Erdoğan escalates violence

With Siyaves Azeri about Turkey’s declining democracy

The January’s appeal by university instructors and scientists who stepped out against violence against the Kurds by Turkish state authorities has received a worldwide attention. Our discussion with a signatory of the appeal, philosopher at one Turkish university, also concerned the elimination of independent media and the so-called Rojava by the government.

Do you think that what is happening in southeastern Turkey can be described as a hidden war against Turkey’s own citizens?

The policies of the Erdogan regime in the Kurdistan region of Turkey can definitely be called a systematic war raged against Turkish citizens of Kurdish background. The Erdogan regime and the Turkish state is responsible for killing hundreds of civilians. Many of them are kids as young as 67 days. Erdogan’s policies in Kurdistan should be considered within a larger context; both nationally and internationally. On the national level, the war is part of larger attacks on the whole society with the aim of silencing any opposition. Erdogan’s war against Kurdish people is complemented by attacks on the working class movement, women, and media. The “moderate” political Islamic government of the AKP aims at consolidating its power in order to form a heaven of cheap labour and silent labourers. To this end, the regime attacks all basic human rights including the freedom of speech, of organization and assembly etc. The Erdogan regime is the “strong state” of the bourgeoisie in Turkey that attempts to introduce neoliberal economic policies.

The regime’s policies in the Kurdistan region of Turkey is not only a “war” against an armed organization in the usual sense of the term; systematic violation of human rights and crimes against humanity are an integral part of these policies. Up till now, more than 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and towns. In the city of Cizre, more than 70 people, including children and the elderly were burned to death in the basements of the houses that they used as shelters. People were not even able to get the corpses. It has been reported that the police and army forces removed the bodies together with the rubble and dumped them in the river Tigris. People found pieces of human bodies floating in the river.

In a particular case, naked bodies of two women militants that were shot dead were disposed by the special police forces and their pictures with the members of police forces posing at their heads circulated in the social media.

These are only a few examples of the systematic violations of human rights within the dirty war that the Erdogan regime is conducting in southeast of Turkey.


And on the international scale?

On the international scale, the war in Kurdistan is part of the war in the Middle East and in particular of the situation in Syria. The situation in Syria and Iraq is the immediate consequence of the American invasion in 2003 and its political bankruptcy that followed. The rise of political Islamic armed groups is a consequence of the US and its western allies’ politics. However, the United States lacks a clear policy in the region and is politically unable to impose any solution or provide a direction in the situation.

 As a result, the regional states as the representatives of different factions of the bourgeoisie in the region aim at getting a larger share of power as new balances are forming. On the one side of the conflict we have the US, western powers, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Erdogan regime, and mostly the Sunni factions of political Islam; on the other side we have the Islamic Republic of Iran, The Asad regime, Russia, and Hezbollah of Lebanon. PKK, PYD and YPG stands on the side of the latter group within this conflict (interestingly, the Kurdish regional government in Iraq stands by the first group and has close relations with Erdogan in particular). Erdogan’s war in the Kurdistan region of Turkey should also be considered within this context.


Turkish President has made indirect threats to the signatories of this petition. Are you aware of any of the signatories having lost their jobs or being subjected to any kind of reprisals by the Erdogan regime?

Up to this date more than 40 of our colleagues have lost their jobs. There have been more than 800 administrative and criminal investigations run against academicians in different universities. The criminal investigations are conducted by the general prosecutor of Istanbul and the general prosecutor of Ankara. Three academics, Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, and Muzaffer Kaya, have been in jail since March 15. Many are facing the threat of losing their jobs within the coming days and months. It seems that the AKP regime will try to imprison some of the academics in order to terrorize the others.


What is the role of Kurdish militias, such as YDG-H or the emerging YPS in Turkey?YDG-H and YPS are the city organizations of the PKK. The PKK has started a new war strategy in Kurdistan of Turkey: this new strategy is based on urban wars. Both sides of the conflict, the Erdogan regime and the PKK, have stated that they will not give up the war until they win. In its new strategy, the PKK basically relies on its urban organizations. Yet, given the power balances between the state and the PKK, a large scale city war in Kurdistan does not seem viable and sustainable. However, the ongoing war will be a long one and it will inflict unbearable suffering and pain on the lives of the people in the region.


The PKK was immediately blamed by the regime for several of the recent terrorist attacks. Does this kind of attacks belong among the PKK’s strategic equipment?

Attacks on civilian targets have been a part of PKK strategy for a long time. The two latest attacks in Ankara were claimed by the TAK (Liberation Eagles of Kurdistan), a division of the PKK. Terrorist attacks on civilians do not contribute to the solution of the problem but are themselves a constituent of it. On the other hand, such attacks amount to the escalation of violence that affects ordinary people. Meanwhile, such attacks provide the Erdogan regime with the opportunity to use them as alibis to justify its policies and strategies in Kurdistan and all over Turkey. Erdogan’s speech that followed the third Ankara bombing on March 13, where he stated that “either you are on our side or you are terrorists” is an example of such opportunism. Yet, it should be kept in mind that the main cause of the escalation of violence is the Erdogan regime’s strategies and policies. Political Islam in general and Erdogan’s power in particular feeds on tactics and strategies that paralyze people and exclude them from political arena. Islamic fascism in fact welcomes such attacks.


PYD and thus its militia YPG and YPJ are often referred to as a fifth column of PKK (even by Erdogan). Do you that Syrian Kurds should be seen as totally independent from the possible influence of the PKK?


There are definitely close ties between the PYD and the PKK. Politically and ideologically, PYD and the PKK share the same horizon. That is why, for instance, both organizations demand not independence but “democratic self-governance” or “democratic autonomy”. There is nothing strange about a political force or a society being influenced by another political force or movement. Marxism, anarchism, communism, and nationalism are international phenomena and there are many examples of political groups, organizations, and parties sharing the same political horizon or furthermore collaborate very closely.

The example of the ongoing war in Syria itself is very telling: I have already mentioned the sidings and the two rival camps that confront each other in Syria. While no one is surprised about Saudis’ or Turkey’s support for the jihadists or about the Russian and Iranian support for the Syrian regime, people problematize the PKK’s influence of the PYD. I believe that any serious political organization in the region will definitely try to emplace and disseminate its own political views and strategies and thus influence and further determine the character of the existing movements active in the region. What is surprising, therefore, is not the ties between the PKK and the PYD and/or the similarities between them, but is the absence of other progressive, radical left political movements and world-views in determining the fate of Syria and Rojava. Such an absence is critical because the fate of the heroic popular resistance in the Syrian Kurdistan should not be left to the hands of nationalist movements if the revolution in Rojava is not going to have an end similar to those in other Arab countries.


In the past two years the Kurdish fighters in the Syrian region of Rojava have been a frequently mentioned as a symbol of the anti-authoritarian leftist movement, at the same time their departure from the marxist-leninist roots of the PKK and the uniqueness of their self-government experiment is being stressed. Have there actually been a major shift to a rather anarchistic thinking in the ideological development of the Kurdish militia (the anarchist theorist Bookchin is often mentioned here)?


The Rojava resistance and the heroic fight of the people against ISIL have been rightly and legitimately appraised by progressive and radical leftist and libertarian movements all around the world. Any strategy aimed to win the war against Islamic terrorism in general, and the ISIL in particular, should base itself on a mass armed movement such as in Rojava. Any other strategy such as siding with the existing US-Turkey-etc. or with Russia-Iran-Asad camp is destined to lose. You cannot fight a phenomenon while siding with the causes that amount to the emergence of such a phenomenon.

As to the “ideological shift” of the PKK; shifts in politics and strategies are not products of ideological or epistemological changes; rather, a change in ideology or epistemology is a sign of a change in politics and strategy. What is decisive while identifying a movement’s politics is not the self-acclaimed position of that movement; such political identification should be done based on the specific analysis of the actual politics and strategies of that movement. Above, I have mentioned that in the context of the conflict in the Middle East, the PKK is on the side of the Russia-Iran-Asad camp. Such siding is rooted in nationalist policies of the PKK. I should note that nationalism is not identifiable with an independence movement; the PKK as well as Barzani’s Democratic Party in Iraqi Kurdistan does not demand independence of any form. Nationalism is busy in one way or another to guarantee a share in power no matter who is the boss. The history of Kurdish nationalism and its factions is a verification of this claim. Barzani’s collaboration with Erdogan and Turkey, Talabani’s collaboration with the Islamic regime in Iran, the collaboration of the aforementioned figures with Saddam Hussein, and the close ties between the Iranian regime and the PKK are materializations of Kurdish nationalist politics.


Contemporary leftist philosophy seeks new models of social organization in the post-capitalist world. Some bet on the Rojava experiment but as David Graeber wrote it may be surprising that there is not a larger support coming from the international left. What do you think are the weak and strong points of that kind of society?

As for the social organization in Rojava; the demand for self-governance through mass organizations, popular councils and committees is legitimate and favourable. Any libertarian politics should be based on the direct participation of people in the process of decision-making and political processes. Yet, another issue, which is at least as important as the formal organization of society is the form of relations of production of that society, that is, how production, both materially and formally is organized. A society based on money economy, production and exploitation of (surplus)-value and the separation of immediate producers from the means of production cannot be a liberated, free society. The length, width, and depth of freedom in such a society, at best, will be as much as a developed European capitalist society. Unless the economic organization of a society is not radically changed, unless a society on the banner of which “to all what they need, from all what they can” is not written the fate of the people has not been given back into their own hands and such a society cannot be considered a humanly emancipated one.


As far as freedom of speech is concerned, Turkey is one of the countries with the worst reputation. Is there currently any independent, opposition press or freelance journalists in Turkey left at all? What was or is the form of oppression against the opposition press like?

Freedom of speech, as well as basic human rights, has continuously been under attack in the Erdogan regime. Since its coming to power, the AKP government has conducted a process of Islamization of society. The principle of separation between religion and the state and religion and education has been violated on a daily scale. Islamization of the society and education system has gone so far that the highest scientific body of Turkey, namely the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has started to recall and annihilate some of the popular scientific books it had published before, which contained information concerning the theory of evolution and its validity. Evolution, Darwin and Freud have been eliminated from high school text books. The process of Islamization of society is part of the jihad that aims at silencing the society and constituting the aforementioned heaven of capital with the hands of the “strong state” of the bourgeoisie. The attack on independent press and media is another leg of the general movement of stultification of society. To this end, the Erdogan regime has tried different tactics and strategies against independent press and media: huge taxation, confiscation, imprisoning the journalists and reporters, monopolizing the press and media are among such tactics.


What is the relationship between the Erdogan regime and ISIS? Erdogan is often described as one of the obstacles to ISIS’s defeat by Western media. Turkish journalist Can Dündar was arrested because of his article in which he showed that the government may be playing even more of an active role – that The National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has been sending weapons to Syrian Islamist fighters, possibly even to Daesh and to The al-Nusra Front.


The case of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül is just an exemplar one: Can and Erdem were arrested for espionage and treason. The fact is that they were imprisoned with the direct command of Erdogan because they published what was already known: the proof of Erdogan’s regime support of the ISIL and other jihadist groups in Syria.

Erdogan’s and the AKP’s support for ISIL and other jihadist groups is no secret. As I mentioned earlier, the reason behind this support is not ideological but is the very worldly interests of some factions of the bourgeoisie. Political Islamic terrorism, in its “moderate” version (“moderate” means not-anti-Us and not-anti-West as is with the Saudi regime) is the instrument of bourgeoisie against libertarian and revolutionary movements in the region. From Tunisia to Libya, from Egypt to Syria and Turkey, these forces have functioned as the instrument of suppressing revolutionary and libertarian movements. The West and the US shamelessly have supported these forces in one way or another in this process. Their silence, or at best murmurings about Erdogan’s support for ISIL and other jihadist groups is based on such natural class political alliance.

The struggle against the Erdogan regime is a part of the larger struggle against political Islam as a reactionary movement of bourgeoisie. In order to be successful, this struggle should include demand for a secular society; demand for unconditional freedom of speech; assembly; organization; freedom to strike; unconditional equality between genders and abolition of all discriminative laws and regulations; freedom of conscious and religion and freedom from religion; demand to de-Islamize the society; protection of children from religion; separation of education and religion and the demand for the direct participation of people in their political and social decision-making through their councils and committees. These demands should be brought together with the demand of building a society that is not based on money economy and exploitation of labour. Any struggle with lesser than these minimum demands is doomed to lose.


How should the West and EU ideally act against Turkey in the light of this information about the Erdogan regime?

To speak frankly, I have no hope for the EU and European countries. In an ideal situation, EU countries should put tremendous political pressure on Erdogan and his regime. However, under the pretext of “solving” the “refugee crisis”, they have undermined whatever values they had claimed to that effect so far. The EU countries, shamelessly, have been negotiating about the fate of the refugees as if speaking of cattle or watermelon. Such positioning is the sign of the insincerity of the bourgeoisie in respect to universal and fundamental human rights.

However, this is not the whole story. The EU and Western countries, alongside their media, were trying hard to sell the “moderate political Islam” as an appropriate political model in the Middle East and North Africa. Erdogan’s Turkey was supposed to be the shiny window of this model. Different factions of the bourgeoisie, in Turkey and in Europe, were working hard to introduce the AKP and Erdogan as the locomotive of “reform” and “change” in Turkey. Inside Turkey, the nowadays remorseful liberal “intellectuals” and journalist were marketing Erdogan and the AKP as a force that would democratize Turkey and would facilitate its integration into the EU. On the other hand, although the EU leaders in the west were not keen of the idea of Turkey joining the Union, they argued in favour of Erdogan’s political Islamic regime as an acceptable democratic model for the so-called “Islamic countries” (whatever this term supposedly refers to). Such a stance is not due to political blindness; it is not an epistemological mistake; it is not the case that the European leaders were deceived by Erdogan and his party.


What then was the major motivation of the European Union stance?


The moderate political Islam in its “Erdoganist” version was considered to be the best political model that would both guarantee the interests of the international and regional bourgeoisie and would bring the political stability needed for the profitability of capital in the countries of the region.

However, the infolding of the events in Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey showed the inappropriateness of the “moderate” political Islamic model: The massive uprising in Egypt, first against Mubarak and later against Mursi; massive demonstrations in Tunisia and the Gezi Uprising in June 2013 in Turkey revealed that in reality the people of the so-called “Islamic” countries are not concerned with being a Sunni, a Shiite or whatsoever sect. Instead, they are concerned with and demand whatever a person would demand in any part of this world from Germany and Spain to the US and the Americas. The main demand of the revolution in Egypt, which was eventually stopped by the military intervention backed up by Saudis, was “Bread, Freedom, Human Dignity” and not “Allah Akbar” or “Down with the US”. The Gezi Uprising showed that the secular and libertarian culture in Turkey is much deeper than some Erdogan can uproot it within a decade or so. Furthermore, all these revolutions (regardless of their fate) showed something fundamental about these societies: that the people of the region, despite all the distorted images of these societies relayed by “left-wing” and right-wing researchers and journalists, have a vision of the world almost identical to any other society, and that they are living under capitalism and suffer massive exploitation, unemployment, poverty and any other kind of abstract violence peculiar to capitalism. The Gezi Uprising in particular was the last nail into the coffin of “moderate” political Islam at its home-country.

To wrap it up; I have no hope in the EU leadership or in the ruling elite of the West. After all, they are the ones who promoted Erdogan. It was clear, for instance, that after the defeat in the elections of June 7, 2015, Erdogan would use any measure to destabilize Turkey to guarantee a win in the early elections. The Erdogan regime had then already started the massacre against the people in Kurdistan. It was also known that Erdogan and the AKP openly and covertly support the ISIL and other jihadists. Yet, the EU commission postponed the publication of its report on Turkey until after the early elections of November 2015. Juncker himself confessed that the deferral had been made due to Erdogan’s demand and that “now we feel deceived”! The only hope comes from the people. The libertarian and progressive people in the EU and West should build pressure on the political bodies of these countries in order to press Erdogan for respecting human rights, end the violation of fundamental rights and stop the bloody war he has waged against the people in Kurdistan and the whole population of Turkey. 

Siyaves Azeri (born 1969) teaches philosophy at Artuklu University in Mardin, Turkey. He received his Master’s degree from New School for Social Research in New York and his PhD from University of Ottawa. He focuses on epistemology and philosophy of science; Marxist and feminist philosophy; literary theory; British empiricism; Russian philosophy; and issues of subjectivity and consciousness.