Boris Johnson’s sympathy for the PKK and Peshmerga

Boris Johnson has spoken out on the recent sentencing of Shilan Özçelik. She is the first Briton to be convicted of trying to join the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a movement which is fighting for Kurdish rights as well as Democratic Confederalism.

It is an ideology which is flexible, multi-cultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented. Democratic Confederalism is based in self-government and its axis is democracy, autonomous democracy with gender and ethnic respect. The PKK no longer demands independence but a confederation between Kurdish, Turkish, and other peoples based on respect. Its model is participatory democracy and autonomy at the local level.

Özcelik was on trial because after leaving, she wrote letters and made a video telling her family that she had gone off to try to fight with the PKK against the Islamic State. She was sentenced to 21 months. Speaking to ITV News about this case on Tuesday, November 24th, London Mayor Boris Johnson said:

“My sympathies are very much with the PKK and Peshmerga and I hope that the legal system will reflect that and she (Silan Özcelik) will get the sensible treatment rather than some absurd punishment.”

Boris Johnson visited the Kurdish front in Iraq and backed the Peshmerga Forces, even being photographed with their weapons. In particular he visited the British military troops that are near the Kurdish capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil. The visit took place in January this year. On that occasion he said:

“I’m going to support some of our guys out there who are trying to train the Peshmerga fighters, so we will see first-hand some of the good Britain is doing in the area.”

This was not the first time that Johnson had stated his support for Kurdistan. In May last year Johnson hosted a visit by Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the fledgling nation state of Kurdistan, and several of his ministers, on his maiden official trip to the UK. Johnson discussed the Kurds’ plans to build hotels and ski resorts in their country as well as to transform Erbil into “the natural banking centre of the Middle East”.

Months later, Standard Chartered Bank established itself in Iraqi Kurdistan, which the mayor has described as “an oasis of stability and tolerance.” Johnson added: “They have a democratic system; they are pushing forward with women’s rights; they insist on complete mutual respect of all religions.”

Johnson acknowledges the historical British debt towards the Kurdish nation:

“We should help because we have a moral duty to that part of the world. It was the British who took the decision in the early 1920s to ignore the obvious ethnic divisions, and not to create a Kurdistan. (Indeed, on one notorious occasion the British actually used gas to suppress a Kurdish revolt.). And it was a British decision to join in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in the removal of Saddam Hussein; and pace Tony Blair, it is obvious to most sane and rational people (a category that seems not to include Blair) that one of the results of the end of Saddam and the Ba’athist tyranny has been the power vacuum in Iraq, and the incompetence that has allowed ISIS to expand with such horrifying speed. The final reason why we should come to the aid of the Kurds and others is that it is in our interest to do so”.

So, as Johnson suggests, it’s time to repair an historical injustice. And nothing better than to repair it with the best fighters on the ground against the Islamic State: the PKK militants, the Peshmerga, and the Syrian militias YPG and YPJ. All of them have something in common: They are Kurdish.


Jordi Vàzquez  is the spokesman for KurdisCat-Catalan Committee in Solidarity with Kurdistan. His latest book, recently published, is titled Kurdistan: The People of the Sun. Follow him on Twitter: @JordiVazquez

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