Turkey: Growing 'Peace bloc' resists regime's war drive

Thousands rally for peace in Istanbul on August 9 in a demonstration called by the Peace Bloc.

A broad campaign by the left-wing Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP) won a breakthrough 13.12% and denied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) a majority in parliament in the June 7 elections.

The HDP's success combined with the ongoing example of the progressive Kurdish-led Rojavan revolution across the border in northern Syria has prompted Erdogan's regime to push a strategy of war and conflict against Turkey's long-oppressed Kurdish population.

In response, a broad-based Peace Bloc has been organised to oppose the regime's course, which has involved ending any pretence of peace talks with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and attacking Kurdish areas.

Green Left Weekly's I Zekeriya Ayman interviewed Nuray Sancar, national co-spokesperson of the Peace Bloc and deputy leader of the Labour Party of Turkey (EMEP, which was part of the HDP's election campaign) about the Peace Bloc and the situation in Turkey.

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What is the “Peace Bloc” and how is it different from the HDP?

The Peace Bloc formed soon after the June 7 elections when the Turkish military started to build up on the Syrian border. It involves about 90 political parties, NGOs, unions, and groups organised around environmental and LGBTI issues. It includes 18 MPs from the main opposition party, the social democratic Republican People's Party (CHP).

More people and groups join the Bloc every day. Now big cities and towns are forming their own local Peace Blocs, organising local people.

The original purpose of the Bloc was to oppose potential war against Syria. But soon after the July Suruc massacre, where 33 young people were killed by a suicide bomber on their way to Kobane, the nature of the Bloc changed quickly and added a new dimension to its purpose.

The Turkish government used the massacre not to target the alleged perpetrators — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — but to derail the peace process by targeting Kurds and other progressive groups.

It was revenge against the success of the HDP in the elections, in which 80 HDP MPs were elected to the Turkish parliament and the AKP’s vote fell considerably.

Now the Peace Bloc is trying to stop the threat of civil war, re-start peace talks and stop the military targeting civilian Kurds.

What are the demands of the Peace Bloc?

The Peace Bloc unites people around a single, simple demand: peace.

The Bloc is against opening Turkish air space for the US-led coalition war planes to bomb Syria. We are opposed to war preparations and intervention in neighbouring countries, including support for Islamic organisations in Syria from Turkey. We want to build a peaceful environment with the Kurds and restart peace talks.

The Bloc spans a very wide political spectrum. The biggest public sector union, KESK, and other big unions like the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) are part in the Bloc. The associations of doctors, engineers and architects are also members.

Everyone is well aware that the internal and external wars are closely related to each other. The three self-governing Kurdish cantons in Rojava, just outside the Turkish border with Syria, are the main reason the Turkish government is pushing for war.

Rojava has strengthened the hands of the Kurds at the negotiating table with its successful war against ISIS and the establishment of a democratic constitution. Rojava is also a barrier to long-term imperial plans against Syria. Therefore, the Turkish government has opened its war on several fronts at the same time.

Also, Erdogan’s ambition to become a US-style president with actual governing power was defeated by the Kurdish-led HDP, aligned with other progressive forces, in the elections. An angry AKP is seeking to punish the whole community.

How will the Peace Bloc relate to new elections set for October or November?

The Peace Bloc currently has no plan to contest the election. The Bloc includes wide sections of community. Its not easy to agree on election policies beyond peace. But there is a wide consensus on democracy and stopping the AKP and Erdogan from retaining power.

This could transform the Peace Bloc into a lever. There are many existing rights that are denied using “war” as an excuse. This brings many victimised sectors together.

The Peace Bloc has initiated a process that has never been seen. With its practical, democratic structure, people can express their common demands and stand together.

It is possible the newly formed Bloc could negotiate internally to take part in the elections as a united force, supporting candidates and parties. But the Bloc is not an election bloc. It could also help, however, to form a specific election bloc.

It is hard to say anything about approaches of different parties in the forthcoming election, because the situation is moving so fast. But the narrative of the AKP’s “war on terror” against the Kurds is not convincing. This could open cracks within the AKP and the military.

There are strong signs of economic crisis and instability that may also mean fewer votes for the AKP. It seems the HDP is holding the unprecedented support it won in June 7.

On the other hand, the racist, nationalist MHP is also expanding its voter base. It will be important to form a partnership between the CHP and the HDP to defeat the AKP regime in the elections.

But the CHP’s traditionally nationalist and militarist position on the Kurds and its diverse base makes it hard for it to form a stable partnership with the HDP.

The HDP, and its allies and supporters, are under huge pressure. Government-allied media outlets are publishing false stories about the HDP every day.

So far, the AKP has failed to transform Turkish soldiers’ funerals to anti-Kurd, anti-HDP demonstrations. Families of soldiers killed by the PKK don’t say “We are happy to sacrifice our sons for our homeland”, as they did in the ’90s. On the contrary they are saying: “Our son’s killer is Erdogan’s ambition.”

We are hearing declarations of “self-determination” in Turkish Kurdistan. What does this mean?

Self-determination is a major demand of Kurds. During the peace talks between the Turkish government and HDP MPs, the government accepted that self-determination is a topic that could be negotiated.

That meeting is known as the Dolmabahce Palace Accord. When Erdogan decided to derail the peace process, he denied this accord.

Democratic self-determination is self government by people via peoples’ assemblies. After Erdogan denied the accord and took a war stance, Kurds started announcing self-determination in Kurdish areas. Security forces attacked people in these areas. Local administrators were arrested.

Now Kurds are being forced to migrate, just like in the 1990s. Villages and forests that are suspected of sheltering PKK fighters are burned down, houses are raided and villagers arrested. Announcements of self-determination have angered the government and it is doing everything it can to punish the people it holds responsible.

Are the PKK attacks and killing of soldiers making the HDP's election success less likely?

We will see, but much-loved HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas has constantly asked both the PKK and the Turkish military to lay down their weapons. He is managing this difficult phase well.

The deaths of soldiers have not cost the HDP as much as the government expected, yet, because people believe the HDP’s calls for peace are geniune.

HDP election offices were raided during the June election campaign, HDP members were bashed, a mass meeting was bombed and there was no retaliation. On the contrary, the HDP only protested the attacks and asked for calm from its supporters.

During the June elections, the HDP’s popular main slogan, directed at Erdogan, was: “We won’t allow you to become president.” Now the slogan is: “We won’t allow you to start a war.”

This has again been popular. It stops people from becoming part of the war rhetoric and its narrative supports peace.

You recently took part in a Peace Bloc delegation to Kurdish towns destroyed by Turkish security forces. Tell us about your observations.

The Peace Bloc’s aim was to visit Silvan, where communications with the outside world were cut altogether. Silvan was bombed, some neighbourhoods were completely destroyed, people were killed, a curfew imposed and people forced to leave the town.

There was no news from Silvan for a long time. A couple of days later, the first information emerged from Silvan. It was horrible. We decided to visit the town and show our solidarity.

When we arrived in Diyarbakir, we heard the same thing was also happening in Lice, so we decide to divide into two groups, one went to Silvan, and the other went to Lice. I was in the Lice delegation.

We had to struggle with special forces, who stopped us and tried to strip search us. On the way to town, we saw burning forests.

We arrived in a village called Geduk, where villagers were on “peace guard” duty. The village is positioned between two hills. We could see soldiers on the hill to our left and guerrillas on the hill to our right.

Villagers had positioned themselves between the two forces as a human wall to prevent them opening fire on each other. Villagers were doing this around the clock, day and night.

The state has only one type of relationship with people there: violence. The war is not between two armed forces — it is the military against the people. There were military vehicles in front of every civil institution, such as councils, in the region.

Multiple sources claim that the Silvan military commander resigned, saying: “I don’t want my soldiers to be killed for the sake of Erdogan.” It is clear the military and police do not want war.

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