In the early hours of May 23rd, according to reports, four men gained uninvited access to a social event in Consort Road, a residential street in the Peckham area in SE London’s Borough of Southwark. One of them fired one shot from a gun and the bullet struck prominent BLM activist Sacha Johnson in the head. She remains in critical condition in hospital. There are unresolved questions about this incident and about the subsequent actions and statement by the London Metropolitan Police.
Peckham is mostly a residential and shopping area in a SE London suburb, in a mix of predominantly pre-war terraced housing and post-war blocks of flats. It is well off the London Underground network but served by an overground train station and bus depot with a number of bus routes traversing it. There is a medium-sized park area called Peckham Rye and a branch of the canal network ran through a part of Peckham but no longer does so (filled in during the time I lived there). I lived in Peckham on two different occasions during my decades working in England (nearly all of which were spent based in SE London) in one period of which my daughter was born. I was politically active there and for a time worked not far away from Peckham variously in furniture removal, factories and in a number of foundries.
Peckham and many nearby areas of SE London are mixed ethnically having been settled by successive waves of Irish migrants, Afro-Caribbeans, then some South Asians, followed by Africans. Throughout its history there have been frequent conflicts between people living there and the police and also between communities and fascist organisations.
Irish Socialist and Republican activist and journalist Jim Connell wrote a draft of the Red Flag in 1989 on a train journey from London Bridge to his home in the SE London Borough of Lewisham, a 15-minute bicycle ride from Peckham. During the 1926 General Strike a scab tram was overturned in nearby Camberwell by strikers and a policeman reputedly pushed down a manhole. Clashes occurred between Mosley’s Blackshirts and antifascists, with one of the big battles of the 1930s taking place in Long Lane, at the further limits of SE London, approaching the Thames river.
Much nearer to Peckham, after WW2, Blackshirts attempting to set up public speaking in East Street outdoor market (“East Lane” as it was known locally) were attacked by antifascists and clashes occurred there again in the 1970s between antifascists and the National Front. The early post-War migrants from the Caribbean in New Cross, very close on the other side of Peckham, had frequent clashes with racists and with the police. In the 1970s clashes occurred often in New Cross and nearby Deptford between antifascists and the National Front, while not far away again was the scene of the famous 1977 Battle of Lewisham, in which antifascists denied the National Front passage through and fought also, in particular, the London Metropolitan Police.
During the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s there were public meetings organised in various parts of SE London in solidarity with Irish struggles and with Irish political prisoners, including the framed prisoners such as the Birmingham Six. There are predominantly Irish pubs dotted throughout the whole area and weekly traditional music sessions have been held in some of them, while New Cross had an Irish dance hall and Lewisham still has an Irish community centre, founded by a local branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. Individuals from the Irish community were active in trade union and left-wing activism and in particular in antifascism.
There are a number of questions arising out of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the shooting of Sasha Johnson and their public statement.
The Met said they did not believe Sasha Johnson was the target. In a statement made before even an arrest of suspects, this would seem to be at least premature. It would also be a substantially suspect coincidence for the only firearm discharge to hit Johnson and, in addition, in the head.
Sasha Johnson supporters say she had received death threats and another activist, interviewed by an ABC reporter (see video in CNN link) on a demonstration a few weeks before the shooting, said that she had received a number of threats. However the Met statement said Sasha Johnson had not received credible death threats. What is “a credible death threat”? Antifascists and left-wing activists all over the world regularly receive death threats and, in Ireland, the targets would include Irish Republicans. Some of those threats have been carried out historically and fascists have gone on shooting or bombing sprees against ethnic and LGBT minorities, often after issuing threats on social media, without police prevention.
The TTIP statement (see Sources) said that according to their information the Met had not carried out house-to-house enquiries in the area of the shooting.
The arrest of five individuals and their charging with conspiracy to murder (two) and affray and attempted murder (all five), along with drug possession with intent to supply etc would serve to support an narrative of black-on-black crime related to drugs supplying. But how does that narrative fit with an invasion of a social event and the shooting in the head of a prominent black lives matter activist?
If the Met maintains that Johnson was not the intended target, how can they charge someone with conspiracy to murder her (unless they allege that some other person was the intended victim, which they have not said)?
And if the shooting of Sasha Johnson was by black individuals and she was the target, does that raise the possibility of politically-motivated action through proxies, as has occurred a number of times in the USA (and in the Six Counties of Ireland)?
HISTORICAL USA CONTEXT
Regarding the last question above, the TTIP has reached nowhere near the political impact where it seems likely the UK State would arrange such an action — but it remains a possibility.
In the USA the city and state police departments have a history of surveillance and repression of Black militant organisations and at times their actions have been more extreme. In 1985 Philadelphia police in an operation approved by its black Mayor, bombed the radical black MOVE organisation with a C4 explosive satchel from a helicopter, resulting in the deaths of 11 people including five children, aged 7 to 13. The police bombing and subsequent fire destroyed 61 homes and made 250 Philadelphia residents homeless.
The Federal State itself, in particular through the FBI, set out to infiltrate the left-wing Black Panthers and Black nationalist organisations with agents not only for surveillance but also to cause dissension and feuds.
The FBI also with direct homicidal intent targeted militant black activists as in the case of Fred Hampton, a prominent Black Panther activist and public speaker: in December 1969, (Fred) Hampton was drugged, shot and killed in his bed during a predawn raid at his Chicago apartment by a tactical unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI. Law enforcement sprayed more than 90 gunshots throughout the apartment; the occupants fired once. (Wikipedia). Though incredibly a Cook County Coroners’ Court ruled his killing and that of another victim to be “justifiable homicide”, a civil suit on behalf of nine plaintiffs was settled in 1982 with a payment of $1.85 million, the City of Chicago, Cook County and the Federal Government each paying one-third.
In addition the FBI monitored the activities of the Nation of Islam organisation of Black muslims in the USA and, through its agents in the organisation was well aware of hostilities towards Malcolm X, who had left the organisation. As Malcolm X began to develop a thesis that black people in the USA needed to unite with oppressed people of any colour anywhere, he was assassinated by gunmen of the Black Muslims with FBI collusion (if not outright organisation) on 21st February 1965.
Martin Luther King Jnr. was a world-famous black civil rights campaigner. However in later years he also sought to unite the concerns of poor whites with the cause of black civil rights and also opposed the USA’s War in Vietnam. The FBI and the State itself (through Robert F. Kennedy, the former Attorney General) were recruiting agents in his movement and electronically bugging his hotel rooms during campaigns. King was murdered by a sniper’s bullet on April 4th 1968 and the white man arrested who confessed to the murder, James Earl Ray, later recanted and alleged his solicitors had advised him to plead guilty. King’s family supported Ray in seeking a retrial and clearly suspected the US State of having arranged the killing but Ray died before any such retrial took place.
The London Metropolitan Police have a long history of racism towards Irish and Black people, which was known long before the Stephen Lawrence murder case but officially admitted regarding black people in the McPherson report into the Met’s handling of that murder investigation. There had long been complaints of discriminatory policing and racial profiling, harassment of Irish and Black people in police stop-and-question actions and house raids and there were also incidents where the Met had killed black and Irish people during arrests (many deaths also in police station custody).
In addition, the Met have a long history of collusion with fascist organisations, from Sir Oswald Moseley’s “Blackshirt” (British Union of Fascists) to the more recent National Front, British Movement and others. In just one event in 1936, over 7,000 Met officers, including all their mounted police, attempted to force a Blackshirt march through a part of East London where there was a high occupation rate of East European migrant Jewish people. The result was a pitched battle against a defensive mobilisation of ethnic Jews and Irish, along with communists and anarchists. The fascists did not get through but most of the fighting was actually with the police.
The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, West London, opened in 1968 serving Caribbean cuisine and became a meeting place for black activists and intellectuals. It was frequently raided by the Metropolitan police. In 1970 the community organised a protest march to the local police station and violence broke out between police and the protesters, after which the Met charged nine activists with inciting a riot. The trial of the Mangrove Nine lasted 55 days, included a number of challenges to court, exposed the racism of the police and ended in the acquittal of all nine on the more serious charges.
In 1974, an attempt to disrupt a National Front meeting in London ended with many antifascists injured by the Met and Kevin Gately, a student from Leeds of Irish background clubbed to death by police. In a successful large-scale mobilisation to prevent a fascist invasion by the National Front of the SE London Lewisham town centre in 1977, an area of relatively high Afro-Caribbean ethnic settlement (also of significant Irish), the main battles were with Met who were determined to bring the fascists through. In another defensive mobilisation in 1979 in the West London town centre of Southall, an area of high South Asian settlement, Australian antifascist Blair Peach, working in London was also killed by Met police baton.
We do not need to jump to conspiracy assassination attempt theories but we should keep an open mind in this case, consider the possibilities and question the Metropolitan Police handling of the case and their public statements. We also need to treat media handling with suspicion, particularly their non-critical acceptance of Metropolitan Police statements and even suggestions of “drive-by shooting” in US gang-banger tradition.
And to wish the victim a full and timely recovery.
(Published elsewhere earlier in December, including Red Line; published here with author’s permission and section headings, photo choices (except one) and intro line are by Rebel Breeze editing)
The issue of drugs is one that is never far from public discourse on the Colombian conflict. Biased or just simply lazy journalists use the issue to ascribe motives for an endless list of events, massacre and murders. It is true that drug trafficking has permeated all of Colombian society and there is no sector that has not been impacted by it. But not everyone in Colombia is a drug trafficker. However, once again the King of Clubs is played to describe the conflict in terms of a drug problem.
Several Colombian newspapers have recently published articles on the supposed relationship of the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with drug trafficking and there are already eleven commanders who are under investigation for such crimes and are sought in extradition. They talk as if the ELN dominated the drugs trade, and talk of settling of accounts over drug money, as if they were a crime gang, instead of saying that the ELN takes drastic measures against its members who get involved in drug trafficking and that those internal executions are due to the indiscipline and betrayal of principles of some people and are not an internal dispute over money. Of course, the ELN in an open letter widely distributed on social networks and alternative press, denied any links to the drug trade. But, how true is this new tale? Before looking at the accusations levelled against the ELN it is worth going over the history of drug trafficking in Colombia and the reality of the business in international terms.
POLITICIANS, GUERRILLAS AND BANKS
Let’s start with the obvious. When the FARC and the ELN were founded in 1964 drug trafficking was not a problem in the country and there were no large plantations, i.e. the existence of the guerrillas predates the drugs trade. Later in the 1970s the country went through the marijuana bonanza on the Caribbean coast, but it is the emergence of the large drugs cartels in 1980s around the production of cocaine that would define forever the shape drug trafficking in the country would take. Up till the 1990s the country was not self sufficient in coca leaf, even though it was the main manufacturer of the final product: cocaine. Escobar was dead by the time Colombia achieved self sufficiency and it is in that context that the discourse of blaming the FARC for the drugs trade gained ground, completely ignoring that the main narcos were the founders of the paramilitary groups. One of the most notorious paramilitary groups in the 1980s was the MAS (Death to Kidnappers) founded by the Cali Cartel and other drug traffickers in response to the kidnapping by M-19 of Marta Nieves Ochoa a relative of the Ochoa drug barons.
That discourse, however, was useful in justifying Plan Colombia and there was an element of truth to it, but not that much back then. The FARC’s relationship with the drugs trade has not been static and has evolved over time. Almost everyone accepts that they began by imposing a tax on the production of coca leaf, coca base or cocaine in the territories they controlled. The initial relationship changed and the FARC went from just collecting a revolutionary tax to promoting the crop, protecting laboratories and even having laboratories of their own and in some cases, such as the deceased commander Negro Acacio, got directly involved in the drug trade. There is no doubt on the issue. But neither were they the big drug barons that they tried to have us believe, those barons are in the ranks not just of the Democratic Centre but also the Liberal and Conservative parties. It is forgotten that Samper’s (1994-1998) excuse regarding drug money entering his campaign’s coffers was and still is that it was done behind his back, but no one denies that drug trafficking has to some degree financed every electoral campaign in the country. Although companies like Odebrecht play a role at a national level, at a local and regional level drug trafficking decides who becomes mayor, governor, representative in the house and even senators. Even the brother of the current Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez was a drug trafficker and there are loads of photos of many politicians with Ñeñe Hernández and Uribe appears in photos with the son of the paramilitary drug trafficker Cuco Vanoy. It is a matter of public knowledge that several high ranking police officers close to Uribe such as his former head of security Mauricio Santoyo were extradited to the USA for drug related crimes and Uribe’s excuse was the same as Samper’s: it was all done behind his back.
NOT THE ELN
But when we look at the extent of illicit crops in Colombia, we can clearly see the reason why they are linked to the FARC for so long and not to the ELN. The reason is simple, the majority of the large plantations of coca and opium poppy were to be found in areas under the influence of the FARC. If we look at the crop monitoring carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) we can see that in 2001 the main departments (administrative regions: Colombia has 32 — RB editing) where there were crops were almost exclusively FARC fiefdoms.
In 2001, coca was to be found in 22 departments of the country, compared to just 12 in 1999. However, despite the expansion, just two areas accounted for the majority of the crops: Putumayo-Caquetá had 45% of the total amount of coca (about 65,000 hectares) and Meta-Guaviare-Vaupés with 34% of the area (about 49,000 hectares) i.e. 79% of the total area under coca. They were areas that were completely dominated by the FARC, not a single eleno was to be found in those territories and if they did venture in, it was undercover at the risk of execution by the FARC were they discovered as the FARC did not tolerate political competition in their fiefdoms. When one looks at the map of crops back then, one can see not only the concentration in those areas but also almost all the other departments were dominated by the FARC and those where there were significant amounts of coca and also an ELN presence, one finds Cauca with 3,139 hectares, Nariño with 7,494 hectares and the Norte de Santander with 9,145 hectares. But in those areas there was a certain territorial balance between the different guerrillas and one of the few departments where the ELN was clearly the dominant force was Arauca with 2,749 hectares. But when we look at the counties we can see that it is not as clear cut, as in the Norte de Santander 83% of the coca crops were to be found in just one county: Tibú, FARC fiefdom for many years before the paramilitary takeover in 1999. In Arauca the county of Araquita accounted for 60% of the crops in the department and it was also a FARC fiefdom within an area dominated by the ELN. Thus it is obvious as to why they spoke almost exclusively about the role of the FARC in drug trafficking and not the ELN at that time.
Years later the situation had not changed much, the main producing departments were the FARC fiefdoms. The UNODC study on coca crops in the country in 2013 continues to show a concentration in FARC fiefdoms, with a displacement from Putumayo to Nariño due to aerial spraying and the persecution of the FARC by the State. In 2013, there were just 48,000 hectares of coca in the entire country, with significant reductions in some parts. Nariño, Putumayo, Guaviare and Caquetá accounted for 62% of the land under coca, with Norte de Santander representing 13% and Cauca with just 9%. There was a reduction and a displacement of the crops towards new areas with Nariño accounting for the most dramatic increase of all departments.
In 2019, there was 154,000 hectares of coca, a little over three times the amount grown in 2013, though it was slightly down on 2018 when there was 169,000 hectares. Coca production recovered after 2014 in the middle of the peace process with the FARC. It stands out that in 2019, Arauca, a department dominated by the ELN the UNODC did not report any coca crops. Once again Norte de Santander is a department with widespread coca leaf production almost quadrupling the amount reported in 2001. It had 41,749 hectares of coca but the county of Tibú alone had 20,000 hectares and the same UNODC report indicated that these are not new areas and show that the crop has deep roots in the area.
THE BANKS, THE BANKS!
However, despite the role of the FARC in the drugs trade, they weren’t the big drug barons we were led to believe. How can we be sure? Their demobilisation did not alter the flow of cocaine towards the USA and Europe. The big drugs capos in the companies, the Congress of the Republic, the international banks did not stop for a second. Neither did people such as Ñeñe Hernández and other associates of right wing political parties in Colombia stop for a single instant.
Neither the production nor consumption of cocaine halted. The UNODC’s World Drug Report says as much about both phenomena. According to the UNODC consumption of cocaine fell from 2.5% in 2002 to 1.5% in 2011 in the USA, but from that year it increased again reaching 2.0% in 2018 and also there are indications of an increase in the sale of cocaine of high purity at lower prices between 2013 and 2017. The price of a gram fell by 29% and the purity increased by 32%. The report also indicates that in Europe there was a significant increase in various places such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Estonia and Germany. Nevertheless, some of those countries had seen decreases in consumption in the first years of the century. All of this suggests that there is a greater supply of the drug. This can be seen not only in the previously mentioned figures of an increase in the production of coca leaf in Colombia (or in other countries such as Peru and Bolivia), but can also be seen in drug seizures. An increase in seizures may indicate greater efficiency by the police forces, but combined with stability or an increase in consumption and a reduction in price, rather indicate an increase in production and availability.
According to the UNODC cocaine seizures have increased dramatically since the commencement of Plan Colombia, indicating, although they do not acknowledge it, the failure of their anti-drugs strategy and the tactic of aerial spraying with glyphosate. In 1998 400 tonnes were seized globally and that figure remained relatively stable till 2003, reaching 750 tonnes in 2005 and surpassing the threshold of 900 tonnes in 2015 to finish off at 1,300 tonnes in 2018, i.e. there was no reduction in consumption or the production of cocaine. Throughout the years with or without the FARC there has been coca production and of course the main drug barons never demobilised, the heads of the banks remain in their posts.
The real drug traffickers wear a tie, own large estates, meet with President Duque, it is not the ELN that moves hundreds of tonnes of cocaine around the world. In 2012, the Swiss bank HSBC reached an agreement with the US authorities to pay a kind of fine of $1,920 million dollars for having laundered $881 million dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel of Northern Valle, Colombia. The bank had, despite everything, classified Mexico as a low risk country, thus excluding $670 billion dollars in transactions from monitoring systems and the bank was notified by the authorities but ignored them. Nobody went to jail, in fact no one was prosecuted. As Senator Warren in a session of the Senate Banking Commission pointed out, no one was going to go to jail for this massive crime. Moreover, the Sub Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David S. Cohen refused to recommend a criminal investigation against the bank. There is no need to state that no ELN commander is on the board of this or other banks. The ELN is usually accused of infiltrating universities, but to date no one has accused them of having infiltrated the boards of banks.
It is not the only bank implicated in money laundering, in 2015 London was described as one of the main centres for money laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. A report by the UK National Crime Agency states, on the basis of a UN calculation that between 2% and 5% of global GDP are laundered funds “that there is a realistic possibility [defined as between 40-50%] that it is in the hundreds of billions of pounds annually” and the majority of it comes from crimes committed outside of the UK. There is no need to say that no ELN commander is a director of those companies, nor is there any need to state that these companies continue to operate and their directors are walking about free and according to the report they could only recover £132 million. The NCA cites favourably the reports of Transparency International. According to this organisation, 1,201 companies operating in the British Overseas Territories inflicted £250 billion in damage through corruption in recent decades. They analysed 237 cases of corruption in the last 30 years. The majority of the companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands (92%) and the majority (90%) of the cases happened there in the favourite headquarters of many companies that operate in Colombia, without mentioning those who finance election campaigns. Once again, the ELN does not operate in those territories, although many mining companies in Colombia are registered there. The report points out that due to legislative changes there are fewer reasons to buy property in the UK through those companies registered in the Overseas Territories, yet the number of properties has remained relatively stable at some 28,000. Of course not all them are the result of illicit funds, however… As far as we know the ELN’s Central Command is not the owner of any of these properties.
Transparency International continued with its investigations and its last report highlighted the number of British companies involved in money laundering or dubious transactions. It states that there are 86 banks and financial institutions, 81 legal firms and 62 accounting companies (including the big four that dominate the market). According to this NGO
Whether unwittingly or otherwise, these businesses helped acquire the following assets and entities used to obtain, move and defend corrupt or suspicious wealth: 2,225 Companies incorporated in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies directly involved in making payments; 17,000 more companies incorporated in the UK that we have reasonable grounds to suspect have facilitated similar activity; 421 Properties in the UK worth more than £5 billion; 7 Luxury Jets 3 Luxury Yachts worth around £237 million worth around £170 million. 
Of course not all the laundered funds are drug related but they are all illicit in origin. However, the USA has not sought in extradition any of the banking capos, legal firms and less still the four big accountancy companies in the world. It would simply collapse the financial system were they to do so.
The extradition of criminals from Colombia has always been problematic in legal and political terms. Nowadays, the majority of those extradited are extradited for drug trafficking. The USA receives 73% of all those extradited from Colombia and 60% of them face charges of drug trafficking or money laundering. Though not all those extradited are guilty and there are various cases of people being returned to Colombia, after their extradition, or others more fortunate who managed to demonstrate their innocence before being extradited, such is the case of Ariel Josué, a carpenter from San Vicente del Caguán who didn’t even know how to use a computer and yet for
… the United States and then the Colombian justice system, Ariel Josué was the head of an electronic money laundering network, and had to pay for his crime in a north American prison.
In the absence of an independent investigation nor the verification of his identity, the Supreme Court issued a court order in favour of his extradition and even President Juan Manuel Santos signed the order for him to be taken.
OPEN LETTER FROM THE ELN
Despite those extradited, when not innocent, being poor people or those who have some relationship with right wing political parties or the economic elites of the country, the media and the Colombian and US governments’ focus on the problem is always the same: the guerrillas and not the banks or business leaders. In fact, one of the most famous people extradited is Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and part of the negotiating team in the Caguán. Trinidad was extradited for drug trafficking and despite being a FARC commander they didn’t manage to prove any link to the drugs trade and thus resorted to the detention and captivity of three north American mercenaries hired by the Dyncorp company, a company denounced for crimes such as trafficking in minors, prostitution, sexual abuse amongst others. So we should be very careful when it comes to accepting these new allegations against the ELN.
The ELN in its open letter acknowledges that they collect taxes from the buyers of coca base and cocaine who come into their areas of influence, as they do with other economic activities. So if the ELN is not involved in drug trafficking, how can we explain the presence of illicit crops in their areas? The ELN commanders explain the presence of these crops in the same manner and the same dynamic they describe could be seen in all the regions where they had to deal with the FARC. There was a dispute between the two organisations as to what to do regarding the crops and drug trafficking itself. Initially the ELN opposed the planting of coca and opium poppy in the regions, but the FARC said yes and they authorised the peasants to grow it and moreover in some parts they were willing to buy base or cocaine itself, depending on the region. Faced with this reality the ELN felt that it had no choice but to allow the growing of the crop, as otherwise they would have to militarily face the FARC and the communities. That is why the ELN is to be found in areas with a coca tradition and as they acknowledge in their open letter they tax the buyers as they do with other economic activities. However, it is worth pointing out that the FARC also initially only charged taxes, but given the long ELN tradition on drugs it is unlikely, though not impossible that they do the same.
Its open letter not only refutes the allegations against it, but they also put forward proposals as to what to do regarding the problem of crops and drug consumption. It extends an invitation to various organisms to carry out in situ visits and inspections to see the reality of their relationship to the drugs trade, but they go further than clearing up the question of their links or otherwise to the drugs trade and they put forward proposals on the drugs problem as such.
PROPOSALS — SOLUTIONS?
To pick up the proposals made on various occasions by the ELN with the aim of reaching an Agreement that overcomes the phenomenon of drug trafficking that includes the participation of the international community, the communities in the regions that suffer this scourge and various sectors of Colombian society.
The issue of drug trafficking is not one that Colombia can solve on its own, it is an international issue in nature, not just in terms of the distribution and consumption of the final products, such as cocaine and heroine or ecstasy and other drugs generally produced in northern countries, but also because Colombia’s obligations on the issue are covered by various international UN treaties. The ELN makes various points.
Only the legalisation of psychotropic substances will put end to the extraordinary profits of drug trafficking and its raison d’être.
This position has been discussed thousands of times in various fora and international settings. It is partially true. No doubt the legalisation demanded by various social organisations, including health organisations, would put an end to the mafia’s profits, but not the profits as such. The medicinal uses of coca and opium have never been banned, rather the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regulates and controls its production and end use. The UNODC calculates that in 2018 there just under 12 billion daily doses of opiates available in the legal market, double the amount available in 1998. Cocaine and medicinal opiates, including heroin, have always been used in a medical context and the use and regulation of cannabis is a growing market. The legalisation of recreational consumption is another matter, the state of Colorado in the USA and Uruguay are two places where they legalised the recreational consumption, with various benefits in terms of crime, health and taxes. The profits are lower in these legal markets but they are large, nonetheless, as are they for other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, products that are controlled in terms of quality and their impact on the health of the consumer. The legal marijuana market in Colorado amounted to $1,750 millions in 2019 with 69,960,024 transactions with an average price per transaction of $51.89, but the price to the consumer continues to fall and quality is guaranteed. However, both Colorado and Uruguay have experienced legal problems with the banking system as their legalisation has no international recognition. The ELN’s proposal could only happen in the context of an international debate and a paradigm shift in the states and regulatory bodies at an international level such as the UNODC and the INCB, amongst others and the recent decision by the WHO on the medicinal use of cannabis is a good start.
A pact on shared responsibility between drug producer and consumer countries is required
This pact already exists. There are various UN pacts on the issue starting with the Single Convention of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1981 and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This last treaty deals with aspects related to organised crime, precursor chemicals etc. What is lacking is political will, not another pact. The factories where the acids used to make cocaine are not bombarded but they do attack and bombard the producer communities, neither do they bombard the factories of illegal drugs such as ecstasy in the Netherlands. It is not the case that there is a lack of pacts but rather as they say the law is for the ragged and in geopolitical terms, Colombia is very ragged
The drug addicts are sick and should be treated by the states and should not be pursued as criminals.
This is one point that is always overlooked in the discussions on illicit crops and despite the belligerent tone of the USA, both the north American health system and that of the majority of countries in Europe deal with it as such, some countries do not even pursue consumption as such, acknowledging its character as a health problem and only go after related crimes. The UN accepts the need for treatment for drug addicts and calculates in its World Drug Report that 35.6 million people in the world abuse drugs and just 12.5% of those who need treatment get it, i.e. about 4.45 million people.
The peasants who work with illicit use crops, should have alternative plans for food production or industrial raw materials, financed by the states in order to solve their sustenance without seeking recourse in illicit use crops.
Although this point is well intentioned it makes the same mistake as the FARC, the NGOs, international aid etc. Whilst it is true that the peasants should have alternative plans and receive economic support from the states, the problem is a core issue and cannot be solved through projects or credits: the economic aperture ruined the agricultural production of the country and the peasants can’t compete with the imports subsidised by the US and European governments. The underlying problem is not agricultural, nor economic but political and requires national and international changes. The free trade agreements, the monopoly in the agricultural and food sector exercised by multinationals such as Cargill, Nestlé, Barry Callebaut amongst others are not resolved by subsidies or projects.
As well as pursuing the Cartels in the narcotic producing countries they should also pursue the distribution Cartels in the industrialised consuming countries; as well as the Cartels for the precursor chemicals and money laundering of narco funds in the international financial system and the tax havens.
This is a key point. As long as drugs are illegal, they should go after the points in the production chain there, both the banks and the companies that engage in money laundering and the companies whose chemicals are used in the manufacture of cocaine. They don’t do this, one little bit or not much at least. Whilst the USA seek in extradition just about anyone in Colombia, they have never sought nor will they seek the directors of banks such as HSBC.
There are reasons to accept the ELN’s word on the issue of drugs, and there are more than sufficient reasons to accept the debate on drugs and what to do about them. It is a debate that never occurred in the context of the negotiations with the FARC. The FARC opted to negotiate benefits for themselves, their social base and they never touched the structure of the agricultural economy in the country nor the international law in force on drugs.
The allegations against the ELN lack any basis in fact, but the media does not ask us to treat it as truth, rather it serves as an excuse to delegitimise this organisation in the eyes of Colombian people and in the international area they are useful as excuse to continue to militarily support the Colombian state and in a given moment can be used as a pretext for more direct interventions against the ELN and perhaps Venezuela.
 Some NGOs prefer the expression illicit use crops, but it is misnomer. The international treaties on the matter leave us in no doubt on the issue, the crop itself is illicit. The Single Convention of 1961, the convention in force on the issue, in Article 22 No.1 demands the total eradication, the coca leaf and its derivatives are banned. The treaty demands that even the plants belonging to indigenous people be destroyed.
“Whaaa ?” You wake up suddenly, wondering what was that noise. Your partner sits up beside you. The bedside clock says it’s 5 a.m While you’re still wondering what it was, there’s another crash. Your front door? “The children!” you think, jumping out of bed to protect them, as you hear men bursting into your house, running up the stairs ….. Too late, they’re in the doorway of your bedroom, shouting at you, at your partner, pointing guns at you … you can hear one of the children screaming ….
On Tuesday this week, 18th August, members of the Garda Armed Response Unit raided the homes of Irish Republicans in Dublin, Cork, Laois and Kerry, smashing through the front doors of their houses, frightening children ….
They took away laptops, phones, paperwork (including children’s school work and test results). In helpless rage or frightened, their victims could only watch ……. they were outnumbered and the invaders of their homes were armed.
Much more than an information-gathering exercise, this was a brutal act of State terror, to intimidate Republican activists, terrify their partners and children.
On the other side of the British Border, the counterparts of the Gardaí, the PSNI, armed British colonial police, raided Republican centres in Belfast, Derry, Dungannon and Lurgan, turning the places upside down, confiscating electronic equipment and documents. On Tuesday 18th, they also detained people, holding seven men and two women without charge and, according to a legal firm acting for some of the victims, were intending to hold them for further five days without charge.
The activists subjected to the early morning raids by the Garda Armed Response Unit are all supporters of the socialist Republican organisation Saoradh and it was their centres that were raided by the PSNI. For months members have had their cars stopped by the PSNI and searched as they went about their lives. The raiding parties claimed to be searching for evidence of involvement in “the New IRA” (a previously unheard of organisation).
SHAMEFUL REPORTING AND FELON-SETTING
The media reporting on this was a shameful exercise in parroting the line of the States involved, giving the victims no voice to tie the “New IRA” (sic) in with the killing of Lyra McKee, which has never been proven and going further to call it “murder” (i.e intentional homicide) which has not been proven either (and was most likely unintentional – an organisation calling itself the “IRA” did claim the shooting and stated the killing was accidental).
Irish newspapers quoted Sinn Féin fears of bomb attacks on them by the organisation on the basis of information they allegedly received from the PSNI, which is dubious reporting at best (hearsay second-hand from an unverifiable source) and absolutely shameful felon-setting collaboration from Provisional Sinn Féin. BBC reporting to its credit did not report the PSF-PSNI allegations, nor call the killing of Lyra McKee “murder”, though it did link “the New IRA” to her killing and also prejudged the detained (who have not even been charged), calling them the “New IRA nine”; interestingly, the report gave MI5 as the source for the intelligence upon which the raids were allegedly based.
The linking of the raids both sides of the Border on the proclaimed basis of information from the British secret service, MI5, raises questions not only about democratic rights and the powers of the states in question but even about the alleged independence of the Irish State. It intensifies the speculation that was rife when Drew Harris was appointed Garda Commissioner, having come straight from the PSNI, with allegations that he was an MI5 asset.
What should be our response to these raids, as Irish Republicans, as Socialists or as just plain Democratic people? Clearly it should be solidarity with the victims and condemnation of the attacks by the states. Of whatever the states may or may not suspect the organisation, according to the alleged democratic system, they are supposed to charge them or leave them alone. We are not supposed to tolerate the states deciding they don’t like an organisation or consider it “dangerous” and on that basis set out to harass and intimidate them and terrorise their families. States where that can happen are not democratic and we are all vulnerable to those assumptions of secret services and the actions of police forces. Gárdaí acting in this manner led to the unjust jailing of the IRSP Three, the false confession forced out of Joanna Hayes and her family, the harassment of the McBrearties, etc. In Britain it led to the jailing of a score of innocent Irish people in five different cases in the 1970s (including the Birmingham Six) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and, in fact, the successor of that Act is now the Terrorism Act in the UK, the one under which nine Republicans are detained currently in the British colony.
It is not too difficult to proclaim one’s solidarity with struggles far from home, particularly when they gather a lot of international support. It is a different matter to stand in solidarity with the victims of the State at home. It is also more of a test when one may not agree with the ideology or some of the actions of those persecuted by the State. But if we do not stand in solidarity with victims of the State, we are telling it, in effect, that it may continue acting in the way it is doing, until the early morning we wake to our own doors being battered down, our own partner and children being terrorised and ourselves sitting in cells without daylight being deprived of sleep and interrogated without access to solicitor, family or our own doctor.
(Reading time RB article: 5 mins; I.Times article: 3 mins)
In court on 6th March in Dublin, Garda Sean Lucey, who had struck an RTÉ cameraman with his baton in the groin, although his statement was “less than an apology”, received a suspended prison sentence. He had been found guilty by a jury in December but the Judge had postponed sentencing. Antifascists arrested on the same day as the assault by Garda Lucey, while preventing the proposed Dublin launch of the European islamophobic group Pegida, have been fined and three are still facing trial.
It was back on 6th February 2016, coincidentally the centenary of the 1916 Rising, when the islamophobic European organisation Pegida, announcing its intention to launch itself in a major city in every European state, planned a rally to launch an Irish branch in Dublin. The individuals and organisations supporting this initiative included racist, fascist and generally far-Right groups and individuals in Europe, including in Ireland.
Long before the planned Pegida rally, anti-racists and antifascists had occupied the intended space outside the GPO, while groups of anti-fascists mingled with curious bystanders on the other side of the street. Quite soon, some fascists of Eastern European background began to insult some women and also to threaten a filmmaker from Rabble, an independent alternative media organisation, calling him a “ fucking communist”.
Having revealed themselves, the fascists quickly became the targets of antifascist hostility and scattered down North Earl Street. Some scuffles took place there and some of the fascists ran on down Talbot Street. Gardaí, including riot police (Public Order Unit) waded into the antifascists and also beat up a fascist, in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Subsequently the Gardaícordoned off that area with drawn batons and police dogs.
It was soon revealed that some other fascists were holed up ina bar in Cathedral Street and many antifascists made their way there, only to run into another confrontation with riot police who repeatedly struck anti-fascists in order to drive them out into O’Connell Street. It was there that the assault on the RTÉ journalist took place. It took until December 2020 for the case to come to court while, in the meantime, anti-fascists were charged, convicted and fined.
The report of the case in the Irish Times (see References, Sources) reveals three things, it seems:
The fact that his victim was a journalist of the State broadcaster and supported by his union and employers meant the Gardaí could not get away with the assault without some kind of punishment;
On the other hand the Judge was determined to treat the assault as leniently as possible under the circumstances;
The Garda’s whole attitude was in essence that he had done nothing really wrong.
Regarding Garda Lucey’s attitude, which even Judge Melinda Greally remarked upon (“his statement of regret falling short of an apology”), it suggested that he might well have assaulted or would in future assault some other member of the public – especially if he were not a journalist of a State broadcasting service. Perhaps an independent journalist …. or an anti-fascist demonstrator …. or even some member of the public who voiced some objection to his behaviour.
Furthermore, before Garda Lucey struck Mr. Colm Hand in the groin, he struck at his camera. What can that mean? Surely nothing less than that he did not wish his actions or those of his colleagues to be recorded! And perhaps a message to other potential journalists in future. Colm Hand declared that apart from the pain of the injury at the time (which could have caused permanent injury), “what happened on that day shattered my confidence and I have never fully recovered.” The five-day trial in December last year, necessary because Garda Lucey did not admit initially to the offence, was also stressful for Mr. Hand and that and the period leading up to it had caused him worry and sleeplessness.
The Judge must’ve been aware of all these possibilities in future and past Garda behaviour and yet, despite Garda Lucey’s attitude, decided to view his assault as “an aberration.”
This was because, she said, he had no previous blots on his career. But how would those blots have appeared if he had, indeed, behaved similarly in previous situations? Who would have recorded those incidents in his career? The only reason this occasion was noted was because he had struck a journalist of a state broadcasting service and neither the victim, his employers nor his union had been prepared to drop the matter so that, eventually, it had to come to court.
QUESTIONS NOT ASKED
The Irish mass media – including RTÉ itself — does not ask such questions. Nor speculate whether Garda violence was inflicted on others in that area on that day. It was and I myself witnessed it.
After I moved forward to denounce one Garda who was beating the protectively-raised hands of a protester, one huge member of the POU struck at my fingers with his baton several times and when I evaded the blows, shoved the baton into my stomach, which caused me in reflex to grab it and engage in a short tugging battle, during which he grew increasingly irate and I increasingly worried for my personal safety.
During a sit-down protest outside the Dáil some years ago, Gardaí drew their batons and assaulted demonstrators peacefully sitting down, which was photographed in clear evidence. Not one Garda was charged with assault (nor likely reprimanded) arising out of that incident. And there have been many other such incidents.
No judge should quote an unblotted record of a Garda as any reason for leniency in sentencing. But of course, the judiciary realise that the Gardaí are the first physical line of defence of the system they uphold and for that reason they will always get special consideration. As Judge Greally was quoted as saying, “she has the highest regard for the work of the Gardaí.”
END AND AFTERMATH OF THE PEGIDA CONFLICT
The Pegida V Anti-racists conflict in which that assault on Colm Hand took place is only vaguely referred to in the Irish Times report – surely a deliberate occluding of context and of an event that would have been of interest to its readers.
After the various struggles in North Earl and Cathedral Streets, Gardaí pretended to arrest the fascists and brought them out in police vans to safety while decoy vans made their way into O’Connell Street, drawing large crowds of anti-fascists to block them and curious onlookers to view the event. Earlier, some Irish fascists coming in to town by LUAS had run into antifascists and never made it to the intended Pegida launch, one needing to go to A&E instead.
Subsequently, antifascists monitoring fascist communications reported that some Eastern European fascists complained of the lack of spine of their Irish counterparts and swore they would never again cooperate with them. Dublin may have been the only European capital where Pegida did not succeed in launching itself and subsequently the whole initiative faded from the news.
As noted earlier, a number of antifascists faced charges and were sentenced in court, including fined. Three Irish Republicans of different allegiances were charged and are currently awaiting trial; their charges are of “violent disorder” which on conviction carry a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. It is the first time this charge has been used by the Irish State against political activists.
Sir, – Gerard Murphy (Letters, February 27th) and some others doubt the existence of anti-Irish racism in Britain prior to the Brexit debates, claiming never to have experienced or witnessed it themselves.
After the Race Relations Act (1976) drove the blatant discrimination of notices in lodging-house windows and “help wanted” advertisements into concealment, in 1984 the Greater London Council published Liz Curtis’s booklet Nothing But the Same Old Story, full of public examples of anti-Irish racism in print and in drawings over centuries, including cartoons in the Evening Standard during the 1970s.
In the mid-1970s nearly a score of innocent people in five different cases were taken from the Irish community and convicted of murder or in assisting murder while Irish people were being regularly stopped at airports and embarkation points, as well as having their houses raided and being taken into Paddington Green police station, for example, to spend days in underground cells without daylight or access to solicitor, to be eventually released without charge. In the 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians, stand-up performers told sexist and racist jokes, with the Irish often being the butt of the latter. In the 1980s the Irish in Britain Representation Group picketed WH Smith shops until they removed from sale their “Irish mugs”, which had the handle on the inside.
Letters in Irish community newspapers in Britain like the Irish Post and the Irish World regularly complained of anti-Irish racism in print, on TV, on radio and in public places. Anti-Irish racism has a history of centuries but it was all around Britain in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s. – Yours, etc,
“Sinn Féin is not like other Irish political parties” goes the propaganda campaign against the party by media commentators and rival mainstream politiciansduring the elections. What nonsense! It is exactly like the other main Irish political parties – and that’s the problem.
Their opponents’ main objection seems to be that Provisional Sinn Féin was widely seen as the political wing of the armed resistance group Provisional IRA and, although the IRA have dissolved and decommissioned their weapons, the party still carries that mark in the eyes of its detractors (and, it must be said, fondly in the eyes of some of its supporters).
This propaganda campaign is acutely unhistorical. A few short lessons in Irish history might be of use here.
The Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and anarcho-sindicalist Jim Larkin. In 1913 both advocated arming union workers to resist armed police attacks. In 1916, the Irish Citizen Army they founded was part of the armed Rising and two of their leaders were among the 16 executed by British firing squads.
The party stayed neutral during the Civil War and was an opposition party to the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Since then, the Labour Party has been in Government only as a coalition partner – most times with the right-wing Fine Gael party. Except for it links with trade unions, the party has little claim to having “Labour” in its name and has turned away from everything if which its founders believed.
Fine Gael was formedin 1933 when two smaller groups joined Cumann na nGaedheal, which had been the governing party of the partitioned Free State from 1923 up until the merger. Michael Collins and his followers were the kind of people The founders of Cumann na nGaedheal were among the pro-Treaty and Free State supporters, i.e people who until then had been active in leading or supporting a campaign of armed resistance to the occupying British forces, including assassinations, ambushes and robberies. The Free State began the Civil War in 1922 by an artillery bombardment of Republican positions in Dublinand over the next few years carried out repression on the civilian population, torture, summary executions of prisoners of war as well as State executions – and assassinations. The victors handed the reins over to Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923.
The parties that joined Cumann na nGaedheal in 1933 were 1) the National Centre Party, essentially a big farmers’ quasi-fascist party and 2) the Army Comrades Association (the fascist “Blueshirts”). Of the mainstream Irish political parties, Fine Gael has stayed truest to its founders and base.
Fianna Fáil emerged from a split from Sinn Féin in 1926; interestingly, much of what is being said against Sinn Féin by establishment political commentators now – and worse — was said then about Fianna Fáil: “murderers”, “revolutionaries” (and even “Communists”!). The party first entered power in 1932, its leader De Valera having been — little more than a decade previously — a leader of the Republicans during the Civil War, opponents of the Treaty and of the Irish Government of the time. It freed the Republican prisoners locked up by the Cumann na nGaedheal government, also having a special police force (“Broy’s Harriers”) to persecute the Blueshirts, who aspired to taking power as had Fascists in Europe.
By 1939, the Fianna Fáil government had introduced the savage repressive legislation of the Emergency Powers Act to intern republicans without trial and after a successful habeas corpus challenge by Seán McBride (one of the founders of Amnesty International), the Government brought in the Offences Against the State Act, was re-arresting Republicans and interning them without trial again (around 2,000). Two Republicans died on a hunger strike protest in Mountjoy Jail. Under Fianna Fáil the State executed six Republicans and some more are alleged to have died as a result of their treatment in the concentration camp.
In 1957, a Fianna Fáil government once again brought internment without trial into force, the colonial administration of the Six Counties having done the same the year previously. The last prisoner was released by FF in 1959.
From having been seen as the main political party of Irish Republicanism, Fianna Fáil became in a short time the preferred party of the Irish capitalists (the “Gombeen” class) and has been in government more than any other party, more often indeed than the party that won the Civil War and set up the State.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER IRISH PARTY
There is no historical basis for saying that Sinn Féin is very different from the other Irish mainstream political parties. It has traversed a similar path to all those others, perhaps most similarly to Fianna Fáil – it’s just a more recent arrival on the mainstream scene. It is already very like other main Irish political parties and is getting to be exactly like them.
That is not a compliment.
This is a party that, in recent decades, had a revolutionary Irish republican – or at least nationalist – position. It strongly opposed the partition of the country and the colonial occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory. With the latter came — naturally enough — opposition to the colonial police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary but this was much more than an ideological opposition: the RUC was an armed force created specifically for the repression of Irish Republicans and acted consistently against the Catholic minority in the Six Counties, which SF sought to represent and among which it organised.
The colonial Statelet itself, with its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, sectarian allocation of housing and employment and its Special Powers Act, was the sworn enemy of the Sinn Féin party. And when British troops were sent in 1969 to repress the civil rights uprising, of course Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA fought them too.
The Provisional IRA gave up armed struggle against the British in 1998 and, although it maintained its armed force for control of its community for some time afterwards, eventually dissolved its organisation. By then it had already decommissioned its weapons.
In 2007 the SF party became part of the British colony’s administration in Stormont, with Martin McGuinness, former chief of the IRA in Derry, partnering Ian Paisley, notorious Loyalist religious sectarian and social bigot.
That same year the party agreed to support the armed and sectarian police force and in the reorganisation of the RUC had the name changed to “the Police Service of Northern Ireland”. The essence of the force, naturally, remains the same.
All the austerity measures inflicted on the working class by the administration since the party entered joint government of the colony have been approved by Sinn Féin MLAs.
In 2011, despite an official SF policy of opposition to the visit of the Queen of England, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, to the 26 Counties (the Irish state), leaders greeted her (one in person) and urged no protests be made against her visit.
In 2019, SF welcomed Prince Charles on a two-day visit to the colony and to the State; this man is not only son of the English Monarch but ceremonial commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, authors of the massacres of Derry’s Bloody Sunday (14 dead) and Ballymurphy (11 dead) for which not a single soldier or commander has ever been tried. The SF Mayor of Derry, however, refused to meet him.
This year, 2020, the Six-County part of the leadership of Sinn Féin joined others in publicly seeking recruits for the PSNI, while the 26-County leadership withdrew from its previous position of seeking abolition of the repressive emergency powers of the Offences Against the State Act.
In the 26 Counties, SF long ago indicated its willingness to join in a governing coalition with some one of the other mainstream political parties: i.e capitalist, neo-colonial political parties.
On so many occasions, it has shown itself to be like the other parties and prepared to ditch formerly-declared principles for what it considered a political advantage, proving itself a “safe pair of hands” to the rulers of the system.
Yes, Sinn Féin is indeed a party like any other Irish mainstream political party: capitalist, neo-colonial, undemocratic and supporting State repression. As to the latter, why not? It won’t be SF that the State will be repressing — it’ll be Irish Republicans. And if SF ever get where they want to, into majority control of government – they’ll have plenty of opponents themselves to drag before those non-jury courts.
Well, I can see that it would be for Britain, to leave the European Union, the European Economic Community, the Common Market …… It will impact in particular on trade and they’ll have to leave the euro currency ….. no, wait, they never joined that anyway, kept their own currency throughout. In fact, British ruling circles were never that keen to join a “community” that they were not in charge of and, even worse, that Germany was.
And I can see that the Brexit drama has has had quite an unsettling effect on the leadership of the Conservative Party (sorry, Conservative and Unionist parties), with one Prime Minister getting sacrificed so an apparently worse one can step into the vacancy.
I can also see that it has rocked the shaky Union, with the majority of Scotland and the Six Counties voting to stay in the EU and (unproven) concerns among many in Britain that the vote in favour of leaving was dominated by right-wing, jingoistic and even racist elements.
But why is it a problem for the population of Ireland, as we keep being told it is – or will be?
Well, apparently we might get a “hard Border” around the British colony of one-sixth of our nation. There might be customs and military controls, checkpoints, watch towers ….. And this will all undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Apparently.
Why would it? Apparently the illusion of normality around the armed occupation of our country will disappear, once we have to go through checkpoints and pay tax on shopping from one side of the Border or the other. Once that illusion is swept away, those “dissident” Republicans will take arms and launch another war of resistance, or campaign of terrorism, according to how you feel about it.
Really? Border checkpoints will do that? Amazing!
So, was that what started the last three decades or so of armed conflict in what some geography-challenged people call “Northern Ireland”? Well, no, not really. Firstly, it was that fifty years earlier, those six counties (hence the title of “The Six Counties”) had been hijacked when the rest of the nation was being given a measure of independence, then had been put under a police state run by sectarian religious bigots. Yes I know it’s not nice to say that but when you go into a hardware shop to buy a spade, you don’t ask for “a spoon”.
And then those people who were at the receiving end of that bigotry and police state treatment felt a wind of change blowing around the world and had the temerity to demand an end to sectarianism in the allocation of work, housing and voting rights, along with wanting ordinary civil rights that were available in the rest of the UK but not for the people in the Six Counties, despite the colony being, we were told, “as British as Finchley”.
Naturally the police and the sectarian bigots set upon those marchers with batons, rocks and toxic tear gas – and even live rounds – but still couldn’t get them to give up their outrageous demands. The poor cops were getting worn down so, naturally again, the colonial power sent in the troops, with guns and fixed bayonets. And so the war started.
It wasn’t the checkpoints that led to war, honestly. It was other things completely.
Of course, it is possible that something different from before might trigger another war. That’s the thing about occupation forces and indigenous populations – the relationship usually begins with violence, has a number of recurrent bouts of violence …. and is ended by violence.
So, the Good Friday Agreement – a great achievement, right. Er … why? Oh, it brought peace. Actually no, it didn’t. It brought a pause in the armed resistance struggle is what it did. And that’s only something like peace if it holds. I don’t think it will, nor do I think border controls are what will undermine it. And even if it stayed as it is, it would be pacification, not peace.
The Good Friday Agreement amounts to this, in crude essence:
Colonising power: We can kill you and you can kill ours – but you can’t send ours to prison for decades and make their families suffer. We can’t beat you but we can outlast you and outhurt you.
Republican organisation: We will resist.
CP: Yes, you have been. But you are not going to win. Why not do a deal?
RO: What deal is on offer?
CP: Peace process.
RO: What does it involve?
CP: 1. We get to keep the colony. 2. You stop fighting. 3. You destroy your weapons.
RO: What do we get out of it?
CP: 1. You get your prisoners out (but under licence of good behaviour). 2. You get to build a political career, if you want it. 3. And if you do, one day you could help us manage this colony.
RO: Hmmm. OK, we’ll take it.
In all the discussion about the Brexit question, particularly by mass media pundits and establishment politicians (and wannabe establishment politicians like SF’s), when do we hear it being said that the Six Counties is a colony occupied by force?
This isn’t another country with which we happen to have a border, such as between Germany and the French state, for example, or between the French and Spanish states. They aren’t people of another nation on the other side of that Border — they are Irish. It is a part of our country and for nearly eight centuries the British invaders and colonisers saw it as one country too — until they had to pull out and decided it was important to keep a foothold in it.
So, coming back to the question of the people in Ireland, why should we be too concerned, one way or another with regard to Brexit? Apart from people in the Border areas who need to travel regularly across it and are going to be greatly inconvenienced by it, I don’t think we should.
Maybe we can find some real problems for us to deal with instead. Apart from the colonial status of those Six Counties, along with its continuing dominant sectarianism and bigotry, which is not even mentioned in the dominant discourse, we have a continuing bank bailout debt, a massive social housing deficit, a crumbling health service, public services and natural resources being plundered and a corrupt police force …..
A woman dies; she was young, a tragedy. Where did this happen and when? In Derry on Thursday evening. How did she die? Apparently (and I say that advisedly, for I do not know the examining doctor‘s verdict nor has an inquest yet been held) by a gunshot to the head. And according to a number of witness statements, she did not have a gun herself and therefore the bullet came from someone else.
All this and more has been reported in unanimity. What was the context? Ah, there we have to do some digging.
There was a riot going on at the time – there were petrol bombs and stones thrown at the police. Oh, why? Well, some of the early reports didn’t even try to answer that. But later, we were told: the police were searching houses for IRA arms. The police had “a tip-off”, some papers reported.
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Reading between the lines, if we know enough about the general situation, we can reconstruct a probable narrative: British armed colonial police were searching the homes of Irish Republicans in ‘nationalist’ areas, just before their Easter commemoration, a commemoration during which they attacked another Republican group in Newry last year and one which was for decades banned under the Special Powers Act in the Six Counties – a ban enforced violently by the forerunners of the very police force carrying out those house searches on Thursday.
And it turns out, as admitted by senior PSNI command and reported in only some media outlets, including the Irish Examiner, that the purpose of the police raid was harassment: “PSNI officers were carrying out a search operation in the Creggan area of Derry aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend’s commemoration of Irish independence.”
And we might know, though not from the general media, that the colonial police have been carrying out these raids on numerous occasions of late, as well as stopping cars of Republican activists and searching them, stopping people out walking and searching them too, as well as questioning them about where they are going and where they have been. Most people of course won’t know that – how could they?
So now that we have context, we might see the rioting as a justified response, even natural perhaps, of a colonised people to provocation and harassment by a militarised police force of a colonial occupation. And a colonial administration with a long history of atrocities by the occupying power. Or we might not – but context gives us the opportunity to interpret, while its absence leaves us bewildered or manipulated.
If we take the view that the people are justified in resistance, does that excuse the killing of the woman in question? No, not at all. But it does take us some way to understanding the situation and perhaps we wouldn’t want to see Irish Republicans as monsters then.
Lyra McKee’s death is a tragedy, as is the premature death of any innocent person and particularly a young person. The Six Counties too, that repressive backward statelet, can ill afford the loss of an LGBT campaigner.
Firing a gun in that situation was highly irresponsible and unnecessary. The shooter (or shooters) could not be sure of hitting a police officer and did, in fact, hit a totally innocent bystander. And if the police had fired back, the shooter(s) would have put everyone around them in mortal danger too.
CONDOLENCES AND CONDEMNATIONS
Saoradh, an Irish Republican organisation active in the area who were involved in preparing for the Easter Rising commemoration in Derry felt they had to cancel the event after the death. They issued a statement providing context for the riot and also extended condolences to the bereaved family and friends. Most media didn’t quote the relevant parts of the statement and some never even mentioned it.
On Saturday, their representative at their Easter Commemoration outside the GPO building in Dublin repeated the statement and amplified it, saying also that the IRA was not always right and, when they erred, they should apologise for it. The media didn’t report that either.
The media rushed, not to report the shooting and its context, but to condemn Irish Republicans who don’t agree with the Good Friday Agreement, i.e the ‘dissidents’. The BBC, in its first report on line, along with some others, called it a “murder”. Were they justified in saying that?
In law, not all homicides can be called murders. According to Wikipedia, Murder “…. is considered the most serious form of homicide, in which one person kills another with the intention to cause either death or serious injury unlawfully.” So there has to be intention to cause either death or serious injury to the victim. Are the BBC and other commentators really suggesting that the person or persons intended to kill a journalist? Apart from seriously inaccurate reporting, one might see those kind of claims as prejudicial to a fair trial for anyone arrested for the homicide.
THE CONDEMNATION BANDWAGON
And then, of course, jumping on to the condemnation bandwagon, we have the usual collection of hypocrites and opportunists. What would we expect from Unionist politicians? They have been running that colony with regular pogroms and armed repression for nearly a century – Irish Republicans are their enemies to the marrow. Arlene Foster couldn’t resist using the opportunity to praise their colonial police and to take a swipe at SF: “Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.” Actually, at first it was usually the RUC with the guns on the street, wasn’t it? And then the British Army. But then after the Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday …. well, you shoot at people long enough, they shoot back.
British Ministers and politicians had their condemnation to get in as well – well, the colony is theirs, isn’t it? The Republicans are their enemies too (and Theresa May must’ve been glad to be talking about something other than Brexit, for a change).
But then we had the Irish politicians also, including our own Taoiseach (Prime Minister), who presides over a State that is made secure for native and foreign capitalists by, among other things, persecution of Irish Republicans and sending them to jail through non-jury Special Courts. Mr. Varadkar is so supportive of the people of Derry, so sensitive to their needs, that whilst he condemns the Republicans, he praises the people of Derry for being “as strong as your walls.” Is he expressing Loyalist views or is he so ignorant of the people of Derry and their history?
Is Varadkar unaware that the Derry Walls belonged to the foreign occupation force? That the song that celebrates them is a triumphalist anti-Catholic sectarian and colonist song? That during the recent war in the Six Counties those walls were frequently a point of surveillance for the occupying military and that during the Bloody Sunday massacre, some British soldiers were up there with special rifles?
Oh yes and let’s not forget Nancy Pelosi, she too found a place on the bandwagon (well, to be fair, the others made room for her). This is long-standing career US Congresswoman who, although an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and supporter of civil rights, blocked her party colleagues from going for impeachment of war criminal President Bush because “you never know what might come out”. She also voted for the Patriot Act, a huge attack on civil liberties in the USA and labeled Edward Snowdon “a criminal” for his whistle-blowing. And yes, after a briefing relating to a CIA agent destroying hundreds of hours of videotaping of torture in their US base in Guantanamo, she issued a statement saying that she eventually did protest the techniques (e.g “waterboarding”, euphemism for simulated drowning of prisoners under interrogation – DB) and that she concurred with objections raised by a Democratic colleague in a letter to the C.I.A. in early 2003. Yes you did, Nancy – but you waitedfour years to do so.
And what are we to say of Sinn Féin, they of association with the late Provisional IRA, putting their name to a joint statement of colony politicians? One would think that considering their past, they would hesitate to join the mob or to climb upon this particular bandwagon. One might think they would remember the innocent people the PIRA killed on occasion by accident, such as for example the Birmingham pub bombings where 21 people were killed and 182 injured or even, on some occasions, with intention.
Perhaps Michelle O’Neill did remember, perhaps she did hesitate, perhaps she wished to issue SF’s own statement. But climb aboard they did – and isn’t it all about climbing with them now?
The political parties that support the occupation said in joint statement: “Lyra’s murder (see that “murder” word again – DB) was also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and democratic processes.”
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.” (Oh, that was its purpose, was it? And this progress has been what, exactly? And towards what?– DB).
O’Neill was herself quoted as saying that the “murder” (that word again !) was “an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement.”
And “We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.”
I can’t say whether those people putting up a resistance to the colonial police care for the people of Derry or not but presumably they care for the people of their own neighbourhoods who are being harassed by the PSNI. And I remember in another city, Belfast, how the Loyalists had been threatening the Ardoyne area for many months and that in 2015, the PSNI blocked the Anti-Internment League from marching down to the city centre. Although the march eventually dispersed without incident, the heavy police presence in the area provoked some residents to remonstrate with them and, when the police began to arrest a woman, the area erupted in a riot. Who did SF blame? The local youth and the anti-internment marchers! And when a meeting was convened soon afterwards in a local venue for the march organisers and SF to explain their views, it was the latter that failed to attend.
* * *
Well, it must have been getting tight up there on the bandwagon but there’s always room hanging off the sides and if that doesn’t work …. why, one can run behind. And if not, not to worry, there’ll be another one along soon.
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
We often hear stupid statements. I know I’ve made some myself. I suppose the only way to be absolutely sure of not making a stupid statement is to say nothing – not even thinking carefully before speaking is probably going to be enough protection for the length of one’s whole life. Besides, thinking carefully beforehand is not always appropriate. But we can — and should — avoid repeating the stupid statements of others and making them often.
It’s no surprise that a recent statement by a Government Minister got me thinking along these lines – politicians as a group are particularly prone to making stupid statements. By “stupid’ in this case I mean contradicting logic or common sense, although the intended effect may be carefully considered and cunning.
The Minister in question, Charlie Flanagan, was quoted in a number of newspaper reports as having said, in reference to a recent eviction case in Roscommon, that “violence is never justified”. Nothing unusual in that, you might think and that does show how inoculated we have become by stupid statements.
Charlie Flanagan is Minister for Justice of the Irish Government. As such, the courts, police and prison service come under his oversight. The police force of the Irish State contains, according to the appropriate Wikipedia entry, 10,459 Garda officers. All of these officers are, it is reasonable to assume, trained in the use of their batons, pepper-spray, handcuffs and physical restraint. Some – and it does seem to be more and more of them – are also carrying firearms. In other words, Charlie Flanagan oversees a force of nearly 10,460 people who are trained to use violence and on many occasions expected to use it – and yet he says that “violence is never justified.”
Yes, I know – he didn’t mean the Gardaí in general, or the prison officers who are also trained to use force, or the judiciary who send people to be incarcerated. He didn’t mean the thugs who were using violence to evict people either. Or the specific Gardaí who supervised the violence being used on the evicted and by their presence prevented defence or retaliation.
In system-politician-speak, “violence” is never what the State does and hardly ever what the capitalists do, it is invariably what the victims of the system do to protect themselves or in retaliation. And true to form, Flanagan was referring to the punishment meted out to those eviction gang thugs. So, a statement with cunning intent, to make one action, the violent eviction of people from their home an alright one, and another, the retaliation towards the thugs and repossession of the home, the only one that is “violent”. It makes perfect sense in the way that those who run the system see it and in the way, by perversion of the meaning of words, they want us to see it too.
But in strictly logical terms, what Flanagan said was nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of nonsense we hear repeated again and again.
And something like it, through constant repetition, becomes almost common sense. Look at the statement that “Violence never solved anything”: another stupid statement which gets a lot of airtime and mass media repetition with a lot of currency – particularly but not exclusively among the liberal sections of the middle class.
If someone other than a teacher decides to bully you in school and you decide to make it hard for him or her, by responding to violence with violence, in most cases the bully will leave you alone and probably go looking for an easier pick-upon. In that case violence has indeed solved something – at least for you. Of course, it is possible (though not usual) that the situation will escalate from there and the liberal middle class person will tell you that you should report it to the teachers, your parents, etc. What they are expecting is that pressure will be brought upon the bully either directly or indirectly by heavier forces than yours alone. And what lies behind those heavier forces? Ultimately? Violence. It may be the best way to go at times but ultimately it is not non-violent – it is relying for effectiveness on the capacity for violence of others.
Of course, it is possible that the bully may be dissuaded through logic and therapy but that is not often going to happen in our society for a number of reasons.
OK, so you grow up and somebody one night comes to beat you up and take your wallet or purse but you put up a good resistance and either stretch him out on the ground or he runs off. Seems to me that violence did solve that situation.
Taking a more macro look at situations of violence, most people would agree that nations have a right to self-determination. Yet that right has been obstructed and repressed many, many times in history. To take Europe alone, the current nation-states of Poland, Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Finland have all been faced with violence and had to respond with violence in order to achieve their independence. Ireland had to do similarly and was partially successful, while a number of other nations remain suppressed despite upheavals and stirrings.
While it may be true that some of those conflicts had questionable results it does not refute the general rule that nations under domination of another state are ultimately controlled by violence and that violence has had to be used many times in response. Nor is the case refuted by territorial share-outs among powers, such as some of the treaties between big powers – the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, for example, authorised the English and French to plunder the Ruhr Valley and was one of the German grievances that helped the Nazis to gain control and begin world expansion. Other treaties have regularly led to violence too, either in states or peoples trying to re-negotiate or negate them, or in suppression of those rebellious forces by the states benefiting from the treaties.
Let us suppose that we are subject to an invasion by a foreign state – that is not too difficult for the Irish to imagine and most European countries experienced it during WWII as did, earlier and later, most of the nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia. The invading force uses violence, of course and they use it more effectively than our defence forces do. Violence worked – in this case for the invading forces. It solved the issue for them – how to overcome our defence forces and occupy our territory for whatever reason they set out to do so.
If we want to resolve the issue to our advantage – to end the invasion and occupation – we would not be able to do so peacefully. That is not a choice the invader will permit us. Our resistance would sooner or later be met with violence by the occupier, whether wholesale in massacres, internment, bans, ’emergency’ laws, curfews etc — or by more selective violence, arrests of leaders and activists, torture, jailing or even executions. And often by a combination of the wholesale and the selective repression.
To rid ourselves of the invader we would have to employ violence too, violence in resistance. It would of course be necessary to combine it with many other tactics – sabotage (violence against things), insurgent propaganda, cartoons, graffiti, song, humour, sarcasm and irony, boycott, demonstrations, pickets, subversion of the enemy’s forces ….. but violence would have to be part of it. There is no nation that freed itself from the domination of a state which was at the time capable of violently suppressing it, without the insurgent nation having had to resort to revolutionary violence.
Returning for a moment to our middle-class liberals, let us imagine the home or business of one is subject to an attempted burglary or robbery. The victim will feel justified in the use of violence in defence of his or her property or home. He or she may choose not to employ that violence themselves – or be unable to — but in that case will certainly turn to the police to employ it on their behalves: “Use cunning to find them and violence to subdue them, bring them to trial by force and punish them by jail. And keep them there for a long time, using violence if necessary.” The middle-class liberal whose business has been robbed or home violated will in most cases not hesitate to, if not use those actual words, to fully imply them by calling for “justice”. However, commenting on the course of a worker’s strike or protest demonstration, he or she will undoubtedly lecture the perceived offenders that “Violence solves nothing.”