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 UK foreign policy report reveals limits to Kurdish Lobby

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UK foreign policy report reveals limits to Kurdish Lobby ‎ 11.6.2012 

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Kurdish Genocide Epetition Rally in British Parliament, March 2012. Photo:
June 11, 2012

LONDON, — The U.K.’s Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) recently focused on U.K.-Turkey relations. According to critics, the U.K. is more concerned about its economical interests than the “troubling human rights record” in Turkey.

“We urge the committee to not ignore the serious decline into state repression, primarily against the Kurds,” the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign (PIK) said in response to the committee’s report, referring to the ongoing arrests of Kurdish activists in Turkey.

Estella Schmid, a spokesperson of the PIK, a U.K.-based lobby group focusing on Kurds in Turkey, told Rudaw, “We acknowledge the FAC report and debate as a welcome initiative by parliamentarians which reflects the growing awareness among Westminster politicians of the deteriorating situation in Turkey and dangers that lie ahead. But as for any real political resolution for the Kurds, this is not addressed other than proposals for some vague notion of a new constitution.”

According to the PIK, the report “gave insufficient attention to a number of key issues relating to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.”

Professor Clement Dodd suggested to the FAC that the “British policy may need to be somewhat muted in this area [of Kurdish rights], since Turkish nationalists tend to see it as a ‘slippery slope’ that ends in independence.”

Jill Evans, a Plaid Cymru member of European Parliament, spent two days in Ankara along with Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Hylton on the invitation of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). She told Rudaw that “as the U.K. is anxious to develop trade relations with Turkey, I am generally concerned that there is a willingness to not scrutinize their human rights record sufficiently.”

She added that the report references the minister of state for Europe who believes that there are “encouraging signs” from Turkey.

“I visited Ankara last month and I was certainly not encouraged by the evidence I saw of the government repressing the Kurdish people. I do not believe that the report's recommendations are strong enough to improve the situation on the ground for the Kurdish community,” said Evans.

During the delegation’s visit in April, they spoke with U.K. Ambassador David Reddaway in Ankara about the ongoing human rights violations. According to their report, the ambassador acknowledged that the “human rights situation is not acceptable,” and agreed that the EU should monitor trials of those accused under anti-terrorism laws.

The delegation’s report said, “He believes that Turkey would like to begin negotiations with the Kurdish side and are very serious about their ambition to join the EU but are frustrated with the process.”

According to the PIK, Turkey is seen by the U.K. as a lucrative and fast expanding export market, and consequently it aims to build on cooperation between the countries in trade, defence, security, energy and foreign policy. Last October, MP David Watts questioned former British ambassador to Turkey, David Logan, saying the “British foreign policy seems to be to improve trade … what does our present position do to our ability to influence things such as human rights? ... Perhaps we are not as critical as we should be, because we are interested in promoting trade?”

Dr. Janroj Keles, a research fellow at London Metropolitan University, told Rudaw that the influence of lobby organizations in the U.K. representing Kurds from Turkey is limited due to issues beyond their power. “The U.K. government is very careful in making any statements regarding Turkey’s Kurdish question due to economic, political relations with the Turkish government. Both countries are also members of NATO and share some sort of security policies, too.”

Dr. Keles added that the terrorist label for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and the EU makes it more difficult to lobby for the Kurdish people in international politics. The PIK accused the U.K. and EU of encouraging the Turkish government to see the Kurdish issue primarily as one of terrorism. However, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that PKK attacks “damage the political will to make difficult compromises towards solving the Kurdish problem.”

Dr. Keles points out that Kurdish lobby organizations are limited because they do not have an independent state to support them. “The stateless nations remain invisible in political circles of nation states. Therefore, Kurdish lobby organizations will always operate within the context of human rights and have limited influence and limited connections with a few MPs or Lords who can highlight a different position than their governments.”

As a result, Dr. Keles says, the KRG representative in the U.K. has more influence, because this is the “only legitimized Kurdish political representative in the world of nation states. In addition to this, the KRG representative in the U.K. offers business opportunities whereas Kurds from northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) are not in a position to offer any such opportunities, therefore they have less access to the political establishment in the U.K.” According to Dr. Keles, the KRG representative works very professionally and is well-connected within the British establishment.

On May 16, Stan Newens, former MP and MEP, spoke on the PIK panel “Roadmap to Negotiations” in London, telling the Kurdish audience that the West does not do much to help the Kurds in Turkey. “As Öcalan [PKK leader] makes clear, the Western powers – above all the United States, in recent years – have never been prepared to favor a solution to the Kurdish problem. As long as Turkey was, and is, prepared to act as a bulwark for NATO, the West has been prepared to condemn the PKK as a terrorist organization and ignore the Kurdish issue.”

Despite this, Newens advised British Kurds to visit their local MPS and send letters to British political parties since this could “achieve something in the long run.”

“Go to see your own MP. Half of the members of the House of Commons have not heard of him [Öcalan],” Newens suggested as a way of showing that the “Kurdish problem won’t go away.”

By Vladimir van Wilgenburg

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