August 2017        

No end to repression in Turkey

Adam Petrossian

Almost a year after the failed coup of 15 July 2015, the Turkish state has announced the holding of symbolic “Democracy Watches” both in Turkey’s eighty-one provinces and in its foreign missions around the globe.
      A spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Mahir Ünal, announced this policy, stating: “We are not searching for democracy in the streets, we are commemorating the heroes of that night who went out into the streets to defend our ideal democracy.” Meanwhile a spokesperson for the office of the Turkish president, İbrahim Kalın, confirmed that President Erdoğan would personally take part in these “democracy watches.”
      It is bitterly ironic that, in the wake of the coup, attributed to a cadre of followers of the Islamic cleric (and former Erdoğan ally) Fethullah Gülen, the mask of democracy has been used to cover the purge of any elements within Turkish civil society that would oppose the burgeoning power grab of Erdoğan and the AKP. Among those purged from positions are ten thousand academics and teachers. In that number are Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, who have been on hunger strike for more than 140 days, detained in the living hell of the Turkish prison system after staging a protest against the use of emergency laws to dismiss them, and others, from their posts and demanding rights for those purged.
      The two—an academic and a primary school teacher—have been detained and on hunger strike since 9 March 2017, accused of membership of, and propagandising for, the illegal Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), which is considered a terrorist organisation in Turkey, as well as by the United States and the European Union.
      The cases of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça are only two among thousands who have been purged and even detained, accused of sympathy for the Kurdish liberation struggle, support for or membership of a number of illegal socialist organisations or of FETO, the organisation associated with the teachings of Gülen. These cases make it clear that the right to democratic freedom of protest does not fall within the remit of the democracy that is represented by the “Democracy Watches” of Erdoğan and the AKP.
      The recent constitutional referendum, which sought to drastically extend the powers of the office of president by removing all checks and balances as well as granting Erdoğan the right to hold office until 2029, was held in a climate of fear and state intimidation, with the same tactics of smearing opponents with allegations of terrorism.
      Again, it is clear from this that the Turkish state uses a form of Doublespeak, posing as the defender of a less and less democratic system while opposing and repressing the democratic forces of Kurdish liberation and socialism through draconian measures.
      This furious power grab on behalf of Erdoğan even drew some cosmetic criticism from the ruling classes of Turkey’s NATO allies, such as Germany and the Netherlands. However, these criticisms were largely based on complaints about Erdoğan’s lack of diplomatic decorum, rather than on any real defence of those who the Turkish state routinely oppresses, imprisons, or kills.
      In contrast, no such complaints were lodged by the British prime minister, Theresa May, in January when she met Erdoğan to complete the sale of £100 million worth of jet fighters to the Turkish state. Much like British arms sales to the reactionary Saudi regime, British arms sales to Turkey will serve as the bread and butter of British imperial capital, regardless of other financial uncertainties that Britain may face in a post-Brexit future.
      However, to diagnose either Erdoğan or the AKP as the disease affecting Turkey, rather than prolonged and apparent symptoms of a long affliction, would be mistaken. Erdoğan and the AKP did not start the bloody persecution of minority groups struggling for the right of self-determination; it did not ban the parties of socialism and the working class; and it did not establish the widespread collusion between the state and fascist terrorist organisations, such as the “Grey Wolves,” through a complex deep-state network of actors.
      The bogeyman of Turkey’s turn towards Islamism under Erdoğan, much feared in the west, has not changed the fact that the previous “secular” governments followed identical programmes of bloody and brutal repression, including those belonging to religious minority groups. The murder of socialists such as İbrahim Kaypakkaya, Mahir Çayan and Deniz Gezmiş happened on the watch of the Kemalist CHP (Republican People’s Party). Similarly, some of the bloodiest years of repression of Kurdish socialists occurred under the rule of secular parties.
      However, the recent actions of Erdoğan and the AKP can be seen as the result of both the re-igniting of the Kurdish liberation struggle since the cancelling of the ceasefire of 2013 between the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) and the Turkish state in 2015 and the increasing entanglement of the Turkish military in the continuing war in Syria. This grab for unlimited power allows Erdoğan not only to entrench his own position but to maintain the domestic repression of democratic forces such as Kurdish liberation movements and entrench Turkey as a regional military and political power.
      The murderous approach of the Turkish state to the democratic forces of Kurdish national liberation has been increasingly evident in recent years. In a report published in February 2017 the United Nations estimated that roughly 1,200 people have been killed in euphemistically named “security operations” by Turkish forces: enforced disappearances, torture, destruction of housing and cultural heritage, incitement to hatred, preventing access to emergency medical aid, food, water and livelihoods, violence against women, and severe curtailment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as political participation.
      As well as those killed by Turkish forces it is estimated that the number of displaced people in the mainly Kurdish regions of south-east Turkey, where these murderous operations are carried out, is between 355,000 and 500,000.
      From all this, the path for all progressive-minded socialists is clear: solidarity with the hunger-strikers and others repressed by the Turkish state! Solidarity with the Kurdish democratic liberation movement! No to state repression under the mask of democracy!

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