Crucial times in Turkey

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Abdullah Ocalan

The coming weeks leading up to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly elections in June could prove crucial for Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have offered the government the possibility of ending the armed conflict with the Turkish state. In response the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may split and President Erdogan is trying to establish dictatorial powers.

From inside a Turkish prison where he has been in solitary confinement since 1999, Ocalan, leader of the PKK, issued a Newroz (New Year) message on 21 March 2015: ‘I see it as historically necessary to hold a congress to bring to a stop the nearly 40-year armed struggle carried out by the PKK against the Turkish Republic, and to determine societal strategies and tactics suitable for a new period.’ Ocalan foresees a new constitution for Turkey that ensures the ‘social, cultural and identity demands’ of the Kurdish people as well as autonomy for the Kurdish provinces in Turkey. He gives no date for the PKK disarming. Precisely at the time when Ocalan and the PKK look forward to ‘free and equal constitutional citizenship in a democratic society, with democratic identity, living in peace and fraternity’, President Erdogan is attacking the few rights people in Turkey have.

Erdogan responded to Ocalan’s initiative saying ‘What Kurdish problem?’ He condemned what he called excessive government concessions to the Kurds and the PKK, and criticised a proposed Monitoring Committee intended to report on the peace process. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (also known as fascist Grey Wolves), the third largest party in parliament, said that the ‘Kurds are using…Newroz, as an occasion to challenge the state’, threatening them and any elements of the government that might do a deal with the Kurds. Within three days of Ocalan’s statement, the Turkish army attacked PKK stores and shelters in Mardin Province, south east Turkey/North Kurdistan.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc described Erdogan’s comments as ‘emotional’, saying that ‘responsibility belongs to the government and we can regard his statements as his personal views’. Consequently Ankara’s mayor, loyal to Erdogan, called on Arinc to resign, to which Arinc riposted that the mayor practiced large-scale corruption. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party says the division in the AKP results from the Kurdish victory in Kobane, the strengthening Kurdish stance and Ocalan’s proposals. If the Turkish government does not accept the suggestions for a peace process before the June election the PKK will not disarm.

Since the PKK launched the armed struggle in 1984 some 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have been killed and the Turkish military have destroyed 4,000 Kurdish villages. Yet the Kurdish movement has gathered strength not just in Turkey, but in Syria, Iraq and Iran. At least 3,000 Islamic State (IS) fighters were killed in the battle for Kobane; the PKK and their comrades in the People’s Defence Units and Women’s Defence Units in Rojava (West Kurdistan/Syria) have proved to be the most effective fighting force against IS. There are signs that imperialism is tiring of Erdogan; on 26 February the US Director of National Intelligence said that Turkey’s priorities did not include tackling IS and said that around 60% of foreign fighters in Syria had travelled through Turkey. He added that Turkey was more concerned with the Kurdish opposition and its economy.

Turkey’s economic growth has slowed from 9% per annum five years ago to 3%. The Turkish lira has fallen over 10% against the US dollar this year. With large corporate and banking foreign currency debt, Turkey needs external financing of $200bn a year but has foreign exchange reserves of just $38bn. It cannot afford a protracted war with the PKK. Erdogan accused the central bank governor of being a traitor who sold his country to the west by maintaining high interest rates!

Through the parliamentary elections Erdogan wants to consolidate his powers. Passing through parliament is a bill that Erdogan says must become law. If passed the new law would broaden police powers to detain people without judicial authorisation, expand the scope of police use of firearms and provide centrally appointed governors with the right to order police investigations of people and crimes. There will be a minimum five year prison sentence for protesters who even partially cover their faces, which they have to do as protection against tear gas. Thousands of judges, prosecutors and police have been removed as Erdogan seeks to establish his dictatorship. Since he became president in August 2014 110 people, including school children, a newspaper editor and former Miss Turkey, have been successfully prosecuted for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, but a lot more is at stake for Turkey in the coming elections than one arrogant man’s pride.

Trevor Rayne