COPENHAGEN, Denmark – As voters in Europe go to the polls this week to choose the new European Parliament, a number of Kurdish and non-Kurdish candidates spoke to Rudaw about their views on Turkey’s possible membership in the European Union (EU), and the Europe-wide recognition of Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds as genocide.
British Sarah Ludford, a current MP for the Liberal Democrats who is a candidate again, said she was a supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU. But, by her own admission, she has been very concerned by the developments in Turkey over the last 12 months, for example the police crackdown on the Gezi Park protesters in the summer of 2013.
“The authoritarian response to the Gezi Park protests, the censoring of social media (e.g. Twitter), the erosion of an independent judiciary — these are all trends which make the prospect of Turkey’s EU membership distinctly more remote,” she told Rudaw.
In addition, Ludford hopes the good relations between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani will help improve the situation of Kurds in Turkey and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the British candidate condemned the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, including Kurdish reporters.
“The completion of key political and constitutional reforms, including securing the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press, must be pushed forward if Turkey is to reinvigorate its candidacy for EU membership,” she said.
Britta Thomsen, a Danish candidate from the Social Democrats, said she is convinced that Turkey must meet the Copenhagen criteria before it can join the EU. The Copenhagen criteria, signed in the Danish capital in 1993, among other things require member states to ensure the protection of minorities.
“Turkey must ensure sufficient rights to minorities, including in relation to the Kurds. Before we talk about joining the EU, they must comply with the Copenhagen criteria,” said Thomsen.
Kurdo Baksi, a journalist, writer and debater living in Sweden, does not believe that Turkish membership in the EU is possible at this time.
“A half dictatorship like Turkey, which does not respect free press and speech, cannot be a good member in the European family,” said Baksi, who has published eight books about integration, immigration and racism, and is a candidate for the Green Party.
Firstly, Turkey must recognize the Kurdish identity, he emphasized.
“The government must recognize the language in its constitution. Secondly, Kurds must have political rights and have political parties with a Kurdish prefix,” Baksi said.
Halime Oguz, running for the Socialist People’s Party in Denmark, believes that the EU should put pressure on Turkey to respect human rights.
“Turkey should become a member of the EU once they have expanded democracy, respect for human rights, release of journalists from prisons, etc.,” Oguz, a Kurd from Turkey, told Rudaw.
According to Fathi al Abed, another Danish candidate from the Socialist People’s Party, the Gezi Park event proved there was a “lack of democracy,” therefore, EU membership is excluded.
“Instead of membership, we should offer the Turks closer cooperation with the EU,” said Abed, who is Palestinian.
In addition, he criticized Turkish authorities for reportedly allowing armed groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusrah Front to cross the border into Syria.
“Turkey is behaving like a superpower in the Middle East and allows fanatics to enter Syria and kill people. It is proof that the road to the EU is still long for the Turks,” he said.
Some analysts believe that Turkey should join the EU because that would increase the EU’s ability to keep pushing for human rights.
But Sukri Demir, a Kurd with roots in Mardin in southeast Turkey, thinks otherwise.
“They also said about Romania that the country would improve as soon as it became a member. What happened? Romania joined the EU, but discrimination against the Roma continues,” said Demir, who arrived in Sweden with his family to escape the Turkish military junta. For four years, he has been a member of the city council in the Swedish city of Solna and is now running in the elections for the People’s Party in Sweden.
Baksi said he would also work “very hard” so that all European countries recognize Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds as genocide.
“Anfal is a big tragedy for humanity and the Kurds,” he said. “It is important that we never forget it.”
Demir agreed: “The Swedish recognition came very late, but it was still good. It is a great shame that the international community did not do enough in this case. If I become a member of parliament, I will work for the recognition of Anfal,” he said.
In 2012, Sweden became the first country in the world to recognize the massacres against Kurds as genocide. Last year, the British Parliament also formally recognized Anfal as genocide.
Ludford, from Britain, believes the classification of killings as genocide is a legal matter for international courts rather than for politicians.
“The actions of Saddam Hussein in the slaughter of Kurds represents a truly terrible chapter in the history of the Kurdish people. A number of national parliaments around the world, including the UK’s House of Commons, have adopted positions which recognize these events as ‘genocide’,” she said.
“It is, however, up to parliamentarians and governments in the states concerned, as well as in the international community, to do what they can to ensure that such an event can never take place again.”