11 March 2016
by David Morgan*
Turkish military operations launched late last year against Kurdish cities in the south-east such as Cizre and Diyarbakir have been extremely brutal even by Turkey’s standards.
Some 58 separate curfews have been imposed on different neighbourhoods in 21 districts of the seven Kurdish provinces of the region.
Kurdish communities are alleged to be sheltering guerillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the military clampdown has inflicted untold destruction on homes and degraded public infrastructure, as well as displacing thousands of people and leaving hundreds dead.
In fact, Turkey appears to be inflicting a collective punishment on the Kurds in an act of reprisal for the successes achieved by Kurdish fighters in Syria in their struggle against Islamic State (Isis), which Ankara has been accused of secretly supporting.
On March 1 the joint chairs of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) issued an appeal for urgent action to “stop the massacres” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troops continued their merciless military operations against the Kurdish civilian population.
As the HDP points out, the Turkish army has been shelling Diyarbakir’s city walls which are recognised by Unesco as an important world heritage site. The Turkish government, it appears, has as little respect for the heritage of civilisation much as its allies in Isis, who provoked international outrage when they wantonly destroyed the unique ancient city of Palmyra.
It is clear that Erdogan and his Islamist ruling party AKP will stop at nothing to wage war on the Kurds and all opposition to their autocratic regime.
Erdogan has been transforming Turkey into a personal “vanity tyranny” where all dissent is suppressed and even mild satirical criticism is forbidden.
According to the country’s justice ministry there are now a staggering 1,845 prosecution cases awaiting trial for “insulting” Erdogan, including criminal cases against the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu and HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas.
Even children have fallen foul of the law.
The AKP’s brand of authoritarianism is fostering a real climate of fear where critics increasingly face physical threats and legal intimidation. Journalists, lawyers and writers as well as political leaders and activists have faced punitive action.
Erdogan’s intolerance has been inflamed further by the rise of the Kurds in Turkish mainstream politics and in their fight against Isis in Syria, symbolised by their successful re-taking of Kobane last year.
Erdogan seems prepared to employ every means at his disposal to repress this political awakening.
In the last two Turkish general elections of 2015, the pro-Kurdish HDP made a dramatic breakthrough when its support surpassed the 10 per cent barrier to achieve parliamentary representation for the first time. Erdogan was furious when the outcome of the June election denied him an absolute majority.
Likewise, the establishment of the self-governing Rojava administration in northern Syria led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has seriously frustrated Erdogan and the Turkish elite.
Impotent to directly intervene and overthrow the Kurds in Rojava, Erdogan has turned his fire on Kurds within his own country whom he accuses of supporting the outlawed PKK.
He has also attempted to force the hand of his Nato allies in the EU and the US by demanding that they declare the PYD a terrorist organisation. To date they have refrained from doing so aware that such a move can only help Isis in its confrontation with the Kurds.
Turkey’s persistent attempts to equate both the PKK and the PYD with Isis are simply absurd, erroneous and outrageous.
The Turkish political elite’s near pathological hatred of Kurds is a root cause of the protracted conflict inside the country and is an influence on Turkey’s policy towards the crisis in Syria. Ankara would rather align itself, either secretly or more brazenly, with Sunni terror groups such as the Nusra Front and Isis than concede an inch of ground to the mainly secular Kurds.
The Kurds in Turkey and Syria are a mass democratic force who should be natural allies of the left. In their dual struggle against Isis and Turkish state oppression the Kurds deserve wider support than they currently receive.
By closely aligning himself with Islamist extremists Erdogan is flagrantly betraying his own country’s honourable traditions of revolutionary democracy and secularism. The modern Turkish women’s movement, for example, has a history of activism dating from the 1980s and Turkish society has a strong awareness of gender issues.
These social developments have in turn influenced the contemporary Kurdish women’s movement whose activists have been in the forefront of the resistance against Isis.
Kurdish women are inspired by jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has long espoused feminist ideas and whose own formative period was as an activist within the Turkish left.
Ocalan is surely unique among modern Middle East political leaders in his support for women’s equality and a feminist ideology is now reflected right across the Kurdish movement.
Support for them is in danger of being impeded by slanderous attempts to brand them as terrorists or even as “Russian agents.” These accusations emanate from Turkey but, unfortunately, others are starting to repeat them.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has attacked the HDP for “collaborating with Russia, just like the Armenian gangs,” which the Turkish public would understand as a reference to the Armenian genocide of 1916 carried out when the Ottoman Empire was at war with Russia.
Turkey has also been incensed that the Kurds have been permitted to open a diplomatic office in Moscow.
As the conflict between Ankara and Moscow becomes ever more acute, especially after Turkey’s deliberate shooting down of the Russian aircraft on the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24 2015, the Kurds have become targets of Turkey’s wrath.
Many on the left have been always consumed by an irrational hatred of all things Russian and are deeply suspicious of any action taken by Moscow. This prejudice is shared with liberal opinion and is compounded by the propaganda efforts of NGOs, such as those sponsored by the wealthy Soros Foundation, which promote a narrow Western neoliberal agenda.
This is all adding to the confusion among the left on the Kurdish issue. Anti-Russian attitudes widely persist today and tend to distort analysis of Syria too. The left needs to beware of how Turkey has been seeking to exploit this issue by cynically branding the Kurds as working for Putin and Assad.
We should repudiate these baseless insinuations and show solidarity with the Kurds in their heroic struggle against both Isis and Erdogan’s increasingly rogue state.
They are fighting on the right side for all humanity and for universal values of popular democracy, control of their own resources and the building of a secular, non-sectarian society where men and women have full equality. We should applaud the fact that they retain their ambitions and ideals in an extremely hostile world.
It is excellent news that the Stop the War Coalition and a wide spectrum of groups including trade union branches are supporting Sunday’s demonstration in London called to raise awareness of Turkey’s dirty war on the Kurds.
We need to build a strong coalition to defeat the wretched Erdogan and all his warmongering collaborators.
This article was originally published on Morning Star website