Report from:
Peoples Want Peace:
International Peace Conference in solidarity with the Syrian people
Istanbul, Turkey

25-29 April 2013

From: Dave Webb and Agnita Norberg

Probably partly because of our support for the demonstrations against the installation of US-NTO Patriot missiles in Turkey in January (supposedly because of concerns of a possible attack from Syria), the Global Network was invited to attend an International Peace Conference organized by the Peace Association of Turkey under the auspices of the World Peace Council. This was a follow from a similar event held in Antakya (ancient Antioch) in November 2012, very close to the border with Syria. Antioch is being used a springboard by the Turkish government for training exercises, preparations and interventions into Syria. This time the conference was to take place in two parts, the first being a 3-day event in Istanbul followed by two days in Antakya. It was in Istanbul in April 2012 that 70 nations met t a conference to support the Syrian opposition and increase pressure on the Syrian government.

We (Dave Webb and Agneta Norberg) attended the Peace Conference on behalf of the Global Network, although unfortunately we couldn’t extend our stay to Antioch. In Istanbul we met with representatives of peace-organizations from many parts of the world who were gathering to protest against the imperialist war in Syria and declare the solidarity with the Syrian people. We were greeted at the airport on the European side of the city by a group of very helpful young people who took us to the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre, named after a world famous Turkish poet and author. This was on the Asian side of the city and so we needed a ferry journey across the Bosphorus to get there. That evening we mixed with our hosts - Aydemir Güler of the Peace Association of Turkey; Socorro Gomez, President of the World Peace Council and Aqel Taqaz, regional coordinator of the WPC and also from the Palestine Peace Committee – and the other guests and friends at a press reception in the grounds of the building. Agneta immediately demonstrated her 3-D teaching tools (her world map and globe showing key US bases!) Wherever we went we were greeted with typical Turkish hospitality – including impressive varieties of food and drink.

The following day we split into two groups in order to visit a number of to local organizing groups in the city. Our group began with a visit to the Pir Sultan Abdal Centre. Pir Sultan Abdal was an early 16th Century Turkish poet who wrote about resistance, love, peace and God. He was one of the most important ideological figures for the Alevi (Turkey’s largest religious minority) and the Alawites (a prominent Shia group in Syria and the basis for the Assad regime). He is renowned for his rebellion against authoritarian rule – something which led him into many problems with the Ottoman establishment – and now the Alevi are suffering discrimination from the Turkish government which is supporting the Syrian rebels.

After meeting and talking with prominent members of the Centre we were taken to Ataturk Airport (where we had arrived just the day before) to support a group of airline workers who were picketing the airport calling for the reinstatement of 305 airline workers sacked by Turkish Airlines for protesting against the Turkish government banning of strikes. They were told they had been fired by text, email and phone messages! The Turkish Civil Aviation Unions (Hava-İş which represents 14,000 workers) has announced strike action at every Turkish Airline company and the the workers we met were strong and determined to regain their jobs. Together with their union and their international trade union family they are fighting back and the courts have already found in favour of 170 of the sacked workers and Hava-İş is urging the company to allow the rest to return as well. One very young striker said that she had never thought about how society  worked until she was dismissed, “I will never be the same again. I have learned to fight back,” she said as we sat down to chat with her. Even here on the picket line we were served with tea and serenaded with powerful union songs sung with some passion. It was clear that many had become aware of the importance of solidarity and organizing.

Aydemir Güler speaking and supporting the strikers at Ataturk Airport

Our next visit was to the office of DISK or the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey. It was founded in 1967 having split from the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, following the military coup of 1980, DISK was made illegal but became legal again in 1991 and in 2009 had a membership of over 426,000. They are fighting for the democratisation of Turkey and against the Turkish Government efforts to control Trade Unions and limit fundamental rights for workers. Although the major Turkish labour unions could not agree on a joint 1st of May declaration, DISK and 4 other prominent unions decided to organise a common demonstration in Taksim square despite the governor of Istanbul declaring that such a demonstration would be impossible. The members of the committee we met were nevertheless determined to push on with the demonstration.

That evening we travelled to one of the Prince Islands or the Kizil Adalar "Red Islands" or just Adalar as they are officially called. We were on the largest of the four called Büyükada, noted for the fact that Leon Trotsky was exiled there in 1929 and stayed until 1933 when he moved to Mexico. In fact one of our hard working hosts and guides, a lovely young woman called Zeynep said that her grandfather had been a bodyguard of Trotsky durinh his stay on the island. Dinner was held on the top of a hill so that we could see the lights of the city beneath us and a beautiful orange moon rose slowly from the sea as we ate, drank and talked.

The following day we gathered together for the conference in the hall of Petrol Is – the Oil Workers Union House. The conference was opened by Zuhal Okuyan for the Peace Association of Turkey; Mustafa Oztaskin, the president of Petrol-Is and Socorro Gomez, President of the World Peace Council.

The day was to be split into three panels and the first was entitled “Concepts of Peace and anti-imperialist struggle”. Marjory Cohn from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and Professor of Law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, warned us that the UN resolution on the “Responsibility to Protect” would be used to justify a growing number of military interventions. Cathy Goodman outlined the US Peace Council’s position on Syria and their support for home-grown democratic struggles. We were panelists at this session and we described the growing importance of space technology to the hegemonic plans for global reach by the US and NATO. Dave's presentation can be seen here and Agneta specifically highlighted the importance of the north and listed the steps for invading a country followed by the US. Other speakers were Manfried  Ziegler (Frankfurt Solidarity Committee) and Irene Eckert (Working Circle for Peace Policy). After lunch the second session was a panel on “NATO and World Peace” and speakers were Zuhal Okuyan (Turkish Peace Association), Roland Wanitschka (Free-Thinkers Association, Germany), Christos Marganelis (Greek Committee for International Detente And Peace), Sandra Davidoic (Belgrade Forum) and Socorro Gomes (WPC).

The thirds session was on “Imperialist designs for the Middle East and Solidarity with the people of Syria” and was devoted to the situation in Syria where hundreds of thousands have had to leave their homes and thousands have lost their lives due to the ongoing war in the country. Invited speakers from the World Peace Council (Iraklis Tsavdaridis), Turkey (Aydemir Guler), Lebanon (Jamil Safieh), Syria (Adel Omar), Jordan (Mueen Albuqain and Abdullah Zrequat), Iran (Jamshid Ahmadi) and Palestine (Aqel Taqaz) expressed their solidarity with the Syrian people and demanded an end to the bloodshed and a demand that Syria be left to solve their internal problems without interference from the International Sunni movement, the Islam Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army.  The people in Syria should have the right to determine their future and the leadership of their country and to live in peace without any foreign or foreign backed intervention. The speaker from Syria (Adel Omar) described the ongoing destruction of his country and the wide spread suffering caused by sanctions and resulting lack of medicines: “We have seen what happened to Iraq and Libya. Total destruction of the country. The same is going on in Syria: the mercenaries destroy our schools, our Universities, they have stolen our monuments, burnt our factories, they want to repeat Libya and create a Greater Middle East but we are fighting back. We will not surrender.”

Finally, the conference formulated and issued the following statement:

The destruction of Syria is dangerous and criminal. Syria must be supported to solve their internal problems through peaceful negotiation. All foreign forces supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, NATO forces, Turkey and the US must stop their plans for destroying Syria and installing a regime change. Syria shall be left to solve their own internal problems without any interference of foreign forces.

We demand:

  • that the destabilization and destruction of the country of Syria be stopped;
  • that all foreign destabilization troops leave Syria;
  • that no regime change be imposed by foreign forces, as:
    • the Syrian people should solve their internal political problems without external forces aiming to destroy a secular government;
    • Syrians have a right to decide their future;
  • that the US Missile Defence installations in Gaziantep be removed!
  • that US/NATO/Israel stop planning to create a greater Middle East!
The conference was extended slightly after the close with a slide show of photos of Syria in conflict taken by Ukranian journalist Anhar Kochneva. Anhar, an outspoken supporter of President Assad had been in Syria since the start of the conflict freelancing for several Russian media groups. In October she was abducted by Syrian militants and held for a $50 million ransom. However she escaped was present at the conference to talk through her slides via an interpreter.

Although we were unable to attend the final 2 days in Antakya we both had learnt so much, met and networked with so many people and were able to do this because of the excellent organisation and smooth running of the conference. Our grateful thanks go to the organiser and participants – it is so important to recognise the people who are rejecting military intervention and an escalation of the violence in Syria and throughout the Middle East. We express our solidarity with them, recognising that it is only by standing together that we can  hope to overcome militarism and the forces of imperialism that are gathering to gain control over the assets and resources they think they need.

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