On the day of Erdoğan’s visit to Cambridge, local residents and students showed that he was not welcome. Zareen Taj reports on the protest.
Cambridge and Kurdish solidarity networks came together with Cambridge student groups this afternoon to protest the unseemly visit by President Erdogan to the official opening of Cambridge’s first-ever purpose-built mosque.
The mosque has been designed to be Europe’s first eco-mosque, a zero-emissions building. It is a space at the multicultural end of Cambridge’s Mill Road with a garden and cafe for all to use. Thinking of the vision behind the project and the £23m that was necessary to make the dream a reality, I am saddened that this people’s project has been hijacked as a PR exercise by a State leader.
Our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has happily been shaking hands with Trump and Erdogan at the NATO summit with tea at Buck House for afters. Such gatherings have not gone without much protest which spilt over into Cambridge as speaker after speaker listed the horrendous war crimes the Turkish leader is accused of.
Steve Sweeney of the Morning Star presented a dossier of complaint to Parkside Police Station outlining the war crimes and demanding that when Erdogan arrives in Cambridge he be immediately detained as a war criminal.
The chants of ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi!’ (‘Women, life, freedom’) greeted Nejala from the Kurdish Assembly. As a Muslim, Kurdish woman she called for Justice for the hundreds of women raped and killed along with other civilians over the years as the world turned a blind eye and arms companies continued to supply weapons to Turkey. The UK is complicit in this as not only have companies like Raytheon sold $3.5bn of Patriot missiles to Turkey but Airbus and Thales are currently developing weapons with Turkish companies.
Details of the most recent atrocities were recounted by the co-chair of Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign, Mark Campbell and speakers from local Labour party. Student Mohammed Elhaiem from the Student Kurdish Solidarity Campaign made the distinction between Islam and what it stands for and the leader of Turkey using the opening of the mosque to raise his profile as a ‘good Muslim’.
‘How can he claim to be of the religion of Islam when he can kill so many people?’
This distancing of the Muslim community from Erdogan’s actions was very important today. The mosque establishment may have had to adhere to funding constraints and invite the Turkish leader but his visit was in no way supported by the wider community of Kurdish, Turkish, Pakistani and Iraqi people among many others.
Maximum security measures were put in place around the mosque for the duration of the official mosque opening from 9am to 6pm. No cars or pedestrians were allowed within a large perimeter of the road network around the area and several squad cars and police on foot patrolled the streets for the whole day. Such a drain on our resources to provide protection begs the question why is such security needed? World leaders since George W Bush and his ‘War on Terror’ have made our world less safe and the London Bridge attacks were referenced more than once as an example. Erdogan and his record of war crimes and oppression has created opposition which is brutally silenced in Turkey; the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world is in Turkey. Stepping onto UK soil to hobnob with his pals Trump and Johnson has required him to keep looking over his shoulder.
Protestors were urged to use their votes at next week’s election to change the current status quo we must push back against the relentless swing to the far right globally:
‘We have a real chance next week! We must use it!’
Due to the sensitivity of today’s protest, it was collectively decided that there would be no assembly point near the mosque. It was felt that we must avoid being caught up in right-wing, Islamophobic narratives. In any case, the perimeter secured would not have let protestors anywhere near Erdogan while he was here. However, some protestors did choose to march down Mill Road after the protest and leaflet in the area.