From the January-February 2016 issue of News & Letters
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blurted out a rarely acknowledged truth when he declared that a precedent for his authoritarian ambitions could be found in “Hitler’s Germany.” Erdogan hasn’t reached the level of brutality that Hitler and the Nazis did, but his ethnic politics have come to embody Martin Luther King’s insight that “the logic of racism is genocide.”
Erdogan’s recent attacks on the Kurdish population have not risen to the level of Turkey’s 1915-18 Armenian genocide, but they are bad enough. According to human rights groups, over 150 people have died from government snipers and heavy weapons which have devastated numerous towns. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Curfews have been enforced in Kurdish provinces and towns. Arbitrary arrests, torture, and censorship are occurring; media and human rights organizations have been kept out.
CIVILIANS ARE ERDOGAN’S VICTIMS
Most of these actions are in violation of Turkey’s Constitution and laws. Tahir Elci, the President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, was shot dead on Nov. 28
while making that point and calling for renewed peace negotiations between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The victims in these vicious state terrorist massacres are mainly civilians. The military declared that 12 young Kurds were killed in a recent shootout in Wan—it was found that the dead were people who had been arrested, and all had been shot execution-style in the head. ISIS or the bourgeois state: who imitates whom?
The government’s excuse is that it is “fighting terrorism,” which it defines as the armed PKK and the civilian Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In other words, any expression of Kurdish self-determination.
This is simply a “political” cover for the old anti-Kurdish prejudice that exists in Turkey. This prejudice, along with many others, has been profoundly challenged by the Gezi Park movement in 2013 and more recent electoral advances of the HDP with its generally progressive pro-women, pro-gay, pro-working class agenda. Unfortunately, Erdogan’s racist tactics did gain his Justice and Development Party (AKP) votes in the last election.
‘TERRORISM’ AND HYPOCRISY
What Erdogan hasn’t done to any significant degree is curb the genuine terrorism of the “Islamic State.” ISIS bombings have taken a tremendous toll in Ankara (99 dead), in Suruc (33 dead, 104 injured), and in Diyarbakir (4 killed, over 100 injured). All targeted peaceful rallies in solidarity with Kurdish self-determination and Turkish democracy. The HDP has been the most common target.
That Erdogan’s racist politics poisons the very idea of democracy is seen by the failure to defend revolutionary Syrian refugees from ISIS attacks, as well. Firas Hammadi and Ibrahim Abdulkader, editor and reporter for the pro-Syrian Revolution Ayn Watan newspaper, were beheaded in Sanliurfa province in October. Journalist Naji al-Jerf, who had exposed both ISIS and Bashar Assad Syrian regime atrocities, was assassinated in Gaziantep on Dec. 27 as he prepared to travel to France. A reactionary, anti-democratic government gives license to all other reactionary forces in bourgeois society.
‘RELIGION,’ CAPITALISM & REVOLUTION
Erdogan has no real defense for what he’s doing. All the powers that have congregated their bombers over Syria agree that while they may oppose particular enemies, they accept reaction in general if it helps to reimpose “order” and “stability.” If they must, they will accept ruined cities and exiled populations over freedom, dignity and revolution.
Behind the “religious” trappings of Erdogan’s AKP has always been unrestrained capitalism, the exploitation of workers and the destruction of nature. If one disregards similar rhetoric from Assad, and from the Iranian and Saudi governments, it is plain that they are also driven by this capitalist impulse. The same is true of Obama’s U.S. and Putin’s Russia. By no coincidence, all these states are also witness to increasing attacks on, and struggle over, the very concept of democracy.
ERDOGAN ATTACKS KURDISH DEMOCRACY
It is to the great credit of the Kurdish people that their struggle has found a specifically non-capitalist expression—not just in the mutable ideology of the PKK, but in the aspirations of grassroots activists. This can be the basis for new revolutionary developments if serious international dialogue can be opened among the freedom movements of the region and the world.
It isn’t just something that “should” happen, either. Erdogan’s attacks on the concept and reality of Kurdish self-determination—as an attack on Turkish democracy, workers, women, culture, the environment—reveal this need for dialogue as the deepest necessity of the Kurdish freedom struggle itself. As Frantz Fanon put it, “National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension.” Theoretical and practical lessons post-2011 have only served to deepen this insight.