Resistance trends in Turkey

July 19, 2018
Cosmetic company Flormar workers protest for union rights saying, 'We don't become beautiful with makeup, but with resistance'.

In the aftermath of Turkey’s June 24 elections, “won” amid fraud and intimidation by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the alliance between his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Muhsin Yorulmaz takes a look at the post-election climate.

The most pressing issue for the socialist movement in Turkey is the lack of rights usually afforded in a capitalist democracy. This makes organisation more difficult than in many other countries.

Turkey continues to languish under a country-wide “state of emergency”, referred to as “OHAL”. This state of affairs is anything but exceptional.

Erdoğan promised an end to OHAL as part of the recent election campaign, but after his re-election, this promise is being kept in the most disingenuous way possible: under the anti-terror law, the AKP-MHP government is proposing a “partial OHAL” involving “crisis administration zones”.

In effect, this is using words to mask an indefinite extension of martial law.

Under OHAL, Erdoğan and his clique have continuously condemned and issued legal measures against labour strikes, which are increasingly frequent as the economic and political crises mirror each other.

Labour struggles

One struggle of particular note is the ongoing two-month long Flormar workers’ resistance, where workers have called for a boycott of Flormar and Yves Rocher cosmetic products. The women workers have employed the bold slogan: “We don’t become beautiful with makeup, but with resistance!”

Similar actions are ongoing in many industries, from solar panels to pasta to grocery store workers and metal workers. An easy and concrete act of solidarity for socialists around the world would be to support the boycott and spread the word about this resistance via the hashtag #FlormarVeYvesRochereBoykot.

Organised labour plays a key role in the movement against fascism in Turkey. Even many socially conservative and nationalistic labourers, not otherwise predisposed to anti-system rhetoric, are radicalised by the obscene levels of exploitation in Turkey. This exploitation results in their real hunger and even deaths.

In particular, construction workers, who labour constantly while their pay is delayed to “develop” Turkey according to the government's wishes, are taking part in work stoppages and other disruptions. Miners, who face 19th century conditions to extract natural resources at the highest rate of profit for their bosses, face real physical danger for minimal compensation and are easily provoked to anger.

Recently, the decision on the Soma mining disaster spurred workers into righteous anger against the government. This was a disaster in 2014 caused by an explosion at a coalmine in Soma in which more than 300 miners were killed. The miners lost their lives due to lax safety measures that are the norm in Turkey for the often unpaid miners and construction workers, without whom the AKP’s much-trumpeted economic “development” would be nothing.

The total lack of any accountability for this massacre enraged locals. They had to be held back by Erdoğan’s security to prevent them from physically assaulting the president who poses as a people’s champion.

In Turkey, as elsewhere, the deaths of workers are not treated as murder, no matter how much responsibility lies with negligent safety regulations and corporate greed. After months of legal battles, the bosses were acquitted.

Workers and workers’ rights supporters have poured into the streets demanding justice for one of many injustices against the poor and oppressed that have been covered up by the AKP during its long rule.

Students and women

As in many countries, the socialist movement draws considerable ranks from the student movement. The government took advantage of OHAL to arrest students for carrying a banner mocking Erdoğan at a graduation event. The banner featured a political cartoon that had previously been the subject of a libel case, but was found to fall under freedom of expression by the courts.

Facing a campaign of incitement from pro-government and state-run media, referring to them as “so-called” students who were turning the graduation march into a show of “insults”, the students will now have to refight this legal battle simply because the government fears the ongoing organisation and agitation by students.

Democracy is an expensive commodity in Turkey. After a series of rapes and murders of children, women’s and health groups, as well as socialists, have taken to the streets to condemn sexual violence. They have identified the rapacious mentality of the ruling elite with that of the killers and rapists of tabloid news.

It is important to understand these dynamics in terms of society trying to rectify its own ugliness. As a team of medical representatives put it, “the community must look after its children”, rather than resorting to a rhetoric of “law and order”.

The AKP-MHP government is already jumping at the chance to change this narrative, raising again its consistent demand for reintroducing the death penalty into Turkey’s civil code. Noone who has watched the AKP free rapists and murderers of women for years can have illusions that this demand reflects the anger the people feel at rapists and murderers of women and children. It is a pretext to legalise the execution of political dissidents who, in their thousands, still fill Turkish prisons.

Kurdish struggle

All of this may sound like very frightening conditions under which to organise, but for the downtrodden Kurdish people in Turkey, all this has been their experience even in periods of relative “democracy” and “peace” in the Turkish republic more broadly.

Kurdish areas, ruled as an internal colony of the Turkish republic, have been in a more or less continuous “state of exception” no matter the conditions in Turkey more broadly.

The state fears the democratic will of the Kurdish people, whose separate language, history, geography and culture makes them a threat to the dominance of the Turkish ruling class.

Because the Kurdish people are extremely conscious of their national difference, the state can never rely on even the façade of democratic methods in dealing with them. The state has left Turkish Kurdistan economically undeveloped and bought off the feudal elements held over from the Ottoman state, rather than incorporating them into the urban bourgeoisie, as in the west of the country.

Kurdish regions are constantly under conditions of the most reactionary state terror. As a result, the crisis takes on a different character in Kurdistan. The Turkish military is presently operating on the other side of the border, in the internationally recognised territories of Iraq and Syria, to prop up fascist Turkish death squads in cities such as Afrin in Syria and Kirkuk in Iraq.

And yet, despite its impressive military power, NATO membership, and consequent ability to operate across borders to suppress and murder the Kurds, the Turkish state repeatedly calls out the “PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] terrorism” of guerrillas it labels “bandits”.

Kurdish guerrillas have for decades told Turkish soldiers that the war in Kurdistan is not their war, but a war of the elites against the people of Kurdistan. They have defended their positions and continue to make the Turkish military pay for its actions with blood. However, unlike what Turkish special forces soldiers do with Kurdish guerrillas, they do not take photographs of the dead as trophies to mock the families of the Turkish army conscripts.

Despite violence, overt and covert, the Kurdish people do not submit. The Turkish state knows that it can only hold them in check, not wipe them out as the Ottoman state sought to do to the Armenians.

This is the Achilles heel of fascism in Turkey. Unable to end this war, they continue it indefinitely, sacrificing the lives of dozens of conscripts to the vanity of the Turkish ruling classes.

Elite fears

During the ongoing protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park in 2013, many young Turkish people commented to their Kurdish friends that if this was how the Turkish state behaved in Istanbul, it could only be worse in Kurdistan.

A sort of empathy developed. This, more than the explicit occupations of public spaces and slogans for resignation of the Gezi movement, was what rattled the Turkish ruling elite. It raised the spectre that the Turkish people could be organised, and they could identify the violence of the state as their enemy.

The elite’s fear is that one day, the Turkish state will not be able to scare away sufficient numbers of the Turkish masses by raising the spectre of “PKK terrorism”; that the Turkish masses will come to identify more with the poor and oppressed Kurdish people; that Turkish women will view Kurdish women as their sisters; that Turkish labourers will see in their bosses the state-paid officials in Kurdistan.

In short, they fear that the call made by the Kurdish people for years of real fraternity and equality between all people will be answered.

The fear that more resistance in Turkey will provoke more violence by the state is well-founded. But there is a breaking point: once fear is cast aside, millions can be mobilised, the mighty can be brought down, and miracles can happen.

[Muhsin Yorulmaz is a writer and translator with Abstrakt, a Marxist internet magazine from Turkey.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.