Mark Thomas on why the Turks are popular at No. 10
New Labour backs the Turks over the Kurds because Turkey is the Richard Desmond of the British arms
The practice of banning terrorist organisations has always seemed as pointless as it is inconsistent. If David Blunkett were to ban organisations that represent the interests of dogma-driven minorities who take people's lives, large sections of Britain's railways would have been banned years ago. Railtrack would issue a statement renaming itself The Real Railtrack (continuity wing).
Maintenance contractors would have to hold their annual general meetings in secret, and company directors would be hurried into the room in balaclavas and shades, before announcing that year's dividend. I know some of you are already muttering: "Mark, Mark, you can't compare railway companies to the IRA or the UVF." You're right, the IRA would normally phone in a warning before killing a member of the public.
Surely it must have occurred to Blunkett, and previous home secretaries, that potential terrorists are not going to be put off joining terrorist groups because the groups are banned. As a rule, people who are prepared to plant bombs and commit murder generally have a disregard for legal niceties.
Expecting banning orders to reduce terrorism is a little bit like expecting the Highway Code to prevent drive-by shootings. When was the last time anyone saw groups of armed men speeding from a killing, shouting: "Mirror, signal, manoeuvre! For God's sake, do you want to lose points on your licence?!"
Jack Straw's banning of 21 foreign organisations early last year led the way for much of Europe's overreactive anti-terror laws, which followed in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center. However, it was perhaps the inclusion of the PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party) on the list that caused most concern. The PKK has fought a cruel war with the Turkish state: more than 30,000 people have been killed, between three and four million Kurds have been displaced and about 3,500 Kurdish villages and towns destroyed. The PKK members are not angels and they have undoubtedly committed atrocities, but three years ago they declared a ceasefire which has, by and large, held. They also announced their intentions to seek a Kurdish state through non-violent, democratic means. Had the PKK been Irish republicans or Northern Irish loyalists, their behaviour would not have seen them banned. On the contrary, by now the leaders would be running education departments.
So why did new Labour ban the PKK in April 2001? The answer, as it is with many questions of new Labour, is money. Turkey is the Richard Desmond of the British arms and construction world. It might attract bad publicity, but it does put its money in the right places.
When it comes to working and promoting trade with a state that has the worst human rights record this side of Iraq, Labour has no qualms. Perhaps if the Turkish authorities published "Hard-core Pictures of Torturers' Wives!", new Labour might be less keen.
Quite simply, the PKK was banned to please a valued client. The rest of the European Union followed suit on 2 May this year, adding the PKK to the list of terrorist organisations, even though the PKK disbanded in April.
Turkey is enjoying its new-found international muscle, and is about to take command of the 18-nation UN security force in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia's reluctance to allow US planes to operate from there has left the field open for Turkey to play host to Bush's bombers, which is especially important if Iraq is going to be invaded. None of this will be lost on the EU.
The day after the EU decision, Turkish police arrested 11 members of Egitim-Sen (the education union) in Mardin. Their crime was learning the Kurdish language. According to Egitim-Sen, the 11, including a pregnant woman, Sermin Erbas, were subjected to beatings, denied food for three days and nights, had plastic bags forced on to their heads, were left naked, and assaulted with pressurised hoses. Sermin Erbas fell into a coma as a result of this treatment, and she is still in a critical condition.
That same day, emboldened by the EU action, the Turkish military began operations in the Kurdish areas, employing its customary arbitrary detention and torture. On 25 May, the Turkish military entered the Kurdish region of Metina in Iraq. According to local reports, thousands of soldiers deploying tanks and rockets on the ground and Cobra helicopters in the air began their attack at around 3.30am. It is claimed that at least 17 people lost their lives. The EU's actions, far from preventing terror, appear to have hastened it: they have given Turkey the green light for its human rights abuses.
Now Turkey is calling for Kadek (the political party formed by the PKK) and Hadep, a long-standing pro-Kurdish, democratic political party, to be banned in Europe. Clearly, the UK and the EU have actively encouraged Turkey's own state terror.
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