Three hundred thousand Kurds live in Britain and have traditionally voted Labour, not least in north London where there are many Kurds from Turkey. However, there is a growing gap between their solidarity with Kobane and Iraqi Kurdistan and Labour’s policy on armed action against Islamic State.
Kurdish friends and, indeed, many Labour friends think it is illogical for Labour to draw a distinction between supporting airstrikes by RAF jets in Iraq but not in Syria. The border between the two countries has been smashed by Islamic State which operates on both sides and is a clear and present danger to Kurds in both countries.
The political gap in Britain and the military gap in the Levant should be closed as part of a concerted campaign of military, ideological and economic action to undermine Isis. A Labour activist in north London, Nora Mulready, who has many Kurdish friends, decided to do something about this and we have co-authored an open letter to the Labour movement which seeks to speak the truth, as we see it, about the need for Labour to find its bearings and seek changes in British policy.
It was hurriedly launched to coincide with the Global Day of Solidarity with Kobani and Nora spoke at the large rally in Trafalgar Square, along with many Kurdish and leftwing figures, including the leader of Islington council.
The letter is deliberately aimed at non-Kurdish activists. We felt that the Kurds, who are generally grateful for the blood and treasure expended by the United Kingdom, in saving the Kurds in Iraq from Saddam Hussein, should not be alone in urging more intervention against Islamic State. The open letter to the movement as a whole urges a significant increase in the support to people defending the world against ‘the vilest fascism of our age.’
It says this is in the best internationalist traditions of the Labour movement and reminds it of the ‘the tales of beheadings, the abandoned dead bodies of women with their breasts cut off, men with their eyes gouged out, sex slavery, genocides and mass executions, and reports of the burning skin of possible acid attacks … too horrific for the British left to give a half-hearted response, or worse.’
It says that turning away from those in need would be ‘an historically unforgivable act of abandonment’ and proposes specific policies to underpin practical solidarity with the Kurds. RAF jets should help destroy Isis forces in Syria and Iraq. The UK should send heavy weapons to the Kurdish forces in Kobani, and in the Kurdistan region.
It recognises that the Kurds and the Iraqis are the boots on the ground, are not currently asking for the assistance of British and other western ground troops ‘but a global fight of this kind cannot rule this out in the future.’
It urges Turkey to recognise the Kurds as allies in the fight against Islamic State. It also recognises that the flight of over a million refugees from Syria and internally displaced people from Arab Iraq into temporary sanctuary in the Kurdistan region has put a major strain on Kurdistan which could mean many deaths in the imminent cold winter unless aid is stepped up. It also says that the Iraqi government in Baghdad should end the economic blockade against Kurdistan.
In the longer term, it says, there ‘may be future incarnations of [Islamic State]’ which need to be tackled by ‘a mixture of political, economic and other measures to help increase tolerance, pluralism, and women’s rights to reduce and prevent the radicalisation of young people in the Middle East and more widely.’
Prominent supporters of the appeal include the veteran Labour foreign policy expert Mike Gapes MP, Hopi Sen, James Bloodworth of Left Foot Forward and Meg Munn MP. The appeal has also won endorsement from Kurdish figures. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan regional government representative to the UK, welcomed ‘this very important statement from rank and file members of the opposition party. The Kurds and the left have long been on the same side. It is crucial that the Kurds and British forces, left, right and centre are on the same side in the global fight against Isis fascism. Such initiatives also help the Kurds at this decisive moment in our history.’
Kurdish academic and author Mohammed Shareef said ‘It is only natural for a leading British and European party with such a glorious history to play a role in alleviating the sufferings of the Kurds and other minority groups in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq and Syria. The Labour party will only be doing what it has always done and what it is expected to do. We are heartened to read this statement by Labour members and it gives us real hope that the help we need will come.’
The appeal has been steadily growing from party members across the country since it was launched last Saturday. Please support it here
Gary Kent is director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq and writes in a personal capacity
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