Day-Mer is a Kurdish and Turkish community organisation in London. Oktay Cinpolat, who is part of the management of Day-Mer and Day-Mer Youth, spoke to Solidarity.
Day-Mer was set up in 1989 by a group of community activists, some of who had known each other in Turkey. We work with and on behalf of Turkish and Kurdish people living and working in London, to help them solve their problems and promote their cultural, economic, social and democratic rights; to strengthen solidarity amongst themselves as well as local people; and to help their integration into society. For us this is possible by working closely with the labour movement and promoting its interests. Day-Mer Youth was set up in 1996 and I got involved around 2000, after the movements against the original introduction of student tuition fees.
We have a Day-Mer community centre in Newington Green and work closely with another community centre, North London Community Home.
We are not a membership organisation in the sense of signing a form, but we have quite a lot of supporters and people who are actively involved. Most are Kurdish but some non-Kurdish Turkish people. Some of our supporters are trade unionists; but beyond that we have a wider political orientation to working with the trade union movement and getting our community to look towards it. We are not only concerned with our community, but with the wider interests of the labour movement and the whole working class.
Our youth and student membership is organised in Day-Mer Youth. There is a secondary school group, a college group, a university group and a young workers’ group, all of which are quite active.
We have no permanent relations with other left organisations, but we will work with anyone genuinely on the left, with progressive organisations that promote the welfare of the people and the labour movement. We’ve worked quite a bit with the SWP and with the Socialist Party. For instance we’ve supported some TUSC candidates.
Can you say something about your activity in relation to Kobane and the Kurdish-ISIS struggle?
We’ve been involved in supporting the Kurdish struggle for a long time. For us it didn’t begin exclusively with the ISIS crisis. But since the battle around Kobane began the issue has got much wider attention and Kurdish communities in the UK, as all over the world, have been very much stirred up. We’ve seen mass demonstrations for the first time in many years.
Day-Mer is part of a coalition campaigning around these issues, with a variety of Kurdish groups, some leftist and some more nationalist. We took part in the three mass demonstrations in London, including the biggest one in Trafalgar Square.
We’ve held public meetings with various left groups. We’ve also brought people over from Turkey and from Kurdistan to speak about the issues involved. We’ve collected money for charities and organisations helping people in Kurdistan, about £3000 at the last count I think.
Day-Mer Youth organised a meeting of about 40 or 50 people, together with some other Turkish and Kurdish youth organisations, and out of that there were street demonstrations, blockades, direct actions, and so on.
In a way most importantly, we’ve raised these issues with the trade unions. As a result the TUC discussed it at their general council, issued a statement, and raised it in the European TUC. Perhaps this also had some impact on the statements other unions issued.
Now the people of Kobane are no longer on the defensive, so there’s a bit of a breathing space. But for us the issues have not changed. We need to keep raising this question.
I want to stress the democratic nature of what is happening in Kobane and in Rojava more generally. Now, we can’t say that these governments are socialist, exactly. But they are progressive and democratic, creating a framework in which Kurds and other peoples in the area can live together on the basis of secularism and equal rights. We value this greatly.
I also want to stress the issue of women’s rights, which is a very important part of this. 30 or 40 percent of the Kurdish fighters against ISIS are women. Of course women want to fight because they have a lot to lose, because ISIS is such a brutal misogynistic organisation. It also reflects women’s mobilisation and participation in the cantons of Rojava, including for equal rights, which seems to be quite extensive.
What is your analysis of the rise of ISIS?
It did not come out of nowhere. Let’s look back at the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. The action of the US and British imperialists disorganised and destroyed Iraqi society, in many places leaving nothing but dust and stones. And as it destroyed social bonds it helped strengthen sectarian polarisation, strengthening sectarian political forces. The US backed a sectarian Shia regime which drove some people into the arms of Sunni sectarian forces like ISIS. ISIS also had help from elements of the former Ba’athist regime.
The situation in Syria, the sectarian conflict there, has also had an impact. And of course the US doesn’t know who to back. At one point it backed some Sunni sectarians against Assad. Now it is attacking the Sunni-sectarian groups.
ISIS is an ideological group, of course, but it is also an economic force, a brutal form of capitalism attempting to take control of oil resources and so on in the name of a particular community. It is a product of the crisis of imperialism in the region, though of course it is not anti-imperalist.
What do you say about the US interventions in the region?
Our statements have been very clear, that we give no support to Western intervention. We do not invite them to play a role in the region. We take a clear stand against both ISIS and Western imperialism: if the two gangs want to murder each other, that is not our concern. Between these two groups of reactionaries, we stand for the third camp of democratic forces, in particular the Kurdish struggle. We take the same approach in Syria: against the Assad regime and against ISIS, for democratic forces and the Kurds.
Having said that, the Kurds, most of all in Kobane, are in a life and death situation. Opposing imperialism does not mean condemning the fact they have received military support from the US. To call for the bombing of ISIS outside Kobane to stop would be suicidal; it would mean undermining the Kurdish struggle.
In general we oppose imperialist intervention: for instance the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or Israel’s war against the Palestinians. That is not at all in contradiction with what we are saying here.
Why do you think the British left has been so hesitant to get involved in solidarity?
Bear in mind that even in our community there has been a slowness in waking up to what is going on. We had to speak to people on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and who had visited there, in order to find out more and then gradually form a picture. So one on level the British left lagging behind is natural.
However, that does not make it right. Undoubtedly the British left should do a lot more.
What's your assessment of the Turkish government and Turkey's role in the Middle East?
Turkey has “neo-Ottomanist” ambitions to dominate the region. [The Ottoman Empire was the Turkish empire which at its height stretched from southeastern Europe and northwest Africa to Iran, surviving for hundreds of years until 1923.] However, this cannot go beyond the wishes of U.S imperialism, which it is strongly bound by. In this sense, Turkey is not an imperialist state.
Since the AKP [Justice and Development Party, the conservative religious party in government in Turkey] came to office in 2002, it has argued that Turkey's economy has grown and prospered, and that there has been more democracy. But this is only appearance. The AKP has implemented policies which attack the majority of the population, for instance in terms of trade union rights, women's rights, education, police brutality, exploitation of the Kurdish peace process. The bulk of the population did not get a chance to taste real democracy or see real improvement in their living standards.
On the other hand, groups and individuals around the AKP government have become multi-millionaires, setting up various industries and buying out companies worldwide. One of them is United Biscuits in England, which is owned by the AKP-affiliated Ulker.
The lack of real democracy became apparent in 2013 when a national rebellion broke out, motivated by an accumulation of social and economic issues.
To return to Britain, you participated in the 19 November student demo. What do you think?
After the protests in 2010-11, which were the biggest student rebellion in British history, it’s not surprising that we’re once again seeing young people on the streets.
The demands of the movement, for free education and so on, are absolutely correct, legitimate, progressive. Any government which wanted to see a new generation of young people grow up with a decent life would support them.
The protest showed that young people are ready to fight for their rights. And it gives the left, the labour movement and so on a role, an opportunity, but also a challenge – to not just mobilise but organise many of these young people and to try to carry the dynamism and momentum into the trade union struggle as well.
In 2011, I remember the police working hard to prevent demonstrating students from linking up with the sparks on strike. They know very well that when such links are built it can generate real mass movements.
On the role of NUS: what NUS did was wrong, and not in the interests of students. That doesn’t mean we should abandon or refuse to work with NUS. Wherever possible the student movement should work within NUS and attempt to pull them to our side. Yes, organise independently, and yes criticise when they get it wrong, but not at the expense of organising within the structures and working with the people they organise as well.
What’s your view on the general election and on wider political trends in Britain?
The problem of UKIP, the threat it poses to migrants in particular and the working class in general, is a very serious one. But it is not just about UKIP. The three established parties have prepared the way for it by their policies of blaming migrants, blaming the poor, attacking the unions and so on. UKIP grows out of the wider social situation, the wider crisis of capitalism and imperialism.
We need to fight racism wherever it raises its head, UKIP, the BNP, the EDL, but also when it comes from the mainstream parties.
There is a lot of anti-Toryism around, and that’s fine, but the left also needs to argue for a more systematic criticism of capitalism itself. It’s difficult, because we’re not in a strong position and time is short, but that’s what we should use the election to do.
Of course there is left struggle inside the Labour Party, and we will work with these comrades. We don’t rule out a more powerful movement inside Labour, but that is not what we advocate. We advocate a new mass workers’ party – a party set up not by left groups but by the trade unions, based on the unions but taking their fight for workers’ interests into the political arena.