Turkey turned into a war zone

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turkey war zone

Turkey’s Kurdish areas have been turned into a war zone. Turkish jets are bombing Kurds and their allies in Syria. President Erdogan has claimed parts of Syria, Iraq and Greece for Turkey. Some 130,000 government workers, judges, soldiers, police, teachers and others have been dismissed from their jobs or arrested in Turkey since the failed coup of 15 July 2016; 37,000 people are detained without trial. In October, Erdogan extended the state of emergency, allowing him to rule by decree. Ten Kurdish MPs have been gaoled, over 30 mayors have been dismissed and gaoled. Thousands of Kurdish and Turkish members of political parties have been arrested. Torture and beatings are commonplace. Turkey holds more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. Scores of media outlets and hundreds of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been closed down. The scale of repression and warfare that the Turkish state is mounting threatens to escalate to the point that it over-reaches itself. Resistance is growing. Trevor Rayne reports.

President Erdogan granted amnesty to 38,000 criminals after the coup to make room for political prisoners. On 4 November, ten Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MPs were arrested and gaoled on terrorism charges, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. Parliamentary immunity had been removed from them. Within six days 441 HDP members were detained. Over 6,000 HDP members have been arrested since 15 July and 2,000 have been imprisoned. The HDP is Kurdish-led but won support from across Turkey in the June 2015 and November 2015 general elections, breaking the 10% of the vote threshold, established to prevent Kurdish representation in parliament. The HDP opposed the coup attempt but also opposes Erdogan’s plan to change Turkey’s constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government want to remove the HDP obstacle to constitutional change and to suppress any manifestation of Kurdish identity and aspirations in Turkey and abroad – including in Europe. All the HDP’s predecessor parties were banned on grounds of promoting separatism and terrorism.

On 25 October 2016 the co-mayors of the largest predominantly Kurdish city in Turkey, Diyarbakir, were arrested and charged with diverting funds to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As of 17 November, 35 Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) administered municipalities have been seized by the Turkish state since August 2016. 27 elected co-mayors of Kurdish municipalities were imprisoned by 24 November. The DBP says that over 2,500 of its members have been gaoled since summer 2015. Co-mayors have been replaced by state appointed trustees who function like colonial governors. The government is attempting to create an auxiliary structure in Kurdish areas, with village guards and watchman systems alongside the state’s armed forces.

Kurdish cities, towns and villages have been attacked by Turkish artillery and fighter jets. The Diyarbakir Human Rights Association reported on 19 October 2016 that since 24 July 2015 over 2,000 people had been killed in Kurdish areas of Turkey; in the first nine months of 2016, 553 people were reported to have been tortured. 35 political parties were raided, 72 marches and 34 gatherings were banned. The scale of repression meted out to any opposition to the government, to any source of criticism whatsoever, bears the mark of fascism.

Repression extends throughout Turkey

‘Note and lament a new world record. On the last count there are now 126 journalists in Turkey’s gaols – more than China, Iran and Egypt put together. And 2,500 or so Turkish writers, editors and broadcasters have lost their jobs since the coup that failed’ (The Observer, 16 October 2016). The repression has become absurd: a theatre in the mainly Kurdish city of Batman was forced to close after performing a play by Molière; a Kurdish children’s cartoon television station was shut down. On 31 October 2016 almost the entire editorial staff of Turkey’s mainstream Cumhuriyet daily newspaper were arrested for allegedly supporting Kurdish rebels and Gulenist coup plotters – both nonsense; Cumhuriyet opposed the Kurdish guerrilla struggle and the former AKP/Gulenist alliance. Turkey’s interior ministry closed down 370 NGOs on a single day. Of these, 199 NGOs are Kurdish, accused of being affiliated to the PKK; 18 are alleged to have links with the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C); other associations are accused of being Gulenist or Islamic State–related. Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric exiled in the US, is accused of masterminding the failed coup. Astonishingly, Erdogan told Al Jazeera that Turkey had never been so free.

Nearly 300 businesses, worth a combined $13bn, have been seized by the state, accused of supporting the Gulen movement; dozens of business owners have been arrested. The state is now Turkey’s largest conglomerate, owning more businesses than the Koc and Sabanci corporations. People have been arrested for carrying US dollars whose serial number starts with the same letter; the government believes the banknotes identify coup plotters.

President Erdogan and the AKP will probably hold a referendum on changing the constitution in spring 2017. To win the vote, Erdogan needs the HDP out of the way and an alliance with the fascist National Action Party (MHP – associated with the Grey Wolves death squads of the 1970s and 1980s). The AKP/MHP alliance has resurrected Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions. Erdogan now questions the treaties signed after the First World War that removed Mosul and Kirkuk in Iraq, Syria’s Mediterranean coast and Aegean islands and western Thrace in Greece from Turkey’s control. The Turkish army is assembled along Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq, and Turkish soldiers operate in both countries. Turkey is becoming a danger to the Middle East and a liability to imperialism.

President Trump and the threat of regional escalation

On 24 August 2016, Turkey invaded Syria with tanks, several hundred Turkish soldiers and 1,500 fighters from its Free Syrian Army (FSA). The invasion force entered the town of Jarablus with US drones in attendance, feeding information to the Turkish forces. Turkey’s defence minister, Fikri Isit, said the intention was to degrade Islamic State (IS) and ‘prevent the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from uniting Kurdish cantons’ of Kobane and Efrin. Turkey does not accept the predominantly Kurdish autonomous region of Rojava, in northern Syria. President Erdogan asked the US not to arm the Kurdish YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) which are the main components of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting IS and other jihadi groups. Turkey says that the YPG and YPJ are affiliated to the PKK and are terrorists. Turkey has armed the jihadi organisations. Turkish planes repeatedly bomb Kurdish villages in northern Syria as SDF fighters clear IS out. Turkish artillery have shelled Efrin canton and planes have bombed the SDF.

On 5 November 2016 the SDF launched operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ to liberate Raqqa from IS. The SDF includes forces from Raqqa itself, along with Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian and Kurdish volunteers. Turkey may launch an all-out invasion of Syria if the SDF continues its advances. On 22 November the SDF told the Anti-IS International Coalition that it would halt its drive on Raqqa if it does not stop Turkey attacking liberated areas around the northern Syrian city of Manbij. The Syrian government previously warned that any Turkish plane violating its airspace would be considered hostile and liable to be shot down. Any Turkish advance into Syria would require US and Russian acquiescence.

In December 2015, Turkish troops with tanks were deployed outside the Iraqi town of Bashiqa, 12 miles north east of Mosul. Turkey has trained Iraqi police and Sunni militia since Mosul was captured by IS on 10 June 2014. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi, said that Iraq did not want Turkish involvement in Iraq. Erdogan replied that Turkey must protect Mosul’s Sunni population from Shia militia. Al Abadi said ‘The invasion of Iraq will lead to Turkey being dismantled.’ Erdogan raved, ‘He insults me. You are not on the same level as me! You are not my equal! Scream all you want from Iraq! It will not change anything! We will do what we want to do.’ By late October 2016, Turkey had assembled nearly 1,000 troops close to Mosul without Iraqi government approval and Erdogan insisted that Turkey be part of the push to liberate the city. Erdogan said Turkish forces were present at the request of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. On 23 October, Erdogan announced that historically Mosul belonged to Turkey and so Turkey would play a role in determining its future. As yet, Turkey remains a spectator on the push into Mosul.

The Obama-led US government has attempted to limit Turkey’s interventions in Syria and Iraq, without completely stopping them. This restraint may be removed with a Trump presidency. Erdogan applauded Donald Trump’s election and condemned the protests against him. Trump has appointed Lieutenant General Mike Flynn as his National Security Adviser. Flynn was sacked as head of the Defence Intelligence Agency in 2014. He formed a company that was paid by Turkey, through a Dutch company, to lobby on behalf the Turkish government. On US election day Flynn published an article entitled ‘Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support’. In it he states, ‘…Turkey is vital to US interests. Turkey is really our strongest ally against [IS], as well as a source of stability in the region. It provides badly needed cooperation with US military operations. But the Obama administration is keeping Erdogan’s government at arm’s length – an unwise policy that threatens our long-standing alliance’ (The Hill, 8 November 2016).

In response to European Union criticisms of the arrest of MPs and other opponents Erdogan said it was time to ‘cut our own umbilical cord’ and end accession talks with the EU. On 24 November the European Parliament voted to suspend accession negotiations due to Turkey’s violation of democratic standards. Erdogan said the vote ‘has no value in our eyes’. He has indicated that Turkey may join the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation instead.

Erdogan is using Turkey’s strategic importance to NATO to reduce US and EU opposition to Turkey’s repression and ambitions. NATO’s Warsaw summit in July 2016 called on all members to freeze military contacts with Russia. On 1 November 2016, the head of Turkey’s armed forces visited Russia for talks on military cooperation and regional issues. Turkey said it is in negotiations with Russia for the purchase of the advanced S-400 long-range defence missile system. Currently, Turkey depends on other NATO members for its air defence systems.

The British government remains Turkey’s staunch supporter. In the last three years Britain has sold £450m worth of weapons to Turkey, including helicopters, components for military aircraft and targeting equipment. In May 2016, British soldiers took part in a military exercise led by the Turkish army. The British Defence Attaché in Ankara explained, ‘Turkey is a very important ally of ours and a vital part of NATO.’ The exercise involved delegations meeting Turkey’s President and Prime Minister. With the Turkish government threatening to reintroduce the death penalty, Germany and the EU said that such a move will result in the suspension of Turkey’s bid to join the EU. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded, ‘Turkey remains a matter of some concern, and it’s very very important that we do not push Turkey into a corner. We should not overreact in a way that I think is against our collective interest to what’s going on in Turkey.’

With the arrest of the HDP MPs, the PKK said that ‘the time of words is over’, and that Kurds would ‘respond on all fronts’ and spread the war across Turkey. During August, September and October 1,736 Turkish soldiers and police were killed in action. Thousands of people have demonstrated in Istanbul with the slogan ‘We will not surrender; we will win.’ With Erdogan and his government driving Turkey into chaos, the rating agencies Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Turkey’s sovereign debt to junk status. Erdogan retorted, ‘I don’t care’. The financial, military and political ability of the Turkish state to wage war at home and abroad is diminishing. It is only a matter of time before Erdogan and his government are thrown into the dustbin of history.

End British arms sales to Turkey!


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 254 December 2016/January 2017