With each passing day, Turkey looks ever more like a dictatorship. Not only has the British government remained silent but it colludes in this betrayal of democracy by selling Erdogan weapons, writes STEVE SWEENEY
IT HAS been a tumultuous week in Turkish politics from the announcement of plans to reintroduce the death penalty to the arrests of pro-Kurdish opposition politicians.
It is possible that an escalating civil war will ensue as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to tighten his stranglehold in an attempt to secure the constitutional change necessary to rule by presidential decree.
The failed coup on July 15 gave Erdogan the green light to go on the offensive as arrests and detentions of government workers, journalists and opposition voices escalated.
Access to the internet and social media in Turkey was blocked by throttling — a method of slowing certain websites to the point where they are unusable.
The arrests of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) politicians were designed to exclude pro-Kurdish voices from Turkish politics and to silence opposition to the Erdogan regime. The HDP made its breakthrough in the June 2015 elections and again in the re-run in November the same year — gaining five million votes and 59 MPs, making them the third largest party in Turkish politics. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) stated at the time that the HDP success — which ended its majority rule — was part of an international conspiracy, vowing to make them pay.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused the HDP of terrorism, claims which ring hollow considering the attacks on them and their supporters by Isis during the election campaigns. Much of the media were quick to blame the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the car bomb that exploded in Diyarbakir following the arrests of HDP politicians on November 3-4. Isis, however, claimed responsibility for the attacks which now appear to have been directed at the pro-Kurdish politicians held in the police station at the time of the blast. The HDP have been accused of supporting the PKK, a terrorist organisation according to Turkey, the EU and the United States. But HDP representatives had been invited by the ruling AKP to act as mediators between the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the government. However the talks, initiated by Ocalan, were arbitrarily halted by the AKP bringing a fragile ceasefire to an end.
The continued imprisonment of Ocalan remains a major obstacle to a peaceful solution. Kidnapped with the collusion of the secret service and sentenced to death in a sham trial, Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement for 17 years on Imrali island.
Ocalan is widely seen as a leader of the Kurdish people. Millions have signed a petition stating that they regard him as their political representative. His detailed “road map,” which outlines a step-by step plan for peace, remains important.
But his freedom is vital to any peace process which is why GMB and Unite supported the launch of the British “Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan” campaign earlier this year.
The arrests come as no great surprise to many. They had long been anticipated — it was just a matter of when. The move to lift the immunity of lawmakers through a “provisional constitutional amendment” started as far back as January 2016 with Erdogan’s statements proclaiming that HDP MPs should be jailed. During election campaigning, he was joined by the heads of the judiciary while he said of the HDP: “My nation wants them in jail.”
On May 20, the immunity was lifted thanks to an anti-Kurdish bloc as the AKP joined with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to force the motion through the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) also voted for the amendment although at the same time condemned it as anti-constitutional.
There can be no doubt that the lifting of immunity from prosecution was designed specifically to enable the indictment of HDP MPs. The recent arrests and imprisonments must be seen in this light. A range of charges including “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation,” “membership of an armed organisation” and “violating the law on meetings and demonstrations” are a political attack on the freedom of expression and relate to criticism of government policies and actions, including those made in parliament.
The lifting of the immunity from prosecution must be understood as an administrative coup designed to silence opposition.
The real reason for the arrests however is clear. By issuing arrest warrants for all 59 MPs and lawmakers, Erdogan is attempting to pave the way for the constitutional changes that are needed to increase his powers.
The move is the latest escalation in a war on the Kurdish people. Diyarbakir is effectively under siege and has been subjected to attacks from the police and Turkish armed forces. Curfews are regularly enforced and the city has come under heavy fire and shelling. Drones are a regular sight in Kurdish areas.
Around 80 per cent of buildings in the Sur curfew zone are reported to have been destroyed with Turkish health minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu saying that 355,000 people have been displaced.
Scenes similar to the destruction of Aleppo are occurring in a Nato member state, yet there appears to be a wall of silence as Erdogan continues to act with impunity. The 1990s saw over 3,000 Kurdish villages burnt down by Turkish forces as they claimed to be moving against the PKK. In reality this was designed to wipe out Kurdish culture and identity, forcing the mass displacement of communities.
The Human Rights Association in Turkey says there are thousands of bodies in hundreds of mass graves in the south-east of the country.
Hundreds of Turkish military bases have since been established with plans for over a thousand with costs of up to £1 million each.
February 2016 saw one of the most shocking incidents in the war on Kurds. Over 150 people were killed by Turkish security forces, their bodies found burnt alive in three basements in Cizre. A phone recording reported that music associated with fascists and ultra-nationalists was being played as they poured petrol into one of the basements. A majority of those killed were women and children as young as 10, according to reports. The Turkish government claimed this was “baseless terror propaganda.” Some of the bodies were reported to have been found without heads.
Human Rights Watch suggested a cover-up as the United Nations were denied access to research the area and the ruins were flattened with no crime scene investigation.
Turkey have been supported with intelligence and military aid and weapons sales from their Nato allies. In December 2011, F16 fighter jets bombed a convoy of villagers in the village of Roboski as they returned from visiting relatives with diesel and sugar they collected. Thirty-four people were killed, the oldest of whom was just 20 years old. The attack came as US intelligence tipped off Turkish military forces following a US Predator drone spotting the convoy.
A US deal worth millions was authorised in March 2016 for the sale of smart bombs to Turkey. A Turkish military official said the deal was timeley as “we are engaged in asymmetrical warfare and need smart bombs.”
The British government stated that Turkey was a “priority market” for arms exports in 2015 as the sale of £800m of weapons including drones and missiles was approved, according the the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Latest figures reveal that the government has given millions in military aid to Turkey. The British government’s silence makes it complicit in the atrocities committed by the Turkish state. In his first diplomatic trip to Turkey, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson underlined the strong relationship between Britain and Turkey and reiterated his solidarity with Turkey’s democratically elected government.
While journalists and elected politicians were being arrested and TV stations and newspapers being closed down, Johnson remained silent. Instead he praised Turkey, saying: “We are happy in the United Kingdom to be one of the biggest recipients of Turkish goods [...] I am the proud owner of a digital, very well-functioning Turkish washing machine.”
Turkey remains a key strategic ally for Nato and the EU. This was underlined by Johnson following the arrests when he said at a press conference in Berlin that “Turkey is critical for our security, for our struggle against terror and of course critical for managing the conflict in Syria.”
Democracy and human rights are being sacrificed for wider imperialist and neoliberal interests. The repression of the Kurds is an ongoing crime against humanity. For decades there has been silence. Following the arrests the world has finally, but slowly, started to open its eyes. As we condemn the attack on democracy we will continue the fight for the freedom of all political prisoners. We stand on the side of humanity. We must break the silence and demand the government acts. We stand in solidarity with the Kurdish community and the people of Turkey.