COLOURS OF STRUGGLE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin. They returned there in December and in January supported a picket in Cork, handing out leaflets on the Craigavon Two injustice.

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin.

MEP maybe Kobane Rally London

Palestinian and Kurdish flags at a Kobane solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London in 2014. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy's Imperial Hotel in 1916

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in 1916

 

 

 

 

I’m no shade of green,

though neath such flags I’ve oft times been,

and ‘neath the Plough in Gold on Green,

and some years back

Also the black,

aye and the red-and-black;

or Palestinian red and black and white and green,

c-n-mb-irish-republic-tricolour-flags-crowd-gpo-copy

Cumann na mBan, “Irish Republic” and Tricolour flags displayed at Dublin’s GPO by Moore Street campaign supporters. (Phoro: D. Breatnach?)

Or the Basque crosses white and green upon red …..

In solidarity I have flown all those flags I’ve said

But when all’s said and done —

though hard to choose just one —

from my heart and from my head:

I choose the workers’ Red.

Sept 2016

 

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags (Photo source: Internet)

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags
(Photo source: Internet)

bagladeshi-women-men-red-flags-mayday

Bangladeshis on Mayday demonstration. (Photo source: Internet)

DUBLIN REPUBLICAN MEETING HEARS KURDISH REPRESENTATIVE, INDEPENDENT TD, GARVAGHY ROAD VETERAN AND REPUBLICAN PARTY LEADER

Diarmuid Breatnach

Breandán Mac Cionnaith, Erdelan Baran, Clare Daly and Brian Leeson took turns to address a meeting in Wynne’s hotel on Saturday. The speakers addressed a large audience in the open part of the conference following the internal Ard-Fheis (annual congress) of the Éirigí Irish Republican party and covered the Garvaghy Road campaign, the history of the Orange Order, the Kurdish struggle (in general and in Rojava/ Kobane in particular), Garda corruption, military use of Shannon airport by US imperialism, theft of Ireland’s natural resources, international imperialism and capitalism versus socialism. The meeting was chaired by Angie McFall.

Meirge mór AF eirigi

Main banner in the meeting room. located behind the panel during the meeting

Breandán Mac Cionnaith is General Secretary of the éirigí party and prominent as a residents’ activist and leader in resisting Loyalist parades through nationalist areas, in particular the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads and with regard to the Drumcree siege. Until 2007 he was prominent in Sinn Féin but left the party that year after SF had agreed to support the colonial police force, the PSNI (formerly the RUC).

Preceded by the screening of a video of resistance to Loyalist marches in the Garvaghy Road, Mac Cionnaith gave an account of the formation of the Orange Order and its role from the inception of the Order and through its development. He also gave a detailed account of the long history of Orange marches through the Garvaghy Road and other areas, the siege of Drumcree and the people’s resistance, answered by sectarian murders of Catholics in the area.

Ardoyne protest 12th July 2000

Ardoyne protest 12th July 2000

The talk revealed that the Orange Order had been created at a time of revolutionary unity between sections of Protestants and of Catholics and that its purpose was to fracture that unity, which it carried out. It was from the beginning a sectarian, reactionary organisation serving the interests of the colonial ruling class in Ireland.

Along with its allied organisations such as the Apprentice Boys, the Order has a long history of provocation of Catholic areas through triumphalist marching, a practice defended by the colonial police force and in modern times until recently by the British Army. In one confrontation, Mac Cionnaith used available statistics to demonstrate that two British soldiers had been deployed for every resident of the area.

People protesting Loyalist marches on Garvaghy Road being attacked by the PSNI in 19977

People protesting Loyalist marches on Garvaghy Road being attacked by the RUC (forerunners of the PSNI) in 19977

After the break, the Cathaoirleach welcomed and introduced Erdelan Baran, a representative of the Kurdish National Congress. Erdelan’s command of English is excellent and he presented his talk well, using a few slides on an electronic display to emphasise his points, including a map showing the Kurdish population and its spread over the borders of the states of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The audience heard that the religion of most Kurds had been Zoroastrianism but that this had been reduced by Islamicisation. The Kurds had not been recognised as a separate nation or even really as a separate ethnic group by regimes ruling them and had suffered much repression in each of those states.

Erdelan Baran focused in particular on the development of the PKK, a party founded in 1978 by Kurdish students led by Abdullah Ocalan in a village not very far from the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the south-east of the Turkish state. The party named itself The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan and combined communist ideology with struggle for an independent state. It was subject to repression which increased dramatically after the 1980 right-wing military coup d’état, with imprisonment and executions of its activists and others fleeing to Syria.

Less Photogenic Kurd Women Fighters

Women unit fighters of the PKK during the 1980s

The PKK developed its armed struggle which included women’s units (Erdelan showed a slide of PKK women in uniform bearing arms).

Oҫalan was captured in 1999 and imprisoned on an island in the Turkish state. He since called for a change in objectives, i.e for the movement to seek confederalism instead of a state, a system of self-determination for each area and not based on any ethnic group or national territory. Erdelan pointed towards the administrations which had been set up in Rocajava as an example of this and also of equality towards women – 80% of representation was required to be in equal gender balance.

Since the emergence and attacks of ISIL in Syria, the YPG, a development of the PKK, has been fighting fierce battles against ISIL and established liberated areas in which other groups such as the Yazidis and Turkmen have taken part in defence and administration.

Erdelan mentioned very briefly the peace process espoused by the PKK and the refusal of the Turkish government to engage in it.

Female YPD fighters in Rojava

Female YPG fighters in the Rojava area

Erdelan finished his presentation to strong applause and the Cathaoirleach indicated that there was limited time for questions. Four people addressed comments and questions from the floor one of which criticised aspects of the PKKs policy and three of which were complimentary (see final part including Comment for further details), to all of which Erdelan responded,

A break was called again by the Cathaoirleach and when the conference reconvened, she announced that Clare Daly and Brian Leeson would speak one after the other, without time for questions from the floor.

THE BARREL OF ROTTEN APPLES

A short video about popular opposition to the water charges was played showing éirigí in action before the Cathaoirleach introduced Clare Daly as the next speaker, referring to her as an Independent socialist TD. Daly took the lectern, joking that she was obviously “a warm-up act for Brian Leeson”.

Clare Daly spoke with passion about a long history of cases of Garda corruption, saying that an earlier perception of there being perhaps “a few rotten apples in the Garda barrel” had changed over the years and that now perhaps instead people believed that there might be a few good apples in a rotten barrel. Daly pointed towards the forced resignations of Alan Shatter (as Minister for Justice) and of senior Garda officers and to the whistle-blowers within the force who had used the issue of exemptions on penalty points to highlight corruption within the Gardaí. She predicted that there would be further scandals.

Clare Daly (centre, in denims) and Mick Wallace (end right) on picket line recently outside Dept. of Justice, Dublin

Daly commented on how when in the Dáil she and Mick Wallace began to expose Garda corruption they were treated as some kind of shockingly disgusting people and that even those TDs concerned with civil liberties counseled them not to take on the Gardaí. But the perception of the Gardaí publicly has now changed and this has had its impact on the Dáil. It was the struggles of the people – in particular perhaps around the water charge – and the behaviour of the Gardaí against local communities resisting – which had led to the general change of public opinion. This had facilitated and been strengthened by the exposure of a number of scandals.

Turning to the use of Shannon Airport by the US Military on its way to invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in violation of Irish neutrality, Daly gave examples of some of the evidence available, not only from observers outside the airport but also from staff inside. One of these declared that he had stolen a gun from a plane in US military use at Shannon and of course, he could not be arrested for that since “How could he have stolen a gun from a plane the Irish Government claims is not carrying any weapons?” The planes in use are not only military planes but also chartered civilian ones and Daly gave statistics on the huge amount of US military traffic of weapons and soldiers through the airport, quoting also from a US document (part of the Wikileaks) confirming the importance of Shannon airport to their Middle Eastern military operations.

Daly accused the Irish Government of complicity with US imperialism and its war crimes. A lot of the evidence outlined and more was presented in the trial of Daly and Wallace following their arrest on 22nd July 2014 as they went on to restricted areas of the airport without permission from the authorities. They were there to carry out an inspection of US planes but were arrested and despite the evidence, in April were fined €1,000 each or 30 days in prison. Both declared then and Daly reaffirmed in her talk that they had no intention of paying the fine and await their arrest at any moment.

“There’s not much a small group of left-wing TDs can do in the Dáil to change what’s happening in the country”, said Daly, although she declared herself satisfied with the opportunity to use that forum to publicly expose a lot of what has been going on. Daly declared however that it was with the people that real impetus lay and hailed their resistance, including that of people in the room, in recent years.

THE NEED FOR SOCIALISM

Clare Daly finished her talk to a storm of applause as Brian Leeson, introduced by the Cathaoirleach as Chairperson of the éirigí party, rose to take her place at the lectern, joking that rather than being “a warm-up act” for him, Daly had “stolen his thunder”.

Leeson began his speech by outlining the need for a socialist society and suggested those who say that “Socialism doesn’t work” should be asked whether they think capitalism is working. He pointed to continual economic and financial crises, unemployment, housing crises in various forms, cuts in social welfare and health care …. and war. Wars, Leeson declared, were an inevitable part of imperialism, which is capitalism’s struggle to control natural resources and markets.

Brian Leeson speaking at an earlier meeting

Brian Leeson speaking at an earlier meeting

“This hotel and these rooms have an important place in our history” said Leeson, relating that a decision to found the Irish Volunteers had been taken in Wynne’s hotel in 1913 and in 1914 Cumann na mBan had been founded there. Commenting on recent and forthcoming centenary commemorations, Leeson said that it was people like those in the room and outside in resistance who had made that history and that the state set up in on the back of those struggles did not represent either the ideals the people had fought for or the wishes of the majority of people in the country now.

Going on to attack the economic policies of the Northern Executive in the Six Counties, Leeson castigated Sinn Féin and the SDLP who he said had given up the only area of financial control that they had and passed the buck on to the British Government. They had the opportunity, he said, to stand resolutely for a budget against social welfare and health care cuts but they passed the buck to the British Government, which implemented those cuts instead. It was essential that the Northern Irish Executive should not collapse, apparently. Leeson questioned why this should be thought so – surely the only justifiable reason to be in any government or Executive was to represent the ordinary people and the disadvantaged!

Leeson also talked about the theft and giving away of our natural resources such as oil and the planned privatisation of water which he said belonged to the people and that no government had the right to give them away nor any company the right to own them.

Leeson paid tribute to Clare Daly who was prepared to advocate for Irish Republicans in prison and had given much support to Stephen Murney and Ursula Ní Shionnaigh. He also made a particular point of welcoming Erdelan Baran and of supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people.

Commenting on discussion around a forthcoming general election in the Irish state (the 26 Counties), Leeson criticised those who talked of campaigns to elect some kind of left-wing alliance. The conditions did not exist for that to be viable project, he said, and to raise people’s hopes only to dash them was cruel and would be demoralising. People should continue their resistance and éirigí would continue their part in that as they had done up until now.

The audience gave Brian Leeson strong applause as he concluded his speech.

There were no questions and answers called for afterwards and the meeting concluded, people standing around talking, purchasing from the merchandise stall, departing or retiring to the nearby bar which had just opened.

COMMENT

Attendance, Organisation, Speeches, Participation

The room was large and full, with accents to be heard from across the country and éirigí will probably be pleased with the level of attendance. The public meeting appeared to be well organised with door security (an invited/ registered list on which my name was not but thankfully I was recognised by several and that formality waived) just outside the meeting while inside, merchandise stall, chairperson, ushers, seating, projector and screen for videos and slides, sound amplification, and professional banners (one bilingual and one in Irish only).

I saw only one photographer whom I assumed to be éirigí’s and, thinking other photos of the attendance might not be permitted, restrained myself to photographing the banners only.

Mac Cionnaith’s talk was somewhat over-long in my opinion and he is also softly spoken, which makes parts difficult to hear – and I was in one of the front seats. He also speaks without a great deal of inflection or emphasis in his delivery which militates against giving him continuing close attention. This is a pity because the content was extremely interesting and contained a lot that was new to me. I was also impressed by the amount of information that he clearly had in his head, since he rarely had to consult his notes.

Such a long talk however is unlikely to be followed by questions and answers and this proved to be the case, with the Cathaoirleach calling a break at the conclusion of Mac Cionnaith’s talk, to be followed by the next speaker on resumption of the conference.

Mac Cionnaith told me later that he usually gives this talk in two parts and with a break between them. I urged him to write and publish it as a pamphlet and I sincerely hope he does so.

Clare Daly’s and Leeson’s talks were clearly audible and well-presented and the meeting was in general well-chaired. I would offer the criticism that the time-tabling did not permit sufficient audience participation in terms of questions and answers or contributions which only occurred, briefly, after the Kurdish speaker – i.e none after the other three speakers.

All the speeches had interesting content and were relevant to political life in Ireland today. Given the organisation’s policy on abortion I would not have expected a talk on that subject, albeit the issue is a very important ongoing one in Ireland. A stranger important omission I thought was the issue of repression of Irish Republican activists both outside and inside the prisons, including the practice of internment by false charge and remand. Stephen Murney, himself an éirigí activist in Newry, had been an important example of victims of this abuse of civil rights.

Another factor was the total absence of spoken Irish from the panel of speakers or the Cathaoirleach (even to the ritual “cúpla focal”) and I am aware that some éirigí activists did express their disappointment at that (both Leeson and McPhall are Irish speakers) after the meeting.

Ideology & Political Policy

The internal part of the meeting had taken place earlier and I was not present at that so these comments refer only to the open public part of the meeting.

It was understandable perhaps that, addressing a conference organised by a party known to have rejected that process in Ireland, the Kurdish speaker skated quickly over the question of Ocalan’s and the PKK’s espousal of a “peace” process. What is less understandable is that from éirigí, no-one rose to criticise it, that being done only by one contributor from the floor, who – after thanking Erdelan in Kurdish — pointed out that such processes do not bring peace and are instead pacification processes, traveling from people in struggle from one country to those in another, subverting their struggles as with South Africa, Palestine, Ireland and now being proposed for the Kurdish people, the Basques, the Colombians, Filipinos …1

The same contributor, while expressing his great admiration for the struggle of the Kurdish people over the years, in support of which he had travelled to Kurdistan in the early 1990s as part of a trade union delegation, raised another two issues of concern to him, which were what he perceived as the elevation of Abdullah Ocalan to iconic status within the main Kurdish movement and that the YPG had declared themselves in alliance with the western coalition in Syria.  Making it clear that he was not a supporter of Assad, the contributor asked the speaker whether he thought the imperialists would hand over control of the country when their current enemy had been defeated?

The contributor’s remarks and question were greeted with scattered applause from the audience.

,Erdelan made no reply at all on the issue of a peace process but replied at length to the issue of Ocalan’s leadership and the use of his image and to a lesser extent to question of alliance with the imperialist coalition.

“Ocalan does not seek to be a leader,” said Erdelan, “and has often said ‘If anyone else wants to take on this job let him have it.’” Aside from the fact that Ocalan’s leadership per se had not been criticised except in promotion of a peace process, this reply and subsequent arguments did not address the issue of the proliferation of Ocalan’s image within the movement, the issue that had been raised by the contributor from the floor. Furthermore, the Kurdish speaker must have been aware that Ocalan had publicly argued against his threatened execution by saying that a peace process was necessary with the Turkish state and that only he could lead the movement towards it. Going on to talk about Ocalan’s 15 political publications, as Erdelan did if anything served only to confirm the adulation in which his person is held by many in the movement. The policy of confederalism is also one developed by Ocalan while in captivity, after he renounced the policy of seeking a Kurdish marxist-leninist state and, subsequently, also renouncing the policy he developed of seeking Kurdish regional autonomy within the Turkish state.

In his reply on the issue of alliance with imperialists, Erdelan was likewise quite disingenuous. He emphasised the success of the fight against ISIL and the gender equality which their administration had brought to their liberated areas, which had been in part lauded already by the contributor from the floor but which did not directly address the issue in any case. Moving on, he referred to the need for survival of the Kurds and beleaguered people and their need for weapons.

After some more of this the contributor objected to the “arms for defence line”, saying that the overall military commander in the Rojava area had publicly stated that the YPG were not only joining the coalition for arms for survival but were going to join in an offensive to overthrow the Assad Government. At this point the Cathaoirleach silenced the contributor from the floor, pointing out not unreasonably that there were others waiting to speak.

The next contributor from the floor welcomed Erdelan to Ireland. He lauded the struggle of the Kurds and the leadership of Ocalan and stated that he and a few others had picketed the Turkish Embassy when the Kurdish leader was under sentence of death. He stated that in Ireland we also often display images of leaders and heroes such as James Connolly and that we do that in order to display our support for their ideals. He lauded the administration of the Rojava areas and stated that he wished to disassociate himself from the comments the previous contributor from the floor had made. He received strong applause.

A visual affirmation of the Irish language displayed at the Ard Fheis this year.

A visual affirmation of the Irish language displayed at the Ard Fheis this year.

This contributor seemed unaware of the difference between the way and the degree to which images of James Connolly are displayed in Ireland and the way in which images of Ocalan are displayed among Kurdish supporters of the PKK. He also missed the most important difference – Connolly is dead and Ocalan is alive. Whatever errors a dead leader made he can make no further ones whereas a living leader can make many more (as history in general and ours in particular has shown) and the iconisation of a living leader makes challenging his/her mistakes within a movement extremely difficult and viewed as something in the order of sacrilege.

Another contributor from the floor asked for some more explanation of the policy of confederalism. In the course of his reply, Erdelan said that it was a democratic system that would preclude territorial expansion and that, for example, the issue of whether someone wanted a nuclear reactor in their area would be entirely a local decision. This reply in fact outlined one of the problems of confederalism in this stage of history since if local people voted in favour, for example with promises of safety and cheap power, the decision would nevertheless potentially affect everyone within a radius of thousands of kilometres – but no-one seemed to pick up on that.

The same member of the audience, responding, enthusiastically commended the Kurdish organisation on their confederalism policy and said that we should have the same here in Ireland. He (and certainly at least some in the audience) appeared unaware that a type of confederalism had been a central part of Sinn Féin’s and Provisional IRA’s progam for many years. The “Éire Nua” was such a program, originally proposed by then SF’s President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill and strongly supported in practice by Des Fennel. This policy had encountered some opposition within the Provisional movement, particularly from supporters in the Six Counties who feared being left under regional domination of — or in constant contention with — Unionists.

The “Éire Nua” policy was overturned at the 1982 Ard-Fheis (annual conference) of Sinn Féin in what was seen by many as a victory of the Adams group within the leadership over the Ó Bradaigh one. Subsequently the policy of Sinn Féin has been for a united 32-County state and that is also part of éirigí’s policy today. Only Republican Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan among Republican organisations in Ireland today retain a federal policy.

Overall, it seemed that the majority of the audience either did not feel equipped to engage with the issues in a critical fashion or felt that they would be going against their party (or hosts) to do so. It was highly unlikely that the majority supported the aspiration for a peace process and there must have been at least some disquiet on the issue of joining an imperialist coalition. But they remained silent. There was also of course the cultural issue of hospitality to an invited guest which may have played a part.

However, these are serious questions affecting the revolutionary movements around the world and need to be engaged with critically.

End.

FOOTNOTE

1    Is mise a rinneadh sin. I also took part in actions for the removal of the execution threat to Ocalan while having a number of discussions with Kurdish activists on the issue of iconisation. In general I worked for a number of years in London in Kurdish solidarity with people who supported the PKK and some who did not, including submitting motions to trade union branches and going on that delegation around much of northern Kurdistan in the early 1990s when it was still a war zone there. In Ireland I took part in a few pickets with Kurdish comrades and was discussing setting up a solidarity network here but some of the principal activists left the country.

While I was conscious that some others who I know would have had similar views to the concerns I expressed kept away from me, some activists did approach me during the break to express their approval of my comments, in particular on the issue of making an icon of a living leader. They had experienced a similar process with the promotion of Gerry Adams within Sinn Féin before leaving the organisation to join éirigí or to become independent activists. Nobody likes isolation and I was grateful not only for their comments but for visibly approaching me in the meeting area in view of anyone who cared to see.

HISTORIC SITE OF HASANKEYF AND LOCAL HOMES THREATENED BY TURKISH DAM – INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS

Louise Michel

The historic ruins of Hasankeyf, which may have been settled more than two thousand years BCE, are threatened by a Turkish dam along with the homes of Kurdish, Armenian and Arab people. A number of archaeologists and historians believe that the fortified town was referred to in inscriptions on the Mari tablets (1,800-1,750 BCE).  The rocky outcrop also contains many human-made caves.

Some of the caves at the Hasankeyf site

Some of the caves at the Hasankeyf site

As well as being the site of an ancient town, it is also an urban and outer settled district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Turkey, with a recent combined population approaching 70,000.

The project that threatens to submerge much of Hasankeyf is the Isilu Dam being built by Turkey. Despite the foundation stone being laid as late as 2006, in 1971it was already being actively considered as one of the sites for a number of dam projects for hydro-electric generation and number of other purposes. A study by an international team between 1980 and 1982 recommended the building of the Isilu dam despite the 1981 declaration by the Turkish Government itself of Hasankeyf as a natural conservation area.

Opposition to the dam

The project had run into funding difficulties over the years. Due to international protests on environmental, archaeological and human rights grounds, and also protests within Turkey and from inside Hasankeyf, a number of international funders backed off. The British Government refused $236 million in funding in 2000 and in 2009, a consortium of Austrian, Swiss and German credit agencies withdrew their offer of $610 million.

Solidarity picket outside the Andritz company plant in England

Solidarity picket outside the Andritz company plant in England

The consortium had suspended the loan in 2008 and had given the Turkish Government 6 months to comply with international standards, which they had failed to do. However in July 2010 the Austrian firm Andritz Hydro announced it was lifting its suspension and would provide the six huge turbines specified for the power plant.

Excavations for the main body of the dam began in May 2011 and the Turkish Government projected that all works would be completed this year. A 250m (820ft) permanent steel-girder bridge with concrete supports has been constructed just downstream of the dam and construction of new villages is currently underway. The diversion of the Tigris River began during August 2012. According to Government figures, by April 2014 the project was 60% completed while 73% of the Hasankeyf population had been resettled.

Protests continue within the area, peaceful and not. According to the Government, in January 2015 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) threatened the lives of workers and anti-Government sources confirmed that a number of workers left the site. On 3 February 2015 a convoy of supplies for the dam was attacked, injuring three persons and several days later a worker was killed in his home, according to the Government by suspected PKK militants. Peaceful protests have included pickets and demonstrations (see photos) and some of these have also taken place abroad, including recent ones in England (see photos).

Locals, probably mostly if not all Kurds, protest at the Hasankeyf site

Locals, probably mostly if not all Kurds, protest at the Hasankeyf site

The completion of the Ilısu Dam will cause the flooding of the ancient city of Hasankeyf and about 185 villages and hamlets will be fully or partially affected by flooding, according to the Kurdish Human Rights Project. From 55,000–65,000 people will be forcibly resettled, says the KHRP, while even the Turkish Government estimates 40,000. According to a statement released on the 24th August by a solidarity group protesting outside the Austrian Andritz company’s facility in England, the completed project will reduce water flow to Syria by 40% and Iraq by 80% and the dam also provides the facility for political control of those areas through further restriction of water supplies.England picket Isilu Dam company

Turkey is a member of NATO and extremely important strategically to the the military alliance, as well as having some significant natural resources. However its regularly-renewed applications to join the EU have always been turned down because of its human rights record, both in the course of recent wars with its ethnic Kurds as well as with regard to protest movements among ethnic Turks. Recently Turkey came in for adverse international publicity again as it was seen to be blocking Kurds trying to get through the Turkish border with Syria in order to defend areas under attack by ISIS (Islamic State), while Turkey has also been accused of more directly assisting ISIS in its attacks. Although the state has Moslem fundamentalist political parties which occasionally come into government, Turkey itself has been secular since it became a republic in 1922.

 

End

 

More information, including photographs on http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/10/hasankeyf-civilization-condemned-death.html

and on http://www.hasankeyfmatters.com

and on http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/endangered-site-the-city-of-hasankeyf-turkey-51947364/

and about Kurdish human rights http://www.khrp.org

WHEN EAGLES SING — Kurdish singer and fighter Viyan Peyman falls in battle/ Cantante y Luchadora Kurda falla en batalla

Viyan Peyman, famous fighter-singer of the YPJ, fell in battle against Islamic State in Serekaniye (Yazira canton) on Monday 6th April 2015, according to news agency Hawar News.

Viyan Peyman, famosa luchadora y cantante del YPJ cayó én lucha contra el Estado Islamico el lunes 6 de Abril 2015, según la agencia de noticias Hawar News (miren enlace al fondo de este corto trozo para las noticias en castellano).

When Eagles Sing

(I ndil chuimhne Viyan Peyman/Gulistan Tali Cingalo)

A bird fell from the sky —

the birdsong now has died. 


A songbird but also a fighter — 


When eagles sing 


our struggle is made lighter.

She flies now in different skies,


skies of our memory,


of our heart, spirt and mind


where her song cannot be silenced


for Kurds or for humankind.

Diarmuid Breatnach April 2013

Viyan’s real name was Gulistan Tali Cingalo (Gulistan means “garden”) and she was from Mako city in the part of Kurdistan located within the Iranian state’s territory.

The song she sings in the video was composed by her; the lyrics say:

“Oh, mother, woe to me!


My heart cries today — what disaster has fallen upon us!


I will sing today of the resistance of Kobane,

that it may be a poem recited for the world and humanity, oh mother!


Today again our Kurdish boys and girls have made their chests into shields

against the tanks and bombs …
Oh, mother, woe to me!


Today I imagine the mothers of Kobane crying in the streets;


I imagine the boys, the girls, the elderly screaming in pain and rage.


I see the tears of the children of Kobane as if they were the Euphrates river, 


flooding the streets of Kobane!


Oh, mother, woe is me!”

Information and song lyrics translated from Castillian text sourced here: https://comitesaharaui.wordpress.com/…/cae-en-combate-la-c…/

YOUNG WOMAN GOES TO TRIAL IN LONDON ACCUSED OF TRYING TO JOIN KURDISH WOMEN FIGHTING ISIS

C0mpiled with introduction by

Diarmuid Breatnach

An 18-year old woman of the Kurdish diaspora in London, Silhan Ozcelik, has been sent for trial at London’s Central Criminal Court (the “Old Bailey”) accused of trying to join the Kurdish-led resistance against ISIS (“Islamic State”).  A British journalist called the trial “disgusting” and said it left him “almost without words” to describe the travesty of justice.  (article below)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/silhan-ozcelik-disgusting-trial-for-young-woman-who-tried-to-fight-against-isis-10105004.html

Face Paint Kurdish W Fighters

A different kind of face paint: female fighter of the Kurdish guerrilla YPG checks another female comrade as they prepare to go into action with their male comrades on the front line against ISIS in Syria.

This post contains:

  • An article about the trial by J0nathan Owen in yesterday’s British newsaper The Independent (see above)

  • A short article from pro-Kurdish PUK Media containing a discussion on the role of Kurdish women fighters in Syria, with quotes from a wide variety of sources (right at end of this post)

  • A video of an Australian documentary, “60 Minutes”, from the war zone, with war footage, interviews with women fighters and commanders, victims of ISIS (see further down)

  • Background comment or introduction from me (immediately below)

Background Comment:

The Kurds in the region, numbering around 28 million, have the right to self-determination.  They are divided by borders of states set up in the past by the colonial imperialists of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire and also by ambitions of the states subsequently created: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan (there is also a huge Kurdish diaspora in parts of Europe, the USA, Canada).  The Kurds in the region also face differences in political leadership, dialect and religious influence as well as containing among them other ethnic groups (many of these also oppressed): Arabs, Armenians, Azeris, Turkmen, Yazidis …. The whole Kurdish region extends across an area of great strategic importance (the gateway to Europe and to the East) and also of considerable natural resources, including water.  It is envisaged that an oil pipeline will cross this area and a number of dams have already been built there.

The Kurds in Turkey (the largest population of Kurds) has been mostly led by the PKK (and various political organisations friendly to it), a communist-type national liberation organisation, largely secular (though some of their areas can be religiously conservative) and with a very large guerrilla force which has included many women fighters.  They have fought the Turkish armed forces for decades and remain undefeated.  Turkey’s nationalism under Kemal Attaturk declared that Kurds did not exist — they were just “mountain Turks”.  Kurdish has been forbidden, the flying of Kurdish national colours a crime, and state repression has included bannings of parties and newspapers, jailings of political and human rights activists, kidnapping, torture, assassination squads, creation of strategic villages, aerial bombardment, etc.  The imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, last week from prison called on his followers to lay down their arms and to engage in a “peace process” in which however the Turkish Government shows no interest.  Ocalan enjoys an adulation among the PKK and its supporters somewhat as Chairman Mao did among Chinese communists and his portrait can be seen on demonstrations, in pickets and in their secure areas.

The Kurds in Iraq have mostly come under the political dominance of two political leaders with tribal following, Barzani and Talibani.  Iraqi Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslim with a minority Shia population (Fayli) in central and and SE Iraq.  The Kurds were oppressed by the Iraq regime and rose up against them a number of times only to be massacred, including when the US called on them to rise during the Kuwait war but left them on their own.  Their fighters, “peshmergas” are mostly male and during the Iraq Invasion by the US-led coalition, they fought the Iraqi Armed forces but entered Baghdad like bandits and set up various areas of control under different war lords, occasionally fighting even one another.  In the past on one occasion the peshmergas were also deployed against the PKK in conjunction with a Turkish attack on them.

The Syrian Kurds have their own fighters but have not been as prominent in the past as those of the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq.  The Syrian regime does not favour declarations of different ethnicity coupled to aspirations of self-determination and has suppressed expressions of Kurdish nationalism, including jailing singers and musicians whose work includes those expressions. In recent months, the Syrian Kurds and their fighting organisation, the YPG, have had the most success in halting and in places forcing back ISIS — the “Islamic State”.  The YPG rescued a large population of mostly Yazidis (including also some other ethnic groups) after ISIS swept aside the army of the NATO-client Iraqi regime, massacred tens of hundreds of civilians and kidnapped tens of hundreds more, including women which they took or sold as concubines.

The Kurds in Iran have been in recent times the most suppressed perhaps of all the Kurdish populations.  Under the Islamic clerical regime a number of Kurdish political activists have been executed for “crimes against God” (i.e. being atheists and socialists and sharing their political beliefs).  Under the Shah the repression was also heavy and Savak, the secret police, along with their informers, were almost everywhere.  Torture was endemic under the Shah and almost certainly continues under the present regime.

Although the NATO powers fear ISIS, they have also had a hand in its creation in the drive to overthrow regimes resisting NATO’s penetration of the area (and encirclement of Russia) by direct assault or by proxy: Libya and Iraq (already overthrown), Syria (under attack), Iran (constantly being threatened).  They are trying to bring the YPG into the fold but Turkey, an important member of NATO, would rather see the Kurdish fighters wiped out and seals its border to prevent fighters and supplies reaching the YPG.  The USA therefore confined itself to some bombings of ISIS positions around Rojava and diplomatic overtures to the Kurds.  They have not committed ground troops (which the YPG have not asked for) or supplied arms (which the YPG have asked for — repeatedly) and continue to support forces attempting to overthrow the Syrian state.  The YPG rarely fight alongside the state’s Syrian Army but at times both forces are simultaneously in action against ISIS, though seemingly not in coordination

.

The Kurds, as the largest force in their region of Syria and one of the largest ethnic group in the whole region, form a focus of resistance to assimilation and to repressive regimes of states but may be seen by other ethnic groups as themselves posing a threat of assimilating them.

Video documentary “60 Minutes” by Australian television containing Syrian war area footage of Kurdish women fighters and commanders and interviews (and also occasionally irritating comment by the interviewer)

Less Photogenic Kurd Women Fighters

Less photogenic perhaps than the images we are currently being shown of Kurdish female guerrilla fighters, this photo is probably of a female guerrilla unit of the PKK in Turkish Kurdistan taken perhaps a couple of decades ago. In order to counter accusations by the Turkish state of female guerrilla “immoral” behaviour, the PKK kept the genders in separate fighting units.

Two Kurdish Women Fighters kefiyah headscarf

Two female guerrillas of the YPG resting but ready to go into action. They are on the front line against ISIS in Syria.

A discussion on women in Kurdistan and Kurdish women fighters (note that there are two parts of Kurdistan under discussion here – Iraqi and Syrian; however there is also Turkey, where the majority of the Kurds live and Iran):

http://pukmedia.com/EN/EN_Direje.aspx?Jimare=22709

Kurdish Women Heavy Machine gun v ISIS N_Iraq

Female fighters of the guerrilla YPG with a heavy machine gun (light cannon?) in the front line against ISIS

Kurdish women guerrilas against FSA, Syria

Kurdish female guerrilla fighters opposing the Free Syrian Army, sponsored by NATO against the Syrian state, in 2011. The FSA has since been overcome or incorporated into ISIS.

The London Visit — Family, Song, Kurdish Solidarity, the Red Poppy, Architecture, History.

Diarmuid Breatnach

I recently went to London in order to visit my daughter and son, their partners and their children. My son and his wife Natalie had recently had a baby girl; and my daughter and her husband Irwin have a boy and a girl. It turned out for a number of reasons that I had more spare time than I expected, so with the help of a friend I got in some sight-seeing and with the help of another, attendance at quite few singing sessions. I also attended one political rally. The following is an account of those events with the least said about my family and friends since their lives are private, with the exception of my host, Jim Radford, who has a very public side with regard to political and community activism and singing.

Archictecture and Transport System

Visiting London, where I spent 30 years of my life was strange, in particular staying about ten minutes’ walk from where I had lived for about half of my time in that city. I had a sense of being an observer at a familiar place but of which I was no longer part, something like a ghost, perhaps.

Not only Kings Cross Station but the whole area around it has been redeveloped and changed so much. In the early ’90s I worked shifts as a Project Worker in a ‘wet hostel’ (one where street drinkers are permitted to continue drinking), very near to St. Pancras Hospital and about fifteen minutes’ walk from the station (if one walks very fast, which I often did to get in for my early shift). On a late shift, walking down St. Pancras Road, on my way to the Underground to head back to SE London, I would often pass a solitary sex worker or two hoping for custom. Displaying the goods on sale is a trade requirement and I felt especially sorry for them in cold or wet weather.

The area was well-known for a high level of sex work and illegal drugs – selling and buying. Four years later, after two years as a Deputy Manager in a number of hostels in other parts of London, I was back in the area again, with a different NGO, as Manager of a hostel for active drug users (most of them injecting). The area had been very familiar to me then but visiting now I could hardly recognise it. The train and Underground stations have been remodeled and an international train station connecting with the Channel Tunnel has been built. In addition the areas in front of them and to the side are unrecogniseable. A big plaza fronts the station and around the side and back is another plaza with the de rigueur converted warehouses and similar-type buildings also around the back of the station now hosting eateries and fashionable offices.

No doubt the area is much more heavily policed now in order to present a clean image for tourists and the middle class young eating and drinking there but I am sure that sex work and drug commerce continues. Perhaps much more cocaine rather than heroin or crack is sold now for the new client group. But though I was there on a weekend night, I observed many of the restaurants and winebars only half-full.

I went out to Stratford too to see the Olympic Stadium and surrounding area. I had worked in that area as a community development worker for six months and taught an adult education beginners’ class in Irish for some years there too — but again, would not have recognised the area now. Like King’s Cross, it had changed completely but unlike the former, in almost unbelievable ugliness. The shopping centre wasn’t too bad but very much of the UStater “mall” type. Apparently many people in the US spend much of their free time in such places and, indeed, there seemed little other choice in Stratford now, especially for teenagers, unless they were of the outdoor type and accessed the Lee Valley, Wanstead Flats etc.

The observation tower/ sculpture by London Olympic Stadium, near Stratford, East London.

The observation tower/ sculpture by London Olympic Stadium, near Stratford, East London. (Photo DB)

An observation tower which is also a sculpture or “installation”, apparently, stands outside the the Olympic Stadium. It was chosen in competition but aesthetics can hardly have been one of the required features. I once saw metal girders and joists twisted in the aftermath of a very hot fire – the sculpture instantly brought back the memory.

 Unfortunately that was not the only ugly construction in the vecinity: almost in any direction one cared to look, other ugly and often grotesquely-shaped buildings came into view. It was in truth almost impossible to credit that not only was I in the same country but in the same city as the work that had been done around Kings Cross.

But sadly, it was not the only place for ugly buildings. Just by London Bridge I had seen a few others and indeed could see the same ones as part of the distant skyline from Stratford too. The “Shard” is one of them, looking like some kind of unsafe rocket about to take off. Another building reminds me of one of those free-standing electric fan heaters.

Some pieces of metal fell off the Shard recently – perhaps the beginning of a suicide attempt by the building, prompted by shame – and would have killed anyone they had struck. The various companies involved, both in its construction and in renting space in it, have said that there is no danger and everything is being checked again. I’m sure that is very reassuring to people working there and to passers-by.

Weird building near Stratford

A strange but not pleasing building near Stratford — in Dublin this would probably have earned a nickname like “The Handball Alley”. (Photo DB)

Long block Stratford

A barrack-looking building near Stratford. (Photo DB)

Another strange building near Stratford, East London

Another strange building near Stratford, East London. — Maybe it would have been called “The Cheesgrater” in Dubln? (Photo DB)

Various Tall Buildings Stratford

View from overpass, Stratford, looking south-westward (Photo DB)

London Olympic Stadium, Stratford, East London

London Olympic Stadium, Stratford, East London (Photo DB)

It occurred to me at some point that an Irishman taking photos of buildings around the Olympic arena could get into trouble, even these days — so took myself off inside the ‘mall’ to eat.

On a positive note about London other than the Kings Cross development, the new Overground system links up with much of the Underground and throws a public travel net around the city and outskirts, linking up a great many areas which were previously only accessible by using a combination of public transport systems often taking hours.

Irish tricolour in someone's yard right next to an Overground station in NW London

Irish tricolour in someone’s yard right next to an Overground station in NW London (Photo DB)

London Overground logo

I was told about the Overground and even used it but it was some time before I noticed that both that system and the Underground use exactly the same logo design, the difference being the word written across the bar and perhaps the colour. Once one becomes used to a symbol, one no longer reads the words on it or notices anything except very different colours. That didn’t matter until the day I had to catch an Overground train at a station not organically connected to the Underground, on which I was travelling. My ticket was good for both and the Overground station was less than a minute’s walk away down the street. Seeing what looked like the same design and taking it for another entrance to the Underground station I had left earlier, I walked past it three times and once almost got on to the nearby British Rail (intercity trains) platform and wondered why everyone was giving me wrong directions!

It was going down to an Overground station in NW London that I saw a big Irish tricolour in someone’s yard, flying right next to the station.

Family

Kian

Kian, absorbed in an electronic game (Photo DB)

Although I had prepared myself, I was a little shocked at how tall my grandson Kian had become. He is (of course) a very bright lad and was doing tests and making applications for different secondary schools.

Caitlin Rose, his little sister, seemed very excited to see me and I only had to look at her to make her break out in laughter. Grandad is very funny, apparently. Sadly, they have only two living grandparents now – me and my ex-wife. Their other grandfather died shortly before Kian was born and their other grandmother only recently.

  Caitlin Rose was born prematurely – I dashed to London at the time and remember holding her in the palm of my hand fpr a little while out of the incubator. She did well but was later diagnosed as suffering from cerebral palsy – the most obvious way it affected her was that her muscles spasmed and drew the tendons in her calves and feet tight, bending her legs and putting her on tiptoe so that she could hardly walk. The condition can be aleviated but so far is incurable. But she is very competitive and determined as well as being very bright (of course). In addition, she had the SDR operation in the USA, a relatively new surgical technique, after which she improved enormously.  (See this incredible footage taken about a year after the operation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6SGhuYzng8, from the blog recording her progress and others in the family and promoting the SDR operation http://caitlinroseford.com)

Caitlin dancing

Caitlin dancing (Photo DB)

Caitlin Rose on her daily exercise treadmill

Caitlin Rose on her daily exercise treadmill in her gym, paid for by fundraising (Photo DB)

I didn’t get to spend much time during the day with my son-in-law, Irwin, who was busy figuring out how to plumb their new washing machine in to the waste water disposal system.  I am not familiar with the closed system so didn’t offer too much advice.  But later we went out to eat so I could chat to him a bit more.

The "plumber", my handsome son-in-law

The “plumber”, my handsome son-in-law Irwin. (Photo DB)

Eating out

We went out to a tapas restaurant not too far from where they live and I ordered the fish skewers from the menu, imagining them to be the size of pintxos in the Basque Country or chicken satay skewers one sees over here. When the skewers arrived I was shocked to see each contained three large pieces, each one the size of an individual fish portion in many expensive and niggardly restaurants, with what looked like a dagger or bayonet pushed through them, mounted on a stand.

The most surprising thing for me however was that all the staff were actually from the Spanish state1 with the exception of one from Latin America. In Dublin, I had become used to these places being staffed by people from non-Castillian-speaking countries.

In a Latin American restaurant in Camden to which a friend took me, allegedly Patagonian and with some beautiful enlarged photographs of that area on the wall, I asked our table attendant whether he knew any Welsh. There had been a Welsh-speaking colony in Patagonia, founded in 1865 and there is still some Welsh spoken there today. “Que va, hombre!” he exclaimed. “De eso no sé nada. Yo soy de Andlalucia” he concluded, smiling. (“Not at all, man! I know nothing about that — I’m from Andalucia”).

I queried some of the wines I didn’t recognise, not sure whether I wanted a glass or not, so he brought some for us to try and …. left the bottle! Of course it would have been discourteous to refuse such good fortune and, the wine being fine, we had a few glasses before he remembered and returned for the bottle. We paid for some of it, of course. I had a feeling he might have left it that long deliberately.

In a Turkish restaurant in Dalston, I wondered whether I might have a taste of a Turkish lager, which I had never previously tasted, before deciding whether to have a pint. The attendant paused and then nodded, coming back with a half-pint. I looked at her perplexed — “It’s on the house,” she said with a little smile. She was half-Scottish and half Egyptian, it turned out. I did like it and ordered some more.  Turkish food is nice enough but not one of the world’s more impressive cuisines, in my experience (and I have eaten it there too, including in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan).

Food from Everywhere, apparently on sale in this shop in Dalston

Food from Everywhere, apparently on sale in this shop in Dalston.  The smaller lettering along the bottom of the awning, lists that the shop caters for “English, Turkish, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Greek, French” food. (Photo DB)

Stoke Newington and Dalston are multi-ethnic areas but especially prominent are Kurdish and Turkish businesses. Without a doubt however the most visible ethnic minority are the Hassidic Jews, the men with their long black coats and homburgs, boys with skull caps and side-locks. This sect is anti-Zionist and they are known, on occasion, to demonstrate against the state of Israel. However, I was shocked to learn that the women shave their heads upon marriage and wear wigs when they go out.

Family again

Elora Mae -- I forgot to take any other photos of her :-(

Elora Mae — I forgot to take any other photos of her 😦

At the other end of London from my daughter and her family and also far from where I was staying, it was great to see my son Kevin and his wife Nat and the baby – Elora Mae. London is huge and a return ticket covering the zones on Underground and train cost nearly £10 each time. The Oyster Card they are introducing, like the Leap Card in Dublin, in an attempt to eliminate cash exchanges, makes the journeys a little cheaper but I hadn’t known about that.

I’m usually OK with babies but Elora Mae wouldn’t let me hold her for long before she started to cry. On my last visit, however, she seemed ok with me (or probably my smell) and even gave me a few lovely smiles. Smiling, by the way, as well as focusing on the face, are responses genetically built in to us. Babies do not “learn” to smile, which is instinctive programming but may learn different types of smiles, as well as appropriate times for smiling.

Songs and Singing in London

I was staying with a long-time folk and shanty singer, Jim Radford and he took me along with him to his weekly singing events. In one, an “open mic” event, I was not a little disturbed at the amount of noise in the bar in which it was held. Noise is distracting and I tend to sing louder to get over it, straining my voice and maybe also singing at the wrong pitch and key and therefore not at my best.  I got more and more apprehensive as my turn to sing, indicated by the MC to me, approached and in trepidation when my turn came, went up to the microphone to sing two songs as expected. I sang Danny Farrell as an Irish (and Dublin) song unlikely to antagonise anyone there and to my relief the noise level dropped somewhat. My second song was the Pat O’Donnell Ballad, which although it involves the the “Invincibles” and the British administration in Ireland, was not too confrontational, I thought. Besides, it the story is interesting as it may be the first recorded “witness protection” operation in history, though one that went very badly wrong for the “witness” (or traitor) in question.

I was asked to sing a third song, as a courtesy to a visiting guest, I thought. Into the second line of Go and Leave Me, the silence around me became profound – so much that it scared me a bit. But I took confidence from it too. The lyrics are not bad and the air is lovely, especially in my opinion when it’s sung the US version way. It’s a reasonably well-known song about love and desertion in preference for someone richer and is one in my regular repertoire. “Regular”, by the way, might mean “sung two or three times a year”, since I don’t like to sing the same song too often and, like many other frequent singers, I have quite a few others. My host has about 250 …. I might have around a hundred, built up over years. And a few discarded along the way too.

The following week, back at the venue, I was asked to sing three songs and chose the Jim Larkin ballad by Donagh Mac Donagh (son of the executed 1916 Proclamation, Thomas Mac Donagh) and The Ludlow Massacre, by Woody Guthrie. A lot connects these two songs to one another and although in general I dislike song introductions (or “spoken sleeve notes”), I briefly explained a few of those connections before singing them.

Both the Southern Colorado Coal Strike and the Dublin Lockout/Strike began in the same year, only a month apart, although the Colorado strike didn’t end until December 1914. Both strikes involved attacks by state forces and scabs on the workers resisted, in Ireland forming the Irish Citizen Army, although many more were killed in Colorado (and in turn were killed by workers fighting back too). Evictions from company houses were a feature throughout both strikes as was general media and court hostility with open collusion between the forces of the ‘justice’ system and the employers. And, of course, both strikes essentially lost in the short term but, in the longer term, the trade unions involved, the ITGWU and the UMA, far from being broken, came out stronger.

For the third song my choice was Back Home in Derry, lyrics from a poem by Bobby Sands organised into a song by Christy Moore but to my own air. With this song I break my general rule about not singing the same song often, because I want to popularise my air with the lyrics. The lyrics are currently mostly sung to the tune of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and I thought they deserved an air of their own.

At the various events, as one would in Dublin, I heard some good singers and some bad ones and some who were not particularly good but were interesting. However the general standard seemed noticeably lower than what I would encounter in the singing circles and sessions around Dublin – I have no idea why that should be but it can hardly be due to physiological differences. Also, many read from sheets while singing, a practice rarely seen in the Dublin singing circles (although prompts by mobile or IPad are not unknown).

On this trip I heard Jim sing a number of songs and a couple I remember in particular: The Shores of Normandy, Song for Stephen Lawrence and Home Boys Home. The last of those is about horses and English rural men in WWI and based on a poem, a lovely song which I have slowly started to learn. Jim wrote the other two himself.

Stephen Lawrence was a British Afro-Caribbean youth walking home in SE London with his friend in 1993 when they were both pursued by a gang of white racist young men. Stephen was mortally stabbed and left to bleed to death. Within a week the names of the murderers were on the lips of all the young people in the area. I can personally testify to that since the daughter of a friend was attending a school in that area at that time. First the police questioned Stephen’s surviving friend, treating him as a suspect. Then they couldn’t find the culprits, they said. But it turned out that the house in which some of the racists lived had been under police surveillance for some time and was actually being video-taped inside. It was a long time before that came to public knowledge.

Eventually five men were brought to trial but the incompetence (or sabotage) of police trial preparation allowed them to escape. In a long saga of the fight for justice by the Lawrence family and their supporters, two of the five racists were finally re-tried in 2012 and convicted, receiving long sentences. In the interim the McPherson Enquiry found the Metropolitan Police force to be “institutionally racist” (which Black, Asian and Irish people had been saying for decades) and later a former undercover police officer revealed that he had been tasked by his senior officers to find material with which to discredit the family and the campaign. The Lawrence family broke up under the strain and at least one of them left to go back to Jamaica. Jim’s song contains a powerful indictment of the racist murderers and of the police.

The Shores of Normandy was written by Jim when he visited the beach that he had last seen as a teenage seaman on D-Day on 6th June 1944. Jim was a merchant seaman on a tugboat, many of which were leased by the British Navy and their crews paid merchant seaman rates (which were higher than those of the Royal Navy). Over a few evenings sharing Jim’s whiskey and tea, he told me some things about the tugs’ role. They were of great importance to Britain in the War – they accompanied convoys and towed many torpedoed ships to safety, mainly merchant marine vessels (2. After some time the tugs themselves became targeted by submarines as they were saving so many tons of shipping to be repaired and re-outfitted to go to sea once more and 24 British naval rescue tugs were sunk.

Sherman tanks landing from transporting ship on to pier assembled at Normandy beach.  The sections were towed across the sea from Britain by tugboats then assembled under fire.

Sherman tanks landing from transporting ship on to pier assembled at Normandy beach during D-Day, WWII. The sections were towed from Britain by tugboats across the sea then assembled under fire at the beaches. (photo sourced on the Internet)

In some of the photographs of the Normandy landings one can clearly see piers being used to disembark vehicles, equipment and men. As Jim says: “Those piers didn’t drop from the sky”. (No, but death was dropping from the sky and scything across the beaches too. I thought). The piers were made of concrete caisons, hollow cubes that could float and were towed across the Channel by the tugs. When they reached Normandy they were maneuvered into position at the correct depth and the sea allowed to enter them until they sank in a line on the seabed, making a pier. All this was done under fire at least some of the time.   Over a year earlier, the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk had broken the Nazi advance and turned the war in East Europe, now the Sicily and Normandy Landings combined with the advances from the East towards the liberation of Western Europe and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. The air Jim chose for his lyrics is The Dawning of the Day.

Among the events at which Jim was to sing was the launch of Confronting a Culture of Militarism by David Gee, in Housmans Radical Bookshop.  The shop, a little like Connolly Books in Dublin, stores a wide variety of radical and socialist book, pamphlets and periodicals.  Looking at the many different British periodicals there, I reflected how much more impact they could have if many of them were to amalgamate.

The bookshop was soon crowded, with some late arrivals having to stand. First off was what I thought an impressive monologue performance by Steve Pratt, ex-SAS and now against war, also a painter. After that, David Gee, the author, spoke – a little too long but interestingly. Finally, Ben Griffin spoke, ex-Paratroopers and also SAS but now Secretary of Veterans for Peace. Ben referred to the vilification that soccer player James McClean had endured when playing for Sunderland and Wigan, for refusing to wear the Red Poppy. (3 He spoke about a visit Veterans for Peace had made to the Six Counties of Ireland in October and how people had spoken to them about harrassment, raids and shootings by the British Army during the recent 30 Years War; Ben asked how anyone could reasonably expect someone from one of those communities to wear the Poppy? (4

Jim was plugging the upcoming Cenotaph anti-war commemoration by Veterans for Peace and sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, inviting the audience to attend the ceremony and to sing the song with them. He also sang Eric Bogle’s famous anti-war song, No Man’s Land (better known to us as The Green Fields of France, thanks to the Fureys); he sang it in full to underline what a speaker had earlier said about the Joss Stone song promoted by the British Legion, a truncated version that sentimentalised the war and ripped the strong anti-war heart out of Bogle’s song.

Jim singing at the launch of David Gee's book at Housemans Radical Bookshop.

Jim singing at the launch of David Gee’s book at Housemans Radical Bookshop. (Photo DB)

Although a veteran libertarian socialist activist who considers the Royal Family to be “spongers”, Jim had accepted an invitation to sing The Shores of Normandy at the Albert Hall as part of the annual “Remembrance” concert, with members of the Royal Family present. He was wearing a Red Poppy too. I argued with him about the latter but his line is that the militarists and Royals have usurped Remembrance, which was intended to mark the terrible sense of loss after WWI with so many men dead in every town and village4.

The day after the concert, on “Remembrance” Sunday, when processions march in Whitehall and lay wreaths at the Cenotaph, Jim marched with comrades of Veterans for Peace there, with a banner declaring “Never Again!” They and their supporters sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone, an anti-war song, one recited a poem strongly attacking war and its financial foundations and they laid a wreath made entirely of White Poppies with two Red Poppies inside it. (5 Their bugler played The Last Post. I’d have been there to support them and to add my voice to the song but I was already several days back home in Dublin.

Jim brought me to a music session in The Jolly Farmer pub, right next to Lewisham Hospital. I had attended sessions there when I lived in Catford, 20 minutes’ walk away, and the pub now had another name. In those years there had been three, sometimes four weekly Irish traditional music sessions in the Borough of Lewisham, none very far from one another, in which I had played percussion and sung. There had been a few in the next borough, Greenwich, too. None of those seemed to be currently functioning.

The core of the Jolly Farmer session is formed by “Flaky” Jake on accordion, Guillermo on guitar and Jim on percussion (spoons and bodhrán), with other musicians and listeners in attendance. Jake has a huge repertoire of songs from rock to cajun, including songs in French and in Spanish. Guillermo knows some of the French ones and is from Mexico. During the course of the session we heard – and often sang – Rolling Stones, Irish ballads, Cajun songs, English shanties and music-hall, Woody Guthrie ….

Guillermo, Mexican musician at the Jolly Farmer session.

The core of the Jolly Farmer session: Flaky Jake on accordion, Jim Radford on bodhrán an spoons, both facing and Guillermo, guitar, seen from behind. Each also sings. (Photo DB)

Jim, Jake and violinist (whose name I can't remember)

Jim, Jake and violinist (whose name I can’t remember) at the weekly music session at the Jolly Farmer pub. (Photo DB)

Jolly Farmer session, looking down from higher up.

Jolly Farmer session, looking down. (Photo DB)

A few strange incidents occurred around that time in that pub. The first week, there was a man there with an undiscliplined German Shepherd dog on a leash which his owner kept yanking to get the dog to stay by him. A man entered in a wheelchair and the dog went up to him and stuck his nose in the man’s crotch, whereopon the offended man slapped the dog across the muzzle (but not too hard – the dog did not yelp but just went back to his master). The dog’s owner, who I think had not seen where the dog had put his nose, was livid and began to swear and act out how if the man were not in a wheelchair he would do this … and that …. The man in the wheelchair turned and wheeled himself out of the pub. The atmosphere continued somewhat tense for a while but eventually the man and dog left.

Later that evening, I went to the toilet and saw legs sticking out of the cubicle next to the urinal. I pushed open the door to see a man lying in there on the floor, apparently very drunk. I informed the landlady and left her to it, as she requested. Later, at a music party, we heard that after we had left the pub, there had been some kind of disturbance with a drunk breaking glasses and furniture and that the police had been called!

Jolly Farmers trio 2014

Another night at the music session at the Jolly Farmer. The guy on guitar there sang some interesting songs and was a good guitar player. Leaning back, black cap on head at extreme right of photo is Guillermo. (Photo DB)

The house party invitation came through afficionados of the session. Attendance at the house felt strange at first since I didn’t know the people but then I realised I did know one of them, although not well, a fiddle player. And later another person recalled that she remembered me from music sessions over a decade previously. When the music and singing got going it was great and again we covered a wide range. We went through a huge range of songs and tunes with accordion, guitar, fiddle, banjo, spoons and bodhrán. In honour of our hosts, one of whom was German, I sang Mus I’ Den and The Peat Bog Soldiers combined with Hans Beimler.

The first is a German folk song of departure by one promising to return and to be true to the other in the meantime. Such songs are fairly common and we have more than our fair share of them in Ireland. Elvis Presley’s songwriters used the tune for Wooden Heart in one of his many badly-acted and badly-scripted films GI Blues.   The first of the remaining two is a song that was sung by German political prisoners in Nazi concentration camps; somewhat allegorical, it was tolerated by the guards for awhile but eventually earned a death sentence for anyone heard to sing it. Hans Beimler was a German communist who was imprisoned by the Nazis but escaped and went to the Spanish state in 1936 to fight fascism there where, like many other International Brigaders, he was killed. Because of the history of each as well as because the Beimler song is a very short one, I like to precede it with two verses of the The Peat Bog Soldiers.

It happened that the “Return to Camden Festival” took place during my London visit, spread around a number of venues in the borough, including of course the Camden Irish Centre, which is where I went with a friend. I knew the Centre from a long time past, a social and welfare agency for Irish migrants run by the Catholic Church for many years and notable through much of my time in London for steering clear of politics. Of course one can never really do that and one ends up supporting one kind of politics or another. The Centre gradually secularised itself in a time of grants for ethnic minority support work but did not raise issues uncomfortable for the British state such as the unjust murder convictions of a score of Irish people in five different cases during the mid-1970s, the iniquities of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, nor the prevalence of anti-Irish racism in treatment by many state and local authority agencies and its wide acceptance in news and entertainment media.

Gradually during the late 1980s (or perhaps early 1990s) the Camden Irish Centre was pulled into some of those issues but in an NGO-type of way and within such parameters and re-branded itself as “The London Irish Centre” (there were by then another five Irish centres in different parts of London but none claiming to be The Irish Centre). By that time the Centre’s management was connecting itself to the Federation of Irish Societies, an organisation that infamously at its AGM in 1981, as news of the death of Bobby Sands reached delegates, failed to even table a vote of sympathy for the family of the deceased. (7

  The “Return to Camden Festival” at the Camden Irish Centre seemed to be owned by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (often mistakenly called “Ceoltas”), a huge largely volunteer organisation promoting Irish traditional music, song and dance. The Centre was heaving and service at the bar was quite slow. The bar staff were all young and someone told me that they were on job schemes, all employed by a contractor who manages the catering for the Centre. It was hardly suprising therefore that they understood not one word in Irish, not even go raibh maith agat.

We sat and listened to a large number of musicians playing together, some as young as eight or nine, then peeked in at the céilí, after which we set off for the singing session. It is run by a Connemara man who sings sean-nós style, who was very welcoming and encouraging; we sat in a circle and sang (or declined) in turn. Again I met people who remembered me from music sessions or from other Irish community activity. The singing was interesting and some singers were exceptional, especially a couple of young female musicians who had to leave early to play their instruments and a few others. I heard a couple of songs I had not heard before, which is always welcome, as well as some I had not heard in a long time. But after about two hours the session came to an end; time then to get something to eat and start the journey back across the city by Underground, changing to Overground at Canada Water station. Reaching Honor Oak Park and walking up to Jim’s house, I passed by foxes twice; the London ones probably became urbanised long before their Irish cousins did.

Solidarity with Kobane’s resistance to ISIS

I knew from an email notification that there was to be a Kobane solidarity demonstration scheduled for a Saturday in central London while I was there and, since this was not one of the days I was visiting grandchildren, I headed out to Charing Cross station, next to Trafalgar Square. Kobane is defended by a Kurdish guerrilla resistance organisation composed of the PKK, some Kurds within the Syrian state’s borders and the few Peshmergas who didn’t flee ISIS. There are probably some Assyrians and Yezidi involved in the defence too.

The Kurds are a huge nation of around 30 million people, spread over territory currently within the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Azerbaijan, with a sizable diaspora also in parts of the US and in some parts of Europe, notably in Germany and France. The politics of the Kurds within Turkish and Syrian borders tend to be secular and the PKK has always espoused some kind of socialism. Kobane, a town in the northern part of the Syrian state, is run mostly by Kurds from there and from the Kurdish resistance movement inside Turkey’s borders. Despite the hype about the Peshmergas (Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas), it was the PKK and Syrian Kurds who rescued the Yezidi and some other religious and ethnic minorities from ISIS in Sirjan and opened up a 100-Km long corridor to bring them to safety in Rojava (Kurdish northern “Syria”). A large proportion of these Kurdish guerrila fighters are women, perhaps as much as 30%, fighting inside their own units under the overall leadership of the PKK-affiliated organisation the YPG.

Kobane is under attack and surrounded on three sides by ISIS (“Islamic State”). The fourth side is the heavily-guarded Turkish border and the Turkish state is hostile to the Kurds, both within their own borders and within Syria. Based on ISIS behaviour to date, should Kobane fall, massacre of civilians and defenders will follow, along with enslavement of women as prostitutes or concubines.

Nelson during Kobane rally

Nelson looks down from his pedestal at the Kurdish solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square. (Photo DB) (A similar column and statue in Dublin was blown up in 1966 and the “Spire” now stands on the spot.)

Wide view Koban Rally Trafalgar Square

Wide view of the Kobane solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London. (Photo DB)

While living in London I had been to Trafalgar Square many times for rallies on different causes that I supported (including of course Ireland, until that plaza was banned to Irish solidarity demonstrations). Nelson stands tall on a pillar there, reminiscent of the one we had in Dublin city centre until it was blown up in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising. I wondered whether I would meet people I knew, either from the British Left or from Kurdish solidarity work, in which I had been pretty active during the early 1990s (8. The area was a-flutter with various Kurdish organisational flags and some from the Turkish left, also some banners and a number of placards were on display.

A speaker at the Kobane solidarity rally (

A speaker at the Kobane solidarity rally (identity unknown) (Photo DB)

Another speaker at Kobane solidarity rally, London (idenity

Another speaker at Kobane solidarity rally, London (identity unknown to me).  (Photo DB)

Most of the crowd looked like they came from the Kurdish part of the world. The stage seemed to be taking a long time to get set up but eventually the Kurdish MCs, a man and a woman, began to announce the reason for the rally and to introduce a list of speakers to the crowd. I was suprised to hear an Irish priest, an O’Brien, I think, introduced as having been a long time active in Kurdish solidarity, although in the 1990s I had never come across him nor heard his name mentioned. I had the same reaction to a few others introduced in similar terms.

A Kurdish traditional musician, seemingly well-known, played a short percussion piece on what looked like a slim but wide bodhrán. Looking for it on Google, I would say it was the Daf, which apparently is in wide use across a number of Near and Middle Eastern regions by a number of ethnic groups. There was no song sung throughout the rally before I left.

The Irish priest introduced as a good friend of the Kurds

The Irish priest introduced as a good friend of the Kurds (Photo DB)

The speakers were from a number of British Left and ethnic minority organisations, one MEP and a number of elected representatives. There was also a report from Kobane itself broadcast through speakers. Mark Thomas, a left-wing comedian, spoke emotionally on the issue. Peter Thatchell spoke strongly as well. One Left-wing woman with an English accent, in the course of her speech, attacked the SWP for supporting Islamicism in the past. The next person to speak, also a woman with an English accent, declared that she was in the SWP and that her organisation is strongly in solidarity with Kobane and with the Kurds.

Comedian and political activist Mark Thomas speaking at the rally

Comedian and political activist Mark Thomas speaking at the rally (Photo DB)

MEP maybe Kobane Rally London

Another speaker at the rally (identity forgotten) (Photo DB). Images of the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, can be seen.

Some of the speakers praised the Kobane ‘government’, saying it was secular, egalitarian, socialistic …. The speakers all attacked ISIS and called for solidarity with Kobane. Some called for British Government intervention (to drop weapons and supplies to Kobane) while others called for military intervention against ISIS. Some called for the unbanning of the PKK and some for the release of Ocalan. The PKK was declared a “terrorist” organisation by the EU years ago, a totally unjustified action by any means of definition, since the organisation was engaged in armed resistance against the attacks of the Turkish state, which is still not a part of the EU; furthermore it was not engaged in any armed action outside its part of the world and nearly all of that within Turkey’s borders. (9

DB Kobane Rally London 2014

Me, holding a placard I borrowed from a Kurdish couple I had been talking to. The YPG is the Syrian Kurdish resistance, organised and led by Kurds but attracting some Arabs and Assyrians also. It contains large numbers of women fighters, organised in their separate units.

Kobane Rally near stage

Another speaker whose identity I cannot confirm. (Photo DB)

Abdullah Ocalan (pronounced “otch-al-an”) was the leader of the PKK when he was kidnapped in Nairobi by the CIA in 1999, taken to Turkey, sentenced to death and, after Turkey abolished its death penalty to gain EU entry, sentenced to life in prison. He is kept on an island prison – the only prisoner there, at least for 10 years. Prior to his incarceration, Ocalan had a position within the PKK that arguably went considerably beyond recognised leadership. Nicknamed “Apo” (“uncle” in Kurdish), his image was carried on Kurdish solidarity demonstrations and pickets by many Kurds in London and in Dublin.

Ocalan

Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the PKK (image sourced on Internet)

After Ocalan’s capture he declared that the Turkish government should engage in peace talks with the Kurds, that the PKK were not seeking immediate independence but some kind of regional autonomy. Furthermore, he declared that his own release was a necessary prerequisite to carry this process through. This is not too disimilar to the position of Arnaldo Otegi, of the Basque independence movement’s leadership, also of the Sortu party and of many of their new allies since they renounced armed struggle and ETA declared a “permanent and verifiable ceasefire”.

Ocalan’s change of tack surprised many on the Left; I don’t know how the PKK’s own followers reacted at first but soon they were issuing statements along the same lines, (although they have given no hint of intention to disarm). That position of the PKK and of Ocalan explains to me the relatively sudden interest in them within much of liberal and Left quarters. The other factor is the Left and liberal fear of ISIS and the fact that the only coherent and effective defence of Kobane and the rescue of the Yezidi in Sinjar is and was carried out by the PKK, not the “Peshmergas” loudly praised by the Western media (but only mentioned by one speaker at the rally) or by the US, imaginatively claimed by some media.

Another Anarchist banner at the Kobane solidarity rally in Lon

Another Anarchist banner at the Kobane solidarity rally in London, October 2014. (Photo DB)

Anarchist banner at Kobane so

Anarchist banner at Kobane solidarity rally, Trafalgar Square, October 2014 (Photo DB)

The “Peshmergas” are Kurds and guerrillas, but of the tribal factions of Bardani and Talibani within Iraq’s borders. On one occasion years ago, they cooperated with a huge Turkish military operation against the PKK by attacking them simultaneously from their side of the border. During the war of the Western states against Iraq around Kuwait, the Peshmergas followed the call of the West to rise against Sadam Hussein; the Western powers then left them to be slaughtered by the Iraq military. During the Western powers’ invasion of Iraq, the peshmergas formed war bands that as well as attacking the Iraq military, looted the Iraqi hospitals, museums, commercial enterprises and people’s homes. At times they even fought among themselves and there were many accusations of murder of military and civilian prisoners, kidnapping for ransom and even of rape. Among much hype, some moved to the rescue of the Yezidi in Sinjar but most quickly withdrew after armed contact with ISIS, totally abandoning the Yazidi, although Sinjar is within Iraq’s borders.

Turkish AKP=ISIS Kobane Rally

Placard accuses Turkey of directly assisting ISIS (Photo DB)

Many speakers at the London rally denounced Turkey for their indirect assistance to ISIS by harrasssing PKK guerilla reinforcements trying to get through to reinforce their Kurdish brothers and sisters in Kobane. Some alleged more direct assistance to ISIS and called for the NATO and the EU to pressure Turkey into ceasing their obstruction of reinforcements for Kobane. Some spoke against Assad and one for him but mostly neither he, his government nor the war there were discussed.

I recognised not one of those speakers present as having been active on the Kurdish issue in London back in the early 1990s. This would be understandable of younger people who had not yet become politically active then, perhaps – but the others? No, Thatchell and others like him had not been. Back then, the PKK had been in armed struggle against the Turkish regime and was being looked to by national liberation activists around the world. But Turkey was – as it is now – an ally of the West, a member of NATO, so the EU did not want to attack it for its widescale abuse of human right among the Kurds, although it considered Turkey too unstable to admit it to the EU. The Left organisations were campaigning on other issues and had no time – or perhaps tolerance – for Kurdish solidarity.

Sun effect Trafalgar Kobane rally

Not a nuclear explosion over London but an interesting effect of the declining sun. (Photo DB)

Contrasting flags seen from Trafalgar Square -- and a spying eye in the sky

Contrasting flags seen from Trafalgar Square — and a spying eye in the sky (Photo DB)

But now that that the PKK has indicated a willingness to enter a “peace” process, they seem to have many friends in left and liberal quarters than they had before. They may even end up, like the Abertzale Left of the Basque Country and like Gerry Adams and Co. of Sinn Féin, having lots of capitalist and imperialist friends too. Some may say that is one important reason for entering a “peace process” but the problem seems to be that in order to keep those new friends on board one has to abandon so much of the goals about which one’s movement was that it becomes something very different, the goals hugely reduced and arguably bringing not peace but co-opting of resistance and a deferment of struggle, probably to another generation (as happened in Palestine, after Arafat’s and Al Fateh’s agreement at Oslo).

One or two of the speakers called for Western armed intervention to assist Kobane, most notably Peter Thatchell, who called for NATO intervention. It was noticeable that this call garnered hardly any applause from the crowd, as distinct from calls to pressurise Turkey to stop trying to block the PKK sending reinforcements to the beleaguered Kobane and for the EU to drop arms to the Kurdish resistance. The London Kurds seem to be quite politically sophisticated and know that NATO is far from being a friend of the Kurdish people. I expressed some of my opinions to a Kurdish couple in their 30s or early 40s and they indicated agreement, particularly the man, who confided many of his own opinions. After hearing about a dozen speakers, I shook hands with the Kurdish couple and bade them farewell, taking a similar journey back to my friend’s house as had Jim Connell, while writing The Red Flag in 1889.

The Red Flag, written by an Irishman in London

Although he had lived in the area for decades, Jim was not aware that Jim Connell, the author of the communist anthem The Red Flag, had been living nearby for many years and had in fact been on his way to his earlier address, also in SE London, by train from a Trafalgar Square demonstration, via Charing Cross, when he began to compose the song. Jim Connell was from Kells in Co. Meath and a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation and later of the Independent Labour Party. He put the lyrics to the Jacobite air The White Cockade. For some reason it began to be sung to the air of Tanenbaum, a German Christmas hymn, which upset Jim Connel: “Ye ruined me poem!” he stormed.

The plaque commemorating Jim Connell who lived in this house for many years, including when he wrote "The Red Flag".

View of former address of Jim Connell, the house with the tall hedge, from across the road (Photo DB)

Jim Connell plaque London

The plaque commemorating Jim Connell who lived in this house for many years. (Photo DB)

The house upon which the plaque

No. 22 Stondon Park, the house upon which outer wall the plaque to Jim Connell is affixed. (Photo DB)

Jim Connell plaque large

Lewisham IBRG influenced the wording of the plaque but unknown to them the words “Labour Party” were inscribed on the plaque. (photo sourced on Internet)

I knew a good bit about this because the Lewisham branch of the IBRG, of which I was Secretary, had been in correspondence with a local history employee of the local authority about putting a plaque on the house. The plaque had been the council employee’s idea but we had influenced the wording (10) and in 1989, the centenary of the writing of the song, attended the small unveiling ceremony outside the house. A little-known MP called Gordon Brown had spoken and never once mentioned Jim’s wish for a free Ireland or the war then going on in the Six Counties, so I felt obliged to jump up on a garden wall and in a short speech, supply the missing information. There were no police present and I was not interfered with although the applause was scattered. The event and the fact of my speech was covered in the Irish Post soon afterwards. A half-hour before I was to catch the train to Gatwick Airport, Jim drove me to Stondon Park and I found the house and photographed it and the plaque (and also Jim in front of it, for his own album).

It would probably be another year before I would see my kids, their spouses and my grandchildren in the flesh.  Of course, there is always Skype ….

Back home

Waiting for either the number 16 or 41 bus home from Dublin Airport, I noted the inadequate shelters from weather, the general lack of Dublin information and the tatty state of the one map of Dublin that someone had thoughtfully sticky-taped to one of the shelters.  Even the Bus Átha Cliath timetable for the 16 route was tattered and flapping in the breeze.  Ireland, I do love you but sometime you disgust me too.

Torn Dublin Bus poster airport

Tattered Bus timetable in inadequate weather shelters at Dublin Airport, Nov. 3014. (Photo DB)

Tattered Dub tourist map bus shelter

A tattered Dublin tourism map which someone had thoughtfully sticky-taped to the inside of one of the inadequate weather shelters at the No.s 16 and 41 route stops at Dublin Airport, Nov. 2014. (Photo DB)

I arrived home to find that in delaying paying my Eircom bill, they had without notice cut my ability to reply to emails but strangely the Facebook connection continued. I got some money together and paid my bill.

A chríoch/ Ends

Footnotes

1 I don’t like to say “Spain” as the term is objected to by people in a number of nations within the borders of that state, some of which want total independence and to create their own states.

2  Despite this, 2,426 ships of the British Merchant Marine were sunk with 25,070 men killed, including of course many Irish but also others from the British Commonwealth and many Chinese. In 1942 a special camp for merchant marine seamen prisoners was built at Westerimke ten miles north of the German port city of Hamburg. Around 5,000 men, including 2,985 from 211 British ships, were interned at this camp commonly known as ‘Milag Nord’.

3  McLean, from Derry, said that if the Poppy were just to commemorate the dead British soldiers of WWI and WWII, he would wear it. But as it was not, and in memory of Bloody Sunday in 1972, he could not do so. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2826306/I-m-not-anti-British-wearing-poppy-act-disrespect-people-Derry- born-footballer-James-McClean-says-anger-Bloody-Sunday-decision-shun-poppy-embroidered-shirt.html

4  One wonders whether the footballer is aware of John Maclean (24 August 1879 – 30 November 1923), Republican Communist from Glasgow who was jailed in 1918 for “sedition” due to his anti-war activities and force-fed while on hunger strike.

5  I have written my reasons of disagreement with this line in an article, published in the Rebel Breeze blog: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/the-blood-red-poppy-remembrance-or-war-propaganda/

6  Video: Veterans for Peace at the Cenotaph, Remembrance Sunday 2014 (Jim Radford, white-bearded, wearing mariner peaked cap): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t34dnIabsGw

7  There had been many pickets and demonstrations in Britain to try to save Sands’ life and those of the nine hunger-strikers to die subsequently. The 1981 Hunger Strikes had a huge effect on the Irish community in Britain, breaking the terror stranglehold of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the neglect of the Federation of Irish Societies was answered by the formation of the Irish in Britain Representation Group.  See https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/how-to-silence-an-ethnic-community/

8  Including a trip in a small delegation of trade unionists in the early 1990s across much of the Kurdistan lying within Turkey’s borders.

9 From Wikipedia: “…NATO has declared the PKK to be a terrorist group;[121] Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, and fields the group’s second-largest armed contingent. Closely tied to NATO,[122] the European Union—which Turkey aspires to join—officially lists the PKK as having “been involved in terrorist acts” and proscribes it as part of its Common Foreign and Security Policy.[123] First designated in 2002, the PKK was ordered to be removed from the EU terror list on 3 April 2008 by the European Court of First Instance on the grounds that the EU failed to give a proper justification for listing it in the first place.[124] However, EU officials dismissed the ruling, stating that the PKK would remain on the list regardless of the legal decision.[125] Most European Union member states have not individually listed the PKK as a terrorist group.” Three Permanent Members of the EU Security Council list it so but the remaining two, Russia and China, do not.

10  We had not been told that the words “Labour Party” would be affixed and only noticed it on the plaque much later.

POLITICAL PRISONERS – are they really “part of the solution”?

Political prisoners

Political prisoners

Diarmuid Breatnach

Campaigners fighting for the release of individuals or of small groups of prisoners do not usually make the case that the release of those specific prisoners will affect the macro issues which led to their activism and encarceration. This has occurred on a number of occasions, however, those of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Kurdish PKK leader Ocalan and Basque movement leader Arnaldo Otegi being cases in point.

However, when the numbers of prisoners is large, their release is often connected by the campaigners to the objective of resolution of the conflict.

 The line often taken is that “the prisoners are (or should be) a part of the resolution of the conflict” or that “release of prisoners is necessary to create goodwill” or “to win support for the resolution process”. These lines emerged here in Ireland, in Palestine, South Africa and in the Basque Country; they form part of a popular misconception, all the more dangerous because of its widespread acceptance and seductiveness.

At first glance this kind of line seems reasonable. Of course the political activists and the prisoners’ relatives, not to mention the prisoners themselves, want to see the prisoners home and out of the clutches of the enemy. The prisoners should never have been put in jail in the first place. And all the time they have been in the jail has been hard on them and especially on their relatives and friends. An end to the conflict is desirable and so is the release of the prisoners.

But let us examine the proposition more carefully. What is it that the conflict was about? In the case of the recent 30 years’ war with Britain, it was about Britain’s occupation of a part of Ireland, the partition of the country and the whole range of repressive measures the colonial power took to continue that occupation. In the case of the Basque pro-Independence movement, it was also about the partition of their country, occupation and repressive measures (particularly by the Spanish state). But what was the fundamental cause? In each case, occupation by a foreign state.

OK, so if Britain and the Spanish state ended their occupations, that would end the conflicts, would it not? It would end the anti-colonial conflicts – there would be no British or Spanish state forces for Irish or Basque national liberation forces to be fighting; no British or Spanish colonial administration to be issuing instructions and implementing repressive measures. Other struggles may arise but that is a different issue.

So, if Britain and the Spanish state pull out, leave, those struggles are over. What do prisoners have to do with it? They are obviously in that case not part of the solution, which is British or Spanish state withdrawal – though their release should be one of the many results of that withdrawal. Prisoners may well be part of rebuilding a post-conflict nation but that is a different issue. They are not part of “the solution”.


PART OF THE PACIFICATION

As pointed out earlier, here in Ireland it was said that “the prisoners are part of the solution” – and most of the Republican movement, some revolutionary socialists and some social democrats agreed with that. And British imperialism and most of Irish capitalism agreed too. But what happened? Only those Republican prisoners who agreed with the abandoning of armed struggle and signed to that effect were released. And they were released ‘under licence’, i.e. an undertaking to “behave” in future. And as the years went by, a number of those ex-prisoners who continued to be active mostly politically — against the occupation, or against aspects of it like colonial policing, had their licences withdrawn and were locked up. Some who had avoided being prisoners because they were “on the run”, or had escaped – many of those, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had been given guarantees of safety from future arrest but this too, it soon became apparent, could be revoked.

 In other words, the prisoners’ issue became part of imperialism’s ‘peace’ or, to put it more bluntly but accurately, part of imperialism’s pacification. The issue also became part of the selling of the deal within the movement, on one occasion prisoners being released early, just in time to make a grand entrance at a Republican party’s annual congress.

The release of prisoners can be presented by those in the movement supporting pacification as evidence of the “gains” of the process. Those who argue for the continuation of the struggle then find themselves arguing not only against those who pushed the pacification process within the movement but also against some released prisoners and their relatives and friends.

THEY ARE NOT LEAVING

 And prisoners continued to be hostages for the “good behaviour” of the movement. If British imperialism had left, there would have been no cause for the anti-colonial struggle to continue – so why would there be any need for any kind of release ‘under licence’ or any other kind of conditional release? Besides, the British would not be running the prisons in the Six Counties any longer. But the British are not leaving, which is why they need the guarantees of good behaviour.

Suppose the British were serious about leaving, sat down with the resistance movement’s negotiators and most details had been sorted out, including their leaving date in a few weeks’ time say, what would be the point for the British in trying to hang on to the prisoners? Can anyone seriously believe that they would take them with them as they left? If perhaps they had some in jails in Britain and were trying to be bloody-minded and hanging on to them there, well of course we’d want our negotiators to put as much pressure on the British as they could to release those as well.  It would be in the interests of British imperialism to release them but the reality is that the anti-colonial war would be over, whatever ultimately happened to those prisoners.

In South Africa and Palestine, the prisoners’ issue became part of the imperialist pacification process too. It did not suit the imperialists to have numbers of fighters released who would be free to take up arms against them again. So in South Africa, they were incorporated into the “security forces” of the corrupt new ANC state, forces the corruption and brutality of which were soon experienced by any who argued with them or opposed the policies or corruption of the ANC, NUM and COSATU leadership – including the two-score striking miners the “security forces” murdered over a couple of days at Marikana in 2012.

 In Palestine, the prisoners also became part of the “security forces” of Al Fatah after the shameful agreements at Madrid (1991) and Oslo (1993). The level of corruption of the Al Fatah regime and their “security forces” became so high that in order to oust them, in 2006 the largely secular Palestinian society voted for a religious party, the opposition Hamas. And then the “Palestinian security forces” took up arms against Hamas in order to deny them the fruits of their electoral victory. Unfortunately for them, Hamas had arms too and used them.

In both those countries, the occupiers had no intention of leaving and so it was necessary for them, as well as using the prisoners as bargaining chips, to tie them in to a “solution”. In fact, many of the prisoners became “enforcers” of the “solution” on to the people in their areas, i.e pacifiers in imperialism’s pacification process.

Teased out and examined in this way, we can see not only that the prisoners are NOT “part of the solution” but that accepting that they are plays right into the hands of the imperialists as well as facilitating their agents and followers within our movement, within our country.

Political prisoners, as a rule, are an important part of the struggle and need our solidarity. But for anti-imperialists, prisoners are not “part of the solution”, to be used as hostages for a deal with imperialism, even less as enforcers of a deal, forcing it upon the colonised people.

Our call, as anti-imperialists, without conditions or deals, is for the prisoners to be released and, while they remain in prison, to be treated humanely. We also call for them to be recognised as political prisoners. With regard to the solution to the conflict, there is only one: Get out of our country!

POSTSCRIPT:

The organisation representing relatives and friends of Basque political prisoners is Etxerat http://www.etxerat.info/. A separate organisation concentrating on campaigning, Herrira, has suffered a number of arrests and closure of offices by the Spanish state in 2013 and is under threat of outright banning.

Regrettably, I cannot give a similar link for Irish Republican prisoners, because of the existence of a number of organisations catering for different groups of prisoners and often with tensions between them. One day perhaps a united non-aligned campaign will emerge, along the lines of the H-Block campaign of the past, or the Irish Political Status Campaign that arose in London after the Good Friday Agreement. There is also a non-aligned Irish Anti-Internment Committee (of which I am a part), campaiging for an end to long periods of incarceration imposed on political “dissidents” through removal of licence, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive bail conditions.

end