Ulla Jelpke: PKK ban means discrimination against the Kurds

For the left-wing politician Ulla Jelpke, it is a "democratic matter of course" to stand against the PKK ban in Germany.

On 26 November, the ban imposed by the then CDU Interior Minister Manfred Kanther on the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) marks the 25th anniversary.

ANF talked with Ulla Jelpke, the spokesperson for internal affairs of the Left Party in the German Parliament, about the meaning and background of the PKK ban.

What are the political backgrounds of the ban and persecution against the PKK?

The background is to be found in the approximately 150-year economic and geopolitically founded German-Turkish arms brotherhood of the ruling classes of both countries. The PKK ban was founded in 1993 primarily for foreign policy reasons. Even before the ban, there was an attempt to brand the PKK as a terrorist organization as a whole as the case in Dusseldorf continued. The PKK ban was then intended to strike not only the leading cadres of the liberation movement but, above all, the mass of sympathizers and supporters who support the movement with donations or participation in demonstrations. In addition to fines and imprisonment, PKK support also threatens residence or refusal of naturalization. This may seem intimidating, but even the figures in the reports of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution show that both the followers of the PKK in Germany and the amount of donations to the liberation movement in the past 25 years have consistently gone up despite the ban. As long as Turkey continues its war against the Kurds and the Federal Government continues to pour oil into the fire with weapons supplies, nothing will change.

To what extent is the repression against the PKK used as a pretext for tightening security laws? Are there concrete examples?

In fact, repression against the PKK has served as a pacemaker for tightening security laws, reducing refugee rights, and generally for attacks on fundamental rights. The first large-scale PKK case in the late 1980s in Dusseldorf, in which the PKK as a whole organization was intended to be portrayed as a terrorist organization, failed among other things because of this goal, because it was not possible at that time, to persecute acts committed abroad that were not directed against Germans and in which no Germans were involved.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US then enabled the federal government to introduce section 129b StGB, which had long been in reserve, against so-called terrorist groups abroad. This paragraph is now used not only against Islamists, but also against the PKK and Turkish left.

Or another example: In the mid-1990s, CDU interior politicians called for the use of the Federal Armed Forces in Germany because of banned Kurdish demonstrations, which led to clashes with the police. This demand was already unconstitutional at that time, but it is still on the agenda of the Union. Incidentally, the PKK ban does not only strike Kurds or supporters of the freedom movement. Shortly after the ban on PKK, even a May Day demonstration by the DGB was banned in 1994 with the absurd justification that Kurds could emerge with their flags.

To what extent does Germany pursue a special path with its persecution of the PKK within the EU?

An unofficial prohibition of the PKK, with which the ban on symbols of the liberation movement and images of the PKK leader Öcalan could be justified, exists so far in this form only in Germany. A persecution of the Kurdish liberation movement is in place also in some other European countries, which is, however, directed in particular against media such as Kurdish television stations. The basis for this is usually the EU terror list, and Kurdish politicians in exile are accused of financing terror. However, in Belgium, where there was a large-scale trial against Kurdish diplomats and journalists in 2017, a court ruled that the PKK was not terrorist but legitimately resisting colonial oppression under international law.

Why is it important to stand against the PKK ban?

That should be a democratic matter of course. Because with the PKK ban, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Kurdish-born citizens and, moreover, anyone who sympathizes with the Kurdish liberation movement or the YPG and YPJ struggle against the ISIS, are obstructed in their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc.

The PKK ban also leads to a general political discrimination of Kurds. Especially in the 90s, with the help of inflammatory press reports, the equation Kurd = PKK = terrorist was constructed so the PKK ban also stands as a barrier to integration.

After all, Kurds are the second largest migrant group in Germany after the Turks and even according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution the PKK is the strongest organization among them. Lifting of the PKK ban would also be beneficial for a peace solution in Kurdistan, because how can a peace process be set in motion if one side in political exile is persecuted and driven underground?