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Kurdish Protesters Shut Down Westminster Bridge Last Night

It was the latest show of solidarity for Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

Yesterday evening, members of the UK's Kurdish diaspora gathered on Westminster Bridge, chanting: “We are Kobane! Kobane is us!”

British Kurds had travelled from all over London to stand against the Islamic State and in solidarity with the residents of Kobane, an embattled Kurdish town in northern Syria. The demonstration followed sit-ins on Wednesday, which temporarily shut down Oxford Circus and Angel tube stations, and a march from Dalston to Seven Sisters earlier in the week.


Over the past few weeks, Kurds in Kobane have been surrounded by IS forces, who'd made inroads into the town before US airstrikes and operations by Kurdish forces pushed them back.

Yesterday evening seemed to be both about raising awareness of the situation and venting against the Turkish government. Many Kurds believe that Turkey is supporting IS – an understandable position given their years of persecution by the Turkish state, and the fact that the militant group mysteriously decided to release 49 Turkish diplomats at the end of last month – but lack any evidence to prove it. The depressing likelihood is that Turkey is merely indifferent to the Kurds suffering over their border.

Around 250 demonstrators – most of them Kurdish people from Turkey, Iraq and Syria – sifted into Trafalgar Square at around 4.30PM, rallying around speakers and chanting against IS.

Well-known human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell gave a short speech to the crowd, saying of the Kurds in Syria, “Their fight is our fight.”

Grabbing him for a chat, he compared the IS threat to that of Nazism. “We have a duty to stand with the Kurds in solidarity… it’s a common fight against fascism, for democracy,” he said.

On Western intervention, Tatchell said: “The victory against IS will be won by the Kurdish people… there needs to be more Western weapons, training, military intelligence and medical supplies sent to the Kurdish fighters. They need our help, because without it, they may well be defeated.”


He was also critical of the Turkish state. “Turkey’s shameful failure to support and defend the people of Kobane and northern Syria’s Kurdish regions not only calls into question its membership of NATO, but its future application to be a member of the European Union. We cannot have a nation in the EU that colludes with terrorism and which suppresses its own Kurdish people,” he said.

Having chatted to Peter, I followed the advice of Kurdish activist Aysegul Erdogan and headed to Westminster Bridge. When I arrived, it was fairly quiet, with only a few young demonstrators handing out flyers. But before long, more protesters arrived from Trafalgar Square, accompanied by a small number of police officers.

The demonstrators stood on the bridge while Erdogan spoke through the PA system, urging them to keep to one side of the pavement to avoid inconveniencing pedestrians.

After some lingering around it seemed that everyone was about to call it a day, when protesters suddenly poured into the middle of the bridge, stopping the traffic and shouting, “Who is killing Muslims? Who is killing Christians? Who is killing humanity? ISIS!” and, “Fuck the ISIS! Free Kurdistan!”

In the midst of all this, a lady wearing the colours of the Kurdish PKK forces walked calmly through the crowd. She was 30-year-old Dr Zeynep Kurban – a physicist at the UK’s largest research and development laboratory – who's been involved in the organisation of the protests. As the march turned into a sit-in, she told me their aim was to “raise publicity as much as we can… the general public doesn’t always know about the situation”.


Kurban wants to see international support for the Kurds fighting IS by way of arming the Kurdish fighters in Syria. She would also like “Western governments to put even more pressure on Turkey. Turkey doesn’t want a stable Kurdish government in the region. We believe they have been providing ISIS with weapons.”

Baris Kalay, a 19-year-old law student and president of the Kurdish Society at SOAS, told me that he thought the event had been a success. “Everyone realised how serious the situation is, we had a good turnout and everyone showed a great deal of dedication and solidarity with Kobane. I think the UK should urge Turkey to stop supporting ISIS and supply Kurdish forces with weapons. Without this, we are at a high risk of a massacre – not just of Kurds, but of all civilians in the Middle East.”

He was pretty angry that that the US don't appear to see Kobane as a priority: “It makes it seem like America is only bombing [IS] in order to protect their interests," he said. "If this is the case then the Kurdish are left without any protection."

Continuing, he suggested that if their forces in the region were armed properly there wouldn't be a need for any more intervention. “Turkey must allow a corridor for the YPG [Kurdish fighters] to receive enough equipment,” he said.

The protesters seemed keen to stay on the right side of the wider public. Anil, 24, who described himself as a "freelance activist", said, “Our aim is not to disrupt, but to inform. We will continue for as long as it takes.” He didn’t want to see British troops fight in Syria, suggesting it would only lead to retaliation within the UK. “ISIS would just want the UK out of their lands. All we need is for Turkey to stop their wall,” he said.


Meanwhile, the desperation in Kobane continues. A few days ago, female Kurdish fighter Arin Mirkan killed herself and a number of IS militants in the battle for the town. Anil said that suicide missions aren't part of the Kurdish strategy, but a weapon of last resort – a final tactic to defend against further kidnappings and slaughter.

London's Kurdish community has made it clear over the past week that the people in Kobane can rely on the support of their diaspora. However, it still remains to be seen whether their demand for increased international support will be met.

@willrworley / @adambarnettDOP

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