Turkey heading for fascism and war

President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government are driving Turkey towards fascism and war. The 24 November 2015 shooting down of a Russian bomber was planned at the highest levels of the Turkish state. Since the AKP’s electoral victory on 1 November Kurdish towns and cities in Turkey’s south east have been put under curfew and military siege. Turkish jets daily bomb Kurds in Iraq and its army shells the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) in Rojava, northern Syria. Scores of people have been arrested, imprisoned and killed across Turkey for opposing the murderous state. Erdogan and the AKP are a threat not just to the Kurdish and Turkish people – they are a danger to us all. Trevor Rayne reports.    

The election

On 1 November President Erdogan, leader of the AKP, presented the electorate with a choice: it is either me or it is chaos. Sufficient people were frightened enough to vote for the AKP, hoping for stability. Within hours of the result being known Erdogan said he would hold a referendum to install an executive presidency, granting himself dictatorial powers. The Turkish lira rose 3% against the US dollar and shares jumped 5.4% on the Turkish stock exchange. But if capitalists and AKP voters think they are getting stability they are seriously deluded.

People’s Democratic Party (HDP) member for Sirnak, Leyla Birlik, said, ‘What we are seeing is the result of an election held in an atmosphere of war, of threats, and of intimidation. They wanted to say, “It’s either us or it’s war, that this is what would happen if you chose HDP”.’ A photograph of Leyla Birlik’s brother being dragged through the streets behind a police vehicle caused outrage in Turkey. On election day a delegate from the European Parliament observer mission said, ‘We have never seen such an atmosphere anywhere else in the world. The scene is unbelievable.’ Schools serving as voting centres were surrounded by masked special operations teams; observers were threatened by soldiers. With the AKP getting almost half the votes cast, Erdogan declared: ‘The entire world needs to respect this – I haven’t seen very much of such respect in the world.’

The AKP won 317 seats out of a possible 550; an increase of 64 seats on the June 2015 result, with almost five million more votes cast for the AKP than in June. The Kemalist social-democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) got 134 seats with 25.3% of the votes; the Kurdish-led HDP won 59 seats with 10.75%, down from 81 seats and 13.1% of votes in June. The fascist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 11.9% of the votes got 40 seats. November’s turnout was 85.2% of the electorate, up on June’s 82.5% turnout. Compared to the June election the swing to the AKP from the MHP was 4.4% and from the HDP 2.4%. The HDP lost one million votes to the AKP and there were more abstentions in Kurdish areas.

The AKP’s aim to win over Turkish nationalist votes and reduce support for the HDP succeeded. The AKP stressed a Sunni, Islamist and ethnic Turkish identity in opposition to secularists, Alevis and Kurds. Erdogan, his party and supporting media railed against ‘native agents’ of foreign powers conspiring to bring Erdogan down. On election-day, a pro-Erdogan newspaper carried the headline ‘Do not please the Giaour’. Giaour is a derogatory term used for Christians and foreigners.

Violence and fear was central to Erdogan’s strategy. The Turkish state launched all-out war on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurds on 24 July. The International Crisis Group counted 361 people killed in fighting up to 12 October, additionally 33 young socialists were killed by suicide bombers in Suruc on 20 July and 102 Kurds, socialists and trade unionists at a peace rally in Ankara on 10 October. Doctors attempting to treat injured people were arrested. People attending memorial demonstrations for Ankara were attacked by Turkish security forces. The final weeks of the campaign took place with no election rallies, except those held by the AKP. In the run up to the election 50 to 60 people were being imprisoned every day for political activity; HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas reckoned the number of HDP members imprisoned to have reached 2,500. The British observer delegation noted that before the election 22 Kurdish co-mayors were arrested and imprisoned for ‘allegedly supporting the PKK and their cousins across the border in Rojava [mainly Kurdish controlled northern Syria]’. AKP officials ‘flooded villages with money bribes and white goods to buy votes’ and people were threatened with loss of benefits and jobs if they voted HDP. Under such circumstances the HDP did well to exceed the 10% barrier set to prevent Kurdish representation in parliament.

Newspapers and television stations not supporting Erdogan and the AKP were targeted. In September a mob led by an AKP member attacked the offices of Hurriyet newspaper. On 26 October, Ankara’s prosecutor accused the Koza-Ipek media group of being involved in terrorist activities. Two days later police stormed the group’s building, using tear gas and water cannon and seizing journalists. Despite expressions of concern by the US State Department and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe both the European Union and the US congratulated Erdogan on the AKP victory.

War and repression intensified

After the election an AKP spokesperson said that the government intended to fight the war until there was not a single guerrilla left alive. Turkish jets bombed villages and other settlements in northern Iraq where the PKK have camps. In Diyarbakir province Silvan was put under siege, surrounded by tanks for 12 days. On 26 November Nusaybin, a town of 115,000 people, was on its 13th day of curfew with nine civilians killed by state forces. Towns are being shelled and civilians killed daily.

On 10 October the PKK announced it would cease armed actions to create a favourable atmosphere ahead of the elections. On 5 November the PKK said that its unilateral ceasefire had ended due to escalating attacks upon it and the Kurdish people. The Kurdistan Communities Union, aligned with the PKK, called for the creation of a democratic bloc against AKP authoritarianism and its war drive.

With Turkey running out of ammunition with which to attack the PKK, on 29 October US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter approved the sale of ‘bunker buster’ and other bombs to the Turkish state. The US State Department explained: ‘It is vital to US national interest to assist our NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defence capability.’ President Erdogan may say that the weapons are for use against ‘terrorism’ but the intended targets are Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Erdogan frequently threatened to send forces into Syria if the Kurds advanced along Syria’s border with Turkey in their battle with IS. Fifteen different non-IS armed opposition groups in Syria congratulated Erdogan on victory; they include groups backed by the US. Gursel Tekin, vice-president of CHP, said that IS was smuggling oil to Turkey via BMZ, a shipping company controlled by Bilal Erdogan, son of Turkey’s president. According to the Financial Times, IS makes $1.5m a day from oil smuggling. By November the YPG/YPJ and their allies had secured over half the 550-mile-long Syrian-Turkey border and threatened IS’s last access to Turkey at Jarablus. On 3 November the Turkish army shelled the YPG/YPJ in Rojava; such attacks have continued since, including on Kobane. The PKK said that the Syrian Democratic Forces, including the YPG/YPJ, can push IS out of Jarablus and also Raqqa, the IS headquarters, unless Turkey intervenes: ‘Once the obstacle of Turkey is eliminated, it will mean IS has come to an end,’ said Cemil Bayek, co-chair of the Kurdistan Communities Union.

After Turkey shot down the Russian SU-24 bomber on 24 November Russian President Putin said: ‘This is a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorists…Lots of oil and oil products from ISIS-controlled areas flow to Turkey. If ISIS has so much money, tens of millions, maybe billions, and is acting so brazenly, it is because of protection by a country’s [Turkey] military.’ A week before the Russian plane was brought down Russia claimed to have destroyed over 500 IS-operated oil trucks. Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said he had issued an order to shoot down any aircraft violating Turkish airspace. Putin noted that after the event Turkey immediately called an emergency NATO meeting ‘as if we shot down their plane and not ours’. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said NATO stood in solidarity with Turkey ‘and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally’. US President Obama echoed Stoltenberg’s words.

The Turkish state shot down the Russian plane not to defend Turkey’s air space but to hinder Russia’s attack on IS and the other jihadist groups that Turkey supports. There can be no serious attempt to defeat IS without confronting Erdogan and the AKP government in Turkey.

Refugees used as bargaining chips

There are two and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey and Erdogan is using them, IS and other jihadist groups to extract concessions. The European Commission deliberately delayed publication of a report highly critical of Turkey’s record on free speech until after the election. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond pushed for the delay (Financial Times 18/19 October 2015). Desperate to get Erdogan’s support in stopping the flow of refugees to Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey two weeks before the election. The European Commission initially offered €250m to Turkey to contain the refugees. Erdogan asked for €3bn and was offered €3.3bn; he is wrangling with the EU over terms for making Turkey a holding pen for refugees. Erdogan expects the EU to add Turkey to its ‘safe list’, making it easier for Europe to reject asylum seekers from Turkey. He wants talks on Turkey’s EU membership re-opened, regular summits with the EU and visa rights for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.

The governments of the US, Britain and the EU may not care if Turkey descends into fascism. However, they will have discovered that President Erdogan and the AKP government are a potentially dangerous liability. Kurdish self-determination is critical to democratic rights in the Middle East.

Free Silan Ozcelik!

On 20 November 2015 an Old Bailey judge sentenced 18-year-old Silan Ozcelik to 21 months’ imprisonment in a young offenders’ institution. She had been found guilty of ‘engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to an intention to commit acts of terrorism’ under the Terrorism Act 2006. Throughout the trial the judge and the prosecution drummed the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ in to the jury’s ears. Silan is the victim of a political trial and a political law.

Silan was arrested at Stansted Airport on her return from Belgium and Germany in January 2014. She wanted to help the Kurdish resistance against Islamic State in Kobane and Shengal and supported the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Young men and women have gone to Syria to support IS and other jihadi groups and returned without being arrested. The PKK was designated a terrorist organisation by Britain and the European Union in 2002 and NATO in 2003. This designation conforms to the demands of NATO member Turkey. Silan has been tried and condemned as a warning to anyone who opposes NATO and the Turkish state in its war against the Kurdish people’s struggle for rights and democracy.

On 26 November former soldier Joe Robinson was arrested under the Terrorism Act at Manchester Airport. He had spent five months fighting with the Syrian Kurds against IS. This demonstrates what we are up against.

Speaking on ITV on 24 November London Mayor Boris Johnson said, ‘My sympathies are very much with the PKK and Peshmerga and I hope that the legal system will reflect that and she [Silan Ozcelik] will get the sensible treatment rather than some absurd punishment.’ The absurdity is that the British legal system is acting in support of Turkish racism and fascism. They must be fought. Turkey is the international pariah, the PKK should be unbanned and Silan Ozcelik must be freed!  

Send a card of support to: Silan Ozcelik A8733DK HMP Holloway, Parkhurst Road, London N7 0NU

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016