Kurds resist Turkish state onslaught

Pin It

The Kurdish people are engaged in a battle for survival against the Turkish state. On 23 January 2016 the Kurdistan National Congress reported 56 curfews imposed on seven cities. The districts of Sur, Cizre and Silopi in south-east Turkey (North Kurdistan) have been under siege for over a month. In four months, state security forces have killed 268 civilians, 62 of whom were children. On 21 January Amnesty International issued a report – Turkey: end abusive operations under indefinite curfew. It describes Turkish forces preventing wounded people from receiving medical care, cuts to water and electricity supplies and access to food made dangerous. Tanks and heavy artillery, normally deployed in conventional warfare, are being used on densely populated communities, snipers are targeting children, houses are demolished at random, elected officials rounded up and imprisoned – and still the Kurdish people resist. Trevor Rayne reports.

The all-out attack on the Kurds has driven some 300,000 people from their homes in Turkey. Turkish troops have invaded Iraq and Syria, but neither the British nor the US governments have condemned the Turkish state. Turkey has NATO’s second biggest army and it contains key NATO bases in the Middle East; it uses these and the agreement with the European Union over 2.5 million refugees in Turkey to buy the political space required to mount the assaults. However, just as it has been the ascent of the Kurdish movement in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran that has brought the brutal Turkish state response, so it will be that movement that signals the end of President Erdogan and fascism in Turkey.

There are approximately 20 million Kurdish people in Turkey. Since 1984 some 40,000 people have been killed in fighting between the Turkish state and the Kurdish resistance, led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Kurds have demanded national rights, including political representation, cultural rights and autonomy. The imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, called a ceasefire in March 2013 and on 28 February 2015 presented a ten-point programme as the basis for negotiations with the Turkish government. If agreement was reached, a congress was to be called in April 2015 to permanently end the armed struggle. The Turkish government’s response was to place Ocalan in complete isolation from April 2015 onwards, preventing any contact with his lawyers or family. Turkish armed forces increased operations in Kurdish areas and launched ambushes.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the decision to wage all-out war was made after the Kurds’ victory at Kobane, when the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) broke the Islamic State (IS) siege of Kobane in northern Syria (Rojava – West Kurdistan) on 26 January 2015. The YPG/YPJ and PKK are close allies and the Turkish government viewed the Kurdish success in Kobane as a threat; it was a manifestation of the risen Kurdish people’s demands for rights throughout the Middle East and so undermined the status quo that has served imperialism and its regional accomplices since the First World War. When the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) gained success, breaking the 10% threshold needed for representation, in Turkey’s June and November 2015 parliamentary elections, it was unacceptable to President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government; all-out war was launched.

From August 2015 local assemblies in south-east Turkey began declaring self-rule. With the increased presence of state forces in predominantly Kurdish towns and cities (see ‘Turkey heading for fascism and war’, FRFI 248 December 2015/January 2016) the youth have established Civil Protection Units (YPS), digging trenches and building barricades to keep Turkish state forces out. On 24 January they announced a General Co-ordination of the Units in several towns and cities to better mount self-defence and pledging to resist Turkish state terror.

Total repression

On 31 December 2015 when he returned from visiting Saudi Arabia, President Erdogan countered critics to describe the sort of executive presidency he wishes to replace the parliamentary system with: ‘There’s no such thing as “no presidential system in unitary states”. When you look at the world there are examples, including from the past. When you look at Hitler’s Germany you see this.’ Erdogan’s Turkey demonstrates much of the repressive character of Nazi Germany.

The HDP has 59 members of parliament. In December its co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, backed a resolution calling for a ‘Kurdish autonomous region’ and ‘self-governance bodies’. Erdogan said this was treason and that: ‘Neither the separatist terror organisation [PKK], nor the party under its control [HDP], nor other structures will ever be accepted as interlocutors. That affair is over.’ Erdogan said that Turkey would ‘liquidate’ Kurdish fighters and bring HDP deputies to trial. On 6 January Erdogan demanded that Demirtas and his HDP co-chair, Figen Yuksekdag, be stripped of parliamentary immunity. Co-mayors of Kurdish towns and cities have been arrested on charges of ‘disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state’. Leyla Imret, co-mayor of Cizre, has been taken into custody. Scores of HDP politicians have been gaoled. The government may use the Constitutional Court to ban the HDP, as it has banned Kurdish-led parties in the past, and it will seek to promote alternative groups to the HDP and PKK to represent the Kurds, including religious parties, clans and middle class business groups.

Turkey has imposed a 150,000 lira ($50,000) fine on Twitter for spreading ‘terrorist propaganda’. All Turkish media are attacked by the state if they do not self-censor. The Turkish Journalists’ Association and Journalists’ Labour Union stated that: ‘Almost 200 journalists were previously being held in prison on charges of being a member of a terrorist organisation, violating the right to a fair trial. Journalists are now being detained once again.’ Turkey’s government has asked that the British BBC treat the PKK as it did the IRA; complete censorship and prohibition.

Turkish prosecutors have begun proceedings against all 1,128 academics in Turkey who signed a petition entitled ‘We won’t be party to this crime’, condemning the war on the Kurds. They are accused of ‘propagandising for a terrorist organisation’. 37 academics in Izmir and Ankara are under investigation for ‘disturbing the unity of the state and integrity of the country’ under Article 302, which was used against Ocalan when he was given a life sentence in 1999. 27 academic signatories were detained by police on 15 January, but later released. Erdogan denounced the academics as ‘dark, nefarious and brutal’. Organised crime boss Sedat Peker threatened the academics: ‘We will spill your blood and we will shower in your blood.’ The US academic and campaigner Noam Chomsky rightly accused Erdogan of being a ‘murderer’.

Regional threats

Turkish jets repeatedly bomb the Qandil Mountain area in northern Iraq with no criticism from the US, Britain or European Union because the PKK has bases there and each designates the PKK as terrorists. Erdogan and the Turkish government want to extend Turkey’s influence across the Middle East and the Caucasus, reviving the scope of the Ottoman Empire. Jihadists in Syria have been an instrument of this ambition and the Kurds are a challenge to it. For imperialism, the issue is whether Turkey and its ambitions become a liability rather than an asset in the region. On 4 December 2015, 300 Turkish troops with tanks took up position outside Mosul in northern Iraq. The Iraqi government objected to this. It was not until 18 December that US President Obama told Erdogan to remove Turkey’s forces.

Between December 2014 and March 2015 IS ran a cross border operation through Tel Abayad in Syria to Turkey, receiving recruits travelling through Turkey in the town. The leader of the plot to attack Paris on 13 November 2015 reached France by crossing from Syria to Turkey. In June 2015 Kurdish YPG/YPJ-led guerrillas captured Tel Abayad from IS. While it was under IS control, Turkey never attacked Tel Abayad, but since it was liberated it has frequently been attacked by Turkey’s armed forces. President Erdogan describes the YPG/YPJ as being as much terrorists as the PKK and IS. During his visit to Ankara in January US Vice President Biden also likened the PKK to IS, although the US does not consider the YPG/YPJ to be terrorists. On 18 January the YPG/YPJ headquarters in Tel Abayad was shelled by Turkish artillery. Turkey has warned that it considers any attempt by the YPG/YPJ to cross to the west bank of the river Euphrates in Syria a ‘red line’ that would trigger Turkish military intervention. On 23 December the YPG/YPJ and Syrian Democratic Forces captured the October Dam on the Euphrates, threatening IS positions north of Aleppo. On 19 January 2016 the Turkish army entered Syria via Jarablus. Jarablus is the last border crossing between Turkey and Syria still controlled by IS. The Syrian government has appealed to the United Nations over this Turkish incursion.

Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian bomber on 24 November has added to dangers of regional escalation. On 30 November Russian President Putin said, ‘The oil controlled by the Islamic State militants enters Turkey on an industrial scale. We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure the security of this oil’s delivery to ports.’ Since the plane was shot down, NATO and Russia have increased aircraft, missile and warship deployments in the Syrian and Black Sea regions. The HDP’s Demirtas visited Moscow on 23 December. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Russia was ready for ‘active co-operation’ with the Kurds against IS. Given the ties between IS and Turkey, Russian co-operation with the Kurds in Syria or Turkey could quickly lead to a confrontation between Russia and Turkey. Under NATO’s Article Five any attack by Russia on Turkey obliges NATO to intervene to defend Turkey. Turkey hosts 17 US military bases, some of which are used to monitor Russian forces in Syria. Currently, both the US and Russia are carrying out air strikes on IS west of the Euphrates.

The British ruling class is aware of the dangers and recognises that the Kurds may well be crucial to any realignment of power and influence in the Middle East, resulting from their own struggle and from Russia’s intervention. While refusing to criticise Turkey, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was monitoring the conflict in Turkey and said Britain was ready to assist parties to resolve the conflict, stating, ‘We have been clear that the PKK attacks must stop and peace talks resume in the interests of Turkey and the wider region. The UK stands ready to help in any way it can.’ Turkey is listed as a ‘priority market’ by the UK Trade and Investment’s Defence and Security Organisation. Britain has sold over £800m worth of weapons to Turkey since 2008.  

Turkey is dependent on Russia for half its natural gas supplies and the Turkish government has acted quickly to put in place possible alternative sources of the fuel. At the end of 2015 Turkey restored diplomatic relations with Israel and agreed a deal for Turkey to buy gas from Israel. Erdogan said, ‘Israel is in need of a country like Turkey in the region…And we too must accept that we need Israel.’ Turkey broke off relations with Israel in 2010 after Israel captured a Turkish passenger ship seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and nine Turkish people were killed. Azerbaijan has agreed to send Turkey gas, as has Qatar, where Turkey is to build a military base for 3,000 Turkish troops. The US has 10,000 soldiers in Qatar.  

Despite the brutal onslaught launched by Erdogan and the AKP government, the Kurdish resistance is proving to be fierce and inventive; the tally of Turkish state casualties is mounting. It is fitting that on the centenary of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 between Britain and France to carve up the Ottoman Empire that the risen Kurdish people are on the verge of ending the great injustice that was done to them – but at such sacrifice.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016