UK unions must stand with their Turkish and Kurdish brothers and sisters at this time

Stephen Smellie reports on the issues behind the Turkish peace rally murders:
Stephen Smellie reports on the issues behind the Turkish peace rally murders: See also the October 2015 issue of Scotland in UNISON

The trade union confederations in Turkey, KESK and DISK, along with the Engineers and Architects Association and the Medical Association organised the demonstration and rally in Ankara on Saturday which was attacked by two bomb blasts which have resulted in the death of over 100 people with many hundreds more being injured. The demonstration was called under the slogan of ‘Labour for Peace.’

The progressive trade unions decided to call the demonstration in order to provide a focus point for all those in the country who are opposed to the policies of conflict promoted by the Turkish government of President Erdogan and the AKP (Peace and Development Party) and the increasing violence targeted mainly at the Kurdish community by state forces.

Whilst the Government talks of fighting terrorism it bombs PKK bases in Iraq when the PKK had in place a ceasefire and were engaged in the struggle in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. At the same time hundreds of Kurdish activists, including elected representatives of the opposition party HDP, have been arrested in Turkey. However the state action has not been restricted to attacks on Kurdish organisations. Trade union and left activists have also been targeted.

Whilst on a visit to Turkey in late September I met with trade unionists in Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey and in Istanbul and they confirmed that their organisations had been targeted. Whilst I was in Diyarbakir the offices of the health union, SES (affiliated to KESK), was attacked by police smashing in their office doors and intimidating those present whilst claiming to be searching for terrorists.

The demonstration on Saturday was therefore an attempt to unite across all sections of society against peace. Whilst the pro-Kurdish HDP party actively supported the demonstration it was attended by many people who are members of the trade unions and who support other parties such as the biggest opposition party in the Turkish parliament the CHP.

The bomb blasts have been condemned by many people including the ITUC, ETUC PSI (details of these are on the DISK website

Many people in Turkey believe that the state was behind the attacks. For those of us in the UK that is difficult to understand but in Turkey the ‘deep state’ operates at many levels with various semi-autonomous organisations operating in networks to take actions as they see fit to protect the interests of the state. Whether this means planting bombs, prompting fascist groups to do so, allowing ISIS contacts to operate in the country and cross over the Syrian border, is impossible to say.

However in the bomb blast in Diyarbakir on 5 June where four people died and 200 were injured there were no reports of any police officers being injured. In the reports from Saturday there have been no mention of police officers being injured in the bomb blasts. Considering the scale of the blasts it is remarkable that no police were in the vicinity and suffered no injuries. People in Turkey believe this is proof that the police at least had knowledge of the bombs so that their personnel could be removed to a safe distance.

The Turkish government party, AKP, lost its overall majority in the general election in June and have refused to agree terms with any of the three opposition parties that would have allowed for a coalition government to be created and instead they have called a further election on 1 November. Since June they have prosecuted a policy of conflict and violence, heightening tensions, as part of their attempt to win an overall majority. This cynical campaign needs to be exposed further and challenged by all progressive organisations and governments in Europe and beyond.

The trade unions in the UK must stand shoulder to shoulder with their Turkish and Kurdish brothers and sisters at this time. Dave Prentis on behalf of UNISON has written to KESK and DISK. In his message he said,

“On behalf of UNISON I send our deepest condolences on the tragic loss of so many of your members’ lives at the Labour, Peace and Democracy Rally in Ankara on Saturday. We send our heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of the victims, and our hopes for a full recovery for all those injured in the attack.

“UNISON condemns this brutal attack on trade unionists who were campaigning in support of peace, democracy and workers’ rights, and against the increasing violence and repression that the people of Turkey are suffering. We support the call for a full, transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances of the attack and its aftermath.

“We stand in solidarity with our comrades in KESK and DISK in the difficult weeks and months ahead as you struggle to come to terms with the tragic events of Saturday’s attack, and as you continue to work bravely and tirelessly for democracy, peace and rights.”

Messages of support and solidarity should be sent to

Stephen Smellie is branch secretary of UNISON’s South Lanarkshire branch and depute convener of UNISON Scotland

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