Lift the ban on the PKK

Open letter to the Australian government

We, the undersigned, note that:

1. Ever since the formation of the republic in 1923, Turkey’s large Kurdish population has endured heavy national oppression. Even today, for instance, they are denied public education in their mother tongue.

2. The reason for the persistence of the ‘Kurdish question’ is the refusal of Turkey’s rulers to fundamentally budge on this and the rejection by the Kurdish people of second-class citizenship.

3. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) enjoys the support of millions of Kurdish people in Turkey. It is seen as their legitimate representative and their best hope of securing their national rights.

4. The PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire in March 2013 and began withdrawing its armed units to camps in northern Iraq. In a significant concession, it has dropped its call for an independent Kurdish state and instead calls for autonomy within a democratised Turkey.

5. The PKK seeks to enter into direct negotiations with the Turkish government. Its acknowledged leader, Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in Turkey since 1999, will play a key role in any such negotiations and the PKK wants his harsh conditions of imprisonment significantly eased to facilitate this.

6. The PKK has played a key role in the struggle against the inhuman ‘Islamic State’ gangs in both Iraq and Syria. It has also played a fundamental role in mobilising support within Turkey for Kobanê and Rojava (the Kurdish-majority liberated region in northern Syria). It has close fraternal relations with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main party in Rojava.

7. Despite this proven anti-terrorist role, the US, European Union and Australian governments continue to proscribe the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

8. Listing an organisation means that it is illegal for Australian citizens to belong to it, raise funds for it or in any way to actively support it. The PKK was first placed on the Australian list of terrorist organisations at the end of 2005 and has remained there ever since. The PKK was re-listed on August 11, 2015.

9. The government’s stated case for this listing is extremely weak. It says absolutely nothing about the severe discrimination faced by the Kurdish population of Turkey. It says nothing about the regime’s crimes against its Kurdish minority. It tries to criminalise its legitimate right to self-defence against oppression. It says nothing about the government’s scrapping of negotiations and return to war against the Kurds.

We therefore argue that:

  • Good-faith negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK are the only realistic way to resolve this long-running conflict. Australia and the West should use all their influence to push for genuine constructive talks.
  • The PKK’s inclusion on Western terrorist lists is an obstacle to fruitful negotiations. The PKK should be de-listed. In particular, we call on the Australian government to remove the PKK from its list of terrorist organisations.

Selected endorsements
3CR, Community Radio, VIC
Australian Kurdish Association, NSW
Wendy Bacon, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, Professor, NSW
Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance, City of Moreland councillor, VIC
Bob Brown, Bob Brown Foundation, Former Greens senator, TAS
Verity Burgmann, Monash University, Professor, VIC
Phillip Deery, Victoria University, Professor, VIC
Carole Ferrier, University of Queensland, Professor, QLD
Tim Gooden, Geelong Trades Hall Council, Secretary, VIC
Greens NSW, NSW
John Haddad, Beth-Nahrin Cultural Club, Assyrian activist, VIC
Sylvia Hale, Former Greens state MP, NSW
Stephen Jolly, City of Yarra, Councillor, VIC
Anthony Kelly, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre, VIC
Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University, Professor, VIC
Kurdish Association of Victoria, VIC
Colin Long, NTEU (Victorian Division), Secretary, VIC
Scott Ludlum, Australian Greens, Senator, WA
Maritime Union of Australia (Sydney Branch), NSW
Helen Meekosha, University of NSW, Social scientist, NSW
Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil activist & union organiser, VIC
Jamie Parker, Greens NSW, State member for Balmain, NSW
Warren Smith, Maritme Union of Australia, Assistant national secretary, NSW
Rob Stary, Civil liberties lawyer, VIC
Sally Thompson, Adult Learning Centre, CEO, VIC
Sam Wainright, Socialist Alliance, City of Fremantle councillor, WA
Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth, Environmental activist, VIC
Brian Walters QC, Barrister, VIC
Andrew Wilkie, Federal MP, Independent member for Denison, TAS
Arnold Zable, Writer, VIC

To see the full list of endorsements and/or to add your name to the list, visit Lift the ban on the PKK.