A demonstration by Kurds in Cologne on January 27

German Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Afrin

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By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

 

BERLIN — As the Turkish military offensive in Afrin has escalated, the caretaker government in Germany has come under growing pressure to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Since Germany has supplied Turkey with military equipment, its role has been subject to harsh criticism. Photographs of the Turkish actions aired on television confirmed suspicions that German tanks were indeed involved in the aggression against the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militias, who have been battling IS. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that any decision regarding modernization of Turkey’s military — an item which had been discussed at the beginning of the year in bilateral meetings — would be put on ice, and deferred to the new government.

Kurds in the Rojava town of Jawadiyah march in support of Afrin on Thursday. (Rudaw photo)

That, however, did little to quell protests. In several cities on January 27, Kurds organized massive demonstrations; in Cologne, an estimated 20,000 people took to the streets; some were waving flags of the outlawed PKK and banners with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s image, and this led the police to end the action. Again, on the following weekend, protest actions took place in several cities, and they are bound to continue and expand unless the conflict ends.

On February 2, a group of about a hundred German intellectuals and artists issued an open letter to the Chancellor and to the Foreign Minister, demanding that they and the EU intervene to halt the Turkish assault. Published in major German as well as Kurdish media, the letter read as follows:

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“Most honored Madam Merkel, most honored Mr. Gabriel,

We, men and women active in the cultural realm, scientists and artists, call upon you to take a clear stand.

“Since January 20, the Turkish army has been firing on the canton of Afrin. Leopard 2 tanks have also been deployed in this attack. The vanguard of the irregular fighters engaged in these military operations come from jihadist combat units.

“The canton of Afrin is one of three cantons of the North Syrian Democratic Federation, where the attempt is being made, under wartime conditions, to build a democratic society, based on ethnic, religious and political pluralism with uncompromising gender equality.

“We are well aware that this endeavor is not free of contradictions and problems. Nevertheless, we can only support this awakening of civil society that is occurring in the Kurdish areas — it represents the only attempt at democracy that is taking place in the region. We cannot look the other way and remain silent when other local regimes try to crush this hopeful development — especially if it involves Turkey, our NATO partner, which Germany supplies with military equipment.

“Furthermore, particularly in the canton of Afrin, there are several hundred thousand refugees who have found a safe haven there from the horrors of the Syrian civil war. ‘Combating the causes of refugee flows’ would mean acting in such a manner as to guarantee that these safe havens remain safe. Instead, the people there are again being subjected to the violence of war. Whether it is German or other military technology that is being deployed is irrelevant to the people facing violence and death. But to you, it should not be a matter of indifference.

“We are well aware that German-Turkish relations have reached a low point for some time. At the same time, we know that the German government has relied on and continues to rely on Turkey in its attempt to contain the flow of people fleeing the Arab crisis region to come to Germany. It is quite obvious that Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government interpret this as carte blanche to rob their political opponents of their rights, to oppress minorities in the country – and now even to wage open war against the Kurds in Syria. If you embrace the viewpoint that so-called European values, which Germans politicians are so keen on citing, are to hold any credibility, and if you believe that democracy, international law and human rights are more than clichés in highfalutin speeches, then the European Union and Germany must use all means at their disposal to make Turkey end its aggression in Syria immediately.

“Most honored Madam Merkel, most honored Mr. Gabriel, make your influence felt. Act in accordance with the foreign policy responsibility that the EU and Germany have in the current situation.”

The letter is signed by 91 persons, artists, professors, filmmakers, actors, writers and others active in the cultural realm.

Days after the open letter was published, on February 5 Pope Francis received Erdogan at the Vatican for a private audience. No details about the content of their 50-minute discussion were released, but the themes they were scheduled to discuss reportedly included Jerusalem (in light of Trump’s recent stance), the Syrian war and refugee crisis, and the situation of Catholics (and other Christians) in Turkey. It was the first such visit since diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Holy See were established in 1959.

This Pope does not shy away from controversial issues, and it is known that his speaking out forcefully on the Armenian Genocide was a crucial factor in the decision by the German Bundestag (Parliament) to pass a resolution in 2016 recognizing it. One of the points made by various politicians at the time, in public debate about the matter, was that only by acknowledging the facts of the past could a repetition of genocide be prevented in the future.

Whether or not the Armenian question — and the Afrin massacres — was raised in the tete-a-tete between Erdogan and the Pope will likely not be revealed. But what Pope Francis wanted to communicate was no secret. As official sources reported, the Pope presented his Turkish guest with a gift: a medallion, showing the angel of peace embracing the world against the dragon. “This is the angel of peace,” he said, “who struggles against the demon of war … a symbol of a world based on peace and justice.”

(Translation from the German is by the author.)