Entitled “We will not be a party to this crime,” the petition signed by “Academics for Peace” from almost 90 universities accuses the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of seeking to use hunger to punish people in Sur (a neighbourhood in the city of Diyarbakir), Silvan, Nusayno, Cizre, Silopi and other towns kept under curfew since mid-December. “It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons that should only be used in wartime,” it says, calling this a “deliberate and planned massacre.”
Rather than denying the accusation, the government’s reaction was to escalate. “Pseudo intellectuals” with a PhD should not expect to be treated any differently than the “terrorists” under attack by the army in Turkish Kurdistan, Erdogan warned. He declared that signing the 10 January petition was an act of treason and anyone who did not retract their signature would be charged and put on trial. Twenty-seven scholars, mostly from Kocaeli University in north-western Turkey, were arrested in early morning raids and briefly detained for “terrorist propaganda”. The signers were put under formal investigation.
Professors and researchers were denounced as supporters of “terrorism” by their academic bodies and some were suspended from their posts. Many received death threats. In some cases a red cross was painted on their office door. This symbol was used to indicate targets for slaughter during the genocide of the Armenians in 1915. A prominent gangster, Sedat Peker, an Islamist and Turkish nationalist believed to be close to Erdogan, posted the following on his Web site: “We will spill your blood and we will take a shower in your blood.”
Erdogan’s deliberate baring of his teeth at intellectuals is more than a power grab by an ambitious strongman, although it is that as well. His represents the ambitions of a large part of the Turkish ruling class and the Turkish state. Now he is faced with a crisis his own policies have created, in conjunction with a regional and international situation that is making itself felt in a concentrated way in Turkey.
The country is becoming “Syrianized”, both in the urban warfare going on in the south-east and Daesh (also called ISIS) attacks in major cities, and in the way developments in Turkey are fuelled by those on the international level. This means particularly the clash between Islamism and Western imperialism and the intertwining of that contradiction with the aggressive moves of a whole swarm of reactionary states seeking to protect and advance their interests in this gathering maelstrom.
The oppression of the Kurds is one nodal point in all this, and a key one in terms of Erdogan’s ambitions and the dangers he must deal with, even though it is not the only one, or even the main factor driving the overall development of the situation.
Erdogan’s Turkey has been deeply involved in the Syrian civil war since the start, seeking to bring that country under its influence as part of grabbing regional predominance and promoting Islamism, the ideological glue to hold this project together. It is public knowledge that Turkey has been the main conduit for weapons and recruits into Syria for a variety of Islamist forces, from the Turkoman (ethnic Turkish Syrians) militia it created to Al-Nusra and beyond in the constantly shifting and recomposing Islamist nebula. It has done this with the acquiescence of the US, whose anxiousness to oust Russia and counter Iranian influence in Syria has been a big factor in prolonging and intensifying the civil war. At the same time, Turkey’s position has brought it into conflict with the US, which is threatened by the Islamist onrush, especially Daesh. And yet, given the US’s rivalry with Russia and need to weaken Iran, the US has made it very clear that it needs Erdogan, even though it also needs whatever help it can get from Kurdish forces.
Erdogan hoped to get a parliamentary super-majority in the June general elections. This was not because he intended to rely on parliamentary means to achieve his ends, such as changing the constitution to give more legitimacy and leverage to his Islamist project. He also wanted to use these elections as a club against other ruling class factions. He was foiled and instead his party lost seats in parliament. One reason was the defection of some of his own base to the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), an umbrella group of many stripes that stands for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey and tries to act as a go-between between the state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) leadership in the Kandil mountains on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.
HDP planned to oblige Erdogan to concede some rights and limited regional autonomy in the new constitution, integrating Kurdish and erstwhile “left” forces into the framework of the Turkish state. But instead of being cowed by the electoral reversal and accepting HDP’s extended hand, Erdogan stepped up his game. If an election doesn’t come out right, hold another one. Breaking the ceasefire with PKK was part of his campaign. In the November elections the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) got back its majority. Some prominent Kurdish political bigshots who had stepped outside the AKP came back in. The US, while pretending to remain aloof, played a major role in this developing situation by making an agreement with Erdogan, more or less openly spelled out: Erdogan would help the US (supposedly against Daesh, but so far mainly against Russia). The State Department gave him a go-ahead to attack PKK in Turkish Kurdistan and Iraq, but not to attack the PYD, the PKK’s sister organization in Syria, which has become the US’s only armed forces in Syria.
With this scorched earth policy, like the Israeli army in Palestine, the Turkish army’s aim is not to win hearts and minds but to set the terms of the situation. With these terms being set, the AKP has also made moves to recognize Kurdish identity and language—measures that should have been taken a very long time ago and which now can’t assuage the anger of a new generation of Kurdish youth that sees no future for itself under this set-up. The army has used special units and vicious military tactics designed cut down as many youth and very young teenagers as possible in order to turn their families against PKK. The widespread outrage—“The government is deliberately killing our kids and destroying our homes”—was a major factor spurring the academics’ petition.
The lack of any basic positive change in south-eastern Turkey through decades of war and negotiations has stoked an explosive frustration among young women and men in the region. PKK has been able to mobile these youth to bring the war down from the mountains and lead armed resistance in the cities. Trenches have been dug to keep the Turkish authorities out of neighbourhoods and towns, while local governments have taken up local autonomy in policing, services, etc. The demand is for the Turkish government to recognize some degree of local administration in the new constitution to be debated in parliament, although HDP is being excluded from preliminary discussions with the pretext that they have not yet sufficiently distanced themselves from “terrorism”. Many people in Western Turkey and internationally hope that the youthful spirit of rebellion in Kurdistan will crack open an unbearable situation.
Illusions about parliamentary democracy and the possibility of a “realpolitik” alignment between Kurds and the US have been helpful to Erdogan and the US but deadly to the people. The concept of “self-administration” as a form of coexistence with one or more reactionary states, as modelled in Kobani, where US air power allowed the PYD to beat back a siege by Daesh, brings all these illusions together. What happened was not that the US threw in with the Kurds but that Kurds threw in with the US—so much for “local administration” and “no state”. Such a model is not a viable and still less emancipating solution to the oppression imposed by the Turkish state.
As for the US, it can only be detrimental to the people. When the US ambassador tweeted a mild admonition to the Turkish government, it distanced itself from the petition at the same time. (“It is imperative that citizens have the opportunity to express their views, even controversial or unpopular ones.”) The US State Department has not budged from its position that the Turkish state has a right to “defend itself” against PKK “terrorists”. There is no division of opinion about this within the Obama administration, just a division of labour.
This is the ninth anniversary of the assassination of journalist and democratic activist Hrat Dink—which the state incited and is still covering up. In November, Dyarbakir bar association president Tahir Elci was shot down while holding a press conference in front of a mosque. Even before Erdogan’s recent declaration of war against petitioners and Kurdish youth—“Anyone who rebels, we will crush them”—there was more evidence than anyone needs to understand the deadly futility of imagining that the Turkish state can be fundamentally reformed and that the imperialist powers will help or even allow that to happen.
The petition and upwell of courageous protest are extremely welcome developments. The Turkish state cannot be allowed to crush this opposition, which could gather even more momentum. But the hope for “a lasting peace that includes the political demands of the Kurdish movement” is doomed, and the sooner people realize that the better. The antagonistic contradictions at work in Turkey and the region will continue to tear people apart, and most likely on a even more massively destructive level in the future, unless and until people recognize the nature of the social forces and reactionary dynamics at work and learn to use the conditions of political crises to bring about a revolutionary solution.
The following is the full text of the Academics for Peace 10 January petition:
As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighbourhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.
This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.
We demand that the state abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand that the state lift the curfew, punish those responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.
We demand that the government prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.
We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.