After failing to reach an agreement with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Erdogan and the AKP look poised to call for fresh elections amid growing violence at home and the escalation of Turkish involvement in the criminal war in Syria.
The AKP (Justice and Development Party) failed in the recent parliamentary elections to secure its desperately needed overall majority in the Turkish parliament. This has resulted in completely scuppering President Erdogan’s plans radically to change Turkey’s constitution so as to give the President (Mr Erdogan) more executive power. Bourgeois dictatorship, which spends so much time trying to push the idea that a multi-party constitution is the only democratic form of running the State, is often quite blatant in its attempts to establish complete single-party control over the executive apparatus of political power.
Erdogan is making it quite clear to internal and external observers that only he (with increased executive power and backed by an AKP government with an absolute majority) can take Turkey forward and continue to deliver the economic growth that Turkey has seen year on year since the AKP came to power.
It seems at the time of writing that having failed (publicly) to stitch together a coalition government (which was never desired anyway) with the MHP, the President and his party will take the country to fresh elections in the autumn. In so doing, Erdogan is gambling that he can win back voters who deserted to the MHP and HDP – through a mixture of persuasion and intimidation. Indeed, as you will read in his recent comments, he is quite clear that intellectuals and others (i.e. all liberal, progressive sections of Turkish society) who voted for the HDP are nothing short of the enemy within!
Erdogan hopes that he and the AKP can benefit from the escalation of Turkey’s role in the conflict in Syria and the turmoil which has gripped the country since the collapse of the ceasefire with the PKK. Having helped to engineer both situations, Erdogan now looks to the population to back him in his claim that only he and the AKP, (with their oh-so-democratic absolute majority) can bring Turkey out from the current crisis and crush their internal and external enemies:
“Falling back on a rhetorical technique that has served him well, Erdogan cast himself and the Turkish state as victims of an ill-defined plot contrived by a range of enemies whose links are, at best, tenuous.
“The ‘parallel state’ – his term for followers of influential U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen – ‘separatist terrorists’ – a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group – writers, academics and journalists were all to blame.
“‘Everyone who supports and remains silent in the face of this network … is complicit in its efforts to obstruct this nation. This is not a day to be impartial. Those who remain impartial will be eliminated,’ he [Erdogan, Ed.] said.
“After more than a decade as prime minister, Erdogan won Turkey’s first popular presidential election in August 2014 and has since stretched the powers of a largely ceremonial post to their limits. He has insisted that even without constitutional change, his election by the people rather than by parliament as in the past automatically granted him extra authority.
“‘There is now a president in the country not with symbolic power, but with literal power,’ he said.
“Whether it is accepted or not, Turkey’s system of government has changed. What needs to be done now is to clarify and confirm the legal framework of this de facto situation with a new constitution.” (Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun, ‘Turkey Erdogan gambles on using crisis to consolidate power’, Reuters, 17 August 2015).
With the stage well and truly set for another round of elections in the coming months, a clash between Erdogan and a very large section of Turkish society seems imminent.
Turkish strategy in ruins
Contradictions also exist between Turkey and the United States with respect to Syria, the Kurdish question and the expansion of Turkish influence in the region. Turkey, led by Erdogan and the AKP have striven to strengthen Turkey’s strategic role in the region, challenge US imperialism’s first choice strategy of foremost reliance on Israel to carry out its dirty work, and promote Turkish economic interests in a more aggressive and assertive manner. Erdogan even termed this strategy the project for a “new Ottoman Empire“. Now, however, Turkey has been forced to conclude a deal with the United States whereby the US Air Force would be allowed to operate from the Incirlik air base near the city of Adana. Rumours of such an arrangement had persisted for months but official sanction was announced on July 29 (see further below).
The US maintains it is to use the base to conduct sorties on the Islamic State forces but is not at war with President Assad, whilst Turkey took the agreement as tacit acceptance of Turkey’s intentions to bomb YPG (Syrian PKK forces) who are spreading their hold over the Turkish-Syrian border regions and may well hope to extend their territory from northern Iraq all the way to Hatay province (a province of Turkey with a coast on the Mediterranean sea which was historically Syrian but gifted to the Turkish state by French imperialism).
The August/September edition of Proletarian touched upon the intentions being mooted inside Turkey for the establishment of Turkish “safe-zones” inside Syrian territory:
“In a speech before his parliamentary group hours before the vote, Mr Bahçeli [a politician from the MHP] aligned himself with government plans to implement a safe zone in Syria and prevent the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia, from expanding its presence on the country’s border with Turkey.
“‘Turkey should not wait for permission from any government and do everything in its power to defend its homeland and its people with the rights given to it by international law,’ Mr Bahçeli said. ‘A safe zone should be established on the other side of our southern border without any delay.'”
It is interesting for readers to note that before the Incirlik air base deal US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in this regard: ” There isn’t a need for it from a US military or coalition perspective and . . . there are difficulties in trying to execute that kind of thing “.
Removal of Patriot Missiles
In the context of the increased operations, both joint and independent, by Turkey and the USA inside Syria, it does seem surprising that the United States should choose this moment to withdraw the Patriot Missiles it deployed inside Turkey in 2013. An article in the Telegraph and others elsewhere have suggested that such a move was a response to Turkey’s failure to bomb IS targets and its wanton bombing of the YPG:
“The decision [to remove Patriot missiles, Ed.] comes less than a month after Turkey opened its south-eastern Incirlik airbase to US fighter jets to carry out bombing raids against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) targets in Syria.
“The US and Turkish officials have said their respective armies are currently working to coordinate logistics before starting full-scale operations against IS.
“Turkey turned to its Nato allies for help over its troubled frontier after shells landed on its border areas from Syria in October 2012, killing several villagers.
“The United States, the Netherlands and Germany have provided a total of six Patriots batteries along the Turkish border with Syria. Germany on Saturday announced it would withdraw its two missile systems from Turkey from January 31, saying that the main threat in the region now came from the Islamic State group…
“…Ankara launched its first air strikes against IS targets in late July but then put them on hold, instead concentrating its firepower on Kurdish militants in operations that have troubled its allies.” (AFP, ‘US to withdraw Patriot missiles from Turkey in October’, Daily Telegraph, 17 August 2015).
Turkish volte fact
The dirty war against Syria and the spread of the crazy ISIS outfit has opened a rift between Turkey and US imperialism. Whereas the US, in its own interests, wants to control – not destroy – the jihadi monsters it helped to create, the Turkish state, under the stewardship of Erdongan’s AKP, has two main obsessions: first, to bring down the government of president Bashar al Assad – an aim which it shares fully with the US and other imperialist powers; and second, it wishes to crush to Kurdish movement for autonomy led by the PKK.
As to its first obsession, there is plenty of evidence pointing to the collaboration of the Turkish state with ISIS and other crazed Jihadi groups in Syria. Turkey has facilitated the sale of weapons to the jihadis and helped them to sell oil and fill their coffers; 5,000 Turks have swelled the ranks of ISIS; the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, has sent weapons to the Syrian jihadis; and Turkey has jammed Syrian government radio communications. Since April this year, Turkey has deepened its cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the purpose of supplying sophisticated weaponry to ISIS. In this context, Erdogan has given vent to his anger at western bombing of ISIS position saying: ” How can we look upon the West favourably bombing Arabs and Turkmen?”.
However, extreme pressure from the US has forced Turkey to grant permission to the US to use the Incirclic air base to attack the Islamic State (IS), as well as to agree to participate in these attacks on IS – a foreign policy watershed. But, since it signed up to the anti-IS coalition last month, the vast majority of Turkey’s own strikes have been against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rather than the jihadis. Many commentators are of the view that Turkey’s increased readiness to take IS on is not much more than a cover story, solely to win western acquiescence for its attacks on the PKK.
All the same, the very fact that Turkey has been forced to go along with US plans is clear evidence of the stark reality that the vision of an independent Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East has most decidedly collapsed. The key to the success of the US getting Turkey on board was the threat of increased US cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish fighters who are allied with Turkey’s outlawed PKK and are seen to be effective fighters in the struggle against IS.
Kurdish successes against IS in Syria has raised the spectre of a new Kurdish enclave along Turkey’s southern border – an outcome that Erdogan is desperate to avoid, given Turkish Kurds’ own calls for autonomy. Erdogan, for his part, has loudly declared that, whatever the price, Turkey will not allow a Kurdish state in North Syria.
But the ground is slipping fast from under his feet and he is increasingly losing control of the situation, especially since the 19 June suicide bombing which killed 32 young members of the Socialist Youth Associations Federation (and injured over 100) in Suruc, Turkey, just 6 miles from Kobane. Those murdered were on their way to Kobane to assist in the reconstruction work. Rightly the PKK laid the blame for the massacre at the doorstep of the Turkish government. Following the Suruc massacre, the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK has all but broken down and there has been a lot of fighting between the two sides, with dozens of Turkish soldiers and police officers, and hundreds of PKK fighters killed in the process.
Escalation of violence inside Turkey
This is how the Financial Times of August 16 described the wave of violence sweeping Turkey:
“The violence sweeping Turkey showed no signs of abating as four troops and one civilian died in clashes with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) over the weekend.
On Sunday, a soldier was killed in a firefight with militants in Kars, in the country’s north-east. Late on Friday, three troops were killed in Daglica, near the border with Iraq. Also on Friday, a civilian caught in the crossfire during skirmishes in Diyarbakir, another south-eastern province, was reported to have died.
“In Varto, a district, local authorities imposed a curfew amid a crackdown against PKK militants…
“…At least 40 members of Turkey’s security forces have been killed in as many days. Turkish air strikes on PKK positions in south-east Turkey and in northern Iraq have claimed the lives of about 400 Kurdish militants over the past month, Turkish media reported.
“Government critics allege that president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and factions within his ruling Justice and Development party, or AKP, intend to use the conflict to shore up the nationalist vote and keep the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party, or HDP, out of parliament.
“The HDP won more than 13 per cent of the popular vote in the June 7 elections, securing 80 parliamentary seats and depriving the AKP of its long-held majority.
“Opinion polls put the ruling AKP only two or three points higher than the 41 per cent it won in June’s elections. That means its chances of regaining its parliamentary majority hinge on pushing the HDP below the 10 per cent for parliamentary representation” ( Piotr Zalewski, ‘Five people killed in Turkey clashes’).
Another similar report from Turkey in mid-August read:
“At least eight people, including five police officers and a soldier, were killed on Monday in a series of attacks in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and in the south-east of the country.
“The day of violence included a roadside blast in Silopi, close to the Iraq border, in which four police officers were killed and one badly wounded. The attack took place in the same district which days ago witnessed clashes between Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and Turkish security forces which left three people dead.
“A Turkish soldier died in a separate incident after suspected PKK fighters fired on a military helicopter in a nearby province…
“In Istanbul three police officers and seven civilians were wounded when a car bomb exploded near a police station in Sultanbeyli, a neighbourhood in the city’s east, around 1am.
“Hours later, an officer died after assailants fired on police dispatched to the site of the bombing. Two gunmen were also reported killed.
“Footage broadcast by Turkish media showed a group of police taking cover behind an armed vehicle amid a barrage of bullets, with a number of cars damaged in the earlier attack in the background.
“Earlier in the day, two people opened fire on the building housing the US consulate in Istanbul. No casualties were reported. Police later seized one of the alleged assailants, a 51-year-old woman affiliated to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).
“The radical leftwing group, which has a history of targeting American interests, attacked the US embassy in Ankara, the Turkish capital, two years ago, killing a security guard.
“The attacks are the latest in a spiral of violence which began with a suicide bombing linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) near Turkey’s border with Syria on July 20 in which 33 people died.
“The PKK, which alleges that the Turkish state is backing Isis in Syria, responded to the July bombing with a spate of attacks of its own. At least 29 members of Turkey’s security forces have died in clashes with the group in the past month.
“Turkish air strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq, meanwhile, have killed 390 militants since late July, according to Turkish media. More than a thousand suspected PKK members and sympathisers have been detained in the past three weeks in roundups that have also included jihadis and leftist radicals….” (Piotr Zalewski, ‘Istanbul and southeastern Turkey suffer spate of deadly attacks’, 11 August 2015).
Thus, instead of focussing his attention on defeating president Assad of Syria, Erdogan is having to fight on two fronts – in Syria and against the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.
Erdogan is hoping to gain some authority through new elections this autumn – for the results of the 7 June elections were a disaster for him. These results were a reflection of the discontent of the Turkish people with the government’s foreign policy, especially with the Turkish state’s complicity in efforts at regime change in Syria; they were indicative of the support for the rights of Kurdish people and the peace process between the government and the PKK.
We shall find out shortly whether the election gamble has paid off or not. But whatever the outcome, it is clear that ” Turkey will soon have to redress some of the imbalance between its efforts against the PKK and its efforts against ISIS, or risk that the US-Kurdish alliance will get ever closer and Ankara will once again be sidelined” (Jeremy Shapiro, ‘Turkey’s shift on Isis is a mark of US success’, Financial Times, 24 August 2015).
According to Mr Shapiro, the US has been pressing Turkey for some time to join the fight against ISIS. Now, Ankara, thanks to ” tough love from Washington” is “coming closer to America’s familiar if unwelcome embrace” (ibid.). Erdogan was obliged to make this volte face, after months of aloofness, in view of Turkey’s slowing economy, the loss by the AKP of its absolute parliamentary majority in the June election, and the threat of increased US cooperation with the Syrian Kurds.
The US has brutally made clear that it has other options. It is not “model partnership” but all the same an ” important cooperation, achieved not by seeking to curry favour with Turkey, but by demonstrating – as only a superpower can – that no ally is indispensable” (ibid.). “So”, adds Mr Shapiro cynically, “may be it is some sort of model after all”.
While Turkey has been forced to cooperate, however half-heartedly and unwillingly, with the US, the latter’s cooperation with the Syrian Kurds seems set to continue, despite Turkey’s increased hostility to the Kurds in Turkey. It is the US hope that the Syrian Kurds – a potent fighting force – might just be amenable to being used as a battering ram against the government of president Assad in Syria in return for extending the quisling Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq into Syria, and that they might prove more effective in overthrowing president Assad than the jihadi groups who earlier acted as US proxies.
One can only hope that the Kurdish masses are only too aware of the fact that any dispensation they receive from the hands of US imperialism will, far from bringing sovereignty and genuine statehood, only turn them into miserable puppets of US imperialism and tools of the latter’s foreign policy aim of dominating the region.
What looks increasingly likely, however, is that Turkey’s mad schemes for overthrowing the Syrian government are unravelling and might lead to Erdogan and his AKP being swept off the scene, making way for a government which will pursue a path of friendly relations with Syria while granting equal rights to the Turkish Kurds and freeing itself from the “unwelcome embrace” of US imperialism. It is a sign of the times that even ISIS, the crazy sect so loved by Erdogan, has issued a Turkish language video urging Turks to rise up against their ‘Satanic’ government. With 2 million Syrians forced out of their homes and country by US imperialism and its Turkish, Saudi and Qatari puppets, eking out a miserable existence as refugees in Turkey, there is huge scope for trouble, spelling disaster for Erdogan and his AKP. Add to this the increasing discontent of the Turkish masses with the present state of affairs and the future of Erdogan and the AKP is looking shaky indeed.