Across Kurdish areas in South Eastern Turkey, areas that are overwhelmingly ethnically Kurdish, a virtual civil war is going on. What the right wing Turkish AKP government describes as “security operations” were first launched in the Sur district of Diyarbakır and the Cizre and Silopi districts of Şırnak in mid-December.
The alleged target of this offensive is the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), an organisation which had an on-off ceasefire with the Turkish government over the last few years whilst Kurds increasingly turned to legal political campaigning with their party the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). That ceasefire was eventually called off in November after numerous assassinations and killings of Kurdish politicians and civilians.
According to the HDP, at least 200 Kurdish civilians, including 70 children, had been killed since last July -the Turkish government claims to have killed 500 ‘militants’. Only last Saturday, 6th February, 60 were killed in Cizre alone. Cizre has been under curfew for nearly 2 months since armed Kurdish militants mostly affiliated with the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) – often referred to as the “youth wing” of the PKK – declared autonomy and began erecting roadblocks and digging trenches.
On Monday 8th February the regime announced that the repression would be extended into the İdil district of Şırnak, Nusaybin district of Mardin and Yüksekova district of Hakkari.
The US and all western governments have been silent about these atrocities. They have not openly condemned Turkey, instead they have continued to support the Turkish President Erdogan.
On behalf of the EU and European governments Chancellor Merkel of Germany made a deal with Erdogan giving him €3 billion to stop Syrian migrants leaving Turkey for the EU. This helped Erdogan’s credibility just before the Turkish general elections. Nevertheless only a week ago Erdogan closed his borders to Syrian refugees causing a humanitarian crisis in Syrian border areas. In doing so he is in defiance of international law and possibly also the agreement he made with Merkel but for Erdogan the refugees are useful pawns – to be used to extort more money and to put further political pressure on the EU.
Still however in deference to Turkey the EU and the US maintain legal persecution of PKK supporters with their categorisation of the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
There is undoubted tension now particularly between the US and Turkey. Turkey frequently condemns the US for allowing arms intended for Kurdish/ Syrian YPG ending up in PKK’s hands. There is barely concealed outrage by the US at Turkey’s war on the PKK and its Syrian/ Rojavan allies which is impeding their war against Daesh.
Some influential elements on the US establishment argue that just as Turkey got it wrong when they argued against the Kurdish Regional Government being established in Iraq, they are wrong to oppose some degree of autonomy in Syrian Kurdish areas. On both occasions the Turkish government argued that it lead to greater calls for autonomy in Kurdish areas of Turkey. The US regard the Iraqi KRG as one of the few successes in their policies in the area. It is a key US ally and capitalist statelet and indeed at times Erdogan has allied with the KRG against the Syrian Kurds.
The US, despite its overt support for Erdogan, believe the Rojavan Kurds are not only useful as the strongest non-Islamist forces in Syria but also believes that their social and political weight make them a force that cannot be eliminated as Erdogan hopes to do.
The war that Erdogan is waging on the PKK, the legal political party the HDP and the Kurds in Syria, Iraq but particularly Turkey is both brutally and dangerously provocative. Given the civilian atrocities the PKK is seen as the only force that can militarily defend the Kurds.
The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu describes sieges, curfews and military attacks on Kurds as ‘security operations’ aiming to restore “public order” in the region. But its undoubted aim is to terrorise the Kurds into submission. The ruling AKP want Kurds to relinquish hopes of any degree of autonomy. When the Kurds along with other anti-AKP forces organised peacefully and democratically in the 2 Turkish elections last year, they were very successful – getting 10-13% of the vote for their HDP party. Erdogan wants to reverse the hopes that came along with that success.
What are Erdogan’s aims?
He has ambitions for a more authoritarian and nationalist state: in particular he wants to enhance his personal power as President. The secularism of the Kurds and their desire for some degree of regional self-rule is an obstacle to that.
Right wing Turkish nationalism is powerful and the extreme right wing party the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is an ally for him in that regard. Racist anti-Kurdish gangs were mobilised across Turkey to burn down Kurdish political offices and shops in the lead up to November’s elections.
But Erdogan is also an Islamist with a developing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Before the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) President Morsi was deposed, Erdogan was in close alliance with him. He now hopes to use what remains of the MB network to aid his regional ambitions. The avowed secularism, pro-women, multi-ethnic and pro-LGBT policies of the Kurds and the HDP are anathema to that project.
So Erdogan wants civil war, to stoke up nationalism against the Kurds, to provoke reactions that he hopes will allow him to continually claim that the Kurds are a pro-terrorist people.
Erdogan is not only trying to beat the Kurds down in Turkey but also Syria. as Turkish imperialists have long had he has ambitions on oil-rich Northern Syria. The Turkish government financed Islamist militias there. Until recently the AKP expressed preference for Daesh/ ISIS over the PKK. Daesh did business, arms trafficking and organised political recruitment with little hindrance from Turkish security forces.
But there is also Turkish nationalism and expansionism in regards to Syria and the AKP is not alone in this. The vice head of the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) Fatih district office in Istanbul, İbrahim Kücük was recently killed fighting with Turkmen militias. At his funeral other prominent MHP activists were in attendance and some were open about their involvement in fighting in Syria.
But protest is growing and not only in Kurdish areas of Turkey but across Europe. Although mainly based in the very large Kurdish diaspora – socialists and workers must come out in solidarity with them. A national demonstration has been called on March 6th in London – the first such demonstration to be called.
The struggle for democracy for Turkish Kurds however also depends on the response of workers and other democrats in Turkey. Erdogan’s repression on them also is fierce. Journalists are arrested, papers are closed down if they criticise his policies. Journalists without Borders ranks Turkey 149 out of 180 countries internationally in terms of freedom of the press– the lowest in Europe (if Russia is excluded). Lawyers who defend the civil rights of Kurds or anyone else opposed to the government are persecuted. There was an infamous mass trial of 100 such lawyers in 2013 and that aspect of Erdogan’s repression continues and has in fact got worse.
There is, as reported above, great concern from western powers that Erdogan cannot win the civil war he has launched against the Kurds in Turkey and that he wants to be taken into Syria. But Kurds can not win their liberation alone. And what they win cannot just be some degree of national liberation. To link up with the other ethnicities in Turkey requires a battle for democratic rights of all the workers of Turkey and the overthrow of the despot Erdogan.