The U.K. Parliament's House of Lords hosted a meeting on Friday where the participants conveyed support for the PKK terrorist group's leader Abdullah Öcalan and praised him. While the incident raised eyebrows in Ankara, the British Embassy claimed yesterday that the event had no relation with the U.K. government and was organized independently of it. In relation to the incident the British Embassy in Ankara told Daily Sabah that "the meeting took place in the House of Lords on Feb. 15. The event was organized by the 'Freedom for Öcalan' campaign group. This event was organized completely independently of the U.K. Government."
İlham Ahmed, a so-called leader from the PKK's Syrian affiliate the People's Protection Unit (YPG) and Hişyar Özsoy, a deputy from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) reportedly attended the meeting, Yeni Şafak newspaper reported yesterday.
Accordingly, speaking at the meeting, Ahmed underlined that the ongoing civil war in Syria which caused the death of 1 million people was an "opportunity" for them, referring to the emergence of the YPG in the region. "Kurds used the opportunity [that] appeared in 2011 well," İlham said and added that yet "there was pressure on Öcalan who is the mastermind of this plan."
Öcalan, who founded the PKK in 1978, was in exile in Syria until Damascus and Ankara reached an agreement in 1998 and he was forced to leave. After fleeing from one country to another, he was eventually caught in Kenya outside the Greek Embassy in Nairobi on Feb. 15, 1999, by Turkish secret service agents, striking a heavy blow to the PKK.
He was sentenced to death due to his role in the terrorist group's decades-long terror campaign against the Turkish state. Following the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey in 2002, Öcalan's sentence was changed to life imprisonment. He is being held in a high-security prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara. He was later banned from meeting with lawmakers and HDP deputies after mounting PKK terrorist attacks in the country. Formed in 1978, the PKK terrorist group has been fighting the Turkish government for an independent state. Its terror campaign has caused the deaths of more than 40,000 people including children, women and elderly people.
In the meeting, Özsoy also praised the leader of the terrorist group. The Turkish government has long accused the HDP of close links with the PKK. The HDP is known for its support of autonomy in regions where large Kurdish populations live. Also, some of its members have been charged or accused of having links to the terrorist organization. Its former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, was arrested in November 2016 over terrorist propaganda.
Answering a question about the impact of these kinds of meetings on cooperation between London and Ankara against the terrorist group, the embassy underscored that "the U.K. and Turkey cooperate closely on counterterrorism and will continue to do so. We work closely with our Turkish partners to disrupt PKK terrorist activity."
The British Embassy added that "the U.K. government fully understands the concerns Turkey has about PKK terrorist activity."
In the face of the threats posed by the terrorist group, Turkey has been calling on its allies to increase cooperation in order to prevent the group from continuing its activities. Ankara has been attempting to raise awareness about the group since it is not only a threat to Turkey but also to the region and beyond. The U.S., U.K. and the EU have listed the PKK as a terrorist group.
Yet, Ankara expects concrete steps from its allies to prevent the activities of the terrorist group. The lack of support to Turkey from its allies against the terrorist threats has been causing a loss of trust in Ankara as well.