Turkey often threatens to fall out with Germany on the Kurdish issue and its president has accused the Bundesrepublik of not doing enough to tackle the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But it seems that Germany is anything but lenient towards the group. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently accused Germany of harbouring thousands of PKK members and of refusing to hand them over to Turkey.
But German politicians and lawyers have denied the charges, as has the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, which observes the PKK.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) said that “for us, all terrorism, regardless of motive, is something that we in Germany fight against’. He added that they would be “open and ready” to cooperate with Turkey.
In fact, investigators and lawyers alike have said that no other EU country is as hard on the PKK as Germany. Mere membership of the PKK structure can be severely penalised and leading activists were hit with seven-year-long prison sentences by a German court in the past.
Raising funds, recruiting fighters and promoting the party are all punishable, as Germany has banned the PKK since 1993.
Unlike countries like Belgium, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also strongly criticised, the German authorities are eager to enforce the ban. Since it came into force, Kurdish associations have been searched, documents seized and organisations close to the PKK shut down. In Berlin, protesters were recently hit with fines of several thousands euros for allegedly shouting “The PKK lives”.
The federal prosecutor also keeps tabs on the more militant and enthusiastic activists, as it is responsible for politically sensitive cases and terrorism. Since the PKK was banned, 93 men and women have been convicted in Germany.
Thousands of cases have been opened across the country, more than a hundred every year. Suspected leading members of the PKK in exile were sentenced back in the 1990s for being part of a terrorist organisation. There were also arson attacks on Turkish companies and consulates. The PKK now mostly concentrates on peaceful action.
After the 11 September attacks on the US in 2001, Berlin passed an amendment to its legislation on tracking members of terrorist groups that are active abroad. It meant that convictions could now be handed out based on mere membership of an organisation.
It was no longer the case that direct terrorist action had to be carried out. In Stuttgart, a case has recently started where a 46-year-old man is accused of participating in PKK activities. In October, a man was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in a similar case.
Berlin lawyer Peer Stolle, who has defended both Kurds and Turks, said that “no other European state tracks Kurds, because of allegations of PKK involvement, as intensively (as Germany)”. He added that French and Danish prosecutors have both been requested to extradite Kurds so that the case can be heard in Germany.
In Brussels, however, proceedings were suspended two weeks ago, after judges ruled that the accused had indeed fought with the PKK, but that it was in a conflict where both sides had taken up arms.
PKK co-founder Cemil Bayık requested a pardon in 2015 for militant action carried out in Germany. His fellow founder, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in a maximum security Turkish prison since 1999; he was sentenced to death shortly before capital punishment was outlawed in the country. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment as a result.
About 800,000 Kurds live in Germany. Specific figures are not available, as Kurds came from Turkey as Gastarbeiters. Worldwide, there are about 30 million Kurds, making them the most populous people without their own state and Kurdish was, for a long time, banned in Turkey. Around 14,000 Kurds living in Germany support the PKK, while in the Middle East that figure is around a million.
Chairman of Germany’s Turkish community Gökay Sofuoglu said that he believes the statements made by Ankara are exaggerated, but that there are indeed causes for concern.
Lawyers have pointed out that thousands of extremist right-wing Turks can exercise the right to protest and form associations in Germany, but only the so-called Grey Wolves have been labelled as militant.
After the PKK’s switch to more peaceful action and its role in protecting minorities from Islamists in Syria and Iraq, the Social Democrats have called for a “reassessment” of the PKK ban. Die Linke wants the ban lifted completely.