On Tuesday September 6, a group of about 75 people gathered outside the office of the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs to protest the new Turkish military offensive in Syria. The protestors argued that the offensive, which Turkey justifies as a campaign against Daesh (also known as ISIS) with support from the United States (U.S.) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), targets the newly declared de facto autonomous state of Rojava, a Kurdish state founded in 2013.
The protest’s organizers, members of Rojava Solidarity Montreal, affirmed Rojava as being a “free society, which seeks to create a democratic, ethnically harmonious, feminist, and ecological confederate” in the event’s Facebook page. The protesters sought to gain the attention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion.
“We want Canada to end their silence against the Turkish regime.”
Recently, Turkey has begun taking military action against two groups in the region, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). According to the BBC, Turkey considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization, but the YPG is internationally seen as legitimate and has received military support from the U. S..
“We want Canada to end their silence against the Turkish regime,” said Maksuni Oerde, one of the organizers of the protest and a member of the Kurdish Foundation of Quebec, in an interview with the Daily. “What Turkey is doing is a human rights violation, and it’s a violation of international law.”
Before moving to Montreal, Oerde lived in the Kurdish region of Turkey, where, he said, the government has been trying to eliminate the Kurdish language for decades. He told The Daily that Turkey discriminates against both the Kurds and other ethnic groups, and that the subject of the protest is a “very personal issue” to him, as President Erdogan of Turkey recently stated that he would oppose any creation of an autonomous Kurdish state, such as the de facto state of Rojava.
As a member of NATO, Turkey currently receives aid from both Canada and the U.S..
“We want to see Canada stop sending arms to the Middle East. We see on the news that many of the weapons that we send end up in the hands of ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” said Armin Morattab, a Kurdish-Iranian human rights activist who attended the protest. “Our biggest concern, though, is Rojava—as we have seen, they are the most effective tool against ISIS.”
The protest also attracted attendees from outside of Rojava Solidarity Montréal, like Nancy Brown, an active feminist and member of Amnesty International.
“We want to see Canada stop sending arms to the Middle East. We see on the news that many of the weapons that we send end up in the hands of ISIS and other terrorist organizations,”
In an interview with The Daily, Brown said, “I think that many of us had hope that with the change in government from the terrible Mr. Harper to the less terrible Mr. Trudeau, there would be more courage and more speaking out. But when it comes down to it, the Liberals have certain restrictions in terms of what they can say.”
“It’s a shame, really,” she continued. “There are certain economic restrictions, and as long as Canada is going to be dealing with countries that are more interested in selling us oil, and that we are interested in selling Dubai oil from, this will continue to be an issue.”
Brown has no illusions about resolving the situation in Syria, but does believe that support for Rojava could make a difference.
“What would be wonderful and significant would be for Mr. Dion, on behalf of Canada, after getting the permission of Mr. Trudeau or even making it a parliamentary resolution, to come out in support of this particular Kurdish movement where people care about democracy and gender equality.”
At the time of the protest, Dion was overseas in Vietnam, but a spokesperson from the Minister of Foreign Affairs office told The Daily in an email that, “Turkey is a NATO ally and a valuable partner for Canada in the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh. At the same time, we encourage Turkey to take all measures within its power to minimize the impact of its operations in the region on civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
“What Turkey is doing is a human rights violation, and it’s a violation of international law.”
But according to Aaron Vansintjan, a member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal, whatever encouragement Canada is offering Turkey in this regard is nowhere near adequate.
“Canada is actively supporting the Turkish government and the Turkish military by selling arms, and also implicitly supporting them by being silent on the topic of Turkey’s invasion of [Kurdistan],” he told The Daily.
“In the Kurdish part of Turkey, in the last six months, there’s been a constant assault on Kurdish communities,” Vansintjan continued, “even those [communities] that weren’t resisting the assault, and there have been cases of chemical warfare.”