An interview with Federico Venturini, one of the members of the International Delegation for Peace and Freedom blocked in Iraqi Kurdistan on Saturday 12 of June, conducted by Selva Varengo for INTERSEZIONALE
The following is an interview with Federico Venturini, researcher at the University of Udine and member of the International Peace Delegation in İmrali, stopped at Erbil airport (Iraq) and sent back to Italy.
First of all, tell us what this International Delegation for Peace and Freedom is? Who is it composed of and what are its goals?
We are a delegation of 150 people from all over Europe who went to Kurdistan with one goal: peace and freedom. Politicians, academics, human rights activists, trade unionists, journalists, feminists and ecologists from over ten countries, we wanted to get a direct idea of the situation and take action to end the ongoing war and destruction, and contribute to the dialogue between the different Kurdish political actors.
The Kurdistan Regional Government prevented the delegation from holding the press conference you had scheduled in front of the United Nations headquarters in Erbil, deploying special armed forces outside the hotel where the delegation was located and preventing them from leaving. Other people in the delegation, twenty-seven in total, were blocked by the German airport authorities in Dusseldorf and given a 30-day travel ban. Finally, another thirty people were stopped at the Erbil airport in Iraq and rejected from the country… What happened to you in particular?
I was stuck at the airport in Erbil. I left Udine on Friday morning to arrive at Malpensa airport. I first stopped in Istanbul and finally I arrived at Erbil airport in the early hours of Saturday morning. Before passport control I was taken to an office, like all non-Iraqis. I was the last to be questioned. Unfortunately I was told that I have a “bad profile” and I was prevented from leaving the airport. I was taken to an abandoned gate and there I found other activists in my condition, 3 Slovenians who had been stuck there for 48 hours and two Germans, one of them a member of Parliament from Die Linke who was left free to join the delegation in Erbil the next morning. I was offered two options: either to stay there, in the abandoned gate, until my official return scheduled for June 19, or to be repatriated immediately. At the moment I waited, hoping for outside intervention.
The next morning I spoke to the airport manager but there was nothing I could do. The Italian consul also came but, beyond generic legal support, he did not take a political position, ultimately siding with the government of the autonomous administration of Kurdistan led by the Barzani family. As the hours went by, the blockades increased, especially with activists from Germany, and we became almost thirty people. We started having an internal meeting and organizing ourselves, we shot videos and sent messages to the outside. At that point, the control over us became more stringent: we were prevented from accessing other parts of the airport, such as the bar, and we were watched by 3-4 plainclothes policemen.
Eventually I got on a return flight early Sunday morning and arrived at Malpensa. From there I took a long train ride to return home to Udine on Sunday evening. A long trip…
Afterwards, all the people stranded at the airports were released and returned to the countries of departure.
Was the conference still held at the right hotel? How did the day continue? I have read there were protests in front of the hotel and dances in the hall.
Ultimately, the press conference was held on Monday. It was originally supposed to be done in front of the UN offices in Erbil but the police banned it. The possibility of holding the conference outside the hotel was also blocked by a large array of police in riot gear. The conference was finally held inside the hotel and then there were various traditional Kurdish dances, a sign of resistance.
What was the message of the press conference?
The aim of the press conference was to send a message of peace to all parties involved in the conflict because a political solution must be found and it is essential to remain united against the threat from Turkey. For these reasons we ask that:
all those who wanted to join the delegation and were pushed back, arrested or deported to one of the airports had to be released and be allowed to join the rest of the delegation;
all Kurdish political actors return to dialogue with each other;
all international humanitarian organizations and political institutions support a peaceful solution;
the Turkish state army withdraws immediately from the whole region.
Here you can read the full text of the press release
Why did you choose to go to a delegation in Iraqi Kurdistan? Can you tell us in a few words what is happening in Kurdistan in the last months and in particular what is the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan?
The situation in the Middle East is very complex. While the Kurdish population exists (30-50 million strong), formally Kurdistan does not exist.
The territories where this population lives are occupied by Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. While in the first two countries the Kurds are severely repressed, in the other two they have managed to carve out some space for autonomy. In Iraq, since the end of the first Gulf War in the 1990s, the Kurds have developed the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, formally recognized by the central government of Baghdad in 2005. In Syria, however, Kurdish militias liberated various territories after the Arab Spring of the 2011 and the resistance to the invasion of ISIS, giving life to the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria. While the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan has embraced a capitalist oil-based political system, the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria follows the idea of democratic confederalism. In both northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey there are guerrilla bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – PKK, also inspired by democratic confederalism.
In April of this year, Turkey began new military operations to eliminate the presence of PKK guerrillas along its border. In addition, it is bombing villages on the border in order to depopulate the area and create a buffer zone under its control.
These attacks take place in the silence of the international media. We cannot forget that Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, has the power to manage the flow of migrants along the Balkan route and represents an important market for the European war industries.
How is it possible that a delegation working for peace aand recognition of the Kurdish people has been stopped in the autonomous region of Kurdistan?
The International Erbil Airport is formally managed by Iraqi forces, however the Kurdish administration is the one that makes the decisions. It seems almost paradoxical that the delegation is hindered by Kurds when the goal is to support the Kurdish cause. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the situation in the Middle East is very complicated… The administration of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan is firmly in the hands of the Barzani clan and is aligned with the politics of Turkey. This is why he is condescending to Turkey for his attacks on Iraqi territory in an anti-PKK key. This support even went as far as authorizing the formal lease of Iraqi territory to Turkish troops. It seems clear that the delegation was not welcomed by the Kurdish administration (perhaps primed by the Turkish services) but we did not expect such a violent repression. This reaction is an indication of Turkey’s power and the gravity of the situation: we are on the verge of an intra-Kurdish war.
You were also part of the International Peace Delegation to İmrali and recently, with Thomas Jeffrey Miley, you have co-edited the book Your Freedom and Mine: Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdish Question in Erdogan’s Turkey. Can you update us on the situation of Öcalan, who has been held for 22 years and is in total isolation in the maximum security prison on the Turkish island of İmrali?
Abdullah Öcalan, founder and leader of the PKK and imprisoned on the island of İmralı since 1999, is the figure who led to a profound ideological innovation in the Kurdish liberation movement and is the recognized leader by the Kurdish population, especially in Bakur ( Kurdish region in Turkey) and in Rojava (Kurdish region in Syria). Unfortunately, for years he has lived in a regime of almost total isolation imposed by the Turkish state and cannot even receive communications from his own lawyers. His release is indispensable, in addition to recognizing fundamental human rights, to obtain a lasting peace in the Middle East. We are aware that Turkey cannot annihilate the PKK just as the latter cannot win militarily; the only way is to build a table for peace in which Öcalan, as a leader recognized by the Kurdish population, must be able to participate as a free man.
In Italy at the beginning of 2021, an international campaign was launched called The time has come: Freedom for Öcalan! (https://www.change.org/p/parlamento-europeo-il-momento-è-arrivato-libertà-per-ocalan) and through a petition and the awarding of honorary citizenship in several cities to Öcalan, as well as events, public information and demonstrations, we were able to relaunch the demand for the Kurdish leader’s freedom.
You are also a member of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology (TRISE) which works on social ecology or the need to combine ecology and the social question. This thought and the writings of its founder, Myrray Bookchin, has had a strong influence in the last years on Kurdish resistance and their social forms of organization. Do you want to tell us something about this?
Murray Bookchin was of paramount importance. Influencing the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, he contributed to transform the Kurdish liberation movement which, from a Marxist-Leninist-inspired group, has come to develop a totally original thought: the democratic confederalism I mentioned earlier when talking about the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
This political vision rejects the concept of nation-state and proposes its overcoming within current borders. Democratic confederalism is based on three pillars: participatory democracy, the active role of women and a new relationship with nature. Also thanks to the influence of social ecology, starting from the 2000s the Kurdish liberation movement has progressively abandoned the project of creating a new autonomous state, considered to be one of the causes of the perpetuation of forms of domination, and has begun to ask for greater autonomy within the current borders until the future abolition of the State. Furthermore, the crucial role of women (the first colony in history) for the liberation of the entire society is increasingly emphasized and the importance of seeking a new relationship with nature, based not on the exploitation of resources but on coexistence and mutual development. Finally, I would add that we often look at the influences on the Kurdish resistance but perhaps it is time to understand what they have to teach us.
I agree. To conclude, can you tell us what we can learn from the Kurdish resistance? And what does it indicate about our situation?
The Kurdish people are the example of an oppressed people fighting for their freedom. Despite all the betrayals they have had to endure over the years, they are still there, at the forefront and ready to resist, whether in the mountains or in urban areas, in prisons, with individual choices or in families. This example of resilience is very inspiring, especially when associated with the development of a new political paradigm such as democratic confederalism.
Our task now is twofold. On the one hand, defend these revolutionary experiences. On the other hand, we must build cultures of resistance that can develop revolutionary practices and visions in our context. The Kurdish populations, like the Zapatista ones, have been able to modify their planning, adapting it to specific geographical and historical contexts. We too, as participants in movements that come from the bottom left, must face this task and accept that the responses we have developed to date are insufficient. Insufficient both to face reality and unable to dialogue with a large part of society. Here, perhaps we need to listen more to the Kurdish people with an open heart, go beyond rigid dogmas and take the courage to build our revolution.