Turkey was never exactly the home of freedom and democracy. But since the ruling AKP abandoned peace talks with the left-wing militants of the PKK in July 2015, the State’s authoritarian crackdown on civil society has become even worse.
The deteriorating situation in late 2015
Since taking power in 2002, the AKP has blended neoliberalism, Islamism, and nationalism to create a toxic political potion. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has led the party to successive electoral victories ever since he became prime minister in 2003 (he has been the country’s president since 2014).
When his left-wing opponents in the HDP chipped away at his party’s majority in June 2015, however, he soon set about destroying the peace process and thus boosting his popularity even further among Turkish nationalists and Islamists – who didn’t want the secular and pro-Kurdish rights movement to gain any more strength. In short, it was Erdoğan’s hunger for power that brought war back to Turkey.
The HDP would soon face even more violent attacks against its members and supporters. But Erdoğan’s regime somehow twisted this in its favour. After Daesh undertook a massacre in Suruç on 20 July, killing members of the Socialist Federation of Youth Associations (SGDF) who were planning a trip to Rojava, everything spiralled out of control. Ankara responded by destroying the peace negotiations with the PKK and attacking PKK positions in Iraq. (A government whistle-blower soon suggested the Suruç Bombing had been designed by Turkish officials, implying that Ankara had planned the attack in order to reinitiate its war against the PKK.)
Then came the Ankara Massacre on 10 October, in which 102 peace activists (including HDP members) were viciously murdered in Turkey’s capital city. There were again suspicions that the AKP government had been complicit or involved in the attack, in an attempt to further polarise the country before a rerun of the elections on 1 November. In an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and repression of dissent, the AKP improved on its results in June, and took this victory as a sign that its warmongering tactics were actually beneficial to its chances of maintaining political power.
While Turkey’s NATO allies turned a blind eye to the erosion of democratic rights of Turkish soil, Sabancı University professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu stressed that the Turkish regime was looking “more and more like a fascist movement” every day. There was, he insisted:
no environment conducive to free and fair elections
And the situation got even worse. Repression intensified, and the AKP now felt it had the mandate to destroy all resistance – democratic or otherwise – to its policy of absolute domination in the Kurdish communities in South-East Turkey. Even a human rights lawyer was killed on 28 November, with a preliminary autopsy pointing to his execution by the State. Two days later, a prominent journalist was jailed for reporting on Turkish weapons being sent to jihadis in Syria – or as the Turkish State put it, for being “a terrorist and a spy”. Social media would also come under attack once more. On 11 December, VICE reported on how Turkey was trying to fine Twitter $51,000 for hosting content that the government deemed unacceptable. And just to show how ridiculous the Turkish regime was becoming, on 20 January 2016, a woman would be sentenced to a year in jail simply for making an “ugly gesture with her hand” towards Erdoğan at a political rally in 2014.
Turkey would officially finish 2015 as one of the worst countries in the world to be a journalist. Reporters without Borders insisted that the situation had “worsened, showing that freedom of information continues to decline”.
When questioning senseless state policies is considered to be a crime
After calling in December for “regional autonomy” for Kurdish communities in Turkey as a means of “living together” peacefully, the HDP would soon be subjected to a criminal investigation. On 4 January 2016, RT reported Erdoğan as saying “the statements of the HDP leaders are constitutional crimes” and that “the removal of immunities will have a positive impact on the mood of our country in fighting terrorism”. In short, the increasingly authoritarian leader of Turkey was now equating a call for democracy and peace to treason and terrorism.
Days later, Turkish police raided HDP headquarters and detained a number of the party’s politicians.
On 10 January, an open letter was released which had been signed by 1,128 academics from 89 different Turkish universities, along with more than 355 foreign intellectuals like renowned linguist Noam Chomsky – who would soon receive particular attention from Erdoğan.
The declaration called on the Turkish government to end its “deliberate and planned massacre” of Kurdish citizens, and requested access to the region for independent human rights observers. They also demanded the resumption of peace negotiations with the PKK and “an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state”. Over 100 journalists issued a declaration in support a few days later, claiming the targeting of academics in the media outlets and by the AKP was “contrary to human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of thought”.
On 17 January, Jowan Mahmod Ezat claimed that:
The same day, almost 600 UK academics expressed their solidarity with their Turkish colleagues. Two days later, US university professors launched a petition aimed at Obama, calling for him to take action regarding Ankara’s crackdown on peace activists. Cornell Law School Professor Robert C. Hockett wrote on 1 Feb about how:
much of the world appears to be overlooking a mass atrocity now underway in Turkey
He spoke of “the indiscriminate killing of innocents” by the State and the government “policy of collectively punishing Turkey’s Kurdish citizens”.
Even the football world tried to make a stand. Supporters of the Amedspor football team were detained in January for singing:
Stop the death of children, they deserve to watch football too.
The club also received a one-match supporter ban and a fine of 25,000 Turkish lira because its fans had put up a banner reading:
We insist on peace.
Police officers even raided the team’s facilities because of its fans’ calls for peace.
Considering all of this, it came as no surprise when Human Rights Watch published its 2016 World Report in January 2016 and claimed that the environment for human rights in Turkey had deteriorated significantly.
Is self-rule terrorism?
On 20 January, Erdoğan said a final goodbye to chances of a political solution with Turkey’s Kurdish communities. He insisted that neither the PKK nor the HDP would “ever be accepted as interlocutors” again. “That affair is over”, he said.
But are Kurdish demands for autonomy so crazy and outlandish?
On 30 January, Dr Amy L Beam insisted that the AKP should “take a lesson in governance from the United States which has embraced and defended autonomous self-rule from the very day of its founding in 1776”. She speaks of the rights of the USA’s 50 self-governing states, and how they have their own national guard, how they determine and regulate their own internal affairs, and how there is local governance for every town and city. The purpose of federal government, she says, is mainly to ensure the rights of the population are secured and to determine foreign policy.
Beam stresses that:
The terror that Turkey has unleashed on its own Kurdish population cannot possibly lead to peace.
She then asks:
What is the basis for Turkey’s president to accuse Selahattin Demirtaş of treason and to deny local self-governance, not only to Kurds, but to all regions of Turkey? How could such a powerful, militarized state such as Turkey stand in such fear of its own Kurdish citizens?
And indeed, self-determination is the right of “all peoples” according to the UN Charter, and it is enshrined in numerous international treaties. Whether this is “internal” self-determination within an existing state, or “external” self-determination in the form of full independence, Cornell University Law School insists, it is quite simply the right of all people.
In other words, self-rule could only be considered a terrorist offence if the person making the judgement lives in a land of opposites, where war is peace and freedom is slavery. But unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of crazy world in which Erdoğan and his AKP lapdogs live. And it is the world they want Turkish citizens to live in, too. For this reason and more, Hürriyet’s Burak Bekdil insists the current Turkish regime is the “wrong partner to fight terror”, and is in reality just “another jihadist”. In short, it wants to impose its own warped form of pseudo-religious politics on the entire population of Turkey and further afield. And for the sake of humanity, it must be stopped sooner rather than later.