Kurds in Europe are organising demonstrations in many cities to protest ISIS’ siege of Kobani (Northern Syria) and Turkey’s negligence to the massacre of Kurds at its border. The protests in Turkey already claimed 43 lives in the last 10 days, but the political consequences seem to extend to European countries as well.
On the night of 6 October, Kurdish activists briefly occupied the Dutch Parliament which made to the world headlines. I made an interview with two Kurdish activists, Engin and Neslihan, who took part in the occupation to ask what they want from the Dutch and Turkish governments.
Let’s start with this: Who are you, how long have you been living in the Netherlands, and are you part of an organisation?
Engin: I am living here for 10 years, I am from Kurdistan. I spent some years in jail in Turkey, so I had to come here, found asylum… obtained citizenship, but I am from Kurdistan. I also have a socialist identity, whomever is oppressed in the world, their identity is my identity. I am chairing the People’s Assembly in the Kurdish Federation of Netherlands (FEDKOM).
Neslihan: I came to Netherlands 16 years ago by marriage. My husband has a residence permit, based on political asylum; he also had to flee Turkey. Since the day I arrived I had been in contact with FEDKOM, then we founded the Women’s Assembly, and I am the spokesperson.
“PKK liberalised the Kurdish women”
The Kurdish movement has a distinct character, both on the streets, and as we witness now, on the fronts women and men are fighting shoulder to shoulder. How do you explain the women’s role in the Kurdish movement?
Neslihan: The state of the Kurdish women was very different 30 years ago. But with the establishment of PKK [Kurdish Workers’ Party], the will of the women has been strengthened, the women were liberalised by standing on their feet. We were born with this movement.
Okay, but why are you right here now [8 October, another demonstration in front of the Amsterdam Central Station]?
Engin: This is not about just today, we are here as part of a historical conflict. Those who were forced to migrate has a diaspora identity that they hold onto. We, as Kurds, has a national problem. We demonstrate every month to protest the assassination of the three Kurdish women revolutionaries [Sakine Cansız -one of the founders of PKK, with Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, two younger members]. We feel the obligation to remind that their murderers are known and protected by Turkey. Because if we let this massacre forgotten, then new massacres will be added on top of it. And today we are here to stop the massacre in Kobani and to inform those who did not hear about it.
[Neslihan tells me that some Dutch reacts to her by saying “go back to your country!” while some comes just to say “our hearts are with you.”]
What is the situation in Kobani now?
Engin: In Kobane, cantons were established. Kurds, Cherkess, Arabs and Turkmens… all those people said that we want to impose autonomies. But Turkey provided weapons to ISIS to overturn this. Therefore, the issue with ISIS is not about a group beheading people in Kurdistan.
But what do you expect from Netherlands and the Dutch? Why do you demonstrate in front of the Amsterdam Central Station now?
Engin: You know Srebrenica Massacre. During the Bosnian War, around 8000 Bosnians, who were under the protection of the Dutch peace forces, were massacred by the Serbians. The Netherlands were found guilty of this and the commanders were put on trial. Today we live under capitalism -call it globalisation to be polite- and the Netherlands can say stop to this massacre. Turkey has various trade agreements with the Netherlands and those who finance it can turn to Turkey and say, if you support this massacre I will stop my trade and military partnership with you. We want this sort of pressure on Turkey.
The occupation of the Dutch parliament made into world headlines. How and when did you make that decision?
Engin: The main principle of our protests is this: bring people’s attention to an issue without hindering their lives. So, we would not topple over a tram, but we can sit on a tram line in civil disobedience to let out voice heard. The best way to let our voice heard is the parliament. We can go there and tell them about our issues. In fact, this might be our issue for now, but tomorrow just like Al Qaeda, this can also be their issue.
[On 8 October, Kurdish activists made a demonstration in front of the Amsterdam Central Station.]
Neslihan: We make the demonstrations rather spontaneously and unanimously, because the news are updated frequently. We call each other and get together. The demonstration in front of the Parliament also occurred like this.
Engin: If we had not entered the parliament building, we would just chant for a few hours, and they would say: see, there is no one. But we made them listen to us. The day after, they discussed this in the parliament, and even they stated that the Dutch fighter jets are bombing ISIS in Iraq.
Neslihan: We also demanded and got an meeting with the parliamentary spokesperson, submitted our dossiers.
Did you sense a lack of representation of your demands at the parliament, and after the protest, were you convinced that you were recognised?
Engin: Before this, we made a sit-in at Schiphol for about an hour, and also another demonstration in front of NOS. But only a programmer came to talk to us, said his hands are tied, promised for a programme and returned back to the building. Yes, there were some news about that, but our voice was not heard. So we spontaneously decided to make a demonstration in front of the parliament because that day ISIS started an attack to Kobani with 3000-4000 armed men. If we hadn’t done something, we would be morally responsible.
“Truths are stonewalled in Turkey”
[Two Amsterdam police officers talked with the organisers and watched the event at a distance –just like other demonstrations.]
I am sure you are following, there are many demonstrations in Turkey in support to Kobane, the government even declared state of emergency at the Eastern cities. What do you think about that, are you concerned?
Engin: As the Kurdish people we are never afraid of being detained, or getting killed, because we have a history of struggle for 40 years. While Turkey fooled us all with a made up official history that nothing happened to Armenians, that there is no people as Kurds etc. etc… But the truth is stonewalled in Turkey. Because the rule of the people has never been realised, always the people have been exploited. What happened in Gezi will happen again, this time even bigger. We have seen it there, people in the West tasted the tear gas while people in the East were killed by soldiers’ bullets.
Do you think that the current unrest in Turkey also finds support among those who define themselves as “Turks”?
Engin: If you give public education from primary to university level that is so one-sided and so reactionary, you create fascists without people noticing it. But with the war in Kurdistan, people started to ask: Why are we financing the ISIS, why the Reyhanlı bombing that killed 51 persons happened. Turks now think about the Kurdish issue even more: Why are the Kurds angry at us? Why did we force them to migrate, why did they come to Western cities? They will question more, because the history flows to reveal these.
“The struggle unites us”
[Women and men of all ages were present at the demonstration.]
How do the Kurds in Europe perceive Rojava and Kobani, how much support do they give?
Engin: Kurdistan is separated by the borders of four countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. And the compulsory education systems kept us away from each other. But this attack also teared down the borders in our minds. Therefore today we see many newcomers to our movement. Normally, they would be sent back, but yesterday people walked over the Syrian border in Eastern Turkey. This strengthens our national identity. We can live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq or Iran, but we are all from Kurdistan. We did not establish these borders, so we can bring them down. Those who took refuge in Netherlands recently (from N. Syria) are among us now. This is what I think about Turkey as well, just as the struggle unites us, Turkish people will wake up and stand shoulder to shoulder with us. Kurds could have turned the Western Turkish cities into a bloodshed as well, since there is nothing to stop a freedom fighter. But we refrained from it, we said, we do not have a problem with Turks, we have problem with the state. We want everyone to see that the state in Turkey has a problem with its people.
Written by: Efe Kerem Sözeri
[This interview was originally published at Jiyan.org in Turkish.]