Three Kurdish participants were turned away from this year’s Labor Party conference, including a former local mayor. All had traveled to Liverpool and were refused entry at the gate, with the party claiming they had failed security clearance.
The decision raised questions about the undue influence within the party of groups affiliated with the Turkish state.
Ali Gul Ozbek is a former Kurdish Alevi Labor councilor who, between 2015 and 2017, served as mayor of Haringey, a London borough with a large Kurdish community.
Ozbek has been attending the party conference for 14 years without a problem. “This year, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get a pass.”
“I thought it must have been a mistake,” he told Novara Media. “I have been a member for more than 90% of the deputies.”
Anglo-Kurdish activist Elif Sarican was also turned down (the third activist declined to be interviewed by Novara Media). Sarican was due to speak at a Unite side event on the trade union campaign to free imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
I was only told that I was going to conference services to pick up my pass. Apparently I did not pass the necessary security checks.
In the absence of a clear explanation, it’s hard not to believe that it could be linked to Turkey’s increased repression of Kurds around the world. https://t.co/sIHYKzadpG
— elif (@elifxeyal) September 26, 2022
Sarican has participated in six previous conferences, many of which featured Freedom for Öcalan events. This year, when she tried to get her pass back, she was denied and given no opportunity to appeal. “The opacity of it all is very disturbing,” she told Novara Media.
Labor did not respond to Novara Media’s request for comment.
Influence of the Turkish state.
Both Ozbek and Sarican note that although this was the first year they had problems gaining access to the conference, it was also a year in which the influence of the Turkish state became much more visible.
The Circle Foundation is a London-based think tank focusing on UK-Turkey relations. The organization participated in last year’s conference, but stepped up its presence this year by hosting two side events and a round table of deputiesincluding former Labor General Secretary Iain McNicol.
Meanwhile, its chairman Enez Guzel was pictured at the conference with Keir Starmer and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The Circle Foundation describes itself as focused on Turkey’s foreign and security policies. The think tank claims independence from the Turkish state, but its views are clearly aligned with those of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party: in September last year, the organization published a blog praising Azerbaijan’s Karabakh invasion of Armenia.
Currently, the Turkish state is engaged in a concerted effort to intensify the centuries-old repression of its Kurdish minority by using its influence within NATO.
Turkey is currently in talks with NATO candidates Sweden and Finland to extradite individuals linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the militant group co-founded by Öcalan. Turkey was among the only opponents of Nordic countries joining the alliance, making its consent conditional on extradition treaties.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by the UK government since 2006, a ban extended by Priti Patel in 2020. Yet, with campaigns like Freedom for Öcalan continuing to openly support the Kurdish liberation struggle, more can be done. far.
Sarican questions whether the Circle Foundation’s increased presence at the labor conference is part of a larger diplomatic effort: “It seems that this year there is an increase in organizations run by people who are very close to the Turkish state,” she said.
If so, Turkey is pushing an open door within the Labor Party, whose new leaders are keen to distance themselves from the socialist internationalism of the Corbyn years toward an Atlanticist tradition of trade deals and military alliances.
Earlier this year, Starmer threatened to expel Labor members and punish MPs who criticized NATO. In his conference speech on Tuesday, Starmer described Labor as “the party of NATO” and promised to “rebuild our alliances”.
Sarican said it became clear which alliances he was referring to. She noted that just a few months ago, Starmer shared a statement to mark Newroz, Kurdish New Year. Now, she says, “they are selling out the Kurdish people in the name of trade with Turkey.”
Clare Baker is international manager for Unite and secretary of the Freedom for Öcalan campaign. In a statement to Novara Media, she said: ‘We are obviously deeply concerned that our fringe speaker Elif Sarican and a number of Kurdish activists have been denied access to the Labor Party conference. We are waiting to find out the reason for the refusal and the local MP will tell the police. »
“In the absence of a clear explanation, it is hard not to believe that this could be linked to the increased repression of the Kurdish people around the world.”
Rivkah Brown is an editor and reporter at Novara Media. She is also the editor-in-chief of Vashti.