Syrian Kurds call on Germany to abolish YPG flag ban

A senior Kurdish official from Syria welcomed the decision by a court in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to acquit an activist on Monday of violating a ban on displaying the flag of a Kurdish armed group, but called on officials to abolish the ban altogether.
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A senior Kurdish official from Syria welcomed the decision by a court in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to acquit an activist on Monday of violating a ban on displaying the flag of a Kurdish armed group, but called on officials to abolish the ban altogether.

German activist Monika Gärtner-Engel joined a protest in March against Turkish attacks on Afrin in which she waved the flag. German police later confiscated the flag, arguing that it was illegal, as the Kurdish news website ANF reported. The Essen Prosecutor’s Office then launched an investigation against Gärtner-Engel, claiming that waving the banner of the People's Protection Units (YPG) was a crime, and slapped her with a 200 euro fine.

On Monday, a local court in Gelsenkirchen acquitted the activist.

In March 2017, the German Interior Ministry issued a notice to all states with the title “Update on the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] ban” and prohibited various Kurdish symbols including those of the YPG, YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) and PYD (Democratic Union Party), suggesting they were linked to the PKK.

The PKK is a Kurdish rebel force currently engaged in a decades-long war with the Turkish government for broader Kurdish rights. Turkey, the European Union, and the United States label the PKK a “terrorist” organization. The YPG has denied links to the PKK.

Currently, the YPG, as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is battling the Islamic State (IS) in the last of the group’s strongholds in Syria.

“The court said that the YPG YPJ flag is not criminal and that raising the YPG YPJ flags is not banned. We welcome this decision by this court,“ Ibrahim Murad, the representative of the Self-Administration of North and East Syria in Germany.

According to the ANF news site, the court ruled that the protest was not tied to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as the prosecutor claimed, and there was, therefore, no ban against the YPG in Germany.

However, Murad said this is not enough. “We want this decision to be implemented over all of Germany, not in that city alone,“ he said.

“This decision is baseless; both the YPG and YPJ have done nothing wrong, and they have protected humanity against the terrorism of Daash [IS],” he added. “The German state should thank the YPG and YPJ for defeating the most criminal organization in the world.”

“We think the ban should be lifted, since its baseless. We are waiting [for] the German federal court to take the right decision to reconsider this ban on these two important symbols for us, which are symbols of all the people of northern Syria,” he continued. “Because banning these flags means denying the rights of the people in north and east Syria because these forces represent the people of the north and east Syria.” 

Activists say that German states continue to harass or prosecute their citizens for posting the YPG flag on social media or waving it during protests.

“So, this decision which was taken in Gelsenkirchen should be applied to all over Germany,” Murad said.

A few weeks ago, a court in Munich aquitted Italian artist Ludo Vici, reported Neues Deutschland. He was accused by the prosecution of sharing a post containing the YPG flag on Facebook. Prosecutors say they will appeal the verdict.

YPG spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud told Kurdistan 24 that some European governments are not acting rationally when it comes to such bans, since it was the YPG that fought against IS, “in order to prevent attacks such as what happened in Paris, and could happen in Berlin, UK, or Washington.”

“Erdogan has always threatened to send jihadists to European countries [among] refugees, and ask[s] Merkel to give money from Germany and the German people. Erdogan uses this money for Syria,” he said.

“The international community should stand against the chauvinist mentality of Erdogan and affiliated Jihadists.”  

Editing by John J. Catherine