By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, August 7, 2018
An informative analysis of the recent elections in Turkey was published on July 6 in the Canadian online journal The Bullet. The analysis is written by Baris Karaagac, a Turkish-Canadian scholar who teaches international development studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. His article is here: Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics.
Karaagac summarizes in four points the significance of Turkey’s snap presidential and legislative elections which took place on June 24:
Firstly, it has institutionalized and consolidated the regime change put in place by the controversial referendum in April 2017 [see Wikipedia]. The Turkish political system has successfully transitioned from a parliamentary to an executive presidential one.
Secondly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the incumbent president and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has come out even stronger with new powers, which are likely to bolster his authoritarian tendencies.
Thirdly, Erdogan’s presidency and the victory of the coalition of the AKP and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the most prominent fascist actor in Turkish politics, should and will revive a debate on states of exception in general, and fascism, in particular.
Last, but not the least, the failure of a reinvigorated opposition to dethrone Erdogan and a likely more authoritarian – or worse – fascist future has exposed the necessity for a different kind of politics on the left.
Much of the article is an analysis of the rightward drift of the political party of the re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Erdogan was founded as a conservative party in 2001.
Karaagac looks at the election campaign of Muharrem Ince, presidential candidate of the Kemalist, social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). Ince is a new leader of the CHP. His campaign breathed some new life into the staid and conservative CHP. The ‘Nation’ electoral alliance in which the CHP was the leading component won 34 per cent of the legislative vote. Ince won 31 per cent in the presidential vote.
Erdogan won the first round of the presidential election with 53 per cent of the vote, thereby avoiding a second-round runoff against Ince. Detailed voting results from the June 24 vote in Turkey are here in Wikipedia.
The left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) presented its imprisoned co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş for the presidency. He won eight per cent of the vote. The party won 11 per cent in the legislative vote, passing the ten per cent minimum threshold to win seats. The HDP retains its status as the third largest party in the Turkish legislature (Grand National Assembly of Turkey), now with 67 seats out of 600.
Demirtaş has been in jail since November 2016, awaiting trial on trumped-up charges of aiding and abetting terrorism, namely the outlawed, left-wing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Demirtaş’ former co-leader, Figen Yüksekdağ, was convicted of five criminal charges in 2017, including one of ‘insulting’ the Turkish republic (in an interview) and another of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”. She was stripped of her Parliamentary seat and is facing more charges. Many HDP parliamentarians as well as local, elected officials have been jailed or drummed out of office.
The HDP is one of the most significant contemporary experiences in Europe of a left-wing party achieving a mass following and large national profile.
Authoritarian rule in Turkey
Of particular note in Karaagac’s article is the warning he makes for Western readers of the dangerous moves to right-wing, authoritarian rule in Turkey, a member country of the NATO imperialist military alliance with a population of 80 million.
Erdogan’s election win adds impetus to his moves to authoritarian rule. In April 2017, he convened a national referendum asking for a decisive increase in presidential powers. He narrowly won that vote. Wikipedia describes the referendum proposal as follows:
A constitutional referendum was held throughout Turkey on 16 April 2017 on whether to approve 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution that were brought forward by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). If approved, the office of the Prime Minister would be abolished and the existing parliamentary system of government would be replaced with an executive presidency and a presidential system. The number of seats in Parliament was proposed to be raised from 550 to 600 while the president was proposed to be given more control over appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The referendum was held under a state of emergency that was declared following a failed military coup attempt in July 2016.
Erdogan’s and Turkey’s drive to authoritarian rule is summarized in an article by Amberin Zaman that appeared in Al-Monitor on July 9, titled Erdogan assumes office, vast new powers. Three other recent articles analysing aspects of the same subject are here:
* Turkey’s economy struggles with new political reality, by Mustafa Sonmez, Al-Monitor, Aug 6, 2018
* Turkey ends state of emergency, but introduces restrictive new rules, by Ayla Jean Yackley, Al-Monitor, July 19, 2018
* Is Turkey’s state of emergency really over?, by Sibel Hurtas, Al-Monitor, July 19, 2018.
Turkey’s military ambitions against Syria and against Kurds seeking political self-determination
The June 24 elections give Erdogan a mandate to proceed with authoritarian rule. An integral part of the moves by the Turkish ruling classes has been Turkey’s military interventions against the Kurdish populations in eastern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq. Erdogan’s regime has also been intervening alongside its NATO partners in favour of the violent overthrow of the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
For all of its strengths, missing from Baris Karaagac’s analysis of present-day Turkey’s is the country’s political and military role in the region. This is an unfortunate oversight. According to many news reports in Turkey, Erdogan’s military interventions in Syria and Iraq as well as his earlier domestic war against Kurds in eastern Turkey enjoy significant support among Turkey’s population (the support is cushioned by the fact that relatively few Turkish soldiers have been killed or injured in action). This popular support (or in many cases simple acquiescence) by many Turks is a major obstacle to combatting the regime’s continued moves to the political right.
Karaagac summarizes the challenges before the political left in Turkey, as he sees matters. He writes:
It is imperative for the Turkish left to produce an alternative and inclusive socio-political project that challenges the pillars of the current regime, i.e., crony neoliberalism, increasing authoritarianism, chauvinistic nationalism and social conservatism. Such a project cannot be confined to electoral politics only and requires organizing and resistance in various forms and spaces that are outside those dominated by the ruling bloc. It also requires the inclusion – if not leadership – of the Kurdish movement, which has emerged as the most organized and the only mass political actor able to challenge the dominant structures of oppression in Turkey and beyond.
But it seems highly unlikely if not impossible that a Turkish left could grow and expand if Erdogan’s military ambitions are not frontally challenged by large numbers of Turks and by a broad, international antiwar movement. To get to there, we need to dispel prevailing confusion and disarray in the West when it comes to understanding the precise ambitions of Turkey’s rulers. Western media has been reporting for months that NATO members U.S. and Turkey are entered into substantive conflict over a host of issues. But all signs point to the fact that shared goals in the region overcome incidental and temporary disagreements.
In northwestern Syria, Turkish military, police and civil institutions are settling into a permanent occupation, in total violation of the Syrian sovereignty. In neighbouring northern Iraq, Turkey has been attacking support bases of PKK-led self-defense forces. Ankara has a comfortable relationship with conservative, Iraqi Kurdish leaders and with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.
Syrian Kurds have the possibility of an historic breakthrough in winning forms of political autonomy in the country. In northeast Syria, they govern a large territory which they call Rojava. Peace and constitutional talks, encouraged by Russia, have opened between the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Council, an alliance of political parties and blocs founded in December 2015. The Council is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is still fighting the remaining groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) in central and southern eastern Syria. The SDF receives U.S. military support. For analysis of the peace and constitutional talks, see:
* Syrian Kurdish leaders agree to peace and constitutional talks with Syria government, by Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, July 30, 2018
* Syria’s Kurds cautiously sound progress in talks with Damascus, by Fehim Tastekin, Al-Monitor, Aug 6, 2018.
Talks are also taking place, albeit haltingly, involving Russia, Turkey and Iran, Syrian government agencies, the non-jihadist political opposition in Syria and United Nations officials. This is the ‘Astana’ peace process, named after the capital city of Kazakhstan where talks began in January 2017.
The latest meeting of the ‘Astana’ process took place in Sochi, Russia on July 30, 31. One of the few news reports about the meeting appearing in English reported cautious optimism by conference participants, including that the meeting established a working committee to facilitate and speed up the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. Russia and Syria are working with United Nations officials and the governments of some neighbouring countries to facilitate the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
News of a potential breakthrough in the deadlock between the Syrian government and Syrian Kurdish forces is censored by Western corporate media. Alternative media is also silent. That’s because the prospect of Kurdish autonomy in Syria contradicts the prevailing media narrative and Western government propaganda claiming that the conflict in Syria is the result of an aggressive, warmongering Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran. In this narrative, nothing but evil is ascribed to the actions of the Syrian government and its allies, and nothing but the violent overthrow of the Syrian government by Western-backed paramilitaries can offer a path forward for the Syrian people.
The evolution of events in the Middle East will have a great bearing on events in Turkey proper. Can Turkey sustain its military intervention in Syria in the face of Syrian and Russian government condemnation? Rojava’s very existence depends on stopping Turkey’s expansionist ambitions in Syria and its attacks against Kurds within Turkey proper.
Can the United States sustain its military intervention into Syria in the face of the successes of the Syrian government in defeating the regime-change agenda of the U.S. and its allies? What new conflicts might be sparked by U.S. partner Israel’s military aggressions against Syria?
What about the military alliance between the United States and Syrian Kurds, supported by the PKK? We can only hope that the Kurds emerge from that unfortunate pairing without costing too much of their political independence and their standing among antiwar opinion internationally.
The issue of the return of Syrian refugees was reportedly discussed by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16. But Secretary of Defense James Mattis has affirmed that the U.S. has no wish to cooperate with Russia in Syria on that or any other matter. The U.S. declined to attend the July 30, 31 meeting in Sochi in an observer capacity.
A leading Russian general has said the experience of quickly rebuilding the Soviet Union following the disaster of World War Two will be brought to bear in Syria. Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said on July 25 that monumental tasks were accomplished quickly thanks to a patriotic drive across the whole of the Soviet Union of the day.
The publications where Karaagac’s article appeared—The Bullet and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal—are well known for their ambivalence, if not hostility, to Russian diplomacy advocating Kurdish autonomy in Syria. Their ability to report the conflict in Syria accurately, including the significance of the Kurdish struggle for autonomy in Syria, is clouded by anti-Russia prejudice. While they support the experiment of socially progressive, autonomous government in north-eastern Syria (Rojava), they cast this in an outlook of overthrowing the Syrian government. Thankfully, that prospect now seems very remote following the political and military advances of the Syrian government in re-asserting its sovereign control over the country.
Political autonomy for Kurds in Syria is a key battleground for democracy and social rights in all four of the countries with large Kurdish populations. Kurdish autonomy would also give a huge boost to the historic struggle for Palestinian national rights. Progressive and antiwar forces in the West as well as progressive media should give voice and support to the fight for peace, constitutional reform and national reconstruction in Syria.
A brief history of the Turkish left, interview with Foti Benlisoy, published in two parts in Left-East magazine, May 2018 (Foti Benlisoy is a member of the socialist group Başlangıç in Turkey, a historian and a co-founder of the Greek-Turkish publishing house Istos.)