Sevda Aksoy

What should the left do about Turkey?

Sevda Aksoy
What should the left do about Turkey?
Turkey protest.jpg

THE BRITISH LEFT HAS AVOIDED TURKEY FOR DECADES, aghast at coups, the treatment of Kurds and human rights violations. The EU has kept Turkey at a distance for similar reasons. But ‘distancing’ may abandon to obliteration some important causes: human rights, secular democracy and the trade union movement.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, AKP (Justice and Development Party) leader, is likely to be in power till 2029 following his constitutional referendum win. Erdoğan has only two consistent policies: holding domestic power and controlling the Kurds. He conducts flip-flop foreign policy based on neo-Ottoman fantasies and domestic fan-pleasing. In Syria, his vehement anti-Assad stance is melting into Russia and Iran’s strategy.

In 2015 he accused Iran of seeking regional domination, declaring support for Saudi-led attacks on Yemen. Having sought Saudi billions to replace western investment in early 2016, he now backs Qatar, risking higher-worth projects in Saudi Arabia’s Gulf alliance. Having arguably fostered ISIS by turning a blind eye to militants and weaponry passing through porous eastern borders, he now sends tanks against them.

Early overtures to Trump ended in warrants for Erdoğan staff assaulting US citizens, but no extradition of his erstwhile ally Fethullah Gülen, nor release of Turkish-Iranian Reza Zarrab, charged with breaking US sanctions and money-laundering, and linked to AKP officials.

Turkey’s relationship with parts of Europe is openly hostile. Erdoğan won his referendum with 51.37%, a margin of about 1.4 million votes, after irregularities such as unstamped ballot papers and polling station violence. His rhetoric successfully stoked Turkish resentment in targeted states: 63% of participating Turks in Germany voted Yes, in Austria 73% and in the Netherlands 70.9%. His interference did not stop there. In Germany’s 2017 general election Erdoğan told his supporters to vote against the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, possibly helping the AfD (Alternative for Germany) reach 12.6% of the vote. Ironically, he railed against Germany as ‘Nazis’ while he has imprisoned 177 journalists and closed 160 media outlets, dismissing 2,500 media workers, to silence any criticism of his regime.

His assault on democracy is horrific: 150,000 public servants have been sacked, including 4,000 judges and prosecutors, 33,000 teachers and academics, with more added monthly.

50,000 people have been arrested from the military, police, judiciary, education and press, on terror charges allegedly associated with the 2016 failed coup.

With this number of plotters, one can only wonder how the intelligence service, led by Erdoğan ally Hakan Fidan, failed to notice moves afoot beforehand.

Erdoğan has persecuted his critics in a reign of terror reminiscent of 1930s Germany. He once worked closely with Fethullah Gülen to infiltrate public services with AKP supporters until a corruption scandal broke in December 2013. Thereafter pro-Erdogan media portrayed Gülenists first as a parallel state and then as terrorists, the Fethullahist Terror Organisation (FETÖ). If propaganda is repeated often enough, it becomes social currency.

Some 800 companies with alleged or tenuous links to Gülen, such as accounts in Bank Asya, were ‘taken over’ by the AKP government. Executives of massive conglomerates such as Koza Ipek Holding face lengthy jail time for ‘supporting FETÖ’. Erdogan once compared democracy to a train: you get off once you have reached your destination. Those arrested now include staunch advocates of secular democracy, long-standing critics of Gülen.

Dismissed employees prevented from working rely on family and trade union support. Even if not arrested and imprisoned, they lose livelihood and career, social security benefits, their assets, their passports and those of family members.

Trade unions, despite the 1980 coup crushing the left, continue to fight for workers’ rights and to protest corruption and bad working conditions, such as in the Soma mine disaster. Teaching unions protest curriculum changes, which add jihad while removing evolution.

Women’s groups are vociferous about domestic violence and relaxation of laws on men marrying minors. And ordinary citizens continue to fight against building in national parks, breaches of zoning laws and environmental destruction for personal profit, usually by AKP supporters.

We should excoriate a ‘democracy’ which lifts parliamentary immunity to imprison its representatives. Enis Berberoğlu, a CHP (Republican People’s Party) deputy, was jailed for 25 years for passing images to Cumhuriyet newspaper showing Turkish intelligence services transporting arms into Syria. Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) representatives have been jailed awaiting trial for ‘terrorism’. But the circumstances behind the end of a threeyear PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) truce are obscure. Dozens of Kurds died in bombed ‘peace’ marches in Cizre and outside Ankara rail station, but the PKK attack on two police ‘broke’ the truce. The painful history of the Kurds deserves no less human rights scrutiny than the plight of Syrian refugees.

The EU promised 3 billion euros and visa liberalisation to Turkey to reduce the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe, producing an overnight cessation of mass arrivals. Though visas have changed little, the money has quietly begun to flow. Hopefully it reaches refugees. The EU also funds Turkey’s accession status - some 4 billion euros, hotly debated in Germany.

Given that Turkey today neither conforms to democratic standards nor respects human rights, pressure mounts to stop accession funds. The EU decided to continue the candidacy charade and channel funds, possibly reduced, to developing the ‘rule of law’ and the AKP-dominated judiciary. The left across Europe should challenge this.

Paralysed by fear of losing Turkey as a ‘geo-strategic partner’, the West neither wants nor dares to abandon Turkey. Erdoğan despises the West but wants euros and visas without rules and restraints. Currently cosying up to Putin, he is unlikely, given history, to share Russia’s long-term goals.

We must persuade Europe to take a stronger line on funding and democracy in Turkey before thousands of lives are completely destroyed. Theresa May, begging for trade deals with dictators, will do nothing.


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