Turkey is sliding towards civil war. For the past month tensions in Turkey have been rising to new highs. In order to cut through the class struggle rising against him, Erdoğan has launched a push to provoke a full blown civil war along national lines.
For more than a month Turkey has been rocked by several waves of clearly coordinated racist attacks against the Kurdish minority of the country as well as the Kurdish based left-wing party, the HDP. Four hundreds HDP offices have been ravaged by reactionary mobs protected by the police. Many businesses and shops thought to belong to Kurds have been the target of arson attacks while a 21-year-old man was stabbed to death for speaking in Kurdish on his mobile phone in İstanbul. Hundreds of people have been attacked for being Kurds and Kurdish neighbourhoods throughout the country have been attacked by racist mobs.
At the same time hundreds of aerial attacks have targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in Iraq and Turkey, in spite of the peace negotiations that the PKK were engaged in with the Turkish state. A dozen areas in the southeast of the country have been designated special security zones and raids and attacks with dozens of casualties are taking place on a daily basis. In total the casualties are thought to be above one thousand Kurds and up to 200 Turkish soldiers.]
For now the height of this operation has been the 10 day siege of Cizre, a town of 120,000, 92 percent of whom voted for the HDP in the past parliamentary election. At the end of the siege dozens of people, mostly civilians including several children and elderly, had been killed while many neighbourhoods were ruined by the indiscriminate shooting and bombing of the almost 10,000 Turkish soldiers deployed.
Erdoğan claims that all of this is a war on terrorism - meaning against both ISIS and PKK. However, since launching the campaign less than 100 of the 2,500 arrested have been related to ISIS while the vast majority have been leftist and Kurdish activists. In fact, most of the attacks carried out during the campaign have been to the benefit of ISIS, whose best opponents up until now have been PKK-related forces. On many occasions PKK forces have in fact been attacked while they were making their way to the front.
With the vague excuse of cracking down on terrorism, Erdoğan is launching nothing short of a unilateral war on the Kurdish population of Turkey. There was absolutely no need to provoke a war. For months the PKK had been asking for the right of safe passage to pull its remaining guerrillas out of Turkey. This was denied by Erdoğan who has not been willing to negotiate since last March.
Rising class struggle
It is clear that Erdoğan has never committed himself to the peace negotiations with the PKK. He thought he could use the Kurdish movement and the left to strike blows against the nationalist republican part of the Turkish ruling class.
For the past few years however, his biggest problem has not been coming from the ruling class, but from the masses who have been increasingly radicalised. Years of massive economic growth have not led to any significant improvement for the majority of the population while a tiny minority has become obscenely rich. Furthermore, it is the poor who will have to pay for the crisis which is hitting the country now.
This has been a major source of discontent which was first revealed by the Gezi park movement in 2013 where hundreds of thousands took to the streets against Erdoğan but did not succeed in overthrowing him due to a lack of leadership.
Yet the opposition has by no means dissipated. Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, his imperialist meddling in Syria and measures introduced in favour of the Islamisation of society - as opposed to the traditionally secular character of modern Turkey - is fuelling burning discontent under the surface.
Finding no outlet in the established political parties of Turkey, this mood was beginning to be reflected through the Kurdish movement and its political wing, the HDP. In spite of all the efforts of the ruling class for decades to alienate Turkish and Kurdish youth one from another, the HDP gradually became the focal point for a layer of radicalised youth in society who felt alienated by the rotten establishment. It was in particular the battle of Kobani which turned the tide as the Kurds with poor arms and little support fought back and won a brutal six-months offensive by ISIS which was clearly supported by the Erdoğan regime.
This legitimised the HDP - which became an all Turkish party with roots in the Kurdish movement - in the eyes of hundreds of thousands. Along with a radical programme of social and democratic reforms, the HDP managed to tap into the ‘spirit of Gezi’ and was propelled into parliament with 13 percent of the vote. This was a hard blow to Erdoğan’s AK Party, which for the first time since 2002 lost its majority in parliament.
This is the real reason for Erdoğan’s attacks on the Kurds and on the left. Weakened by the rising tide of class struggle against him, he is attempting to divide the working class along national lines, pitting Turkish and Kurdish workers against each other, in order to secure his own rule. It is no accident that the campaign started around at the same time of the announcement of new parliamentary elections for 1st November.
Marx once said that revolutions are often propelled forward by the whip of the counter-revolution. This perspective clearly applies in Turkey. Erdoğan was hoping to discredit the HDP by whipping up an anti-Kurdish mood. However, contrary to his aims, some polls show a slight increase of support for the HDP. In fact, throughout most layers of the opposition the blame for the rising instability and increasing death toll is correctly put on Erdoğan.
In the Kurdish areas, Erdoğan’s unilateral declaration of war is fuelling a burning anger which could explode into a revolutionary uprising at anytime. A glimpse of this mood was seen during the siege of Cizre.
Erdoğan was attempting to use the town to set an example for all the Kurds and achieve the brutal suppression of the Kurdish movement. However, instead of demoralising the Kurdish population, the siege of Cizre had the opposite effect of galvanising their rising anger and discontent into a mass resistance movement.
A movement to break the siege of Cizre was started by hundreds of lawyers and HDP MPs who began a peace march into Cizre, supported by thousands of people in the area who also started organising.
The Security forces opposed all attempts to enter the town, but finally a march of thousands of civilians, of all kinds - men, women, young and old - from the nearby towns of Şırnak and Silopi succeeded in reaching Cizre after days of constant police repression. As security forces continued the intensive bombing of different neighbourhoods of the town, the marchers, carrying food and white flags, attempted to make their way through police tear gas and a hail of live ammunition.
At the same time a determined mass resistance was taking place inside the town. Jin news agency reported:
“We witness a spirit of resistance in the Nur neighborhood, even as security forces pepper it with gunfire and grenades every night. Residents explained that they survived similar tactics of warfare against civilians during the 1990s, when the Turkish state waged a bloody, dirty war in the region. Now, they say, they are hardier than ever.
“‘The moment we lose morale, that’s the moment our will is broken,’ say the residents. The biggest problem is the food shortage, but the residents of Cizre seem unruffled, claiming the vegetables they have planted in their gardens are due to ripen any day now.
“Towards the evening, the streets grow crowded. Wherever it is safe, the neighborhood mothers light fires in the streets outside their houses, singing traditional songs from the area. The young people make tea over the fires and pass it around, as the older mothers sit inside raising morale by telling dozens of guests about their experiences in the 1990s. When the grenade explosions grow more intense, the residents respond by chanting slogans and banging on pots and pans, and volunteer doctors set out to find the wounded.
“The neighborhood women lead the noise demos and residents sometimes hold small-scale marches down their streets, while children roam the streets gathering debris in the wake of explosions. Every night the explosions grow louder, but the residents’ standard remark has become simply: ‘If we make it through tonight, it will all be over.’ ”
In the end it was the heroic resistance of the Cizre masses, supported by the rising mass pressure in the rest of the southeast, which broke the back of the siege. Instead of bowing to the vicious attacks the people launched a mass resistance movement, which led to the humiliating retreat of the Turkish armed forces - even after they had been increased to almost 10,000 troops, in order to enforce the siege.
The mood amongst the masses was revealed following the retreat of the armed forces,when almost the whole population of the town attended a rally addressed by Selahattin Demirtaş and other HDP leaders. The thousands and thousands who came out for the rally and for the funerals of those killed by the army reveal that far from being subdued by the violence of Erdoğan, the Kurdish masses are being radicalised by the day.
Only a revolutionary way out
The Kurdish masses have a legitimate right to defend themselves against the violent attacks of the Turkish bourgeoisie. Even if this means taking up arms. When confronted by the brutal attacks of the Turkish state, self-defence is absolutely legitimate.
However, isolated individual actions are not what would be needed. The killing of random soldiers and police officers are not weakening Erdoğan at all. On the contrary, they are exactly what Erdoğan wants. He uses them as a means of mobilising support in the Turkish areas and further divide the Kurdish and the Turkish workers and poor. What is needed to hit back against Erdoğan is a mass uprising against Erdoğan’s corrupt rule, oppression and the racist attacks against the Kurds. Cizre showed that the most effective way to expel the armed forces is through mass action - not waged by dozens or hundreds, but by hundreds of thousands.
Already now the Kurdish movement represented by the HDP and the organisations linked to the PKK have rallied an overwhelming majority of the Kurdish population behind them. The best way to organise a defence would be to mobilise these millions of people in a revolutionary general strike to end the attacks against the Kurds. Organisation committees should be created in every neighbourhood, factory and school with delegates elected by the workers and poor themselves. Defence committees should be formed in each one of these to defend the community against attacks by the state or armed thugs.
Working class unity
At the same time the movement must appeal to the Turkish workers and youth to join hands in the struggle against Erdoğan. For Erdoğan the whipping up of racist and anti-Kurdish feelings is an attempt to crush the left-moving opposition which has been growing in the west of the country. The biggest threat to his rule arose when the Turkish and Kurdish workers and youth started to mobilise together and found a united focal point in the HDP.
A large number of those arrested until now have in fact been Turkish leftists and opposition activists. At the same time Erdoğan is cracking down on all democratic rights throughout the country. By provoking a civil war he is in effect preparing for a dictatorship throughout Turkey.
In spite of massive propaganda and media manipulation the voice of discontent is still seeping through the fog of poisonous racism generated by Erdoğan. In the west, anger is rising amongst a large layer which clearly sees the Erdoğan regime as the main problem. Last month, at the funeral of his brother who was killed in this conflict, Lt. Col. Mehmet Alkan shouted, "Who is my brother's true killer? Who is truly responsible?" Many others attending soldiers' funerals nationwide have denounced Erdoğan. As one slain soldier's relative yelled at an AK Party minister who showed up at the funeral, "If we had elected Erdoğan president, all these would not have happened at all, correct? You said this yourself. How many more will we sacrifice until we elect him as president? Damn you all."
Of all the soldiers who die every single day none are from amongst the rich and the powerful. They have all paid to avoid conscription while the poor and the workers who cannot afford to do so are sent to kill their Kurdish class brothers and sisters and to die for this if necessary. Therefore a mass-movement in the Kurdish areas, calling for an end to civil-war will immediately find an echo amongst the Turkish workers and youth and even amongst the ranks of the army. This must in turn be connected to the overthrow of Erdoğan himself who has proven that he is willing to destabilise the whole country before he lets go of power.
A mass movement along these lines could quickly gain mass support among the Turkish workers and youth in the major cities and from further out in the central and western parts of Turkey.
Crisis of Capitalism
What we are witnessing is not only the crisis of the Erdoğan regime, but the crisis of Turkish capitalism as a whole. Unable to satisfy the needs of the masses the bourgeois are forced to move further and further to the right in order to secure their rule.
Many republican bourgeois commentators and members of the “traditional” bourgeoisie have been criticizing Erdoğan for his actions. They recognise that he is destabilising the whole country. But these “democratic” ladies and gentlemen conveniently forget that they themselves imposed the most brutal dictatorship in the aftermath of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s. And what was their programme for the recent elections? More privatisations, deregulation and “liberalisation” - that is, more attacks on the workers and the poor.
The problem is not which individual rules Turkey. Erdoğan, as mad as he is, is merely a reflection of the rottenness and parasitic nature of Turkish capitalism. Any struggle against Erdoğan must be connected with the struggle against capitalism as a whole.
The Turkish and Kurdish workers and peoples of Turkey do not have any opposing interests. It is only the barbaric nature of this system which has them fighting over the crumbs which the ruling class are willing to concede, while the rich and powerful, who produce nothing but misery, live in the most obscene luxury. Only a united struggle of all the oppressed to take over the resources and wealth and use it for the benefit of all, can show a way out of this barbarism.
Down with the war!
Down with Erdoğan and his government of thugs and thieves!
Long live working class unity in struggle!