Joint Statement of the International Peace Delegation
Istanbul, February 15-16, 2016
The situation in Turkey today is critical. The recent escalation of conflict surrounding the Kurdish question is most dangerous. The war in Syria has already spilled over into widespread hostilities across the Southeast of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government is committing human rights’ atrocities in Cizre and other towns and cities, and there is a very real threat of a further spiraling of violence throughout the country. The state’s repression and intimidation of Turkish academics and journalists who have spoken out against its war-mongering reveals the intimate connection between the struggle for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question and the struggle for democracy in Turkey more generally.
ISOLATION OF ABDULLAH ÖCALAN
The escalation of conflict has coincided with the total isolation of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who from his lonely prison cell on the island of Imrali has been a crucial role-player and a consistent voice calling for peace.
Yet the very fact that Öcalan is in prison was a problem even during the talks that occurred for two years starting in March 2013. His condition of imprisonment forces him to negotiate with his captors – an inherent disadvantage. Moreover, in prison he cannot consult with his constituency. Before substantive negotiations can start, the state must first release him, as Nelson Mandela was released before – not after or during – the South African negotiations. Until Öcalan is freed, only talks about talks, and not actual negotiations, can take place. Mandela emphasized that only free persons and not prisoners can negotiate, on behalf his people, for a political solution.
THE TEN-MEMBER INTERNATIONAL PEACE DELEGATION
On February 14 a ten-member international delegation assembled in Istanbul to try to help restart the Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which has been suspended since the spring of 2015. The leader of the delegation, Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, on behalf of the delegation, wrote a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on February 3 to request two meetings: one with the Ministry, to discuss ways and means to resume the peace process between the Turkish government and Ocalan; and one with Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali to discuss the same issue. We requested that the meetings take place on February 15, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Judge Moosa formerly acted for Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned on Robben Island and elsewhere and was involved in the negotiation process in South Africa.
THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION
Convinced that neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Turkish military could ever decisively prevail in a war that would only exacerbate the severe humanitarian crises in the country, we believe that the peace process offers the only solution and that Öcalan, as the chief spokesperson for the Kurdish movement, is essential to that process. No progress toward a solution can be achieved, we believe, without Öcalan’s participation.
REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE
Unfortunately our delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that we requested. On February 15, the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not bother to formally accept or reject our request. Beyond that mere acknowledgment, it gave no response at all by the time we left Turkey. We are extremely disappointed that we were not afforded an opportunity to engage the Minister of Justice and Öcalan on the question of the resumption of the peace process.
The delegation meanwhile met with representatives from a variety of political and social organizations who briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation. We also met with lawyers and lawyer’s organizations, who have been deeply involved in the defense of members of the Kurdish freedom movement against criminal charges, and who have themselves been the subject of much intimidation and persecution by the state.
FROM PEACE TO WAR
All these representatives recounted to us that during the current period of Öcalan’s isolation, from April 2015, the Erdoğan government has shifted from a peace footing to a war footing. The shift from peace-making to war-making has coincided with the total isolation of Öcalan. As he enters the eighteenth year of his detention, he leads a solitary life. Two other prisoners of the five who were formerly present on Imrali have now been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards or, if so permitted, with the remaining three prisoners. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, but they have applied 600 times now and are repeatedly turned down, given absurd excuses that the boat is broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. He is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited.
Meanwhile the situation in the country deteriorated rapidly after the elections and the peace process decisively came to an end. We are informed that cities are becoming war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children are being killed. People’s parents and grandparents are shot dead in streets, but because of the curfew, their bodies cannot be retrieved for extended periods. We are told that certain police forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. These Special Forces are not commanded by local governors but are directly linked to the government.
In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements have been killed, even burned alive, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence. Violence against women is on the rise. Women are killed, then stripped and humiliated. These constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It violates the Third Geneva Convention, to which Turkey is committed and it meet United Nations criteria for genocide.
On the Kurdish side, anger against the government is rising, and many are moving away from Turkish society altogether. The Kurds sense that the war on the cities is linked to the election outcome. Even as war crimes and atrocities are being committed, however, the EU and the US are averting their eyes. Internationally, the AKP controls the flow of refugees into Europe, and it uses that leverage to intimidate European powers. European governing parties fearing what increased immigration might do to their electoral prospects, stay silent as massacres are under way in Turkey. As for the United States, it repeatedly affirms its military alliance with Turkey in the war against IS, despite the fact that Turkey’s prime enemies in the conflict are not IS (which it even supports) but the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Bashar al-Assad.
TURKISH EXTENDING WAR-ZONE INTO SYRIA
The Erdoğan government continues to bombard the Kurdish forces in Syria, the very forces who have proven to be the US-led coalition’s only effective ally in the struggle against IS. There is even talk of a ground invasion by Turkey into the Kurdish region of Syria, which could well trigger war with Russia, with unfathomable consequences for the region and the world. The fate of the Kurds depends in large part, then, on people in the rest of the world calling on governments and international institutions to change their policies toward Turkey and stand up for the beleaguered Kurds.
THE ATTITUDE TO THE PEACE TALKS
Our last meeting was a round table with around fifty Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals, journalists, human rights leaders, and academics. Some emphasized the urgent necessity to resume the peace talks, while others despaired that talks are no longer relevant when people are being burned alive.
In the light of circumstances, we, the undersigned, the members of the International Peace Delegation, unanimously resolve as follows:
- We call upon the Turkish Government and Abdullah Öcalan to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency. In December 2012, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the Chair of the Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela, in a personal note to the then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Peace is better than War” and appealed to the Prime Minister to resume the peace process with Abdullah Öcalan.
- In order for genuine Peace negotiations to take place to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey that Abdullah Öcalan, who is a crucial role-player, be released unconditionally from prison, to enable him to take his rightful place at the negotiating table for the lasting resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and for the democratization of Turkey.
- We call upon the Turkish Government to level the playing field by, amongst other, legitimizing PKK and other banned organizations, releasing of all political prisoners and permitting exiles to return to the Turkey to participate in the peace process.
- We resolve to lobby our respective governments and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on the Turkish government to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency and in those countries where PKK is listed as a terrorist organization and Abdullah Öcalan is listed as a terrorist that pressure is put on such government to remove them from such list as they are a liberation movement and a freedom fighter in terms of the International Human Rights Instruments.
- We call upon the international human rights organizations to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the human rights abuse perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against the civilian population in the areas of conflict and to assess and determine whether such abuses constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and/or contravention of the Geneva Convention.
- We call upon the Committee for the Protection against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT), as a matter of extreme urgency, to visit Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island Prison in order investigate the violation of his rights, in terms of the European Convention for the Protection Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as a political prisoner in that (i) his right to have access to his lawyers have been violated for the last 5 years; (ii) his right to have access to members of his family have been violated for the last 14 months; (iii) his right not to be completely isolated from social contact which has been violated for an unknown period; and (iv) his right to have access to medical doctors and/or treatment. The CPT is called upon to report urgently on their findings after its visit, to the Council of Europe, to the Turkish government and to Abdullah Öcalan and his lawyers.
- We call upon the international academic fraternity to come out in support of the dissident academics in Turkey in the interest of academic freedom and give them moral, material, physical and academic assistance.
- We call upon members of our delegation to distribute this Report as widely as possible to heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors, officials, the media, both electronic and print, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in our respective countries.
Andrej Hunko, MP of Left Party, Aachen, Germany
Dimitri Roussopoulos, co-founder of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;
Eirik Eiglad, writer and publisher, New Compass Press, Norway
Dr. Elly Van Reusel, medical doctor, Belgium
Judge Essa Moosa (head of delegation), International Peace and Reconciliation Initiative, South Africa
Federico Venturini, School of Geography, University of Leeds; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, UK
Francisco Velasco, former Minister of Culture, Ecuador
Janet Biehl, independent author; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, US
Joe Ryan, chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, UK
Dr. Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer in political sociology, Cambridge University, UK
For more information on the delegation please contact:
Kariane Westrheim of the EUTCC (EU Turkey Civic Commission):
Essa Moosa (Head of the International Delegation)
Coordinator Elly van Reusel: email@example.com, +32-3-487-285075
This edition of the statement, published February 25, has been slightly modified since the version published a few days earlier.