There seems to have been less mainstream media attention than there should be concerning the Turkish state’s escalating policy of curfews, military incursions and violent crackdowns on Kurdish towns and cities of south-eastern Turkey.
Turkish tanks are reported to have been shelling the town of Cizre, while military operations in Diyarbakir and Silopi are ongoing.
Tanks and heavy weaponry, traditionally used only in full warfare, are instead being used against civilian locations where thousands of non-combatants live.
A terrible reality is confronted in the petition “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime”, which was recently drawn up by Turkish academics; ‘The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated‘.
Another petition has been sent to President Barack Obama, led by Anna-Sara Malmgren, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, and Robert Hockett, Edward Cornell Professor of Law at Cornell University, and calling on the White House to take action to curtail the Turkish state’s war on Kurdish neighbourhoods in eastern and south-eastern Anatolia. ‘We write you with a growing sense of alarm, and a simple request, concerning actions now being taken by the government of Turkey against its own citizens’, the petition says, ‘As you have no doubt been briefed, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in recent months been blockading and indiscriminately shelling ethnic Kurdish neighborhoods in eastern and southeastern Anatolia.’
A further, grim sense of the situation has been provided in a statement by Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), January 2016; ‘After the coup against the 7 June 2015 elections, under the leadership of President Erdogan, the Turkish state launched a full-blown war against the Kurds. The state, which has even deployed the navy in Kurdistan, is utilising all its traditional dirty tactics. For several weeks curfews have been imposed in many towns and cities across Kurdistan. These are still continuing in Cizre, Silopi and Sur. The curfews are also on and off in places like Nusybin, Dargecit, Lice and Varto. Until now, the Turkish state has killed a total of 260 civilians in these towns and cities. Most of these killings have been caused by artillery fire from tanks, rockets and sniper fire… Turkish state is attacking Kurdish elected officials by prosecuting them, relieving elected mayors of their duties and imprisoning journalists. Turkish military forces are targeting especially women and children. Recently three Kurdish women politicians have been killed by Turkish state forces in an extrajudicial killing in Şırnak’s Silopi district’.
The statement goes on to accuse the state of a ‘depopulation policy’ against Kurds, and suggests that the Turkish regime is re-enacting the genocides of a hundred years ago, and cites the Mayor of Adana (AK Party), Huseyin Sozlu, having declared in a public statement to Kurds in Turkey, “You will end up like Armenians”.
The statement calls ‘upon the whole world to raise their voices against the Turkish state and Erdogan’s massacre of the Kurdish people’.
Amnesty International meanwhile accuses Turkey of carrying out ‘collective punishment’ in the Kurdish southeast.
How much of this is true, how much is exaggerated or being used for propaganda purposes, is difficult to know.
But the present Turkish state’s war against the Kurds has continued to build and build, and seems to be part of a more expansive totalitarian march that includes a harsh war against journalists, liberals, and now academics and intellectuals.
We’ve talked about the war on journalists and the attacks on opposition figures already; but the Turkish state’s war on intellectuals and academics draws very real parallels to classic dictatorship models, with some calling this present state of affairs ‘Turkey’s Kristallnacht’. Disturbingly, where Hitler and the Nazi regime were preoccupied with ‘the Jewish Problem’, Erdogan and the current Turkish state is preoccupied with the ‘Kurdish Problem’ and is dealing with that ‘problem’ more and more harshly with each passing week, as well as using that issue to inflame nationalist fervour among sections of the population.
This uncomfortable historic parallel is exacerbated by Erdogan himself bizarrely citing Hitler’s Germany as an example of a successful presidential system.
The actions of the Turkish state continue to tick off the text-book check-list for the aspiring despotic dictatorship: refusing to legitimize genuine democratic election results, oppressing and even murdering journalists, attacking, killing or imprisoning opposition figures, persecuting and outright attacking a minority group, conducting false-flag terrorism to accomplish political goals, conducting a propaganda war to incite racial or nationalist tensions, and going after intellectuals, liberals and academics.
Witness the press conference held simultaneously in Istanbul and Ankara by academics from various Turkish universities. They revealed a petition signed by some 1,128 academics from different fields at universities both in Turkey and abroad, including scholars affiliated with Harvard, Cambridge universities. They stated that they were part of the Academics for Peace Initiative and they called for an end to the ‘massacre’ of Kurds. President Erdogan’s response was to label the academics as ‘terrorist’ propagandists, with 27 of them arrested by police for ‘insulting’ the state. They were later released, but all 1,128 Turkish signatories of the petition are under investigation, according to the Doğan news agency. If convicted, they could face between one and five years in prison.
This campaign against intellectualism would’ve seemed inevitable, as it follows logically from the violent oppression of journalism that has been demonstrated in, for example, the murder of Serena Shim, and the arrests of Cumhuriyet Editor, Can Dündar, and Ertuğrul Özkök, a reporter for Turkish daily Hüriyet – all primarily for trying to expose the Turkish state’s links to ISIS/ISIL and other terrorist groups.
Meanwhile assassinations of Kurdish politicians, activists and civilians has been ongoing. The shooting of prominent Kurdish lawyer and political activist Tahir Elci, dismissed by some state voices as ‘an unfortunate accident’, was almost certainly a targeted assassination, while false-flag terrorist attacks like the one in Ankara last year were almost certainly Turkish ‘deep state’ attacks designed to kill or otherwise intimidate progressives, students and Kurdish activists.
Despite the ruling AK Party having won its election majority recently – in a highly questionable result that contradicted the June 2015 election in which the progressive and pro-Kurdish HDP had won more than 13% of the vote – Erdogan’s government has only escalated its attacks on opposition, journalists and Kurds.
But now the Turkish state has forsaken subtlety and appears to be engaged in unrestrained military action against part of its own population.
To the AKP, not only are all Kurds loosely regarded as ‘terrorists’, but even non-Kurdish left-wingers have begun to be regarded in the same light, with all dissenters in the society increasingly labelled as a threat. This is standard practise for oppressive governments worldwide and throughout history, of course – the presence of ‘terrorists’ or a perceived terrorist threat are a god-send, because not only can the state take all sorts of measures for the sake of ‘security’ and ‘order’, but it can also use ‘terrorist’ as a blanket term for any unwanted opposition, dissent or social or political activism, and the fear of the real ‘terrorists’ can easily be redirected into anger towards the fictional ‘terrorists’.
In the supposedly democratic nation with EU membership aspirations, press freedom is pretty much non-existent now.
In an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other modern nation; in spite of this tight control of information, people like Serena Shim and others have nevertheless managed to expose Turkey’s criminal role in supporting the Islamic State terror group and sustaining/funding the War in Syria that has killed over a quarter-of-a-million Syrians.
The tragedy, as I have written here before, is that apart from possibly Lebanon (and potentially post Arab Spring Tunisia), it is difficult to think of a ‘Muslim’ society as progressive, modernist and liberal as Turkey has traditionally been, particularly as it has also been a democracy. This makes Turkey a relatively unique society in the world and a positive example of how moderate Sunni Islam and modern democratic and secular government and principles can work effectively in tandem and for the good of a society.
At a time when Muslim countries elsewhere are either harsh dictatorships, nations in a state of collapse or war, or aspiring-but-failing quasi-democracies, a Turkey true to its principles would stand as something of a shining beacon of both secular democracy and the modern-day capacity for a Muslim society to exist effectively and happily in that state of secular democracy.
Also given its unique position as the literal bridge between Europe and the Middle East, such a Turkey would, in these highly toxic and increasingly sectarian times, be all the more important and valuable a society and nation with a great capacity to play peacemaker and bridge-builder. Instead, the Turkish state now appears to be an oppressive dictatorship, terrorising parts of its own population, exporting and enabling terrorism abroad, and in essence becoming everything that its constitution was supposed to ensure it would never become.
Curiously, although Turkey has been accused by Amnesty of crimes in the south-east against Kurds, it hasn’t yet been directly condemned for its support of ISIS/ISIL and Al-Nusra in Syria, which has essentially been war
on Syria by proxy. But on the other hand, NATO-backed Kurdish YPG fighters have been accused of committing possible war crimes against Syrian civilians.
Which demonstrates how hopelessly complicated everything has become.