Thousands Rally Across Europe: Demonstrators United on Kurdish Freedom, Divided over PKK
Over 30,000 people demonstrated in cities across Germany and Europe over the weekend in support of Kurdish rights in Turkey and northern Iraq. But the question of whether to support the rebel PKK group caused tension among protestors.
The green flag of Kurdistan flew over Berlin's Hermannplatz Sunday afternoon as the square, located in the city's ethnically diverse Neukölln neighborhood, filled to bursting with Kurds chanting political rousers and demanding freedoms for their countrymen in Turkey and Iraq.
But the crowd seemed divided over what position to take on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the violent Kurdish rebel group that is classed as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. While some protestors waved banners bearing the likeness of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned PKK founder, others sought to distance themselves from the rebels.
"This is not a PKK rally," said one man carrying a sign that read "Hands Off Kurdistan," who preferred not to give his name. "It's simply a demonstration for Kurdish freedom, for release from Turkish fascism, and against Turkish interference in northern Iraq."
The demonstration in Berlin was one of several across Europe this weekend which drew a total of over 30,000 people. Five people were injured -- two of them seriously -- at a rally in the Austrian capital Vienna but demonstrations in Brussels and some 15 German cities remained peaceful.
There were fears that the rallies might turn violent after violence broke out between Turks and Kurds in Berlin last weekend, and police were deployed en masse to regulate each demonstration. In Berlin's Hermannplatz, around 600 protesting Kurds were flanked by more than 1,000 police officers on all sides. "I am completely against violence today," commented one protestor. "We want democracy peacefully, quietly."
A local Kurdish leader told the crowd in Neukölln that he hoped tension at the Turkish-Iraqi border would not lead to persecution of Kurds in Turkey and Germany. "In Berlin, and in Turkey, the Turks and the Kurds are members of the same society," said Yuksel Koc from Yek-Kom, the Federation of Kurdish Associations in Germany. "We are brothers and sisters. We want dialogue between the Turks and the Kurds. We want dialogue without violence, without war." According to the German government, 500,000 of the 2.4 million Turks in Germany are of Kurdish descent, with an estimated 60,000 Kurds living in Berlin alone.
The rallies took place as Turkish leaders voiced dissatisfaction with efforts by the Iraqi government to contain the PKK, who have been attacking Turkey from strongholds in northern Iraq. Two weeks ago, Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq began conducting violent raids across the Turkish border, reigniting tensions between Turkey and Kurds in the region -- as well as between Turks and ethnic Kurds in Germany.
As Koc spoke, he received word that Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq had released eight Turkish soldiers held captive since an Oct. 21 raid into Turkey. "That is a step towards the proper solution," he said.
The underlying problem, said Koc, is a lack of rights for Kurds within Turkey. "We want a democratic society in Turkey, a democratic solution," said Koc. "The Turkish government tries to destroy our autonomy. Of course, we also want a democratic society in Iraq , for the Kurdish people there."
Not everyone at the rally was so diplomatic. At one point, a group of young men in the crowd chanted "Turkey, terrorists." And, while speaking with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Koc was interrupted by a middle-aged man. “That’s just his opinion," said the man, before he was pulled away by other protestors. "We do not want to bargain any more with the Turks. They have our blood on their hands.”
With material from AFP and DPA.
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