Turkey’s internal political divisions and its role in the turbulent Middle East remain unexplained in the mainstream media. To begin with, Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan is a right-wing politician and Muslim fundamentalist. He founded the ruling capitalist party, Justice and Development.
Economic austerities imposed on Turks by neoliberal privatization policies created mounting opposition, which was viciously repressed. The historic rebellion at Gezi Park in 2013, for example, was provoked by the government’s brutality and its broad attempt to seize and privatize public land.
The protests, led by youth and joined by organized workers, social justice and Kurdish activists, spread to most provinces and sparked a two-day general strike. Millions were involved, many who fought openly against brutal police and government thugs. But without a clear program and a unified revolutionary party, the revolt was defeated. It did, however lead to the serious class polarization that plagues Erdoğan to this day and draws class lines ever more clear.
Suppression of Kurds. Erdoğan’s war on the Kurds has escalated to an extreme degree in the last five years, and is directly related to the country’s role in Syria’s wrenching civil war. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been fighting a very effective war for independence in Rojava in northeastern Syria. And the Northern Iraqi Kurds have already formed an autonomous democracy, which controls critical oil reserves. Turkey’s main reason for invading Syria is not to fight genuine ISIS terrorists, whom Erdoğan once aided, but to crush the 50,000-strong Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia, and overrun the three autonomous lands of Rojava. They threaten Erdoğan’s dreams of absolute power and a “new Ottoman empire.” He regularly imprisons and murders Kurds.
For example, in February 2016 the Turkish army destroyed the city of Cizre. Thousands of civilians died. More than a hundred civilians burned to death locked in a basement. Military-enforced curfews are in effect in several Kurdish cities, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Erdoğan’s official position is that everyone murdered was a “terrorist.” Turks across the country protested this carnage.
Coup a pretext for purges. Turkey is a parliamentary democracy, quite secular, very diverse culturally and politically. Erdoğan nearly lost the 2014 election. Then in July 2016, there was a short-lived military coup. Erdoğan immediately blamed Fethullah Gülen, a capitalist cleric who was his ally for nearly twenty years. Gülen broke with Erdoğan in 2013 and is now in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania. He runs an empire of private schools globally, 150 of them anti-union charter schools in the United States. Evidence of his involvement in the coup is inconclusive. But his numerous followers in Turkey are definitely targets of the government’s purges.
The July coup, together with stepped-up ISIS attacks on civilians, was a marvelous excuse for Erdoğan to quicken his pace to a police state. He purged all military personnel alleged to have been involved or sympathetic. Thousands still await execution. Hundreds of media organizations and journalists who had spoken out against the treatment of Kurds were suspended and also arrested on terrorism charges. Thousands of teachers, unionists, authors, judges, government officials, and professors from a group called Academics for Peace were arrested purely on suspicion. The passports of over 50,000 Turkish citizens have also been revoked.
A total of 120,000 people have been suspended or fired, and 40,000 jailed, over the last six months. New constitutional amendments will abolish the office of the prime minister and give Erdoğan a new title and dictatorial powers.
Turkey’s rising police-state measures are unifying its many targets — Kurds, rank-and-file workers, and the youth who led the bold revolt in 2013. They now know much more about their class enemies and deserve the informed solidarity of international revolutionaries.
Helena Sheinkman, born in Turkey, is a baker by trade and a sharp critic of the ruling class, in Turkey or the USA. For feedback, contact her at email@example.com.
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