Turkey: Thousands take to the street as crisis of the regime deepens

Following Saturday's heinous terrorist attack, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the biggest mass movement since the Gezi Park movement of 2013. But quite contrary to the intentions of the attack, it seems to have isolated the crisis-ridden Erdogan regime even more.

After the bombing of the peace rally called in Ankara, which killed more than a hundred people and wounded up to 500, semi-spontaneous protests erupted throughout the country. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest the regime of terror that the ruling AK Party, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been pushing for the past 6 months.

istanbul-after-ankara-bombingIn Istanbul yesterday, around 10,000 people filled Istiklal Street in the centre of the city. Some carried placards reading "the state is a killer" and "we know the murderers." At Taksim Square a group of protesters organised a sit-in with banners reading "Your massacres will not defeat our demands for peace," "You cannot bomb peac,e" and "Bomb dropped over peace." There were spontaneous gatherings and sit-ins in different parts of the metropolis. In Ankara as well, thousands of people gathered to mourn the murdered protesters. In the Kurdish areas dozens of protests took place, with the biggest one being in Diyarbakir, where thousands gathered before they were brutally attacked by riot police.

Four trade unions, DISK, KESK, TMMOB and TTB, have called a general strike for today and tomorrow which is already witnessing a strong participation.  The Leftist HDP has supported the strike, stating, "As a response to those who contemptibly massacred the people that came together for peace in Ankara in an attempt to silence them, we need to manifest everywhere that the voice for life and peace will never be silenced. We provide full support to the General Strike announced by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), Confederation of Public Employees' Trade Unions (KESK), Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), and Turkish Medical Association (TTB) that had also organized the Peace Rally in Ankara."

The strike seems to have had a strong response throughout the country. In Izmir, thousands of municipal workers struck from the morning on and held a minute of silence in front of the Municipality. Their banners read “we know who the killers are.”  Several metal works and other businesses had work stoppages, raising slogans such as “workers want peace,” “The palace of war, the people want peace,” referring to the newly built presidential palace, which is 50 times the size of the White House. Dozens of factories in the metal industry saw strikes, work stoppages, and protest meetings.

Throughout the country many municipalities went on strike and university faculties were closed down. At the Istanbul courthouse a group of lawyers gathered, shouting "Erdogan murdered [them], you'll be held to account!" Similar events took place in several courthouses, and 11 lawyers’ organisations issued a call to professional groups, bar associations, and lawyers to support the unions’ calls for a strike.

Government’s response

In a surreal turn of events, the Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on day of the attack, spent most of his 30-minute-long speech implying that the organisers of the march—which were the leftist HDP and 4 major trade unions—had themselves orchestrated the attack. He went on in a very threatening tone and posture to say that, “If [HDP chair Selahattin Demirtas] turns the pain of our citizens who lost their lives to terror today into a call for civil war, if he says, ‘this is a crime of the state against the people’ and invites the people to revolt against the state, then this stance . . . will be investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced.” Threatening the Kurdish population and HDP supporters, he went on to say, “if anyone should demand vengeance I am here, I am in Diyarbakir, in Konya, I am everywhere in Turkey.”

Replying to the threats of the Prime Minister—and thereby the President—Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the HDP, gave a powerful press conference in which he put the entire blame for the attack on the ruling AKP clique. A clearly indignant Demirtas said that “There was no control, no security. As if that were not enough, after the suicide bombers detonated themselves, leaving 500 injured on the ground, gasping for air, the police were ordered to fire tear gas and water cannons. Instead of explaining himself, he [Davutoglu] goes out and blames the HDP . . . They are going as far as claiming that the HDP would bomb our own people. In his 30-minute speech, he spends twenty minutes insulting us and threatening me; this after a rally in which 100 of my friends were killed. In that speech did you hear one sentence condemning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? . . . They are sending a message that they can kill anyone who opposes the AKP and then cover it up.”

Demirtas then addressed the prime minister directly, saying: “It’s true that we do not see you as our prime minister. We will also not allow you to become our killer, nor will we allow you to threaten us.”

The Ankara attack is a continuation of the campaign of terror which has been unleashed against Kurdish and leftist forces in the past period by the ruling AKP clique. Similar, albeit less lethal bomb attacks were waged against HDP meetings during the previous election campaign in the spring. A similar attack which had clear links to the Turkish government took place in the district of Suruç in July, killing 32 young leftist activists. Since then a wave of hundreds of violent lynchings and fire and bomb attacks against HDP offices and Kurds has has taken place under the clear protection of state forces. In spite of the large number of attacks which have often been in broad daylight, no one has yet been brought to justice.

Read also: Turkey: Stop Erdoğan's war on the Kurds

Instead, each attack has been followed by increasing repression of Kurds and leftists. Of the up to 2000 people who have been arrested, a tiny minority have been linked to the Islamists, while the vast majority have been leftist and Kurdish activists. A violent campaign by the Turkish military in the Kurdish areas has also led to more than 1000 killed, while the government has started legal proceedings to imprison the leaders of the HDP. Saturday’s bomb attack follows the same pattern. Not even bothering to pretend that they are attempting to find the real perpetrators, the government has continuously attacked the victims, the HDP, and the Kurdish movement.

Desperate measures

erdoganBut this is leading to a backlash. The mood in Turkish society is more tense than ever in the recent history of the country. Amongst wide layers of the population there is a burning anger against the Erdogan regime, which is seen as the sole party responsible for the attack. They see it as another step in Erdogan’s desperate attempts to hold on to power at whatever the cost.

From 2002, and for more than a decade, Erdogan’s AK Party ruled Turkey undisputed. Carried forward by the mass opposition to the corrupt and undemocratic rule of the Republican movement and the army throughout the 80’s and the 90’s, as well as the economic boom throughout the 2000’s, Erdogan could walk on water. In the bourgeois media he was portrayed as the perfect match between Western democracy and the Islamist tradition.

A stagnating economy, and widespread corruption and authoritarianism, however, has led to rising opposition and class struggle over the past years. At the same time, Erdogan, trying to shore up support, has defended a more and more Islamist position, which has further alienated more layers of the traditionally secular nation. The first sign of this mood of opposition was shown in 2013 during the Gezi Park protests, which, however, died down due to the lack of a clear programme and leadership.

Peoples Democratic Party electoral rally 2015 HDPUnable to find an outlet in traditional politics, the “spirit of Gezi” found an expression in the Kurdish based left-wing party, HDP. Basing themselves on a radical rhetoric, a democratic programme, as well as ties to the democratic Syrian anti-Islamist Kurdish movement (the YPG), the party entered parliament with 13 percent of the vote and 80 deputies in June of this year. This was a groundbreaking event, because it was the first political expression of a united, class-based movement of Kurdish and Turkish workers which first developed during the Gezi Park movement. But it also meant that the AKP lost its majority in parliament for the first time since 2002.

Erdogan, however, has refused to accept the result. Along with calling new elections on 1 November, he started the violent campaign of terror attacks, pogroms, and military operations. The main aim of this campaign has been to whip up nationalist hysteria so as to divide the working class along national lines. By attacking the Kurds, he was hoping to provoke the Kurdish guerilla movement, PKK, to resume a nationalist civil war which, he calculated, would in turn push the Turkish working class behind Erdogan.

In this respect the Saturday bombing was significant, because it coincided with a planned announcement by the PKK of a unilateral ceasefire in order to secure a safe environment for elections to take place. This goes against all the attempts of Erdogan to paint the PKK as a blood-hungry terrorist organisation in the eyes of the Turkish population. It is also a threat to what is probably one of the main options which he is contemplating: that is, to cause a civil war–like situation where he could justify not organising elections in the main Kurdish areas where the HDP receives 70–90 percent of the vote. In this way he could push the vote of the HDP below the 10 percent parliamentary threshold, which would result in the majority of the 80 or so deputies presently held by the HDP to go to the AKP, thus securing them a comfortable majority.

A regime in crisis

The campaign, however, is not having the intended effect. According to all the opinion polls, the HDP has not seen its votes decrease; on the contrary, in some cases it has seen small increases. At the same time, a major anti-Erdogan mood has developed amongst all layers of society. Even people who are staunchly anti-PKK blame Erdogan’s deliberate provocations for the deaths of hundreds of Turkish soldiers and police officers in the anti-PKK campaign.

In fact, the demonstration which was attacked on Saturday—called 'Labour, Peace, Democracy' and being organised by four major trade unions along with the HDP—was the first major entrance of the Turkish-based working class movement onto the scene as an active actor against Erdogan’s nationalist terror.

Division in the ruling class

One Republican Party (CHP) deputy, Gaye Usluer, told the Cihan news agency on Sunday that the government was responsible for the attack. Offering his condolences to the families of the victims, Usluer said that if the real perpetrators of the Suruç and Diyarbakir bombings were not revealed, neither will the perpetrators of this latest attack.

“We know who is responsible. Those who are responsible are the people who could not protect our borders, who tolerated the atrocities in Syria and Iraq, who gave the order not to conduct operations against terrorists and who disregard the security of the public for the sake of their own desires,” said Usluer.

The far-right MHP party, which is staunchly anti-Kurdish, refused to meet with the prime minister, stating that he “should get used to being rejected.” One MHP MP, Süleyman Korkmaz, said that people no longer have security of life and property in Turkey. The leader of the party blamed Erdogan’s support for Jihadist forces and his meddling in Syria as the main cause behind the attack: "Turkey has been paying the price of the sympathetic approach to terror and biased approach in foreign policy. Both President Erdogan and PM Davutoglu should immediately demonstrate the necessary will to reconstruct the national security."

Erdogan’s actions are irresponsible, even from a capitalist point of view. By allowing Islamic fundamentalist groups to embed themselves in the country, and by whipping up a civil war with the Kurdish part of the population, he is preparing for what could become a bloody disintegration of the country. Further to this, these actions are isolating the country internationally by damaging the relationship it enjoyed both with the US as well as Russia, both of whom are trying to fight the same Islamist forces Erdogan has been stubbornly supporting in Syria.

For the Turkish capitalists, who always saw themselves as the gatekeepers of the Middle East and its connection to the West, these are major setbacks. They fear that Turkey’s position in the world economy and the stability of the country could be seriously harmed by the recklessness of Erdogan.

Most importantly, however, they fear that his actions could provoke a revolutionary backlash. The mood of anger and frustration amongst the workers and youth of Turkey is reaching new highs. With each new catastrophe, massacre, crackdown, and crisis, the workers become more restless and impatient.

The terror attack in Ankara has further galvanised this mood. The general strike today has been well received and will probably grow as it continues tomorrow. At the same time, mass funerals and political meetings have been announced on a daily basis over the next week. This situation will continue until the elections, which will, de facto, become a referendum for or against Erdogan. In such a tense situation, a provocation or attempted coup by Erdogan could have explosive repercussions.

Turkey is simmering on the brink. Erdogan has shown that he will never leave voluntarily. No vote will make him leave, nor will any negotiations. He would rather drown Turkey in blood than give up on his privileges and those of his parasite cronies.  Only by preparing a revolutionary movement to overthrow him can the Turkish masses put an end to the barbarism and the current bloodshed and take their destinies into their own hands.