Turkey begins bombing IS—and the Kurds

The Turkish government has begun military operations targeting IS in Syria and Iraq, collaborating with US forces.

In return, Obama has turned a blind eye to Turkey bombing Kurdish targets, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) both in Iraq as well as in south-eastern Turkey.

This has brought an end to the peace process with the PKK which had produced hopes of a historic end to Kurdish persecution by the Turkish state. The PKK has led an armed struggle for Kurdish rights inside Turkey since 1984.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has long maintained that Assad’s regime in Syria is the greatest threat to humanity in the region, supporting some rebel groups in a bid to undermine his power.

But Turkey also wants to prevent the emergence of a new independent Kurdish state on its border with Syria. Last year Kurdish forces in Kobani, a Syrian-Kurdish town gained US support for their successful efforts to push back IS.

The government of Recep Erdogan fears the jubilation of the Kurds following the Kobani victory will bolster the PKK.

Secondly, he appears determined to punish the Kurds for voting his AKP out of its parliamentary majority, which the party has held since 2002, in elections in June. Since then no party has been able to form a coalition government, forcing the country back to the polls in November.

Changing fortunes

In the first decade of the 2000s Turkey was shaped by pro-democracy struggles, opposition to the army’s role in politics, and growing opposition to the war on Kurds. There was a growing sentiment for peace with the Kurds and an end to racism against ethnic minorities.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, and progressively increased its share of the vote each election since, until the June election this year, where it shed a fifth of its votes and lost its majority.

The AKP successfully pacified the army, created jobs and initiated a peace process with the Kurds.

But the Gezi Park demonstrations of 2013 marked the start of its decline, eroding the AKP’s legitimacy and expressing the opposition to its neo-liberal policies.

Soon after Gezi, Erdogan claimed a “coup” attempt by the Islamic Gulen Movement had been foiled. He purged those sympathetic to Gulen from the judiciary and the police. Many supporters of the AKP viewed this move as evidence of Erdogan’s autocratic behaviour.

Then, in May 2014 the Soma mine disaster, which killed 301 miners, was widely seen as a result of the neo-liberal policies the AKP had been pursuing for years. Solidarity actions in support of the families, and the dismissive arrogance of AKP ministers, only further encouraged the developing anti-AKP sentiment.

Turkey’s elections and the HDP

The AKP’s hostile stance against Syrian Kurds in Kobani provided the left with an opportunity to win over Kurds who had previously voted for the AKP. The main beneficiary is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The HDP is a coalition of the radical left and the Kurdish movement. Historically, Kurdish parties have won no more than 6.5 per cent of the vote. Last year, HDP presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas won almost 10 per cent.

The popularity of Demirtas and the HDP is a game changer for Turkish parliamentary politics. Appealing to the resentment of younger voters who demanded change at Gezi, Demirtas and the HDP have created a pole of attraction on the left which is loudly and visibly pro-peace and anti neo-liberal.

Since the elections, the AKP’s smear campaign against the HDP (implying they take orders from the PKK) has had a polarising effect, making efforts at forming a coalition government impossible.

This situation is exacerbated by the state’s attacks on the PKK, ending the fragile ceasefire and endangering the peace negotiations.

Since the June elections, upwards of 70 soldiers and police, and hundreds of PKK guerillas and civilians have been killed. Demonstrations against the AKP at state funerals for government soldiers suggest the AKP stands to lose further ground in new elections called for 1 November.

Two-thirds of the population support the peace negotiations, despite ongoing scaremongering in the media.

For the time being, the AKP’s agenda of war and fear seems to be backfiring. The same kind of anti-war movement that kept the Turkish army out of Iraq in 2003 is what is needed for an end to Turkish involvement in Syria and for negotiations with the Kurds to resume until a lasting peace is achieved.

At the same time, the HDP needs to appeal to workers in western Turkey if it is to spearhead a mass movement against war and neo-liberal attacks on working and living conditions.

By Tony Bozdagci


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