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Press conference held in solidarity with Kurds of Rojava

Speakers criticise Canada’s inaction

Rojava Solidarity Montreal, a local collective that organizes acts of solidarity with the Kurdish movement in Syria, as well as representatives from Artistes Pour la Paix, hosted a press conference on Wednesday, September 21. The event took place outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office, and was held in honour of the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.

The press conference called into question a statement by the Canadian government on the current situation in Syria, and Turkish-Canadian diplomatic relations – it was issued to The McGill Daily by the office of Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion

“We are here today two weeks after a demonstration which we organized outside of the office of Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion,” said Nathan McDonnell, a representative of Rojava Solidarity Montreal. “We were 80 people there, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish, and the response that we got from Stéphane Dion was very disappointing, full of holes, and contradictions.”

“[The Foreign Minister’s statement] did not talk about Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds, both within Turkey and within Syria,” McDonnell stated.

The demonstration, held roughly a month ago outside the Foreign Minister’s Montreal office, sought a response from the Canadian government regarding the recent military offensive by Turkey in Syria; while theoretically targeting Daesh (also known as ISIS), it has also been used to attack Kurdish communities. The Kurdish People’s Protection (YPG) units have been at the front lines of the fight against Daesh since the Syrian government withdrew from the self-declared autonomous region of Rojava in 2012, and currently receive military support from the United States.

“There was little in the news of Turkey’s simultaneous assault on the region known as Rojava,” asserted McDonnell. “The area is in large part populated by the Kurds, the largest stateless ethnic group in the world.”

Turkey began a military offensive in Syria in late August. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly made his stance clear, stating that he would oppose the creation of any autonomous Kurdish state, and has put his words into action with this new military offensive.

“The Kurdish movement, led by the YPG government, has helped to establish a free and democratic government in the area,” continued McDonnell. “They encourage the full participation of women in decision making and uphold their rights. They do not persecute anyone for their ethnicity or religion, and diversity is celebrated. This movement has been the strongest defense against ISIS and have freed many towns and cities previously held by ISIS. The group has received air support from the U.S., and has become the coalition’s strongest ally in the region.”

There have been new accusations against the Turkish military in recent weeks, with reports coming out of Syria claiming that chemical weapons have been used against Kurdish forces in the region – the use of which is a war crime under international law, as established under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which has been in force since 1997.

“Western leaders, despite stating that they aim to create a free and democratic Syria, have remained totally silent with regard to Turkey’s attacks on Rojava,” McDonnell continued. “Turkey has claimed that the Kurdish movement is a terrorist organization. However, we hear very little of Turkey’s constant assaults on the Kurdish population inside Turkey itself.”

Pierre Jasmin, a member of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, was also present at the press conference. He expressed concerns regarding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) nuclear weapons that are currently being kept in Turkey, and the implications of the Erdoğan government having a nuclear arsenal.

“The general that was in charge of the [nuclear weapons] was arrested in the aftermath of the coup,” Jasmin explained. “This is a sign to us that Turkey is completely irresponsible with their nuclear weapons. These are facts, and they are very worrisome.”

Gurkan Ormangoren, co-president of the Toronto Kurdish Community Center, also present at the press conference, expressed his frustration with Turkey’s military endeavors in Rojava.

“Turkey is not fighting against ISIS; it went into Rojava to take Kurdish lives,” Ormangoren asserted. “In northern Kurdistan, in Turkey, [the Turkish government] have used the [failed] coup as an excuse to take over 24 municipalities of Kurdish regions and have put Kurdish politicians in jail, such as mayors and elected leaders.”

“As we stand [outside] Justin Trudeau’s office,” he continued, “we are asking the Canadian government to see the real picture behind this. We understand that Turkey has been a member of NATO since [1952] and is an important ally to Canada. However, if the Canadian government is supporting the creation of [a] democratic government, they should support the Kurdish movements.”

Overall, the tone of the conference was one of frustration and concern, not only for the lives of Kurdish people, but also the lack of a meaningful Canadian response to the issue.

“Canada is in an important position,” McDonnell told those assembled. “As a NATO ally of Turkey’s, and as a government that claims a commitment to human rights, Canada has a responsibility to call out Turkey for its ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people […] Silence on this matter means complicity.”