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Making the YPJ invisible

STEVE SWEENEY reports on the case of Anselm Schindler, a German freelance journalist who is fighting against his conviction for a carrying the flag of the Kurdish YPJ

GERMAN courts have been accused of trying to criminalise the Kurdish freedom movement and opposition to the authoritarian regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The country is home to a sizeable Kurdish minority, many of whom fled persecution from Turkey because of their political beliefs. However, despite the occasional rift between the Berlin and Ankara governments, Germany has been accused of clamping down on dissent at Turkey’s behest.

In an increasing number of  cases activists have been dragged before German courts charged with offences for displaying the flags of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) at demonstrations. This intensified following Operation Olive Branch, Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of Afrin in northern Syria which was launched in January.

Germany’s Interior Ministry issued advice to the country’s state authorities in March 2017 which it said was an update to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) ban which has been in place since 1993. The expanded list now included the YPG, YPJ and Syria’s PYD (Democratic Union Party) which have been the organisations leading the fight against jihadist groups including Isis.

While the ban on the display of the flags and other insignia has been slightly relaxed in parts of Germany, including the capital Berlin, authorities in the traditionally conservative state of Bavaria have been particularly vigorous in their clampdown on solidarity with the Kurdish movement.

Homes across the state have been raided, including that of left-wing activist Benjamin Russ, who was held and interrogated by police in March 2017 after he posted the YPG flag on his Facebook page.

In October Anselm Schindler, a freelance journalist who has written for German publications including Junge Welt, Tax and Neues Deutschland was hit with a €3,600 fine after he was arrested for waving the YPJ flag at a demonstration during the NATO Conference in Munich in February.

He appealed the decision however a Munich court increased the fine to €4,000 and will appeal to a higher court in a bid to get the fine quashed.

Anselm spoke to the Morning Star about his arrest and the criminalisation of solidarity with the Kurdish freedom movement which he has been involved in for many years. Along with his writings Anselm is involved with the ecological campaign Make Rojava Green Again, which is working towards the reforestation of Syria.
 
What happened on the day?
 
Every February a conference of representatives of NATO countries and military companies takes place in Munich. There are also protests against this meeting every year. This year one of the main concerns of the protest was to protest the invasion of the Turkish army in the region of Afrin in northern Syria, and many people waved flags of the Kurdish freedom movement, especially the flags of the People's and Women's Defence Units YPG / YPJ. As far as I know there were almost no arrests on the day, but the police took pictures of us and evaluated the photos afterwards.

They were able to identify some of the people because they are already known to the police. Including me. Many of the activists have received letters from the police and court hearings in recent months. Why? Because there is a relatively new regulation in Germany, where it says that one should not show the symbols of the YPG and YPJ because they are also used by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is also banned in Germany. And now several cases are running against activists who have shown the flags in various demos, or have shared Facebook posts with the flags. There were therefore several house raids in several German cities.
 
Why is the YPG/YPJ flag so contentious in Germany? Do you think Turkey has anything to do with it, pressuring the German government?
 
Definitely! Turkey is an important ally for German imperialism. Germany needs Turkey as a military base and there are thousands of German companies working in Turkey. And Turkey is also an important sales market for products from Germany, not least for military goods. And last but not least, Turkey manages several million refugees for the EU and gets money for it. Therefore, the co-operation of the German and the Turkish state is very close on a political and military level. Therefore, Turkish and Kurdish leftist activists are persecuted not only in Turkey but also in Germany. The PKK has been banned in Germany since 1993 and now other structures are also being fought, including the Kurdish youth, Ciwanen Azad, and the Kurdish student organization YXK. This is the background for the banner ban.
 
Was the timing of the arrests and charges significant?
 
Yes, the persecution has increased at the same time as the occupation of Afrin. There were also many protests in Germany against Erdogan's war and the German support for this war. When Afrin fell, German tanks rolled through the city, which has also made quite a few people angry in Germany. And the German state has responded to the protests with repression.
 
How many others in Germany face the same or similar charges? And what has the response been in terms of support for yourself and others both politically and from the broader movements including trade unions?
 
That’s not clear yet, many processes are still taking place, but it's about more than a hundred people. The unions are hardly interested in the subject. But we will build a network and we will launch a campaign against repression to inform more people and to defend ourselves.
 
Can you explain why the court imposed the fine and why it was then increased?
 
The court says the PKK is trying to use the YPG and YPJ symbols because the PKK flag is banned. The argument is that anyone who wears YPG and YPJ flags supports the PKK. Ultimately, we are concerned with abolishing not only the absurd banner prohibitions, but also with abolishing the PKK ban. The judge was furious because I gave a political speech in court, so he raised the sentence again. I'm supposed to pay 4,400 euros, but my lawyer has appealed and now the lawsuit goes on to a higher court.
 
What message are the German authorities trying to send by fining you so heavily?
 
They want to break the resistance against German support for Erdogan. But they will not succeed. We continue!
 
It is also very important in Western countries to support the Kurdish freedom movement. Western countries are partly responsible for the chaos and wars in the Middle East. And it is our responsibility to fight this policy. We need to build a movement that is capable of radically challenging capitalism and war. It's about bringing together the struggles against patriarchy, exploitation and war. Together with the Kurdish movement.

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