Turkish state: international pariah

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Photo: Freedom Committee for Nuriye and Semih

Since the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has arrested, fired or suspended from work some 190,000 people. Approximately 50,000 people have been gaoled, including 13 People’s Democratic Party (HDP) MPs. Central government has taken direct control of 82 municipalities in predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, suspended democratically elected co-mayors and gaoled 90 of them on terrorism charges. About 40% of top Turkish generals and admirals have been removed from military service and 400 personnel taken out of NATO postings. Nearly a quarter of Turkey’s judiciary have been dismissed or detained. 178 journalists are in Turkey’s prisons and over 150 media outlets have been shut down. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have enforced a dictatorship on Turkey.

Turkey is a member of NATO and, technically, is an applicant for EU membership. However, Erdogan’s regime is threatening the country’s international ties and antagonising allies. NATO’s top commander in Europe, US General Scaparroti, said he did not believe any Turkish officers removed from NATO headquarters had anything to do with the coup attempt. Following the May meeting in Washington between Presidents Trump and Erdogan, a dozen Turkish security guards are facing criminal charges for attacking Kurdish and US demonstrators. The US has, thus far, refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan insists was behind the coup attempt, despite requests from Turkey. Germany has removed 260 troops from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, in a dispute with the Turkish government which prevented German MPs visiting the base, and the German foreign minister has warned German firms about investing in Turkey. The German government has granted asylum to Turks purged since the coup attempt.

In what even for Erdogan’s regime is an extraordinary move, Amnesty International’s Turkish branch chair and director and three other members were arrested on 5 July 2017 and accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation. Amnesty International had, for example, demanded the release of Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, teachers who had been dismissed from their jobs, accused of being members of a terrorist organisation and held in prison. As of 27 July 2017 Nuriye and Semih are 141 days into a hunger strike, demanding their jobs and justice. Their case is before the European Court of Human Rights.

On 24 July, 17 journalists from the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet appeared in court accused of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member’. Cumhuriyet has been critical of the Gulenists and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but revealed evidence that Turkish military intelligence was smuggling arms to Islamic State (IS). Erdogan said that Cumhuriyet would ‘pay a heavy price’.

The Turkish state is engaged in a war it cannot win against the Kurds, and which is steadily corroding it. The People’s Defence Force (HPG), armed wing of the PKK, stated that between 24 July 2015 and 23 July 2017 there had been 2,239 guerrilla actions, with 6,353 Turkish soldiers killed, at a cost of 1,116 guerrilla lives. Turkish soldiers have been deployed close to the Kurdish canton of Efrin, in Rojava, northern Syria and have used tanks and heavy artillery to bombard it and proxy groups to attack Rojava’s villages. Erdogan wants agreement from the US, Britain and Russia that Turkey can mount an all-out invasion of Efrin, but thus far no such agreement has been forthcoming as the Kurds prove to be the most effective ground force fighting IS.  In frustration, the Turkish state news agency revealed the positions of ten US bases in predominantly Kurdish areas of northern Syria. This will have angered the Pentagon.        

On 9 July 2017, up to two million people gathered in Istanbul demanding ‘rights, law, justice’. This was the culmination of a march begun in Ankara on 15 June against Erdogan’s rule by decree under the state of emergency imposed since the coup attempt. Erdogan said that there were 145,000 people present and he condemned them as terrorists. The writing is on the wall for Erdogan and his dictatorial regime; Erdogan will grow isolated at home and he must be made an international pariah.

Over the period July 2013 to June 2016 the British government issued export licences worth £466m for military equipment for sale to Turkey. This September, at least six Turkish arms companies will be present at the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. The Turkish arms company Nurol has entered into a partnership with Britain’s biggest arms company BAE Systems. In January 2017 BAE Systems signed a £100m deal with Turkish Aerospace Industries to design fighter jets in Turkey. We must demand an end to all British arms sales and military collaboration with the pariah Turkish state.

Trevor Rayne