Turkey’s escalating war on the Kurds

On 23 April 2021 the Turkish state launched Operation Claw Lightning, a military attack on predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. The date chosen for the attack coincided with the anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide in 1915, when Ottoman forces killed 1.5 million men, women and children. It is clear that the Turkish government intends to annihilate the Kurds, using ground troops, heavy bombing and chemical weapons. Ominously, with Kurdish resistance unbroken, Turkey has increasingly resorted to chemicals, with no word of objection from the governments of the US, European Union or Britain, despite it being a war crime in international law. Cemil Bayik, co-chair of the Executive Council of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), explained, ‘Why is there silence about this? Because NATO is behind the Turkish state. NATO has warned everyone so that no one raises their voice.’

After three months of fighting, on 24 July the Kurdish resistance forces reported 398 guerrilla actions, killing 494 invaders at a cost of 63 guerrillas’ lives. NATO cannot tolerate seeing its second biggest army being fought to a standstill by a socialist guerrilla army.

Turkey presents its invasion of northern Iraq as an attack on ‘PKK terrorists’. Under the pretence of creating a ‘peaceful buffer zone’, Turkey intends to establish permanent military bases in Iraq and to remove the local Kurdish inhabitants, while driving a wedge into the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) controlled Medya Defence Zones. It is attempting to separate northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) from southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq) and to annexe part of Iraq. Previously, Turkey occupied predominantly Kurdish northern Syria, with the invasion and ethnic cleansing of Afrin in 2018, and Gire Spi and Serekaniye in 2019.

By July 2021, Turkey had established about 70 military outposts in Iraq. From these bases heavy artillery is used to force surrounding villagers to flee. Aerial bombardment from fighter jets and drones is also used. Water supplies to local populations have been cut off, forests are being burned down, crops destroyed and livestock killed. Accompanying Turkish troops are mercenaries recruited from jihadist groups, including from Islamic State. Turkey has deployed these auxiliaries in Libya, Syria and Nagorno Karabakh. Kurdistan Democratic Party forces drawn from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are also being used by Turkey to try and prevent the PKK guerrillas from receiving supplies. In 2020 the US provided $126m for KRG forces. The British Army is stationed in Iraq, training both Iraqi and KRG soldiers.

On 5 June 2021, the Turkish army used drones to bomb Maxmur refugee camp, in northern Iraq. The camp holds some 12,000 Kurds who have been driven from their homes in Turkey; it is supposedly under the protection of the United Nations Refugee Agency. That it was attacked at all demonstrates the impunity with which the Turkish state now thinks it can act against the Kurds.

Deniz Poyraz, a Peoples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) member, was assassinated in her party’s office in Izmir on 17 June 2021. The building was under police surveillance at the time of her murder. The assassin had served with Turkish forces in Syria and was photographed giving the Grey Wolves salute. The Grey Wolves are an armed fascist outfit, closely affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which forms a coalition government with Turkish President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). On 21 June, the Turkish Constitutional Court accepted an indictment to dissolve the Kurdish-led HDP. Five of its predecessor parties were banned, the last being in 2009. Currently, 14 HDP parliamentarians are in prison as are 37 HDP municipal co-chairs and 15 co-mayors. As many as 10,000 HDP members and supporters have been gaoled in Turkey since 2016, with some 4,000 still in prison. All this repression is conducted in the name of fighting ‘PKK terrorism’; the law is used as a propaganda cover for removing unwanted people. Increasingly, Kurdish families across Turkey are coming under murderous racist attacks. The KCK said ‘The goal of all these attacks is to carry out genocide,’ it accused the AKP/MHP alliance of instigating them and emphasised that the attacks will not go unanswered: ‘Organisation is the greatest self-defence force.’

US President Biden met with Erdogan at the Brussels NATO summit on 14 June 2021. Erdogan told Biden that Turkey was willing to run security at Kabul’s civilian airport, provided the US and NATO gave ‘diplomatic, logistical and financial support for the mission’. Turkey is holding talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban. Erdogan said he wanted to involve Paksistan and Hungary in the mission. Turkey wants to demonstrate its indispensability to NATO. The summit’s final communique stated that NATO ‘reiterate[s] our appreciation to our ally Turkey for hosting millions of Syrian refugees’.

President Erdogan’s popularity in Turkey is plummeting, as is that of his AKP/MHP government. This is partly due to persistent inflation, now running at 17.5%, and 14% unemployment. Since Erdogan sacked the central bank governor in March 2021, the Turkish lira has fallen a further 15% against the US dollar. The governor was sacked for raising interest rates; trying to protect the lira and reduce inflation. Turkey’s net foreign debt has risen to $261bn, 36% of gross domestic product. Turkey relied on tourism to finance its foreign debt; it accounted for 13% of GDP before the pandemic struck, but in the past year tourist revenues are down 70%. Turkey’s military spending has grown by 86% since 2010. Between 20% to 30% of Turkey’s foreign debt arises from defence spending. The cost of Turkey’s war against the Kurds is unsustainable without imperialist financial support.
Speaking on behalf of the Kurdish resistance movement, Cemil Bayek said, ‘We wish that those who call themselves socialists and who defend democracy and human rights stand by the side of the guerrillas against the invading Turkish state.’ Kurdish people have the right to self-determination. Their struggle is a key to democracy and progress in the Middle East and for the defeat of imperialism.

Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 283, August/September 2021