Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee
Police attack a protest in Turkey, photo by Lindsay T (Creative Commons)

Police attack a protest in Turkey, photo by Lindsay T (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A horror is being perpetrated on Kurdish people in south east Turkey. Since summer 2015, the Turkish government has declared curfews in seven provinces, enforced by tanks and heavy artillery. There have been hundreds of deaths and arrests, and a massacre in the town of Cizre.

Housing has been shelled and tens of thousands displaced. Civilians are shot at while looking for food. People die in basements, while blockades deny ambulances entry.

Offices of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party – a left, pro-Kurdish party) have been defaced, burnt and bombed. Nearly all mayors of mainly Kurdish towns have been arrested. Services such as education and healthcare are defunct.

As the Socialist Party’s sister party in Turkey, Sosyalist Alternatif, describes it: “President Erdogan and his government ended a ‘peace resolution’ process and started a war”.

This onslaught comes at the same time as major terrorist bomb attacks.

In June, an HDP rally was bombed in Diyarbakir. In July, 33 young people were massacred in Suruç. In October at least 128 people were killed in Ankara when two bombs devastated a trade union and HDP peace rally.

The Turkish state has failed to investigate those responsible for attacks. In Ankara, the police blocked ambulances while the crowds were tear-gassed.

This February a military convoy was blown up, killing at least 28; the government blamed Kurdish organisations the PKK and YPG (see below), which they deny.

Eventually, the attack was claimed by TAK, a Kurdish nationalist group, exposing the lies of the Turkish government’s supposed “proofs”. Nonetheless the Turkish military had already started bombing Kurdish targets in Iraq and Syria, using the Ankara bombing as an excuse.

Stateless nation

The Kurds are a stateless nation, divided across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since the 1916 Sykes-Picot post-war agreement between imperialist powers to carve up the region.

Kurds have been oppressed everywhere, but in the instability created since the 2003 Iraq War they have developed autonomous areas in Iraq and Syria. The spectre the Turkish regime sees now is that the ongoing crisis in Syria is breaking down Sykes-Picot, giving the Kurds the opportunity to progress further with implications for Turkey itself.

President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the 7 June general election and the recently-formed HDP made an unprecedented breakthrough with 13%. New elections were called for 1 November, which Erdogan prepared for by declaring war on the Kurdish people, while stirring up anti-Kurdish nationalism.

In the second elections, the AKP emerged strengthened and able to form a government, but the HDP still managed to get over the 10% threshold for MPs. The violence and intimidation meted out on Kurdish provinces has continued.

Erdogan equates the PKK with Isis. There is no comparison, but the Socialist Party believes that individual armed actions are counterproductive, used by the state to cleave a huge division between Turkish and Kurdish people.

There is the risk of civil war – a risk Erdogan is prepared to take to maintain his own position and thwart Kurdish national aspirations.

Refugee crisis

Turkey occupies a key location between Europe the Middle East, extremely important to European powers struggling with both a refugee crisis and catastrophe in Syria.

EU powers have made deals with Erdogan’s regime, including financial sweeteners, in return for Turkey preventing refugees crossing into Europe. In addition, Turkish and the US administrations reached an agreement to conduct joint operations against Isis, allowing the US to launch air strikes from the Nato air base at Incirlik. Turkey’s prime minister recently visited Britain and met with David Cameron about “resolving” terrorist activities in Syria.

In July Turkish planes bombed Isis bases in Syria for the first time. But using the excuse provided by the west’s so-called ‘war on terror’, it used these attacks as cover for a bombardment of Kurdish areas.

These are the same Kurdish forces that, with some success, have been fighting Isis on the ground! Last year, the courageous defence of Kobanê by the YPG (People’s Defence Force), the fighting forces of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), beat back Isis – although not without the almost complete destruction of Kobanê following US bombings.

The PYD is linked to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, a guerrilla organisation with mass support in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Its standing has grown in comparison with the corrupt capitalist regime of Barzani in the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq. It was the PKK that entered Iraqi Kurdish areas when the Yazidi community was under attack and played a large part in repelling Isis.

Now, as Russian airstrikes bombard Aleppo and the groups fighting Syria’s President Assad, the YPG has advanced into new areas. Russian airstrikes have not only targeted terrorist groups but (as with the strikes of Western powers) also inflicted civilian casualties, the destruction of infrastructure and a mass exodus of refugees.

For the YPG to secure popular support in those areas, it is vital to dissociate itself from such methods. Russia and Assad are only interested in re-establishing a brutal dictatorship. An appeal to the mass of the population, be they Turkmen, Arab or Kurd, to organise together is vital.

The Turkish state would rather see Isis win out than a Kurdish victory. Erdogan mobilised troops and teargas against Kurds and Turks gathering on the border wanting to get through to join the fight against Isis in Syria, yet has allowed large numbers of pro-Isis jihadists to cross its border.

Turkey and the Kurdish issue is now added into the mix in the struggle between the US and Russia in Syria. Tensions with Russia’s Putin regime erupted when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in November.

Russian officials blame Turkey for contributing to the failure of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, after Erdogan vetoed PYD participation. Now the PYD has opened an office in Moscow at Putin’s personal invitation.

The greatest fear of the rich, the big bosses and landowners, and their political representatives in Turkey, is the coming together of Kurdish and Turkish workers in a movement that could challenge the whole Turkish regime.

The Socialist Party supports the right of communities to defend themselves – whether in Turkey or Syria. We call for democratic, non-sectarian, multi-ethnic defence committees, giving the population an active role.

We support the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination including, if they so wish, full autonomous democratic rights within the state they live in, the establishment of independent states, or of a common state of all Kurds.

But the most important challenge facing Kurdish people – essential if civil war is to be prevented – is to make an appeal to working class people in Turkey. Many Kurds now live outside the traditional Kurdish areas and could build united action.

In such a terrible situation this could seem remote. But such an appeal, with a programme to defend democratic rights, for jobs and homes, for the region’s vast resources to be owned and controlled democratically for the benefit of all, could break through the fear and hate.

Workers and the poor in Turkey have nothing to gain from the Kurds continued oppression, which only strengthens the government and bosses that also exploit and oppresses them; or from descent into civil war, which would mean more death and destruction.

Turkish workers and young people have shown their readiness to fight. Three years ago a mass movement rose up around the environmental protests at Gezi Park.

In 2014 workers struck against mine bosses after a mining disaster, and in 2015 car workers went on strike. Crucially, in October 2015, mass demonstrations and a two-day general strike took place in response to the Ankara bombings.

The HDP, along with the trade unions and socialists, should call mass protests and strikes against the war on the Kurds, racist attacks, police repression and terrorism.

It is a good step for Kurdish organisations in Britain to appeal to people here with a national demonstration. Socialists and workers organisations here need to build movements against imperialist intervention, and demand rights and decent conditions for refugees.

The different imperialist or regional powers, including the US and Russia, do not have the interests of Kurdish people at heart, they are purely interested in their own power, and will abandon the Kurds when they have no use of them anymore (as happened in 1991 when US president George Bush encouraged a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in Iraq only to leave them to be massacred).

However, by standing firm against all imperialist forces and reactionary regimes, and by championing the rights of self-determination, a movement could be built that would reach out to workers and the poor across the whole region.

A socialist programme could unite people in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and across the region to repel Isis, the corrupt regional powers and imperialist forces in the region.

A voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East would enable all people to freely and democratically decide their own fates.