Photographs by Ilyas Akengin
Varto, Semdinli, Cizre, Nusaybin, Beytussebap, Bismil, Silvan, Tusba, Sirnak, Gever, Derik, Silopi, Diyarbakir: these are names of martyred towns and villages of eastern, largely kurdish, turkey. They mark points in a cartography of terror carried out by the turkish state/the Erdogan-AKP government, against its own people. Their populations have been systematically subject to military sieges, curfews, arbitrary arrests, selective assassinations (e.g., Tahir Elçi, head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association), and collective armed State violence.
Most recently, and for the last two weeks, the historical neighbourhood of Sur, in Diyarbakir, has been the site of intense clashes between Turkish police and militant youth. (All the photographs accompanying this post record the State’s violence in Sur).
The police-military intervention in the region, initiated in August, in the wake of the AKP’s failure to secure a majority in the country’s parliament in the June elections of this year, can be read as a nationalist-electoral adventure, one that seems to have proven successful, given the subsequent AKP election victory in November. But such a reading of events limits the scope of our attention to what is ultimately at stake.
The organised nature of the intervention, punctuated by two massacres, the first in Suruç and the second in Ankara, against those who demonstrated solidarity with the struggles in Rojava and in eastern turkey and accompanied by the general persecution across the country of leftists and anarchists, journalists, HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) officials and offices, human rights associations, kurdish cultural collectives and the like, suggests a deeper motive.
Before the offensive began, numerous local government officials in the region, including city mayors, were arrested, on the grounds that they were promoting forms of political autonomy and self-determination that threatened national unity. But what in fact was taking shape was a response to Erdogan’s increasing rule by presidential fiat, as a consequence of his party’s inability to form a government after the June elections. In other words, in the face of Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism, local authorities responded with civil and political disobedience and an increasing destitution of power to broader citizens’ assemblies. The “Rojava Revolution” was crossing the border from Syria and the “Spirit of Gezi” once again raised its head. It was this that Erdogan was and is determined to crush. In syria, he may count on his ally, isis, but in turkey, it is his police and army that must carry out the politics of terror.
To this, there can only be one response, to defend and expand the autonomies conquered, without falling into the trap of reducing the conflict to an ethnic-nationalist one. If Erdogan and isis are ever to be defeated, it will be through a political movement that struggles for generalised, collective self-management of communities.
We share below an article by Mehmet Bayram, for the sendika.org news collective, that contextualises the events in eastern turkey and interprets their political significance.
Turkish State arrests more Kurdish opposition leaders as assaults against Kurds escalate
Traditional official attacks against the Kurdish population continue in Turkey. The excuse this time by the Turkish regime is the outrageous claim that by demanding democracy, human rights and democratic rule the Kurds are “helping terrorist organizations”
After the June general elections when the ruling JDP lost the government and the Turkish state unilaterally pulled out of the cease fire agreement that had been in effect with the Kurdish citizens the state terror against the Kurds resumed.
Having been forced into a defensive situation and exploring any way possible to protect the Kurdish population under heavy Turkish military assault, the Kurdish region mayors and officials adopted the democratic means that came to life during the Gezi demonstrations last year.
During the demonstrations against the JDP’s attack to destroy and turn into a shopping mall one of the last green commons in Istanbul, the popular park Gezi, the population of Istanbul had put their lives in line to defend their green environment. The government, insisting on building the shopping mall, attacked he people brutally killing some and gassing anybody on the street, entire neighborhoods, hotels and even inside some residential homes.
This was the most successful defiance against the fascist Turkish state that anyone witnessed for decades. The popularity of the resistance against fascism reached to such a level that the government had to take steps back when nearly every single province in the country reported solidarity demonstrations and acts of resistance against the police state of Turkey.
One of the most important take away from this resistance was the democratic rule.
Flying in the face of the oppressive Turkish regime, people’s demands centered on democratic rights, human rights, self-rule and the lifting of state control of every aspect of private life.
Going beyond the defense of a small park, the resistance proved once again that the population had had enough of JDP’s oppressive rule and was ready to explode under the backward, religious, fascist heavy boot of the Turkish state, known to be one of the most brutal regimes in the world.
Fighting the heavily armed police for days and nights on end, people were able to push back the government forces when the whole country came to the brink of an open bloody civil war.
Even after the victory, the resistance movement which had already established itself in the Gezi Park as a democratic, egalitarian movement emphasizing solidarity and brotherhood did not dismantle. The model cooperation during the resistance now had an established root. Free food, free medicine, free water, medical care, shared quarters, free library and above all a sense of a humane society was born during the demonstrations. All capitalistic notions of buying, selling, profits, individuality was abandoned for favoring human to human relations, solidarity and cooperation.
This tradition was carried over to the neighborhood forums established after the Gezi demonstration gave way to more local and neighborhood organizations. Everyone gathered in the evenings in their neighborhoods and discussed how their lives should be organized. Needless to say how everyone started voicing the need to decide on their own lives as opposed to the Islamic and fascistic rules the government was chocking the society with. It seemed like the Turkish society had woken up from a long sleep and was demonstrating its hunger and thirst for a democratic, free, egalitarian society where people were not discriminated for their language, religion, ethnicity, race, color, or class.
Leading the way was a Kurdish elected representative who put his life at risk to prevent a government bulldozer from uprooting the trees in the park. This did not escape the attention of the Turks who had been propagandized by racist leaders for decades on how being of the Turkish race was “equal to the whole world.” Against the provocations of the government who tried dividing the Turkish and the Kurdish people by racist appeals to the Turks and military assaults to the Kurds, people saw how they would succeed if they struggled together against the common enemy of Erdogan and JDP, a puppet of US and the world imperialist powers.
Recently, when a lot of people believed the “spirit of Gezi resistance” had died away, it reappeared in its most powerful form after the government, having lost the power in the latest elections, unilaterally abandoned the peace agreement and restarted its military attacks on the Kurds. The democratic demands of self-rule, equality, a world without racism or war reappeared again, but this time all the way on the Eastern side of Turkey where the Kurdish population is the majority. Under heavy Turkish attack, the Kurds took on the task to remind the Turks the demands raised at Gezi solidarity days.
Especially after the president Erdogan’s illegal declaration that the Turkish regime had changed, “whether you like it or not,” and facing extreme escalation of police, military and the special forces attacks, not to say anything of the Jihadist Islamic terrorists, the Kurds decided to enact the most democratic demand of self-rule.
This way, as being exercised in the Kurdish cantons in Syria and Iraq, Kurds in Turkey also decided to take their own lives into their hands referenced as the common understanding of “building your own future.”
Modeling the successful experience of the Kurdish cantons in the region, the mayors of several Kurdish provinces in Turkey declared self-rule to change into a participatory society.
Having its roots in a progressive past, the Kurds have already led in several areas how to incorporate equality as much as they could. In the provinces, towns and cities where the Kurdish parties hold the government, they have brought women as co-mayors to raise the women’s voice and participate equally in the running of towns. As in Palestine, the most struggles for equality, human rights and democracy is led by women in the Kurdish districts. This is especially interesting since these parts are known for its strict conservative and backward cultures, as propagated by Turkish media and rulers.
This new initiative led by the Kurdish movement could become the standard democratic rule everywhere as author Ahmet Insel expresses. This model of democracy should not be confined only to the Kurdish provinces, but raising the popular demands that were put forth during the Gezi Park resistance, it should be exercised in all parts of the country by the Turks alike. Mr. Insel sees “Kurdish phobia” among the reasons the Turkish left is not able to implement this democratic self-rule. His description of “Kurdish phobia” is another way of expressing the racist notions being supported by the government among the Turkish majority. Just because this participatory self-rule was first proposed, implemented successfully and is being promoted by the Kurds should not prevent the progressive Turks from exercising the model. This would be the best way to continue the struggle led by “Gezi Park spirit.”
As in their position of co-chairing the mayors’ positions, the Kurdish women lead the way in the democratic struggles in Turkey. In another example of Kurdish mothers struggle against oppressive rule, for tens of years mothers of the disappeared have been holding vigil every Saturday in the middle of Istanbul, protesting the disappearance of their loved ones in the hands of the brutal Turkish regime.
In the 1990’s, as it is today, the Turkish regime had declared an all-out war against its own citizens, the Kurds. Demands of the Kurds like lifting the ban on Kurdish language (Kurdish is spoken as the mother tongue of over 20% of the population) was replied by the Turkish state with military jets, given by the US, to bomb, sometimes with napalm, civilian villages, towns and the countryside.
More than 40,000 lives were lost in these military attacks, while tens of millions of Kurds were forcefully removed from their land where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years. There are still 17,000 missing people in the hands of the Turkish government. Saturday mothers are not allowing this dark period to be forgotten by standing vigil every Saturday in the most crowded street in Istanbul.
However, even this peaceful reminder of the massacres and inhumane treatment does not go unpunished by the Turkish regime. These women and men are occasionally attacked by the Turkish police, kicked, beaten and even police dogs set on them. However none of these Turkish government attacks are powerful enough to discourage the Kurdish mothers. They stand their ground; convene on Saturdays to silently hold the pictures of their disappeared loved ones.
Lately against the racist provocations of the Turkish government to wage a racial war and propaganda, the Saturday mothers reached out to the mothers of the soldiers killed in the bloody assaults of the Turkish regime. They paid their respects to the soldiers’ mothers and demanded an immediate end to all war, conflict and attacks to prevent any more needless deaths.
In the latest clashes of the last few weeks, there were more than 78 civilian deaths, many in the hands of the Turkish security forces. Many unarmed civilians were assassinated in the hands of the Turkish military or the police even after they surrendered to the Turkish forces invading their towns or villages. Cities, villages and provinces are under heavy artillery attack by the Turkish army as police raid neighborhoods and open fire to anyone they see. Curfews are in effect in many towns, with people being shot on site. To protect themselves and their families, Kurds are digging trenches in their neighborhoods and closing the roads to traffic so that police and “special forces” would be unable to enter and raid their homes, killing civilians. Many civilians are in prison for digging these defensive trenches on the roads of their neighborhoods.
Fighting the trench diggers and anybody on sight, Turkish armed forces are trigger happy to be on the “war against terrorism.” Several dead in the hands of Turkish forces are children age 7 or 10. The Turkish government repots these children as “terrorists” killed while fighting the Turkish army, one of the most powerful armies of NATO.
Understanding the provocations to escalate a racial war by the Turkish state, Kurds are trying to avoid any clashes unless provoked or attacked. However, resigned to start the war, Turkish government has escalated the military, police, gendarmerie, special forces and intelligence presence in the Kurdish provinces. Recently a car was sprayed with automatic weapons from the Turkish forces, because they “thought” “terrorists” were in it. It was a 16 year old boy bringing supplies to his father’s store. Two bakery workers took refuge in the basement of their store when the police raided the store with guns drawn and surrounded by tanks. When the police opened the basement door, the two workers walked out with hands up. This did not prevent their assassination in the hands of the Turkish forces. Kurdish youth are arming themselves against this racist assaults. Joining them with the fear for their lives, and their population, Kurdish mayors have combined self-defense and democratic rule brought up in Gezi demonstrations as the best defense. Any mayor or woman co-mayor who suggested this democratic alternative has been arrested and sent to prison by the Turkish authorities of the central Turkish state. These arrests by themselves prove the need for people of Turkey to “build their own futures” in a democratic and participatory way and manage their own lives.
To counter this democratic move by the Kurdish mayors, the Turkish president Erdogan gave a speech for the national August 30th day, emphasizing the concept adopted from 1930’s Nazi Germany of “One nation, one country, one flag, one language.” It did not escape the Kurds the repetition of these racist basic principles being brought up when the citizens of Turkey are raising demands for more democracy. The message simply was that Kurds did not exist, Kurdish language will not be used and nobody had any rights to govern themselves. Even the pretense of a democracy was being shut down with the “regime change whether you like it or not.”
However, the gene is out of the bottle. Since 1984 Kurds shouted loud and clear that they are not going to take racism, inequality, oppression any more.
In the latest attack against calls for democracy, the Erdogan’s regime has arrested the co-chair of the Kurdish electoral party DBP of Diayarbakir.
Others who had supported similar calls or even an initiative for a general strike to “stop life” in the towns and provinces under Turkish attacks were also arrested and sent to prison. It is no surprise that the Kurdish officials and electoral party officials are leading those arrested and or imprisoned. Turkish state accuses those who demand democratic changes or who participate in any opposition as “terrorist.” This way, the regime prevents any opposition to Erdogan’s dictatorship and can round them up under the general “war on terrorism.” Using any pretense to stop any popular resistance, this time the government is accusing the mayors and Kurdish officials of “helping and terrorism.” This strategy is parallel to the strategy the JDP has adopted on the “war against ISIS.” The government declares war on ISIL, the jihadist terrorist organization in the region, however focuses all its attacks on the Kurdish minority of Turkey while sparing ISIL from any meaningful confrontation. The irony of this whole thing is that the Kurdish forces are the only organization and army who are able to stop the spread and success of the rag-tag army of ISIL. This terrorist organization enjoys the huge support of the Turkish, Saudi and the Israeli states, all of whom are client regimes of the US.
While the show goes on and the terrorists from ISIL roam freely in Turkey, Kurdish elected officials are rotting in prison for demanding a just, democratic and egalitarian society. And the Kurdish people are subjected to heavy artillery attacks from the Turkish army, pounding their towns, villages and fields, burning their forests, killing their little children for being a “terrorist.”
From Diyarbakir …