In January 2017, Theresa May flew from her meeting with Donald Trump in Washington straight to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan, where she announced arms deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO and uses its military muscle to attack Kurdish towns and villages. In 2015, the Turkish military carried out attacks on the Kurdish province of Sirnak, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying Kurdish towns and villages, creating one-million displaced people. The border regions of Silopi and Cizre were completely destroyed. In one particularly nasty episode, hundreds of civilians were trapped in the basements of a building in the town of Cizre for weeks without food, water, sanitation, medical supplies, during military attacks. Eventually, a fire induced by Turkish shelling engulfed the building and they were burned alive.
In September, the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign organised a day of action against arms sales to Turkey during the Campaign Against Arms Trade Stop DSEI protests at London’s ExCeL centre during the DSEI arms fair – you can read the Guardian write up here.
In November, Chris Williamson MP tabled a question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about UK arms exports to Turkey. The response was disappointing to say the least and we will be following this up in the New Year:
All export licence applications are considered against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria on a case by case basis, in light of prevailing conditions. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence regularly provide advice to the Department for International Trade on UK arms exports, including to Turkey.
The UK government’s own guidelines for arms licensing stipulates that arms sales should not be approved to countries which use them against their own civilians. In the case of Turkey, this means a clear violation of the government’s guidelines, due to repeated use of military force against Kurds in south-east Turkey.
The Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign will continue to pressure the government over its arms exports to Turkey and its whitewashing of Turkey’s human rights violations. We will continue to ensure that opposition MPs raise this issue in parliament and commit to defence, trade, and foreign policies which put human rights at the forefront.
If you’re interested in campaigning on this issue, please get in contact.