Turkey: West's ally Erdoğan pushes deadly electoral strategy

Funeral in Cizre of civilians killed by Turkish state.

The Turkish right wing takes winning elections seriously.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is so serious about achieving the result it wants in parliamentary elections on November 1, it is pushing the country to civil war.

The AKP government has cracked down on political opponents and the media, put cities and towns under military and paramilitary occupation, unleashed mob violence against ethnic minorities and launched air wars against two neighbouring countries.

Though unable to agree on forming a coalition, the AKP's rival on the right, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has joined the AKP in mob violence against Kurds and other minorities, as well as the left-wing Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).

The violence stems from the inconclusive result of Turkey's June 7 elections. Hoping for the two-thirds majority needed for authoritarian constitutional changes, the AKP lost its outright majority — winning 258 seats in the 550 seat parliament.

It was the HDP that thwarted the AKP's ambitions, by winning 80 seats. Under Turkey's electoral system, to enter parliament parties have to not only win on a first-past-the-post in individual seats but gain at least 10% of the national vote.

The AKP was banking on the Kurdish-based HDP failing to gain this 10% threshold, but the party won big support beyond its Kurdish base, uniting most of Turkey's far left and winning support from other minorities and social movements.

The November 1 vote was called after the AKP failed form a coalition, with Erdoğan wishing the AKP to rule alone.

The failure reflects divisions among Turkey's right. The MHP is committed to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the Turkish Republic after World War I.

Kemal's republic was based on ethnic nationalism, and an authoritarian modernist ideology that included an intolerant secularism. Until the end of the 20th century, the Turkish state banned university students, politicians and public servants from wearing “religious” clothing such as women's head scarves.

The AKP was initially supported by some Turkish liberals opposed to the Kemalist intolerant secularism and the frequent intervention of the military in politics.

It also gained support from some Kurdish voters, due to the AKP's promotion of a new brand of nationalism — so called “Ottomanism” that harks back to the multi-ethnic Turkish Ottoman Empire.

However, Erdoğan's growing authoritarianism in power has alienated this support.

Under AKP rule, the Turkish state entered a peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state since the early 1980s. This culminated in a ceasefire.

However, the peace process and the AKP's standing with Kurdish voters was undermined by Erdoğan's response to the creation of liberated cantons across the border in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).

Fearful of the example of Rojava's Kurdish-led democratic, ethnically inclusive, feminist and socialist-oriented revolution, Erdoğan increased support to right-wing Islamist armed groups in Syria, including ISIS.

Protests in Turkey against Erdoğan's aid for ISIS during the siege of Kobanê in September last year were brutally suppressed by police and state-supported armed Islamist groups. More than 50 protesters were killed.

Erdoğan's desperation to retain power was compounded by the Rojava revolutionaries’ military successes. There is significant evidence of state complicity in the July 20 ISIS attack in the border town of Suruç that killed 33 socialist activists travelling to help rebuild the Rojava town of Kobanê.

Erdoğan, however, used the attack as an excuse to launch a crack down on terrorism that has ignored ISIS, but targeted left-wing and Kurdish activists, including HDP members.

The peace process with the PKK was spectacularly ended. All-out military attacks have been launched against PKK positions inside Turkey and air strikes were launched against PKK bases in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq and the revolutionary forces in Rojava.

The air strikes in Syria were ostensibly targeting ISIS, despite actually targeting ISIS's Rojava opponents. Ominously, the US response was to welcome Turkey into its “anti-ISIS” coalition — raising questions as to the actual objectives of the US-led air war in Syria, which Australia has now joined.

Inside Turkey's borders, violence grew. PKK-affiliated armed groups and underground leftist organisations struck back against Turkish police and military. Cities and towns with HDP-led local government declared autonomy from the Turkish state. Mass protests erupted across Turkey.

The government responded with live fire against unarmed protesters and more mass arrests, including several HDP co-mayors. Towns and cities in predominantly Kurdish areas are under military occupation and siege. Turkish and Kurdish journalists have been jailed and foreign journalists who report on state violence arrested and deported.

On September 8, mobs led by the MHP and the Kemalist-fascist “Grey Wolves” — supported by AKP members and facilitated by the police — attacked HDP offices and Kurdish homes and businesses. The September 10 Asbarez Newspaper reported that Armenian neighbourhoods in Istanbul were also targeted in the pogroms.

Some of the worst violence has been in the town of Cizre, where at least 23 civilians — including children — have been killed, JINHA Women's News Agency reported on September 16.

Officially the town has been under a curfew since September 4. However, HDP activist Ayşe Berktay told Democracy Now on September 11, that it was not a curfew but a siege.

“There is a curfew,” she said. “The normal penalty for … breaking the curfew is you’ll have to pay a €100 fine. But here in Cizre, you get shot.

“You have snipers and armed carriers all around the city, but they are blocked from entering the neighbourhoods, the streets, the narrow streets of the neighbourhoods … the people are keeping them out of there because they know once they get in, it will be a massacre.”

Residents in Cizre and other besieged towns are running out of food and other necessities. JINHA reported on September 17 on a 10-year-old shot dead in Cizre when he left his home to get water.

Even the dead are unable to be buried, with reports of families having to keep corpses of those slain in fridges.

Firat News Agency reported on September 17 that an offer by the PKK to resume the ceasefire had been rebuffed by the government. These are the conditions in which the November 1 elections will be held — as the West's ally Erdoğan tries to hold on to power by spilling more and more blood.

[A report by the HDP detailing the violence can be downloaded here.]

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