Erdoğan’s new presidency has started as it means to go on, with arrests and repression

Erdogan on podium speaking to parliament 770 403 Turkey
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On Sunday 28 May, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s presidential run-offs. His victory came amid allegations of violent intimidation of Kurdish voters and electoral fraud.

Erdoğan has been in power for over 20 years. He took office as prime minister in 2003, and president in 2014. Since then, hungry for autocratic control, he has pushed for dictatorial powers for the presidency, built himself a $350m palace in Ankara, and replaced over 100 elected mayors in Bakur with state approved appointees. Bakur is the part of Kurdistan within the borders of Turkey. On top of this, Erdoğan has waged a constant war against Turkey’s Kurdish Freedom Movement, with at least 10,000 people currently imprisoned.

Erdoğan: a presidency built on militarism

Internationally, Erdoğan has been an expansionist militarist; bombing Iraq and invading and occupying North and East Syria. He has used poison gas against Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) guerillas in Iraq, as well as both chemical and white phosphorous weapons against the people of Rojava. Erdoğan has allied with Daesh (ISIS), and created proxies in Syria such as the Turkish Free Syrian Army. Since the 2018 occupation, Turkey’s allies have plundered Afrin’s economy, and replaced Kurdish residents with pro-Turkish Arabic colonists.

It should come as no surprise then that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra), the right-wing Islamist group currently in control of the Syrian city of Idlib, extended congratulations to Erdoğan on the election result.

During the 2019 invasion of North and East Syria, Turkey and its proxies carried out assassinations, massacres, torture, and rapes. Sadly, now that Erdoğan has won another term a new invasion of North and East Syria is much more likely.

Erdoğan has also presided over militarist interventions in Libya, and provided military support to Azerbaijan for its conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh too. He has consistently ramped up militarist rhetoric against Greece, as well as using the ongoing refugee crisis and war in Ukraine to his benefit internationally.

Within Turkey, Erdoğan has played the conservative populist card. He has blamed LGBTQ+ people for the Covid-19 virus. Several of his election campaign statements were deeply homophobic. He is an outspoken misogynist too – in 2021 famously pulling out of the 2011 Istanbul Convention. The convention requires governments to adopt measures to prevent violence against women.

Read on...

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Unfair presidential election

Before the 14 May 2023 election, members of the Green Left Party (YSP) in Colemêrg (Hakkari) told the Canary that they expected arrests and repression if Erdoğan won. One YSP member in Hakkari told us:

If AKP (Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party) wins, we will not be waking up in our beds, we will be waking up in prison.

YSP ran in the parliamentary election, gaining 63 seats. The party wants to completely change the face of Turkey. Their ambitions go beyond states and parliamentary democracy. They want to rewrite the Turkish constitution, and create radical peoples’ democracy at a grassroots-level across Turkey. YSP chose not to stand a presidential candidate. Instead they advised their supporters to make a tactical vote for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in the hope of finally unseating Erdoğan.

Kurdish voters faced violence and intimidation at polling booths for the second time in a month on May 28. Medya News wrote:

The Kurdish-majority regions witnessed significant support for opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential run-off vote, just as in the first round of elections. However, reports have emerged of supporters and representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their extremist Islamist partner HÜDA-PAR interfering with voters and observers, particularly in areas where Kılıçdaroğlu had garnered significant support in the first round. The presence of an increased military mobilisation in the region further heightened tensions and uncertainty surrounding the elections.

Observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticised the election process. They said that there was an “unfair playing field” for both rounds of elections in May. They reported:

biased media coverage and the lack of a level playing field gave an unjustified advantage to the incumbent [Erdoğan].

Arrests and torture

Since 28 May’s run-off election, a wave of arrests of Kurdish Freedom Movement figures is already underway. On Monday 29 May, Special Operation Police carried out raids, kicking in doors, breaking windows, and assaulting people in Colemêrg in the far southeast. They kicked and punched detainees, and struck them with the butts of rifles.

Lawyers for Freedom reported that one detainee was tortured for two hours by the Special Operation Police. Police detained Mustafa Bor in Gever (Yüksekova in Turkish). The local hospital treated Mustafa for fractures, severe bruising, and bleeding later that day.

Meanwhile, in the city of Batman, police arrested 20 people for making a hand gesture associated with the Kurdish Freedom Movement during a victory parade for Erdoğan. They even arrested a journalist for reporting the incident.

The repression follows a wave of pre-election arrests across Bakur and Turkey. At least 180 people were arrested prior to 28 May’s run-off election, including many YSP members.

The ‘spirit is still alive’

Vala Francis is an internationalist who has observed both elections as part of an international delegation called for by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). After 28 May’s run-off election, she warned of more arrests to come:

Everyone expects masses of arrests to begin in the next months, especially for all the election work. But also a more general crackdown; literally thousands of people already have ongoing political cases. It’s really a critical time to think of ways to help people practically, on the ground.

But Vala still sees great hope in the spirit of the people. She wrote:

The war is deeply psychological. Maybe it doesn’t seem obvious from the outside, but people resist on every front. Some people seem to have a spring inside of them, like water that emerges from the ground. It doesn’t stop. It makes everything in its path clear and luscious for new possibilities. This spirit is still alive, even if by necessity it mostly exists in the shadows. All parts of Kurdistan are connected, and the strengths, and the struggles, and the weaknesses in one part feeds into and is substantiated by every other.

‘I don’t feel defeated’

Vala’s faith in the spirit of the movement is borne out by her recent interview with Ceylan Akça of the YSP. Ceylan was elected to the Turkish parliament on 14 May. Responding to Erdoğan‘s victory, Ceylan said:

I don’t feel defeated. Of course people are digesting the results now, that maybe there’s another five years with Erdogan. It’s okay to feel sad, to feel discouraged. But just after we get through that feeling, that’s when its time to get back to work. We will work to strengthen our local offices. Everyone here has a court case – they have at least six years of prison sentence dangling over their heads, and yet they still come and work. And we will make sure that we will protect and defend everything that we have accomplished in the last two decades, and in the time before – we will hold onto this, defend this, and we will build on it.

She quipped:

This authoritarian system wasn’t built over night, so it wont take a single night to get rid of it. But we’re almost halfway done, if we keep on working on this and fighting for this.

One thing is clear, and that is the struggle for people’s democracy, and against Erdoğan‘s militaristic, dictatorial rule, is far from over. People will re-organise and renew the struggle on fresh fronts. The revolutionary movement that is challenging Turkish fascism is an internationalist one. Those of us who support the fight for radical democracy in Turkey need to be ready to stand with our comrades in whatever way we can, because the next months and years are going to be a hard fought struggle.

Featured image via Screenshot/YouTube

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