Democracy in Turkey

Turkey – a force of aggression and destabilization

A century after the outbreak of World War I, which ultimately determined the framework for the re-division of the Middle East into the states that currently exist in the region, a new regional and global struggle for power has begun. For nearly a century, the states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have enforced a process of homogenization that included various forms of assimilation as well as brutal campaigns of ethnic cleansing. Today, these states today are finally falling apart.

The Turkish project of nation building, which sought to establish a monolithic Turkish nation-state on land occupied by many different indigenous peoples, was confronted time and time again by resolute resistance from Kurdish people. As the largest non-Turkish ethnic group living within the borders of the Republic of Turkey, the Kurds were the main targets of the Turkish state’s extensive assimilation and ethnic cleansing policies since its founding. As a consequence, in the decades that followed and up to the present day, many Kurds have risen up against the state in a series of revolts.

Since the founding of the PKK in 1978 under the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan, Kurds have been transformed from victims to proactive players and catalysts for change in the region. Moreover, the Kurds have now achieved the internationalization of their cause. This new dynamic is challenging the Turkish state to make a democratic transformation.

The Kurdish struggle for democratisation is challenging Turkey

Abdullah Öcalan’s concept of and struggle for democratic autonomy in Turkey can promote this much needed democratic transformation, to the benefit of all the peoples of Turkey. This means decentralisation, which can embrace cultural diversity, gender equality, co-existence of ethnic and religious components and anti-statism, such as the model of Democratic Confederalism (proposed by Öcalan and being put into practice in Northern Syria/Rojava).

The Kurds constitute a significant proportion of the population of Turkey. Democratic transformation of Turkey means overcoming the nationalistic and racist and patriarchal doctrine of the nation-state. The awareness of the need for constitutional recognition and resolution of the legitimate demands of the Kurdish people, and all oppressed people including women across all ethnic and religious groups, is emerging. This is the main reason for the Turkish state’s instance to maintain the status quo, which is manifested in the increasing aggression and brutality of the state itself.

Turkey under Erdoğan – the main threat for democratisation

The dramatic spread of ISIS throughout Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014 was another step towards the acceleration of the collapse of power balances created in Middle East. With the beginning of the war in Syria, Turkey established direct relations with ISIS to fulfil its dream of neo-Ottomanism by occupying weakened neighbouring states including Iraq and Syria. The Turkish state‘s main target is currently Northern Syria, which is predominantly inhabited by the Kurdish people. The resistance of the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Armenians in Northern Syria has prevented a Turkish invasion. In 2018, the Turkish armed forces, working together with various jihadist groups, brutally attacked and eventually occupied the Kurdish city Afrin in Northern Syria. Erdoğan’s campaign to expand Turkey’s occupation of Northern Syria is continuing. This is one of the main reasons why a political solution to the conflict in Syria has proven elusive. In a many speeches, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to launch a major military operation “east of the Euphrates” to eliminate Kurdish forces from this territory, and there are now real fears that this invasion is imminent.

Turkey – a state of exception

Turkey under Erdoğan has become increasingly autocratic. The country‘s state of emergency in Turkey was formally lifted shortly after the presidential elections last year, but the new system of presidential rule has secured a permanent state of exception. Under the new presidential system, President Erdoğan, has consolidated and expanded his administrative powers. Now the president has dominance over the judiciary, with control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, and the powers of the country’s parliament have been significantly weakened.

The presidential system gives the Erdoğan unsupervised power to appoint or dismiss ministers, vice-presidents, and high state officials. He can legislate by decree in the name of the parliament. Furthermore, he can determine the budget of the presidency without parliamentary approval and he has the power to dissolve the parliament at will.

Virtually all opposition press and media has been closed down. What remains of the press practices heavy self-censorship, and has been turned into a chorus to convey and amplify those messages sanctioned by Erdoğan.

Additionally, Turkey suspended the European Convention on Human Rights which safeguards basic protections such as “the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression”.

At present, 9 members of parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including both of the parties former co-presidents, are currently imprisoned. Many other elected representatives, including numerous mayors, from the HDP have been suspended, dismissed or arrested on terror charges. 79 municipalities have been taken over by the Interior Ministry, with trustees appointed in place of the elected mayors.

The number of people in Turkey’s prisons has now reached 262,000 (as of 12 January 2019). Human rights organizations report that human rights violations against prisoners are increasing. Isolation (solitary confinement) is one of the most severe of these violations.