unions existed inside the Kurdish region and the solidarity committee had contacts there.
Some of us were asked whether we would like to go, for which we would need to be sponsored by a trade union and raise our own air fares and some money for food — but accommodation and travelling expenses within the region would be taken care of. Most of the money would go towards the flights but our spending money, we were advised, should be in dollars or marks. Turkish Lira is the currency of Turkey but it would be hard to get and anyway those other two currencies would be more valued.
I was excited by the idea of going but doubted I could raise the money – living little above subsistence rates as I was. Having been accepted by the University of North London on a BA combined studies course of History and Irish Studies6 and although in receipt of tuition fees and subsistence support, I was nevertheless having to continue working part-time in order to pay the rent on my flat. It was just my luck that was the year that students in Britain ceased to be eligible for Housing Benefit. Teaching Irish language at Beginners’ level to adults and some weekly youthwork sessions was my only employment then, my last welding job having ended some years earlier – around the same time as the final breakup of my marriage.
The part-time employment and full-time studies course would keep me busy enough but by then I was also on the Ard-Choiste7 of an active Irish diaspora campaigning organisation, the Irish in Britain Representation Group8. In addition I was also on the Branch Committee of my trade union, NALGO (Clerical Section)9, as a part-time (which meant no time off work for union activity) Assistant Branch Secretary and also occasionally representing workers in the grant-aided NGO sector. These workers were usually managed by a voluntary committee of people who considered themselves left-wing or at least liberal but often treated their staff atrociously and rarely abided by due process in disciplining them or responding to grievances. Their employees worked in very small organisations (sometimes with only one or two employees) and were isolated, deprived of the solidarity of larger workforces and often played off against one another.
How likely was it that my trade union branch would sponsor me, even nominally? I was unsure. The local NALGO leadership at the time was what I considered collaborationist with the Council’s management, rather than fighting for improvement of conditions and salaries. And I was new to employment by Lewisham Council. And if the branch were to sponsor me, how likely was it that they would put up some funds to get me to Kurdistan?
In the end, the branch did sponsor me to go to investigate and report back, also making a contribution towards my plane fare. Surprisingly, my funding included a personal contribution from a middle-management figure in the Council which, although she was a union member, surprised me considerably, mostly on a political level. She told me later that despite our differences she admired my courage in undertaking the risk implicit in the delegation. The NALGO Irish Workers’ Group10, of which I was also an activist, contributed a sum too from their meagre resources, for which I was very grateful personally and appreciated also as an example of internationalist solidarity.
And so, after a mad rush to sort out and renew my Irish passport, which I had never needed to travel between Britain and Ireland but would for most other destinations, I arrived late and stressed out at Heathrow Airport to meet the others of our delegation bound for Kurdistan.
Just in case anything should happen to me over there, I informed a few of my siblings over in Ireland, insisting my parents not be told until I telephoned that I had returned. There seemed no point in them worrying while I was away. We are not very good at keeping secrets from one another and, of course, someone told my mother, as I found out later.
* * *
The introductions were brief and hurried before we entered the queue for the Departures gate. Arnold, our English interpreter for Turkish, I had already met several times through the solidarity committee. In addition there was a jocular English photographer called Paddy, a London Afro-Caribbean male trade unionist by the name of Damien from North London and an English woman trade unionist called Rose from another part of England.11The initial list had contained another two but they had to drop out for various reasons.
It was late afternoon on a cloudy day around four hours later when we landed at Istanbul airport and in the city we booked into a four-star hotel, apparently arranged by our hosts. Just as New York is seen as the main city in the USA but the capital is actually Washington DC, Istanbul is seen as Turkey’s main city but its capital is actually Ankara. That evening we went out for a little stroll around the older part of the city and to eat and a little later, were brought to a pub apparently frequented by the Turkish Left. After a few pints I sang a couple of Irish songs which seemed well-received but cannot now remember which they were.
The following day we learned that our departure on the next leg of our journey had been delayed and so we had time for a little sight-seeing. After coffee in one of our host’s flats overlooking the Bosporus Strait, where we were told that we were on the European side and on the other was Asia, we split up to see some of the sights. With one other I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“Blue Mosque”) opened in 1616, functioning as a mosque for Muslim prayer but with parts open to non-believers.
A historic monument in Istanbul is the bronze Serpent Column, created from melted-down Persian weapons, acquired in the plunder of the Persian force’s camp after their defeat at the battle of Platea in 479 BCE, erected at Delphi but transferred to Constantinople
(heart of the European side of Istanbul) by Emperor Constantine I “the Great”. Listed on the column were all the Greek city-states that had participated in the battle. Although a part at the top was removed, the Column survived a number of disasters, including the tragic burning and sacking of the city at the hands of the Fourth Crusade (although it was a Christian city) by forces under the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo in 1204 AD.
Then we got word to be ready as that night we’d be taking a plane to Batman. Really, Batman? Not to Robin? They had heard the jokes before, of course. Batman is a town in the province of the same name, south-east of Anatolia or Asia Minor, i.e in Kurdistan but more to the point, was where our hosts were based – the Petrol Is trade union.
On the journey, looking down from the passenger plane, I could see vast mountain areas seeming like a wrinkled and rucked fabric, in many places covered or streaked in snow. A little over two hours later, we landed at Batman airport.
* * *
Batman was a bit of a shock, to be honest. Not so much the very small airport but the town itself, which seemed to be little more than a long and very wide high street forking at one end. A few shops, cafes or restaurants on one side of the road and some half-constructed buildings and empty sites on the other. A cow walked down the street unattended, stopped by a rubbish bin and began to eat waste cardboard; cows’ stomachs of course can break down cellulose and extract nutrition from it – but still, not what one from our parts of the world expects to see in a town.
On a map of the Kurdish area of the Turkish state, Bitlis would appear to be roughly in the middle; Batman is a little over 100 kilometres from there, heading south-westward.
After spending the night in a very quiet and basic enough Batman hotel but with single rooms each, after breakfast of bread, biscuits and coffee, we got a taxi to the regional Petrol Is headquarters, a large building but which seemed almost empty, where we were asked to wait. After an hour the area where we were, somewhat like an auditorium in size but without many chairs, had begun to fill up. The first thing that struck me was that they were all men – even the administrative staff, it seemed – so that I felt sympathy for Rose. She was wearing a long scarf over her head in recognition of the cultural norms of the area and, although I was not at all sure that I agreed with that, in the end it was her decision.
Eventually the President of the regional branch arrived and we sat down with him and a few of his committee, with some other Petrol Is members standing around us. We were drinking chai, light-coloured tea without milk and with nearby sugar-cubes to add to taste.
The discussions were in Turkish, with Arnold interpreting for us and for the union President. After the introductions, the President welcomed “the British trade unionists” who were coming to enquire about conditions and promised the assistance of the union while we were there. Naturally I couldn’t let that go and asked Arnold to translate the following for me:
“For my own part, as an Irishman in a British trade union, thank you for your hospitality. The British state has occupied my country for hundreds of years and we have struggled – and continue to struggle – for full independence.”
The regional President acknowledged the statement but no doubt understood that I was by inference making a point also about Kurdish members of Turkish trade unions. I was interested in precisely the nature of that relationship and a little later probed deeper, with Arnold of course translating. The President limited himself to stating that the union’s HQ in Turkey supported the regional branches in their struggles for better wages and conditions and for freedom to organise. Of course, even if he were an ardent nationalist, he would have to be very circumspect; there were certain to be State spies in the union.
Petrol Is workers were scattered around the region at oil depots and refineries and often living away from home for long periods. Inclement weather could be an issue as could work accidents. Wages were considered generally good but did not keep up with the rising prices of necessities, not to speak of more luxurious goods – a common experience of the working class around the world.
After about an hour he bade us farewell and we were introduced to our driver for the rest of our stay, Genghis.12
Genghis spoke little English but was fluent in both Turkish and his native Kurdish. A good-natured man in his early thirties who lived locally with his wife and children, we were to spend a week in his company as he drove us many hundreds of kilometres. His salary, accommodation and traveling costs, we understood, were being paid by the union.
After Genghis dropped us off back at our hotel, I and some of the others fancied a couple of beers with relaxed conversation but were in for a surprise – the area was under islamic norms. Not only did the hotel have no bar – there were no bars. No alcohol? It is amusing now that some of us seemed more shocked by the prospect of no beer than the fact that we were in an insurgency war zone.
There was, however, a shop where we could buy cans of beer. What kind of islamic no-alcohol policy could that be? We asked no more questions, bought some beers and discreetly brought them back to the hotel, piled into one of the bedrooms and relaxed with a couple of cans for awhile.
Paddy and Damien were quite lively and amusing guys, Arnold and Rose quieter. Of the first two, Paddy was the perhaps the funniest. He seemed to think I looked like Sean Connery (some people years ago thought that) and kept calling me “Big Sean”. He was a freelance professional photographer. Damien was a member, like myself, of a NALGO branch but in North London. Rose was not only on the executive committee of her trade union but also on the joint union area committee.
After a while, we separated, each to his or her own room. Next morning, we were to be up at 7am, meet Genghis and begin our investigative journeys. We’d stop off at a cafe for breakfast on the way.
* * *
ARMY ROADBLOCK AND A CANNON-SHELL HOLE IN MY WALL
Driving into a town (I can’t remember which one now) we could see light cannon and heavy machine-gun missile impact marks on the walls of houses.
Suddenly ahead was an Army checkpoint and turning back now they’d seen us would be suicidal. There was nothing to do but to drive up and greet them casually. I was thinking either this is purely coincidence and nothing is likely to happen or it is not and something will definitely happen to us here.
One of the soldiers returned Genghis’ greeting, looked at his passengers and asked to see our ID. I didn’t know whether he was entitled to see more than our driver’s documentation but I was certainly not going to make an issue of it as guns trump legal arguments every time.
The soldier went away with our passports and Genghis’ driving licence, presumably to his officer. An Army truck was blocking our view and we couldn’t see where he was. I looked casually around, saw more bullet-holes. Everywhere.
A little later I saw the soldier coming back towards us and I started doing breathing exercises. He handed over our documents and bade us goodbye. Genghis pulled away slowly – damn right!
From a jeweler in Mediyat I bought a silver ring with a black stone set in it. The shops, a row of what looked like sheds, with bars in front but no shutters we could see, were mostly empty, possibly in fear of the Turkish Army. I am not sure whether it was in that town or another that we booked into a hotel, free of charge again.
Bringing my haversack up to my room on the first floor, I looked out the window on to the street below. When I turned back to the room I got real shock: there was a small diameter cannon shell hole in the wall! It might have been only 20 or 30mm but it seemed huge to my eyes. The shell must have gone in through the window without exploding and then into the wall opposite, again apparently without exploding. Still, anyone in the path of that shell would have been killed.
The bed was below the level of the window ledge and any time I wanted to go to the toilet from my bed, I crawled there on my hands and knees – and back again the same way. And you know what? I never felt stupid doing that, either.
It was raining out so we stayed in and, sitting smoking later that night, the front door open so I could see the street clearly, the owner started talking to me and had me brought free cups of chai. He could speak fair English.
Was the room ok, he asked? I asked him about the shell hole. Did I want to change rooms? No, not at all thanks, I just wanted to know what happened (I was thinking maybe a shell wouldn’t land in the same place twice).
Apparently a few days previously, in another part of town, Kurdish guerrillas had ambushed one of the Turkish armoured cars, destroyed it and got away. The Turkish soldiers, enraged, shot up the town, including his hotel.
“I am a businessman. My hotel is a three-star hotel. But because I am Kurdish, the Army can shoot up my place,” he said, “I get no compensation and me and my staff could have been killed”.
* * *
MASSACRE OF CHILDREN
One day Arnold told us that there had been a terrible incident two days earlier – the Turkish Army had killed people in a village – did we want to go? Of course we did!
He would make enquiries whether they would want us to visit – after all, we might be bringing more trouble on them.
With their agreement obtained, we set off some hours later. I cannot now remember the name of the village, which was reached by a track off the road. The area was pretty level and the houses were single-storey and rectangular, with white or greyish walls, somewhat similar to the adobe houses one sees in westerns set in the southwest of the USA or Mexico. Entering the village, we passed one of the houses, blackened with huge scorch marks.
Invited into one of the houses, firstly I was surprised at the couple of steps up into the building, secondly by the carpets on the floor inside and thirdly by a TV set in the corner. It was just not what I had expected when viewing the buildings from the outside.
They were all men inside (unless there were women out of sight), apparently village elders and some young men. We sat down on cushions on the carpet to hear the story, translated by Arnold.
Two nights earlier, men had come and knocked at the victim’s house, the one with the scorch marks, saying that they were guerrillas and asking the son, a young man, to come out to talk to them. His mother said “They are not guerrillas” and asked him not to go. He replied that there would be trouble for the family if he did not and so he would go. (What his mother was implying was that the men outside were either soldiers in disguise or State proxy assassination squad people). The son left and they heard him and the others walk away.
After a little, the young man’s father picked up his gun (it is common for people in those areas to have a gun) and went out after his son. A little later, firing was heard down the track.
Eventually, when people went to investigate, they found blood on the ground in some places but no bodies. Their belief was that the son was being mistreated in some way, the father intervened and perhaps shot some of the men but that he and his son were killed too. Then the surviving men took the bodies away.
But worse, much worse was to come, which was what had brought us out there. For the Army arrived and announced a curfew on the village throughout the day and, that night, an army vehicle (the words sounding like a “panzer flamethrower”) had driven up and incinerated the house, the victims including six children. They showed us the photo, the little charred bodies laid out side by side. It was hard (sometimes still is, thinking about it) not to cry, not to scream in rage13.
We said we would tell who we could, thanked them and left. I imagined in turn being the son, then the father, then the neighbours. I did not want to imagine being the victims in the house. We were quiet in the car for a long time.
* * *
Diyarbakir is the capital city of Turkish Kurdistan, a city then of maybe a million or more in population (the estimate for the metropolitan district now is 1.7 million). The Turkish State has had a policy of forcing the Kurds out of their small towns and villages – especially those in the mountains – and directing them in one manner or another to the big city. Such a population reallocation makes the countryside easier to control, removing ‘the sea (the people) that the fish (the guerrillas) swim through‘, to paraphrase a famous phrase of Mao-Tse-Tung. The British did it in Kenya and the USA in Vietnam, in somewhat different manner but the principle is the same. Of course revolutions happen in cities too and urbanisation tends towards proletarianisation of the majority, which may cause a different kind of problem for the Turkish ruling class in the long run.
Genghis left us at the hotel and headed home, about 50 kilometres. He wanted to see his wife and children and he’d also heard that the Turkish police had called at his house and questioned his wife. She seemed to be ok but he was worried. And so were we.
Handing in our passports at the Diyakakir hotel registration, we filled in our forms and a boy took them to the local police station as required (this had not been the case in Batman or in Istanbul but perhaps copies had been supplied). We had of course described ourselves as tourists.
While we were eating, the boy returned with the passports and said something to Arnold, who smiled. “He says the police said ‘They are not tourists’,” Arnold told us in response to our queries. My heart gave a little jolt – but what did I expect? Of course they were keeping an eye on us. And letting the boy hear, knowing he would communicate it back to us …. intimidation? Kind of reassuring because what would be the point of intimidation if they were going to arrest us anyway, or worse? Well, maybe to soften us up a little beforehand ….
I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.
The following day we had a number of meetings arranged, the first at a kind of municipal building, was with trade union representatives, many of them women: teaching, municipal service both manual and clerical, health workers’ unions. It was slow work since everything had to be translated – ours mostly into Turkish, I think and theirs into English for us. These were much more explicit about their problems with Turkish State repression: censorship, cultural eradication, arrests, threats, a few assassinations by the State proxy so-called “Turkish Hizbollah”14. This was their reality, day in, day out.
About a year later, looking at a list of the names of Kurdish activists assassinated by these State proxy gangs, I recognised the name of at least one of those we had met and talked to, a woman teacher and trade union activist. And felt guilt, the thought that maybe our visit had been part of the decision to kill her. But of course, all Kurdish activists were and are vulnerable, even sometimes abroad – and the Kurds want their stories told out there in the world.
Another meeting took place in what they were calling their human rights centre and here I got the impression of the human rights people working closely with the Kurdish political party – not the PKK, which was banned but perhaps a reformation of it in part, to comply with Turkish laws and allow them to stand in elections. They already had municipal councillors but were heading for Turkey-wide elections. Having the status of a member of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara didn’t really protect one that much, as a number of elected Kurds have found over the years.15
For some reason we were kept waiting there for over a hour, although other people were coming and going. I was hungry and not impressed but then, what did I know of what other concerns they might have? Eventually we got to talk to a couple of the human rights people and the politicians. They were very concerned to talk in terms of human rights and not Kurdish independence or even autonomy. With all the people hanging around and listening (which I thought a most inappropriate way to have our meeting), it seemed unwise to push them on that issue. Also, these people too were in constant danger of arrest and even assassination.
We never made any promises to anyone, except that we would report back and try and get publicity for their struggles. We outlined the possible outcomes, such as more media coverage or our trade unions taking up a policy of solidarity with them … but we could not even guarantee that.
Later we wandered through a market area; Damien was anxious to buy a kilim rug and haggled with the seller until they reached agreement. I know that haggling is expected but it is something I cannot do and I left empty-handed.
Back at the hotel, we received a phone call from Genghis – he’d collect us the following day and drive where wished to. His family was ok, the Army had just asked where he was, his wife told them he was away on a driving job for the union but she did not know where. Of course, they knew that – it was a reminder by the Army of his vulnerability and of his family’s.
* * *
THE ANCIENT AND OLD
We did get to see some other things, not so directly connected with human rights, conflict or politics.
The Zoroastrian monastery, looking like a fortress standing on its own but I cannot remember where it was. We were received courteously, allowed to see the church and served chai. Did the Army bother them? Rarely but sometimes, was the reply.
Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna, is the oldest monotheistic religion on record and one of the world’s oldest active religions. Its number of adherents generally world-wide is declining but was reported recently to be increasing somewhat among some of the Kurds. With a single god and good-bad split influences, along with free will and responsibility for one’s actions, it would seem to have influenced the creation of the Judaic faith, which in turn led to the creation of Christianity and, somewhat later, Islam.
The religion’s Wikipedia page contains this possibly contradictory entry: “Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians at around 190,000, with most living in India and in Iran; their number is declining.In 2015, there were reports of up to 100,000 converts in Iraqi Kurdistan.Besides the Zoroastrian diaspora, the older Mithraic faith Yazdanism is still practiced among Kurds.”
Another time we drove past a group of nomads on a hillside, their big black tents pitched wide, their flocks of sheep nearby. I would have loved to have talked to them but we were expected elsewhere without time to stop. These were probably Yoruk people.
Ancient site threatened
Hasankeyf is an ancient settlement area along the Tigris river in the south-east of the Turkish state, i.e in Kurdistan. Although it was declared a conservation area by the Turkish Government in 1981, it is now threatened by a dam to be built by the Turkish Government of today. Even back then when we visited, the threat was known although further away.
With a history spanning nine civilizations, it should have World Heritage status. According to Wikipedia:
“ The city of Ilānṣurā mentioned in the Akkadian and Northwest Semitic texts of the Mari Tablets (1800–1750 BC) may possibly be Hasankeyf, although other sites have also been proposed.By the Romanperiod, the fortified town was known in Latinas Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas, a name that appears to derive from the Syriacword(kefa or kifo), meaning “rock”. As the easternand western portions of the Roman Empire split around AD 330, Κιφας (Kiphas) became formalized as the Greek name for this Byzantine bishopric.
“Following the Arab conquest of 640, the town became known under the Arabicname حصن كيفا (Hisn Kayf). “Hisn” means “fortress” in Arabic, so the name overall means “rock fortress”.”
The site we visited was of the caves, rather than the city. There were thousands of man-made caves, of which we only saw a few. Paddy displayed his Arabic phrases with an elderly man sitting outside a cafe, while we bought some chai. Up to fairly modern times, people had lived in some of the caves, we were told.
In Cizre, over 166 km from our Batman base, we went to see thealleged grave of Mem and Zin, star-crossed lovers without any apparently religious significance but whose grave is cared for and visited by many. We were allowed to enter but there was not much to see – the interesting content is in their story, written down in 1692 and which is performed in a mixture of prose and poetry.
Mem, a young Kurdish boy of one clan and heir to the “City of the West” falls in love with Zin, of the “Botan” clan and daughter of the Governor of Butan. Their meeting is during New Roz, the ancient fire-festival of the Kurds still celebrated today (often with political independence symbolism) but their union is prevented by a man of a different clan who some time later causes the death of Mem. Zin dies mourning at his grave in Cizre, being buried beside her deceased lover.
Bakr, the author of Mem’s death, is killed by the victim’s friend and he is buried near the lovers so that he can witness their being together. However, his hatred is such that it nourishes a thorn tree to grow, sending roots deep into the earth to separate the two lovers, even in death.
Sadly, I knew very little of this wonderful story then and had to look it up on the Internet much later.
Workers on a cotton plantation
On another occasion, on impulse we pulled in off the road at a cotton plantation. The manager politely made time for us, talking about the product, its cultivation etc. Although most Turkish cotton is grown in the Aegean region, there were fields of it here. The cotton grown in Turkey is long-threaded, with fewer joins, therefore higher quality, especially for towels: strong and smooth and not too absorbent.
Were his workers members of a union? He didn’t know, that would be their business. They were well treated; in any case, he did not receive any complaints. Would it be possible to talk to some of the workers? Alas, no, they were in the middle of their shift. But he did not suggest an alternative time when it would be convenient.
* * *
AT THE IRAQI AND SYRIAN BORDERS
As our time in Kurdistan drew to a close, Arnold asked whether we’d be interested in seeing the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Of course we would! After Arnold’s brief discussion with Genghis, we set off. It is approximately 300 kilometres from Batman to the Border but we might have been around Mardin by then, which is nearer. Our road wound higher and higher through hills into the mountains and we rarely saw traffic on the road; as we got nearer we’d need to be more cautious. In a quiet mountainy area we stopped beside a stream to stretch our legs and for Genghis to take a short break. Always interested in nature generally and water life in particular, I wandered to the stream and to my amazement saw crabs very like the marine shore crabs of home, both in appearance and size. I soon caught one and had my photo taken holding it up.
A middle-aged and young woman appeared on the road and I greeted them in the few words of Kurdish I knew to which they responded with a muttered reply and turned away. It was probably to do with gendered cultural mores of the area but they might also have seen us as something to do with the Turkish state or even foreign intelligence people operating in the area. I released the crab back into the water, watched it make off sideways, its pincers threatening. We got back in the car and drove off towards the Border.
The US-led Coalition forces in March 1991 had imposed a no-fly zone on the Kurdish region of Iraq from which even Iraqi helicopters were banned, which of course brought some relief to those areas suffering repression after the US-incited uprising. But it also gave the Kurdish tribal leaders unfettered access to Iraqi-drilled oil wells. And so the plunder began.
Stopping a few hundred yards from the Iraqi border we watched the trucks coming over from the Iraqi state, pause momentarily, hand something over to the Turkish soldier on “border control” duty and drive on. Each lorry had an additional fuel tank welded on underneath with little clearance before the road surface. All illegal, of course, according not only to Iraqi but international and even Turkish law. It was a lonely spot for Turkish soldiers garrisoned there but no doubt a lucrative posting. And surely Turkish Government officials were taking a bigger rake-off, though nothing as crude as being slipped a bribe at a border crossing.
After that we went to visit the Syrian border. This time it was just to see, set back a little from the road, a barbed wire fence stretching east-west. On the other side was Syria but with nothing to see there. Just for the sake of having done so, I picked up a pebble on the Turkish side and threw it over the fence – when it landed, it looked no different to the Syrian pebbles.
* * *
On our last evening, in the hotel in Batman, we trade unionists were taken aside and asked to carry sheets of typed paper in secret back to London. The precise nature of the content was not revealed to us but they did not contain maps or diagrams, which we confirmed with a quick riffle through them.
We were disturbed and also somewhat angry and resentful, one more than the rest, who refused. Under protest, for all the good that would do me if we were searched, I agreed, distributed the papers among my belongings and said no more about it. I chose not to examine them too closely on the vague principle that the least I knew the less I could tell and to this day am not entirely sure what the contents were. Rose, having said little in the first place, packed them away quietly. I had the impression that this quiet woman was the bravest of us all, certainly of us trade unionists.
Next morning we got up at a decent hour, had breakfast and headed out to the local cafe-restaurant to kill time before we needed to head out to the airport, where waiting would be even worse than where we were.
We did not see Genghis again but learned that he had returned home and things seemed ok. The State police must have known where he was now but had not detained him. If they questioned him he could, we supposed, say he knew nothing except the places we had asked him to go to, for which he was being paid. That would be his wisest course of action and hopefully the one he’d adopt. Hopefully too his union would exert itself to protect him.
The street being so quiet, there was little to do but chat over chai or coffee, read or look out the window. So even if we had not been somewhat nervous, it would have been difficult to miss the car that passed down the street a number of times, going first in one direction, then the other, with two men inside, wearing sunglasses.
“Political police”, I said to Arnold. He glanced out the window, nodded, returned to sipping his chai. Nobody else said anything.
At the airport, there was no sign of the plainclothes cops, only the armed Turkish airport guards and customs officials. We were processed pretty quickly and then on to the Turkish airline passenger jet, bound for Istanbul. We sat down, somewhat relieved but knew there was still the next airport to get through.
But twenty minutes later, we were still there with no sign of preparations to take off. And then there they were, the two of them coming through the plane’s forward exit, in their suits and sunglasses.
As they walked casually down the aisle towards me, I tried to empty my head and concentrate on my breathing. Tried to feel at ease so I would look it. They passed me and I did not turn my head. A little later, they passed me again heading back forward. Over the top of the passenger seat in front, I watched them as casually as I was able. They were talking to a couple of male members of the cabin crew, near the exit. About to leave? Informing them that some of their passengers were going to be arrested? Just making us sweat a bit more?
The conversation with the cabin crew was dragging on. Then a kind of wave from one and they ducked their heads to exit on to the stairs.
A crew member closed the hatch and dogged it securely. The engines whined, then slowly increased in pitch. The plane began to taxi, stopped, turned slowly, the engine noise increased to a roar and …. the plane jumped forward to gather take-off speed.
I heaved a sigh of relief. We were safe now, at least until our disembarkation at Istanbul. Then the flight to London and safety. Well not entirely … there would be another hurdle at Heathrow: customs and police. But they wouldn’t be interested in some papers, would they? British political police? Well, the very worst they could do to us would be detention and interrogation, possible but unlikely custody, trial and sentence. The Irish in Britain were subject to the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, a “temporary” suspension of civil rights introduced in 1974 and renewed annually. I had some experience of arrest and detention in Britain and, however bad it might be, I was sure there would be no close comparison with a Turkish jail. And I’d be within reach of family visits.
The journey back to London was without incident. I handed the “contraband” papers over to the intended recipient and that was that; phoned my family to let them know I had returned safely.
Our delegation and some of the solidarity committee arranged to meet in order to prepare our report. Rose was back on her home ground and corresponded by email, while Damien attended a few meetings. Paddy contributed his photos. Arnold and I and one other did most of the writing text, discussion and editing and in time an attractive and informative report, magazine-size with a full-colour cover was produced, featuring some of Paddy’s photos. I submitted a copy to each of my funders, sent one home, kept one and ………. None can be found now, apparently.
After reporting to my union (a brief announcement recommending the reading of the report, offering to speak at meetings and to bring other speakers), I expected to receive invitations to speak on the subject of the Kurds and the Turkish State, hopefully in support of a campaign such as a tourism boycott. No such requests came from activists in my union branch.
In all, I received one invitation to address a very small meeting in North London with which I complied and tried unsuccessfully to organise one myself in the University of North London. There were no other invitations nor meetings organised by the solidarity group, which seemed to be a singular failure to capitalise on the delegation, so well organised and the report, so well produced.
I had told Arnold, once we got out of Turkey, that I thought the walk through the plane in Batman of the Turkish political police was intended as a warning to him. The rest of us had not been there before and were unlikely to return whereas he was a fairly regular visitor. I told him that the next time he visited, they would lift him. I was wrong; his next visit was with the Liberal British peer Lord Avebury, a campaigner for human rights in Turkey. But the next visit after that, without Avebury,he was arrested and spent some weeks detained in a Turkish jail before various efforts combined to have him released.
I lost contact over the years with Damien, then with Rose and eventually with Arnold too. Paddy disappeared, resurfaced, then disappeared again. There seemed little more I could do for the Kurds and in any case, had completed my course of studies and was searching for and taking up full-time employment and involved in other struggles, though I attended the occasional Kurdish solidarity public event.
In Turkey, the State’s war against the PKK has continued on and off, with the latter varying their combat position and also reducing their demand from Kurdish independence to regional autonomy within Turkey. This position developed after 1999 when the PKK’s co-founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan was kidnapped in Kenya by the CIA and Turkish Intelligence and brought to Turkey, where his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty. Ocalan was kept in prison on his own in an island prison until 2009 and has published articles and books from jail, among other things arguing for a “peace process” for Turkey, the delivery of which he insists requires himself set at liberty16.
In 2014 and 2015 the Turkish Army attacked the PPK fighters and the civilian population of a number of cities, including Cizre and Sirnak (see Links), turning large areas into rubble, killing and injuring many and causing huge numbers of refugees (the total lost housing has yet to be replaced).
The Kurds in Syria have been the only effective force to repel ISIS (Islamic State) in the area bordering on Turkey and also rescued a great many Yazidis from murder, rape and slavery by the ISIS fighters. Later the Kurdish armed forces there received US Coalition aid and a few years ago their commander stated in an interview that they and the Coalition were going to overthrow the Assad regime. They went on to build the nucleus of a federal administration defended by their fighters (reputedly about 40% of which are female – see Links for video interviews).
Turkey attacked Kurdish cross-border traffic (supplies, recruits) but more recently invaded Syria ostensibly to support the jihadist anti-Assad forces that they support but more seriously to attack the Kurdish YPG, which they consider an offshoot of the PKK. Many Arab states are unhappy with Turkey occupying Arab land. Assad is unlikely to agree to Kurdish regional autonomy, even the US seems ready to drop them and the future looks dark for the Kurdish forces there.
In Iraq the Kurdish movement, mainly organised along tribal lines originally, split into war-bands during the Second Iraq War fighting alongside the US Coalition forces.
They took part in the plunder of Iraqi non-Kurdish areas, including Baghdad, along with other forces and shootouts between different warbands were not unknown. The Kurds have their oil-rich area protected within Iraq but the overall administration of Iraq is a US-dependent puppet regime and very unstable.
In Iran, suppression of Kurdish national identity continues under the religious regime.
The Kurds continue their struggle, the largest nation without a state.
1Later Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command, later still Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arnold Harris, First Baronet of Stowford. As well as his WW2 record, he was proud of his earlier career of attacking people rising up against the British Empire and was recorded as saying that “the only thing an Arab understands is a heavy hand.”
2 Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdish for ‘Workers Party of Kurdistan’)
3Forcible relocation of Kurds and settling Turks in their areas had been official State policy since the time of Attaturk.
4On one infamous occasion, some of the Syrian peshmergas were reported to be collaborating with Turkish troops in their attack on PKK guerrillas.
6I would have applied for a stand-alone Irish Studies course if that had been available but there was not one in the whole of the UK and very few even of the combined kind. This in a state which has had an association through invasion, colonisation and war of nearly a thousand years with Ireland! Although my History modules included some Irish history I also did modules on British colonialism in India and Africa, Latin American history, Palestine ….. I didn’t regret them either.
8Formed in 1981 after the Federation of Irish Societies (in Britain) had refused to have any official mention, even of condolences to his family, on the death of Bobby Sands which took place during their Annual General Meeting. The IBRG was radically different from the FIS, campaigned against anti-Irish racism in the media, for the release of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Judith Ward and others, for the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for Irish national self-determination, for the implementation of the McBride Principles to the occupied Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), for ethnic monitoring and anti-racist measures to include the Irish and for an Irish diaspora dimension to health, welfare and educational services in Britain. Its activists represented a variety of ideologies but all somewhere on the Left, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
9National Association of Local Government Officers, which union I had joined while employed by the Inner London Education Authority. When Margaret Thatcher abolished that organisation in 1990 its employees were dispersed to the Education Departments of the 12 London Boroughs and the City of London and I was allocated to Lewisham, one of those boroughs were I was already working; in effect, a transfer to different management but working in the same places, with less resources and less mobility. In 1993, NALGO, already the largest British trade union, joined with NUPE and health service union COHSE to become Unison: for awhile, the largest trade union in Europe but which is now the second-largest union in Britain.
10NALGO recognised the right of oppressed sections in society to organise their own groups within the union; those recognised by the union received some funding for running costs and educational activities. At this time such groups included those of Lesbian & Gays, Disabled and Afro-Caribbean. The activists of NALGO IWG campaigned energetically to change the union’s policy to recognise anti-irish racism, to demand the freedom of the framed Irish prisoners, against strip-searching of Irish Republican prisoners, against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The IWG was never recognised officially and its work was blocked both by the Left and Right in the union’s leadership, mostly by procedural obstruction in preventing motions being heard at the Biannual National Conference or weakening them when they rarely succeeded in reaching there.
13That photo was published at the time in other media and in our later Report but I have failed to find it on the Internet.
14None of the Kurds I spoke to believed that this was a genuinely independent organisation, although it might have contained some Islamic fundamentalists recruited by the Turkish State. Another paramilitary assassination squad, fascist in ideology with which the State colluded was Ergenekon.
15In November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights adjudged that a Kurdish representative to the Turkish Parliament had his detention in custody deliberately extended in order to hamper his party’s electoral work. Selahattin Demirtas had been arrested on ‘suspicion of illegal activities’ two years earlier and was still in jail awaiting trial. Demirtas, 45, was a co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and accused of links to the outlawed PPK, which he denied. He was also convicted last September of “terrorist propaganda” arising out of a speech he made in public in 2013. The ECHR judgement did not result in Demirtas’ release but it did push the State to begin his trial the following month; he faces a possible sentence of 142 years in jail.
In 2015 thirteen of the 55 elected parliamentarians of HDP, the Kurdish nationality party, were jailed and the State took over direct control of 82 municipalities, arresting town mayor members of the Kurdish party.
16Ocalan (nicknamed ‘Apo’) has iconic status among many Kurds and a Kurdish picket or demonstration without his image on placards or banners would be a rare one. This was an aspect of the Kurdish independence movement, particularly of the ‘Turkish’ part, with which I made plain on a number of occasion that I did not agree. Similarly, the experience of the so-called peace processes around the world has demonstrated that they are in reality pacification processes which bring an end to armed struggle but leave all or most of the causes of the conflict unresolved.
Quite propagandistic but very interesting video (2014) of interviews with Kurdish female fighter’s unit in the Syrian Kurdish region (note Apo’s i.e Ocalan’s) iconography; the language is Kurdish but with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aEwvfmk8Tc
Tens of protesters against undemocratic state repression through internment and special courts gathered at the Wolfe Tone Monument in Dublin’s Stephen Green on Saturday before proceeding through the park to the Irish state’s Department of Justice building at 94 Stephen’s Green.
The sun shone weakly through at times on bare branches of deciduous trees and their autumn leaves, along with the dark green of the evergreen foliage of holly tree and invasive bay cherry.
The Wolfe Tone Monument stands in the approximate location of the Irish Citizen Army’s trenches in 1916, fired on by British soldiers with machine guns who had occupied the Shelbourne Hotel opposite, killing one of the Volunteers below. The statue had been blown up by British Loyalists in the 1970s and some of the surviving remnant had been added to in order to rebuild the statue (a fact generally not known or conveniently forgotten).
As is invariably the experience of Irish Republicans, they were under surveillance by some Gardaí in plain clothes and also from a marked police car. Some of the participants were also harassed by them and required to supply their names and addresses.
The event, jointly organised by two fairly recent organisations on the Irish Republican scene, the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation, was supported mostly by Irish Republicans, some independents and some belonging to a number of Irish Republican organisations other than the organisers: activists from the Irish Republican Prisoner and Welfare Association, Saoradh and the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee were also in attendance.
With their banners and placards the protesters stood on the median strip in the road opposite the Department of Justice, passing pedestrians and drivers slowing down to read the texts displayed, some drivers tooting their horns in support. Some, apparently visitors, took photos or video footage.
Later, supporters of the protest crossed the road to the pavement outside the Green to hear speakers. Ger Devereux of the Abolish the Special Courts thanked people for attending and introduced Brian Kenna from Saoradh to speak.
“NOT CONVICTED FOR ANY CRIME BUT FOR BEING …. IRISH REPUBLICANS”
Kenna gave a detailed and comprehensive account of how the Offences Against the State Act has facilitated the imprisoning of Irish Republicans not for any crime they have committed but for being just who they are – Irish Republicans. Observing that half those Republicans in jail in the Irish state are serving time on conviction of allegedly “being a member of an illegal organisation”, the speaker emphasised that the only ‘evidence’ necessary for the Department of Public Prosecutions to secure such a conviction under the Offences Against the State Act is the word of a Garda at the rank of Superintendent or above, along with some vague additional ‘evidence’ that could mean lots of different things.
Brian Kenna warned that not only scheduled offences1 can be tried in the Special Criminal Courts as of now but should the DPP wish it, also other minor offences such as allegedly criminal damage or against public order and he believed that except for the existence of a few factors, including the presence of an MP among the accused, the Jobstown water-protesters would have been tried in the Special Courts, where convictions are the almost automatic result. Kenna called on all people to stand up against these undemocratic laws.
Devereaux then introduced Mandy Duffy, national Chairperson of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.
“HUMILIATION, VIOLENCE AND ISOLATION”
Mandy Duffy spoke about the conditions under which Irish Republicans are being held in a number of prisons in Ireland on both sides of the Border. In Maghaberry in particular, which Duffy said was much more modern than Portlaoise (in the Irish state), Republican prisoners are guarded by a prison staff recruited from among Loyalists2, who hate Irish Republicans and are determined not only to keep them in jail but to make them suffer while they are there.
Duffy focused on the practice of continually strip-searching prisoners every time they are taken from the prison or returned as one of humiliation and of violence when the prisoner is non-compliant.3 The speaker also referred to unreasonable and additional punishments such as keeping prisoners in isolation.
Mandy Duffy concluded by calling for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners and in thanking those present for giving her their attention.
Devereux then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to speak on behalf of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.
“WE STAND TOGETHER OR WE GO TO JAIL SEPARATELY”
Diarmuid Breatnach began in Irish by thanking the organisers for the invitation to speak which he then repeated in English. Breatnach said that their Committee held pickets around Dublin mostly on a monthly basis and did so in order to raise awareness on the ground, among the public, that internment without trial continues in Ireland long after it was allegedly terminated by the British in the mid-1970s. He also reminded the protesters that people had resisted internment and protested it in Ireland and in many places around the world, including in Britain. In the Six Counties the Ballymurphy Massacre had been inflicted on people protesting internment in 1971 and again in 1972, the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry.
Stating that internment is essentially jailing people without a trial, Diarmuid Breatnach stated that returning a former Republican prisoner who is at liberty under licence to jail without any trial, as has happened for example to Tony Taylor, is effectively internment, albeit of a different kind. Refusing a Republican bail for no good reason when on a charge awaiting trial, which might take up to two years, is also internment of a different kind, the speaker said, stating that the only justifiable reasons for opposing bail are supposed to be a likelihood of the offence being repeated or the charged person absconding, for both of which credible evidence should be produced. Breatnach also drew attention to the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights which castigated Turkey for their two years of preventive detention (or refusal of bail) of a Kurdish Member of the Turkish Parliament while awaiting trial, on the principle that the period of detention was unreasonably long and was being done deliberately for political reasons.
The speaker also referred to the unreasonable bail conditions when bail was granted, which included non-attendance at political demonstrations, pickets and meetings which, he said, made it clear what the whole intention of the repression was about.
Breatnach reiterated what an earlier speaker had said about the potential of these forms of repression being used against a wider section of opposition to the State and referred to recent arrests of Republicans who had allegedly mobilised against the launch of the fascist group Pegida in 2012. The speaker urged unity across the board against State repression because they either stood together now or later would “go to jail separately”.
Devereaux thanked the participants and encouraged them to keep in touch with the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the street meeting broke up into informal groups as people began to collect placards, banners, etc getting ready to disperse.
2The term “Loyalist” in an Irish context and especially in the occupied Six Counties means “British Loyalists” usually understood not only as those who support the Union with England but as those who do militantly and with bigoted hatred of Catholics (in particular Irish Catholics or people from that community who might well be atheists).
3There is a graphic and accurate depiction of this practice employed on non-compliant Irish Republicans on the “Dirty Protest” in the Steve McQueen film “Hunger” (2008). In the film, the prisoners were nearly naked already but in more ‘normal’ prison conditions, the practice also involved removing the prisoner’s clothes – by force if he or she is non-compliant.
Catalan press story translated and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Turkey for keeping a Kurdish elected Deputy in preventive detention (i.e custody without bail — Translator) without “sufficient” reasons. The seven magistrates of Strasbourg who signed the judgment made public on Tuesday urged the Turkish state to release Selahattin Demirtas, who when he was arrested was co-president of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
The court also considers that the inability of the former leader to participate in parliamentary activity despite being an elected Deputy constituted an “unjustified” interference with freedom of expression and the right to be elected and occupy a seat in Parliament. The left party HDP reacted by calling on the local courts of the country to implement the decision “immediately” and not only get Demirtas out of prison but also the rest of the Deputies in jail.
In a statement, the HDP recalls that Demirtas has been a “hostage” for two years and demands that he be released “without delay.” The party sees the decision as a “precedent” for all those elected and highlights the “determination” of those who “do not abandon the struggle for democracy and peace” in their country.
VIOLATION OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The ECHR claims that several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated, such as the right of all detainees to be taken “without delay” before a judge and to be judged within a “reasonable” period or be released during the proceedings (article 5.3) and the right to free elections (Additional Protocol, article 3).
“The Court concludes that the extension of the period of pretrial detention has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, especially during two crucial campaigns, the referendum and the presidential elections, with the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of a political debate”, the text sets out.
Overall, Strasbourg not only directs the Turkish state to release him but also to compensate Demirtas with 10,000 euros for non-financial damages, in addition to the 250,000 requested by the politician. “The court notes that the violation of the agreement has unquestionably caused substantial damage to the plaintiff,” said the ruling. In addition, it ordered the Turkish State to pay 15,000 euro in legal expenses.
REACTIONS TO THE JUDGEMENT
Amnesty International, an NGO for human rights where Demirtas, who is a lawyer, also collaborated, has released a communiqué in which he recalls that Turkey is one of the 49 member states of the Council of Europe and that, therefore, the decision of the ECHR It is “binding”.
The Director of Research and Strategy of AI forTurkey, Andrew Gardner, assures that the judgement with regard to the opposition leader “exposes” the Turkish judicial system and points out that “it should have great implications” in the country presided over by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Civil society activists remain on a regular basis for long periods in pretrial detention under fabricated accusations,” he laments, highlighting the “influence” of the policy in Turkish courts. According to Gardner, in Ankara “peaceful” expressions of political dissidents are “punished” through the courts.
For his part, the ERC MEP Jordi Solé sees in the ruling a “precedent” for states that “abuse” preventive detention and “violate” political rights. In this regard, the parliamentarian believes that “it will have to be taken into account in the case of the Catalan independence leaders.”
“European justice does not allow prison to be abused as an instrument to restrict freedom and political pluralism or to violate the procedural, civil and political rights of citizens, and the Spanish state should take note,” he said in a statement.
Though certainly the judgement is to be welcomed by all supporters of human and civil rights, observers and commentators would do well to exercise more caution with regard to the impact of this judgement. Certainly other political parties can quote it with regard to elected deputies detained while awaiting trial and may indeed succeed in their endeavour. But the judgement specifically mentioned an elected Deputy and electoral campaigns. Therefore there are a great number of political prisoners to whom this judgement does not necessarily apply and, in the Catalan case, one would be concerned for example about the cases of the jailed leaders of the grass-roots organisations Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart.
In addition, the judgement did not say how long would be a “justified” period to keep a prisoner in jail before bringing him to trial. This prisoner, according to his party the HDP, was kept in prison for two years but it does not automatically follow that a period of that length will always be considered “unreasonable”. Should it be so there are a great many prisoners who have waited that long for a sentence while in custody in Europe, including in Ireland and the Basque Country.
It is of course a welcome precedent of a kind, as the Catalan MEP said but whether it will have the effect he believes is something else.
What is particularly interesting in this case is the speed (for the ECHR) with which the case reached the Strasbourg Court for judgement and in which judgement was given, if indeed it all took place within a period of two years, since many cases have taken much longer. For example, Martxelo Otxamendi, Director of the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria wrongfully banned by the Spanish State, who was tortured in 2003 during the five-day incomunicado period routinely applied to those accused of anything to do with “terrorism” (sic), took five years to exhaust his options in the courts of the Spanish State (usually a requirement before presenting the case in Strasbourg) but it took another four years before judgement was finally delivered by the ECHR in 2012 (and even then the Spanish State was only penalised for failure to investigate the allegation of torture, since the ECHR judged that the torture itself could not be proven).
The ongoing slaughter by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians demonstrating at the border of the Israeli State for the right to return to their homeland has rightly received media attention and, after a motion condemning Israel in the UN Security Council was blocked by the USA, the General Assembly passed another by a huge majority. The shootings demonstrate the total disregard of the Zionist authorities for Palestinian life and also the degree to which, by refusing to condemn and by supplying finance and equipment, the USA and major European states stand in support of Israel and are therefore complicit in its murderous actions. But the whole history of the right of return of Palestinians raises another issue of international importance and provides a historical and political lesson applicable widely, far beyond Palestine or even the Middle East.
Negotiations, Agreements and ….?
Back in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was in secret negotiation with Israel in Oslo, with Norway in the ‘honest broker’ role (but a later Norwegian Foreign Office investigation concluded that the Norwegian participants had acted as “Israel’s errand boys” – see link). Later it was to be the USA playing the ‘facilitator’ role — yes, bizarre, given the USA’s major economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and its role in supporting Israel. But then, perhaps the PLO figured they’d best have both their enemies there at the same time, both tied to whatever agreement was hammered out.
What had brought the parties to the negotiation table was the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. This uprising had begun on 9th December 1987 and had been characterised by repeated street fighting, barricades, refusal to work for the Israelis and strikes and boycotts, along with refusal to pay taxes. The Israeli state had replied with arrests and shootings, killing over 1,600 Palestinians as against 277 Israelis killed. Between 23,600–29,900 Palestinian children required medical treatment from Israeli Occupation Force beatings in the first two years (Wikipedia).
After signing the Oslo Accords in Washington, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO and Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, were photographed there shaking hands with US President Bill Clinton looking on approvingly, arms almost around them, like a big friendly uncle making peace between nephews. Yizhak Rabin, Shimon Perez and Arafat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (a prize already devalued ever since it had been awarded to notorious warmonger Kissinger).
Much was made of the Oslo meeting and the Accords (including later meetings and agreements) in the international media with talk of coming peace in Palestine and a resolution to the conflict etc signposted and not too far ahead. These prediction proved false and hopes were dashed.
But anyone examining the situation cooly would not have been surprised. Leaving aside other issues such as whether a two-state solution was justifiable, or viable even then, or whether the legitimacy of Israel should ever have been agreed to, the right of return of Palestinian exiles had been set aside by the PLO in the final Oslo agreement, a postponement, along with a number of other big issues, such as illegal settlements, to be discussed later. The Palestinian diaspora is today estimated at 9.6 million people (see link).
Since the omissions were of issues fundamental to any solution even within the parameters of the dubious two-state solution, it would have been obvious to anyone who had their eyes open that the Oslo Accords were no solution nor even a step towards a solution. So why were they agreed by the PLO?
A belief in the Accords as a stepping-stone would not have been sustainable on its own (except for wishful-thinking liberals) and the partial withdrawal of Israeli armed forces insufficient, given that Israel controlled all borders (except the Gaza one with Egypt, in which that state colluded with Israel). In addition, the Israeli troops had the capacity to return whenever they wished (and did so many times).
The motivation has to have been status or money.
The PLO, although containing a number of Palestinian organisations at that time (but not Islamic Jihad or Hamas), was dominated by Al Fatah, a secular Palestinian national liberation organisation. Fatah had the prestige of long existence and of having withstood the Israeli armed assault at Karameh in Jordan in 1968 during which, at a huge cost, it had forced the Zionist army to retreat. The following year Fatah had reportedly racked up 2,432 guerrilla attacks on Israel too — for a population with the Zionist jackboot on its neck, that counted for a lot.
Concluding an agreement with the Israelis, who previously said they would not talk to the Palestinian resistance, might have seemed like a status-raising event to Fatah. And setting up the Palestinian Authority, which of course they would run, would definitely give them status in the eyes of many outside and even inside Palestine.
But running the PA, which would be in receipt of funds and in charge of their distribution, also managing employment, would also provide myriad opportunities for corruption and nepotism, unless the organisation were to be rigorously monitored either externally or internally. That monitoring did not happen and corruption among Fatah was rife. Only the people on the ground seemed to mind, the ones who wanted strong opposition to the Israeli occupation and whatever development could be brought about in the infrastructure and communities, along with the longer-term aims of a Palestinian state and the return of refugees and exiles. And who weren’t part of the corruption.
Failure of Agreements and Insurrection
In 2000, after the failure of the Camp David talks in the US and many failures in the Accords in the nine years of their existence, no-one seriously believed in the Oslo Accords any more and the Second Intifada began. An intifada had provided the reason to negotiate for the Israelis, however insincerely intended and now another intifada brought the negotiation period formally to a close.
As observed earlier, Fatah was the organisation to which the majority of Palestinians (certainly within Palestine) had given their support and it was a secular party (although for the first time the PLA declared the “state religion” to be Islam in 2003, where previously there had been no mention of religion whatsoever). We can assume that most Palestinians were happy to be represented by a secular organisation and perhaps even preferred it.
But in the 2005 municipal, most Palestinians voted for Hamas, a fundamentalist Moslem organisation, for the first time pushing Fatah into second place. And in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2006, again. What brought about that change? Was it a sudden devotional conversion? No, it was that Al Fatah had become corrupt, was not seen to be fighting Zionism hard enough (some would have said was becoming collaborationist) and had given up on the right of refugees and exiles to return. Hamas, though not officially represented in the PLO, was running social programs, its activists seemed disciplined and it was resolutely opposing Israeli Zionism politically and militarily. And it insisted on the right of refugees and exiles to return.
Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections with a 3% lead over the incumbents. Unwilling to accept the popular will, Fatah staged an armed uprising against Hamas which, in the Gaza strip, Hamas decisively won (what the Wikipedia entry on Hamas calls a “takeover”!). For some reason, although Hamas was undoubtedly the winner electorally, they let Fatah hang on to power in the West Bank. And the US-led demonisation and isolation of Hamas in Gaza by the West began, along with a series of Israeli armed attacks from that year until 2014, including full-scale missile and air bombardments and infantry incursions, killing thousands of Palestinians including civilians, women and children and destroying much infrastructure.
Since then, the Gaza population is being squeezed with electricity supply reduced to four hours a day and hardly any fuelto run generators or transport allowed in past Egyptian and Israeli gates, its water supply contaminated by damaged sewage treatment plant, the inshore sea likewise contaminated and Palestinians fishing further out attacked by Israeli gunboats, factories bombed out ….
The message seems to be: “Get rid of Hamas, get back with Fatah and we’ll stop exterminating you.” But a delayed extermination is all it would be, as evidenced from the deeper penetration of Zionist colonist enclaves on to Palestinian land, the Zionist-only roads, the ongoing takeover of Jerusalem, the Israeli Wall, the continual theft of water and the harassment by settlers and Israeli Army of any populations of Palestinians living near to Israeli colonists.
The Processes outside of Palestine
Taking a trip back in time to 1993, we saw the Oslo Accords being hailed as a great step forward by the majority of commentators across the West. These coincided with the new interim constitution as a result of the negotiations in South Africa — so that then two major areas of conflict were being hailed as definitely on the way to a solution, to come sooner rather than later. “Peace process” became a buzz-word, firstly among the participants and some of the commentators, then in the agreed discourse of the rest of the media and politicians.
In Ireland, as the Provisionals’ leadership and the British looked at one another across the dance floor, the former wondered what they could get from the same kind of process but crucially, how to sell it to their rank and file. At the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna (annual congresses of the party), the ANC and Al Fatah (wearing their PLO hat) fraternal delegates were welcomed by hype from the SF leadership and enthusiastic reception from the floor of the hall. The ANC and Fatah of course talked up their parts of the Processes and no-one seemed to examine critically what either the South African blacks or the Palestinians were likely to get out of them.
And the Pal-African partnership continued to attend congresses, to send fraternal messages to areas of ongoing anti-imperialist resistance, to sing their siren song with a Western chorus backing. The Provisionals joined the actors and took to the stage as they neared and finally accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But with the Palestinian conflict showing no sign of resolution (unless one considers a kind of genocide of Palestinians) or even a respite — and in particular after the 2006 elections victory by Hamas — the Palestinians were no longer quoted as a good example of the “peace process”. Various actors, including South Africans and Irish, went on to try to sell the “Process” to areas of stubborn anti-imperialist resistance: the southern Basque Country, Turkish Kurdistan, Columbia, Phillipines, Sri Lanka ….. But the Palestinians (or rather Fatah) had been dropped off the billing and bowed quietly out of the Traveling Peace Process Show. They had not even an illusion to portray any more.
However, the show must, as we are often reminded, go on. It failed to deliver in Kurdistan and the Basque Country, not because the leaders of the resistance movements were not amenable but because of the unwillingness to adapt of the Turkish and Spanish regimes respectively. However, the Basque armed organisation ETA threw in the towel a couple of years ago anyway, abandoning their fighters in the jails to seek their own individual ways out through begging forgiveness of the occupiers of their land and oppressors of their people. The Turkish and Syrian Kurds were drawn into partnership with the imperialist allies dominated by the US, in their war against ISIS but also for the overthrow of the Assad regime, though deep Kurdish contradictions continue with the Turkish regime, to which it looks like the US Coalition will abandon them and they may seek an accommodation of sorts with Assad.
The Colombian FARC and MIR swallowed the Processed bait and gave up the armed struggle for a promise of a political one but those of their leaders who are resolute are being hunted by the regime, the quasi-liberated areas terrorised by the Army and assassination squads, the resistance fragmenting and disorientated. The Tamil Tigers didn’t entertain the Peace Process Show but the Sri Lankan Army were able to surround their liberated areas and bombard them to defeat, murdering their leaders and raping, murdering and repressing their followers.
The Phillipines and India? The resistance groups in both these areas are led by a Maoist-type leadership and we wait to see.
And in Ireland, after two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the colonial occupier has the leadership of Sinn Féin, the former resistance, in joint colonial government, the party’s southern arm seeking admittance to the Irish comprador capitalist club, the remaining anti-imperialist resistance fragmented and the country not one step nearer to unity and independence.
The Palestinian lesson for the world
All the issues which led to these conflicts and which the processes of pacification did not address – were never intended to address – will return again, to be struggled over anew, under new leaderships. In Palestine now, that is what has been happening. The Right of Return for exiles and refugees, put to one side by Fatah in the Oslo Accords nearly three decades ago, is being demanded again on the Israeli border, the protesters (along with the ‘collateral damage’ of journalists and paramedics) being bombarded by tear gas and shot down by Israeli snipers. The Palestinians, whose leadership nearly three decades ago were chosen by US imperialism to be among the first to accept the new round of historical pacification processes and to become complicit in being its missionaries, are teaching us the fallacy of the facile promises they were made at the time.
There is another irony here: while refusing the right of return to Palestinians who were themselves exiled or are children and grandchildren of exiles, i.e within living memory, the State of Israel offers “the right of return” (sic) to people who have never been there and cannot even prove that their ancestors were, providing only they can prove their Jewishness. And a further irony: Sephardic Jews, who were expelled by the Christian kingdoms in Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages, were being offered a “right of return” by the Spanish Government in 2014 (see link).
Over time, the people in the other areas of anti-imperialist resistance around the world will regroup, gather strength and return to the resistance. The imperialists almost certainly know this. But they have bought themselves three decades of damage to their opposition and, since they need the people as producers and consumers, cannot eliminate the deep wells of resistance. And capitalism is not about enduring solutions – they work away at undermining the resistance on a temporary basis and as for the future, like Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield, believe that “something (else) will turn up”.
LINKS (NB: I have deliberately chosen most background references regarding Palestine from Wikipedia, which is known to be heavily monitored by Zionist interests and also has inputs from friends of the Palestinians and therefore cannot be said to be completely favourable to either side):
Breandán Mac Cionnaith, Erdelan Baran, Clare Daly and Brian Leeson took turns to address a meeting in Wynne’s hotel on Saturday. The speakers addressed a large audience in the open part of the conference following the internal Ard-Fheis (annual congress) of the Éirigí Irish Republican party and covered the Garvaghy Road campaign, the history of the Orange Order, the Kurdish struggle (in general and in Rojava/ Kobane in particular), Garda corruption, military use of Shannon airport by US imperialism, theft of Ireland’s natural resources, international imperialism and capitalism versus socialism. The meeting was chaired by Angie McFall.
Breandán Mac Cionnaith is General Secretary of the éirigí party and prominent as a residents’ activist and leader in resisting Loyalist parades through nationalist areas, in particular the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads and with regard to the Drumcree siege. Until 2007 he was prominent in Sinn Féin but left the party that year after SF had agreed to support the colonial police force, the PSNI (formerly the RUC).
Preceded by the screening of a video of resistance to Loyalist marches in the Garvaghy Road, Mac Cionnaith gave an account of the formation of the Orange Order and its role from the inception of the Order and through its development. He also gave a detailed account of the long history of Orange marches through the Garvaghy Road and other areas, the siege of Drumcree and the people’s resistance, answered by sectarian murders of Catholics in the area.
The talk revealed that the Orange Order had been created at a time of revolutionary unity between sections of Protestants and of Catholics and that its purpose was to fracture that unity, which it carried out. It was from the beginning a sectarian, reactionary organisation serving the interests of the colonial ruling class in Ireland.
Along with its allied organisations such as the Apprentice Boys, the Order has a long history of provocation of Catholic areas through triumphalist marching, a practice defended by the colonial police force and in modern times until recently by the British Army. In one confrontation, Mac Cionnaith used available statistics to demonstrate that two British soldiers had been deployed for every resident of the area.
After the break, the Cathaoirleach welcomed and introduced Erdelan Baran, a representative of the Kurdish National Congress. Erdelan’s command of English is excellent and he presented his talk well, using a few slides on an electronic display to emphasise his points, including a map showing the Kurdish population and its spread over the borders of the states of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
The audience heard that the religion of most Kurds had been Zoroastrianism but that this had been reduced by Islamicisation. The Kurds had not been recognised as a separate nation or even really as a separate ethnic group by regimes ruling them and had suffered much repression in each of those states.
Erdelan Baran focused in particular on the development of the PKK, a party founded in 1978 by Kurdish students led by Abdullah Ocalan in a village not very far from the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the south-east of the Turkish state. The party named itself The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan and combined communist ideology with struggle for an independent state. It was subject to repression which increased dramatically after the 1980 right-wing military coup d’état, with imprisonment and executions of its activists and others fleeing to Syria.
The PKK developed its armed struggle which included women’s units (Erdelan showed a slide of PKK women in uniform bearing arms).
Oҫalan was captured in 1999 and imprisoned on an island in the Turkish state. He since called for a change in objectives, i.e for the movement to seek confederalism instead of a state, a system of self-determination for each area and not based on any ethnic group or national territory. Erdelan pointed towards the administrations which had been set up in Rocajava as an example of this and also of equality towards women – 80% of representation was required to be in equal gender balance.
Since the emergence and attacks of ISIL in Syria, the YPG, a development of the PKK, has been fighting fierce battles against ISIL and established liberated areas in which other groups such as the Yazidis and Turkmen have taken part in defence and administration.
Erdelan mentioned very briefly the peace process espoused by the PKK and the refusal of the Turkish government to engage in it.
Erdelan finished his presentation to strong applause and the Cathaoirleach indicated that there was limited time for questions. Four people addressed comments and questions from the floor one of which criticised aspects of the PKKs policy and three of which were complimentary (see final part including Comment for further details), to all of which Erdelan responded,
A break was called again by the Cathaoirleach and when the conference reconvened, she announced that Clare Daly and Brian Leeson would speak one after the other, without time for questions from the floor.
THE BARREL OF ROTTEN APPLES
A short video about popular opposition to the water charges was played showing éirigí in action before the Cathaoirleach introduced Clare Daly as the next speaker, referring to her as an Independent socialist TD. Daly took the lectern, joking that she was obviously “a warm-up act for Brian Leeson”.
Clare Daly spoke with passion about a long history of cases of Garda corruption, saying that an earlier perception of there being perhaps “a few rotten apples in the Garda barrel” had changed over the years and that now perhaps instead people believed that there might be a few good apples in a rotten barrel. Daly pointed towards the forced resignations of Alan Shatter (as Minister for Justice) and of senior Garda officers and to the whistle-blowers within the force who had used the issue of exemptions on penalty points to highlight corruption within the Gardaí. She predicted that there would be further scandals.
Daly commented on how when in the Dáil she and Mick Wallace began to expose Garda corruption they were treated as some kind of shockingly disgusting people and that even those TDs concerned with civil liberties counseled them not to take on the Gardaí. But the perception of the Gardaí publicly has now changed and this has had its impact on the Dáil. It was the struggles of the people – in particular perhaps around the water charge – and the behaviour of the Gardaí against local communities resisting – which had led to the general change of public opinion. This had facilitated and been strengthened by the exposure of a number of scandals.
Turning to the use of Shannon Airport by the US Military on its way to invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in violation of Irish neutrality, Daly gave examples of some of the evidence available, not only from observers outside the airport but also from staff inside. One of these declared that he had stolen a gun from a plane in US military use at Shannon and of course, he could not be arrested for that since “How could he have stolen a gun from a plane the Irish Government claims is not carrying any weapons?” The planes in use are not only military planes but also chartered civilian ones and Daly gave statistics on the huge amount of US military traffic of weapons and soldiers through the airport, quoting also from a US document (part of the Wikileaks) confirming the importance of Shannon airport to their Middle Eastern military operations.
Daly accused the Irish Government of complicity with US imperialism and its war crimes. A lot of the evidence outlined and more was presented in the trial of Daly and Wallace following their arrest on 22nd July 2014 as they went on to restricted areas of the airport without permission from the authorities. They were there to carry out an inspection of US planes but were arrested and despite the evidence, in April were fined €1,000 each or 30 days in prison. Both declared then and Daly reaffirmed in her talk that they had no intention of paying the fine and await their arrest at any moment.
“There’s not much a small group of left-wing TDs can do in the Dáil to change what’s happening in the country”, said Daly, although she declared herself satisfied with the opportunity to use that forum to publicly expose a lot of what has been going on. Daly declared however that it was with the people that real impetus lay and hailed their resistance, including that of people in the room, in recent years.
THE NEED FOR SOCIALISM
Clare Daly finished her talk to a storm of applause as Brian Leeson, introduced by the Cathaoirleach as Chairperson of the éirigí party, rose to take her place at the lectern, joking that rather than being “a warm-up act” for him, Daly had “stolen his thunder”.
Leeson began his speech by outlining the need for a socialist society and suggested those who say that “Socialism doesn’t work” should be asked whether they think capitalism is working. He pointed to continual economic and financial crises, unemployment, housing crises in various forms, cuts in social welfare and health care …. and war. Wars, Leeson declared, were an inevitable part of imperialism, which is capitalism’s struggle to control natural resources and markets.
“This hotel and these rooms have an important place in our history” said Leeson, relating that a decision to found the Irish Volunteers had been taken in Wynne’s hotel in 1913 and in 1914 Cumann na mBan had been founded there. Commenting on recent and forthcoming centenary commemorations, Leeson said that it was people like those in the room and outside in resistance who had made that history and that the state set up in on the back of those struggles did not represent either the ideals the people had fought for or the wishes of the majority of people in the country now.
Going on to attack the economic policies of the Northern Executive in the Six Counties, Leeson castigated Sinn Féin and the SDLP who he said had given up the only area of financial control that they had and passed the buck on to the British Government. They had the opportunity, he said, to stand resolutely for a budget against social welfare and health care cuts but they passed the buck to the British Government, which implemented those cuts instead. It was essential that the Northern Irish Executive should not collapse, apparently. Leeson questioned why this should be thought so – surely the only justifiable reason to be in any government or Executive was to represent the ordinary people and the disadvantaged!
Leeson also talked about the theft and giving away of our natural resources such as oil and the planned privatisation of water which he said belonged to the people and that no government had the right to give them away nor any company the right to own them.
Leeson paid tribute to Clare Daly who was prepared to advocate for Irish Republicans in prison and had given much support to Stephen Murney and Ursula Ní Shionnaigh. He also made a particular point of welcoming Erdelan Baran and of supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people.
Commenting on discussion around a forthcoming general election in the Irish state (the 26 Counties), Leeson criticised those who talked of campaigns to elect some kind of left-wing alliance. The conditions did not exist for that to be viable project, he said, and to raise people’s hopes only to dash them was cruel and would be demoralising. People should continue their resistance and éirigí would continue their part in that as they had done up until now.
The audience gave Brian Leeson strong applause as he concluded his speech.
There were no questions and answers called for afterwards and the meeting concluded, people standing around talking, purchasing from the merchandise stall, departing or retiring to the nearby bar which had just opened.
Attendance, Organisation, Speeches, Participation
The room was large and full, with accents to be heard from across the country and éirigí will probably be pleased with the level of attendance. The public meeting appeared to be well organised with door security (an invited/ registered list on which my name was not but thankfully I was recognised by several and that formality waived) just outside the meeting while inside, merchandise stall, chairperson, ushers, seating, projector and screen for videos and slides, sound amplification, and professional banners (one bilingual and one in Irish only).
I saw only one photographer whom I assumed to be éirigí’s and, thinking other photos of the attendance might not be permitted, restrained myself to photographing the banners only.
Mac Cionnaith’s talk was somewhat over-long in my opinion and he is also softly spoken, which makes parts difficult to hear – and I was in one of the front seats. He also speaks without a great deal of inflection or emphasis in his delivery which militates against giving him continuing close attention. This is a pity because the content was extremely interesting and contained a lot that was new to me. I was also impressed by the amount of information that he clearly had in his head, since he rarely had to consult his notes.
Such a long talk however is unlikely to be followed by questions and answers and this proved to be the case, with the Cathaoirleach calling a break at the conclusion of Mac Cionnaith’s talk, to be followed by the next speaker on resumption of the conference.
Mac Cionnaith told me later that he usually gives this talk in two parts and with a break between them. I urged him to write and publish it as a pamphlet and I sincerely hope he does so.
Clare Daly’s and Leeson’s talks were clearly audible and well-presented and the meeting was in general well-chaired. I would offer the criticism that the time-tabling did not permit sufficient audience participation in terms of questions and answers or contributions which only occurred, briefly, after the Kurdish speaker – i.e none after the other three speakers.
All the speeches had interesting content and were relevant to political life in Ireland today. Given the organisation’s policy on abortion I would not have expected a talk on that subject, albeit the issue is a very important ongoing one in Ireland. A stranger important omission I thought was the issue of repression of Irish Republican activists both outside and inside the prisons, including the practice of internment by false charge and remand. Stephen Murney, himself an éirigí activist in Newry, had been an important example of victims of this abuse of civil rights.
Another factor was the total absence of spoken Irish from the panel of speakers or the Cathaoirleach (even to the ritual “cúpla focal”) and I am aware that some éirigí activists did express their disappointment at that (both Leeson and McPhall are Irish speakers) after the meeting.
Ideology & Political Policy
The internal part of the meeting had taken place earlier and I was not present at that so these comments refer only to the open public part of the meeting.
It was understandable perhaps that, addressing a conference organised by a party known to have rejected that process in Ireland, the Kurdish speaker skated quickly over the question of Ocalan’s and the PKK’s espousal of a “peace” process. What is less understandable is that from éirigí, no-one rose to criticise it, that being done only by one contributor from the floor, who – after thanking Erdelan in Kurdish — pointed out that such processes do not bring peace and are instead pacification processes, traveling from people in struggle from one country to those in another, subverting their struggles as with South Africa, Palestine, Ireland and now being proposed for the Kurdish people, the Basques, the Colombians, Filipinos …1
The same contributor, while expressing his great admiration for the struggle of the Kurdish people over the years, in support of which he had travelled to Kurdistan in the early 1990s as part of a trade union delegation, raised another two issues of concern to him, which were what he perceived as the elevation of Abdullah Ocalan to iconic status within the main Kurdish movement and that the YPG had declared themselves in alliance with the western coalition in Syria. Making it clear that he was not a supporter of Assad, the contributor asked the speaker whether he thought the imperialists would hand over control of the country when their current enemy had been defeated?
The contributor’s remarks and question were greeted with scattered applause from the audience.
,Erdelan made no reply at all on the issue of a peace process but replied at length to the issue of Ocalan’s leadership and the use of his image and to a lesser extent to question of alliance with the imperialist coalition.
“Ocalan does not seek to be a leader,” said Erdelan, “and has often said ‘If anyone else wants to take on this job let him have it.’” Aside from the fact that Ocalan’s leadership per se had not been criticised except in promotion of a peace process, this reply and subsequent arguments did not address the issue of the proliferation of Ocalan’s image within the movement, the issue that had been raised by the contributor from the floor. Furthermore, the Kurdish speaker must have been aware that Ocalan had publicly argued against his threatened execution by saying that a peace process was necessary with the Turkish state and that only he could lead the movement towards it. Going on to talk about Ocalan’s 15 political publications, as Erdelan did if anything served only to confirm the adulation in which his person is held by many in the movement. The policy of confederalism is also one developed by Ocalan while in captivity, after he renounced the policy of seeking a Kurdish marxist-leninist state and, subsequently, also renouncing the policy he developed of seeking Kurdish regional autonomy within the Turkish state.
In his reply on the issue of alliance with imperialists, Erdelan was likewise quite disingenuous. He emphasised the success of the fight against ISIL and the gender equality which their administration had brought to their liberated areas, which had been in part lauded already by the contributor from the floor but which did not directly address the issue in any case. Moving on, he referred to the need for survival of the Kurds and beleaguered people and their need for weapons.
After some more of this the contributor objected to the “arms for defence line”, saying that the overall military commander in the Rojava area had publicly stated that the YPG were not only joining the coalition for arms for survival but were going to join in an offensive to overthrow the Assad Government. At this point the Cathaoirleach silenced the contributor from the floor, pointing out not unreasonably that there were others waiting to speak.
The next contributor from the floor welcomed Erdelan to Ireland. He lauded the struggle of the Kurds and the leadership of Ocalan and stated that he and a few others had picketed the Turkish Embassy when the Kurdish leader was under sentence of death. He stated that in Ireland we also often display images of leaders and heroes such as James Connolly and that we do that in order to display our support for their ideals. He lauded the administration of the Rojava areas and stated that he wished to disassociate himself from the comments the previous contributor from the floor had made. He received strong applause.
This contributor seemed unaware of the difference between the way and the degree to which images of James Connolly are displayed in Ireland and the way in which images of Ocalan are displayed among Kurdish supporters of the PKK. He also missed the most important difference – Connolly is dead and Ocalan is alive. Whatever errors a dead leader made he can make no further ones whereas a living leader can make many more (as history in general and ours in particular has shown) and the iconisation of a living leader makes challenging his/her mistakes within a movement extremely difficult and viewed as something in the order of sacrilege.
Another contributor from the floor asked for some more explanation of the policy of confederalism. In the course of his reply, Erdelan said that it was a democratic system that would preclude territorial expansion and that, for example, the issue of whether someone wanted a nuclear reactor in their area would be entirely a local decision. This reply in fact outlined one of the problems of confederalism in this stage of history since if local people voted in favour, for example with promises of safety and cheap power, the decision would nevertheless potentially affect everyone within a radius of thousands of kilometres – but no-one seemed to pick up on that.
The same member of the audience, responding, enthusiastically commended the Kurdish organisation on their confederalism policy and said that we should have the same here in Ireland. He (and certainly at least some in the audience) appeared unaware that a type of confederalism had been a central part of Sinn Féin’s and Provisional IRA’s progam for many years. The “Éire Nua” was such a program, originally proposed by then SF’s President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill and strongly supported in practice by Des Fennel. This policy had encountered some opposition within the Provisional movement, particularly from supporters in the Six Counties who feared being left under regional domination of — or in constant contention with — Unionists.
The “Éire Nua” policy was overturned at the 1982 Ard-Fheis (annual conference) of Sinn Féin in what was seen by many as a victory of the Adams group within the leadership over the Ó Bradaigh one. Subsequently the policy of Sinn Féin has been for a united 32-County state and that is also part of éirigí’s policy today. Only Republican Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan among Republican organisations in Ireland today retain a federal policy.
Overall, it seemed that the majority of the audience either did not feel equipped to engage with the issues in a critical fashion or felt that they would be going against their party (or hosts) to do so. It was highly unlikely that the majority supported the aspiration for a peace process and there must have been at least some disquiet on the issue of joining an imperialist coalition. But they remained silent. There was also of course the cultural issue of hospitality to an invited guest which may have played a part.
However, these are serious questions affecting the revolutionary movements around the world and need to be engaged with critically.
1 Is mise a rinneadh sin. I also took part in actions for the removal of the execution threat to Ocalan while having a number of discussions with Kurdish activists on the issue of iconisation. In general I worked for a number of years in London in Kurdish solidarity with people who supported the PKK and some who did not, including submitting motions to trade union branches and going on that delegation around much of northern Kurdistan in the early 1990s when it was still a war zone there. In Ireland I took part in a few pickets with Kurdish comrades and was discussing setting up a solidarity network here but some of the principal activists left the country.
While I was conscious that some others who I know would have had similar views to the concerns I expressed kept away from me, some activists did approach me during the break to express their approval of my comments, in particular on the issue of making an icon of a living leader. They had experienced a similar process with the promotion of Gerry Adams within Sinn Féin before leaving the organisation to join éirigí or to become independent activists. Nobody likes isolation and I was grateful not only for their comments but for visibly approaching me in the meeting area in view of anyone who cared to see.
The historic ruins of Hasankeyf, which may have been settled more than two thousand years BCE, are threatened by a Turkish dam along with the homes of Kurdish, Armenian and Arab people. A number of archaeologists and historians believe that the fortified town was referred to in inscriptions on the Mari tablets (1,800-1,750 BCE). The rocky outcrop also contains many human-made caves.
As well as being the site of an ancient town, it is also an urban and outer settled district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Turkey, with a recent combined population approaching 70,000.
The project that threatens to submerge much of Hasankeyf is the Isilu Dam being built by Turkey. Despite the foundation stone being laid as late as 2006, in 1971it was already being actively considered as one of the sites for a number of dam projects for hydro-electric generation and number of other purposes. A study by an international team between 1980 and 1982 recommended the building of the Isilu dam despite the 1981 declaration by the Turkish Government itself of Hasankeyf as a natural conservation area.
Opposition to the dam
The project had run into funding difficulties over the years. Due to international protests on environmental, archaeological and human rights grounds, and also protests within Turkey and from inside Hasankeyf, a number of international funders backed off. The British Government refused $236 million in funding in 2000 and in 2009, a consortium of Austrian, Swiss and German credit agencies withdrew their offer of $610 million.
The consortium had suspended the loan in 2008 and had given the Turkish Government 6 months to comply with international standards, which they had failed to do. However in July 2010 the Austrian firm Andritz Hydro announced it was lifting its suspension and would provide the six huge turbines specified for the power plant.
Excavations for the main body of the dam began in May 2011 and the Turkish Government projected that all works would be completed this year. A 250m (820ft) permanent steel-girder bridge with concrete supports has been constructed just downstream of the dam andconstruction of new villages is currently underway. The diversion of the Tigris River began during August 2012. According to Government figures, by April 2014 the project was 60% completed while 73% of the Hasankeyf population had been resettled.
Protests continue within the area, peaceful and not. According to the Government, in January 2015 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) threatened the lives of workers and anti-Government sources confirmed that a number of workers left the site. On 3 February 2015 a convoy of supplies for the dam was attacked, injuring three persons and several days later a worker was killed in his home, according to the Government by suspected PKK militants. Peaceful protests have included pickets and demonstrations (see photos) and some of these have also taken place abroad, including recent ones in England (see photos).
The completion of the Ilısu Dam will cause the flooding of the ancient city of Hasankeyfand about 185 villages and hamlets will be fully or partially affected by flooding, according to the Kurdish Human Rights Project. From 55,000–65,000 people will be forcibly resettled, says the KHRP, while even the Turkish Government estimates 40,000. According to a statement released on the 24th August by a solidarity group protesting outside the Austrian Andritz company’s facility in England, the completed project will reduce water flow to Syria by 40% and Iraq by 80% and the dam also provides the facility for political control of those areas through further restriction of water supplies.
Turkey is a member ofNATO and extremely important strategically to the the military alliance, as well as having some significant natural resources. However its regularly-renewed applications to join the EU have always been turned down because of its human rights record, both in the course of recent wars with its ethnic Kurds as well as with regard to protest movements among ethnic Turks. Recently Turkey came in for adverse international publicity again as it was seen to be blocking Kurds trying to get through the Turkish border with Syria in order to defend areas under attack by ISIS (Islamic State), while Turkey has also been accused of more directly assisting ISIS in its attacks. Although the state has Moslem fundamentalist political parties which occasionally come into government, Turkey itself has been secular since it became a republic in 1922.
Viyan Peyman, famous fighter-singer of the YPJ, fell in battle against Islamic State in Serekaniye (Yazira canton) on Monday 6th April 2015, according to news agency Hawar News.
Viyan Peyman, famosa luchadora y cantante del YPJ cayó én lucha contra el Estado Islamico el lunes 6 de Abril 2015, según la agencia de noticias Hawar News (miren enlace al fondo de este corto trozo para las noticias en castellano).
When Eagles Sing
(I ndil chuimhne Viyan Peyman/Gulistan Tali Cingalo)
A bird fell from the sky —
the birdsong now has died.
A songbird but also a fighter —
When eagles sing
our struggle is made lighter.
She flies now in different skies,
skies of our memory,
of our heart, spirt and mind
where her song cannot be silenced
for Kurds or for humankind.
Diarmuid Breatnach April 2013
Viyan’s real name was Gulistan Tali Cingalo (Gulistan means “garden”) and she was from Mako city in the part of Kurdistan located within the Iranian state’s territory.
The song she sings in the video was composed by her; the lyrics say:
“Oh, mother, woe to me!
My heart cries today — what disaster has fallen upon us!
I will sing today of the resistance of Kobane,
that it may be a poem recited for the world and humanity, oh mother!
Today again our Kurdish boys and girls have made their chests into shields
against the tanks and bombs … Oh, mother, woe to me!
Today I imagine the mothers of Kobane crying in the streets;
I imagine the boys, the girls, the elderly screaming in pain and rage.
I see the tears of the children of Kobane as if they were the Euphrates river,