At least 310 civilian deaths so far at the hands of the State
The Documentation Center of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV/HRFT) has recently released a fact sheet, revealing that curfews in Kurdish communities between August 2015 and March 2016 saw at least 310 civilians killed. Of these, 72 were children, 62 were women, and 29 were over the age of 60.
The Co-Chair of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said at the beginning of March:
A crime against humanity is being committed. Firing on civilian people just because some ditches were dig somewhere, burning down the city is a war crime… Article 25 of Geneva and Rome conventions is being violated by the [ruling] AKP (Justice and Development Party). They cannot open fire in civilian settlements.
The one shouting ‘terrorist’ turns out to be the biggest terrorist of them all
Having boasted in March about having “neutralised” 5,359 “terrorists” since July 2015 either by killing, injuring or capturing them, Turkey’s President Erdoğan made no mention of the hundreds of civilians killed so far by his party’s anti-Kurdish war.
The truth is that Erdoğan has long called anyone questioning his warmongering policies ‘terrorists’, and that he has watered the term down so much that it means next to nothing. But just for good measure, he’s recently called for people to be referred to as terrorists even if they do not pull a trigger. Here, he meant journalists, politicians, and civil activists – or all those who dare to criticise him.
But if ordinary free-thinking citizens are to be considered terrorists, what is Erdoğan?
Let’s remember that State officials on his watch have dealt directly with ranking members of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), and that Russia has presented proof of Turkey’s role in the Daesh-related oil trade. Let’s remember that Turkey has been attacking Kurdish territory in Syria for many weeks (in support of jihadi groups there), and that jihadi forces have allegedly been “moving freely through two Turkish-controlled border crossings in recent months” while the border with democratic forces in Rojava remain firmly shut. And let’s consider the fact that the HDP’s Ertuğrul Kürkçü has said:
After so many horrible terrorist acts, not a single real participant or mastermind has been arrested [by the Turkish State]… Taking publicly available information into account, we’ve come to the conclusion that Turkey has directly or indirectly served as Daesh’s mediator and ally by helping the radical group to prepare and commit terrorist acts, acquire necessary resources and recruit new fighters
Turkey’s media under attack
In October 2015, the UK’s Consul-General to Turkey in Istanbul, Leigh Turner, published a blog post calling on Turkey to support freedom of speech “without any ifs or buts”. But this tame attack on the AKP’s anti-media crackdown changed nothing.
At the start of March, Turkey’s biggest newspaper, Zaman, was seized by the Turkish State. The paper’s final front page read:
The Constitution is suspended… The Turkish press has experienced one of the darkest days in its history
It is worth noting here that Zaman was already a conservative paper.
Towards the end of March, the case against journalists Erdem Gül and Can Dündar – who published accounts of the Turkish State sending weapons to jihadi forces in Syria – rolled on in spite of their release from jail a month earlier. Many journalists, academics and diplomats (mostly from Europe) attended the latest hearing, but were disappointed when the judge ordered the case be moved behind closed doors for “national security” reasons. The reason was clear. President Erdoğan soon addressed Turkish households via TV, angry about the foreigners present at the hearing:
What business do you have there? Diplomacy has a certain propriety and manners. This is not your country… You can move inside the Consulate building and within the boundaries of the Consulate… But elsewhere is subject to permission.
In other words, freedom in Turkey is subject to government permission. Some may ask if freedom is the correct word to use in this context.
In January, more than 2,000 Turkish academics and their international colleagues – known as the Academics for Peace – signed a letter calling for peace. They were subsequently threatened and targeted by both their institutions and prosecutors on the orders of the ruling AKP government.
On 22 March, academics around the globe reminded the Turkish regime that they had not forgotten about their colleagues. Signing a joint letter directed at the AKP, 1,406 academics from 62 countries called on the party to stop its “witch hunt” against the Academics for Peace.
EU hypocrisy and a small piece of hope
On 27 March, Kurdish Question reported on how more than a thousand people had been detained in the previous two weeks, saying:
Local politicians, academics, journalists, students and children are part of the latest clamp down against critics of the president and government.
ROAR Magazine explained why, on the whole, Europe was remaining silent:
The gravity of importance placed on Turkey as a way to repel refugees from the European continent has allowed it to shed any semblance of free expression, whilst the European Union is on the verge of crossing Erdoğan’s palm with €6 billion worth of silver
It was referring here to EU-Turkey refugee crisis negotiations, which saw Europe hand billions of Euros over to the Turkish State.
To a certain extent, we might excuse the EU for falling prey to Erdoğan’s powerful propaganda machine, which the Kurdish Student Union’s Elif Sarican explained at Sputnik News. Kurdish civilians in Turkey, he said, “are being killed just for being Kurdish“, but Turkish authorities “disguise what they are doing behind a so-called war on terror”.
But the EU is slowly and timidly beginning to find its voice. In late March, the German ambassador to Turkey was summoned for questioning after a satirical song mocking President Erdoğan was broadcast on public television in Germany. According to the German Foreign Office, ambassador Martin Edelmann refused to apologise for the video, and instead made it clear that “freedom of expression is non-negotiable” for Germany. One might think this insistence meaningless considering Berlin’s key role in securing a billion-Euro deal over refugees with Ankara. But it at least shows Germany is not prepared to ignore repression in Turkey completely.
The GMB union in Britain, however, has made it clear that it will go much further than the British government has gone so far regarding Turkey’s return to tyranny. Its international officer, Bert Schouwenburg, has criticised the UK’s hypocrisy regarding the Middle East, saying:
parliamentarians indulge in overblown rhetoric about the supposedly fascist tendencies of [Syrian jihadis], which they indirectly created by the disastrous intervention in Iraq, while ignoring the burgeoning authoritarian nationalism of their Turkish Nato ally which is directly supporting them.
And here lies a small piece of hope for peace in Turkey. The GMB, along with other British trade unions, says it will be launching a campaign in April for the release of the spiritual leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, whose freedom it calls “imperative for a settlement that would allow the peaceful coexistence of Kurds and Turks”.