Riots and clashes in Turkey started out of solidarity with the defenders of Kobane could be the seeds of a new phase of uprising against the authoritarian rule of the governing party AKP
Serhildan is here. The upheaval of Kurds in Turkey has started, supported by the Turkish left thousands hit the streets, pick up stones, Molotov cocktails and guns to defend themselves against whatever the Turkish state pulls out to keep them down. And that’s nothing cheap. Enormous numbers of police, even soliders, in some cities curfews have been installed, nobody is allowed to go out. Live bullets in their guns, the reported numbers of dead differ from 12 to 15.
Different from the years that have passed since Gezi, there are more than just a few “civil” gangs of fascists participating in the hunt for Kurds and leftist. Mobs of “Grey Wolves”, islamistic Turkish Hizbullah (which is not to be confused with the shia-group from Lebanon), members of the fascist MHP and the islamistic HÜD-PAR, and of course of the governing party AKP hit the streets, too, armed with knives, sticks and guns, beat up people, kill and abuse – with no interference from police. Quite the opposite: videos show, how cops and “civil” lovers of IS ad fascists side up and go hunting together.
Militancy and general strike
This could be an interim balance: in dozens of cities, from Istanbul to Mardin, from Van to Diyarbakir massprotests took place, sometimes joined by more than tenthousand people. Offices of AKP and MHP have been attacked, the protestors have defended themselves against the police terror on a very high escalatory level, sometimes using guns. Noticeably, all militant left groups – no matter wether Turkish or Kurdish – participate in the uprising. In Gazi, DHKC, MLKP, YDG-H, MKP, TKEP-L and TIKKO have been fighting side by side, after a long time of internal conflicts within the left a gratifying development. These days, armed struggle once more proves itself a question of survival. Sitting down and blocking a road is of no help facing IS-lovers armed with guns and knives.
At the same time, at least in Istanbul, many students, LGTB-activists, groups of high school students participated. The movement could rise up to a new level tomorrow, as the trade union KESK is calling for a two-day general strike – a strike political right from its very beginning. This alone shows the possibility of a continuation of the uproar Erdogan extinguished by repression after Gezi but that is still very much alive in minds and hearts of the people.
Though, yet here a first restriction has to be marked. Also those parts of the society, who are discontent with AKP rule but will not, or only rarely, participate now, have taken part in the Gezi protests. Kemalists and nationalists within the movement mostly do not tend to participate in an uprising growing out of the situation of the Kurds. Because of this is, it’s already time to set the rights of the Kurds, Erdogan’s rotten policy towards Syria and the topics viral in Gezi into context again. General strike could be the beginning. Only if the pressure rises also beyond the genuinely Kurdish parts of the country could actually come true what Kurdish friends write ever since the fights have begun: “If Kobane falls, Istanbul will be first.”
The trap set by IS
Most important in Turkey (as here in Europe, but later more of this) will be, not to get trapped by the Islamic State. IS militias and their religious leaders have tried not to be just another special organization next to others, but – it’s obvious from the symbols and flags they chose – tried to sell themselves as mandatory for every Shia from the very beginning. The basic message of IS is – just as Erdogan’s in Turkey: if you’re of muslim faith, we are your vanguard. Everybody who does not accept hegemony of IS automatically turns into a Kufr, an infidel. This connection has to be crushed, systematically, since if it asserts its authority – as can be observed, at least in part, already -, things will get even more complicated. Though there are no relyable numbers, estimatedly a rough quarter (or more) of Turkey’s population belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam. One can imagine, what happens if they get the impression, a “war of cultures” against them is being waged – and as such many – not left – opponents of IS understand what they do.
In order not to take this strategic bait of IS, the conflict has to be stripped down to it’s actual matrix beyond ethnic and religious decoration. The question is as simple as this: in which society one wants to live, independently from being Kurd, Turk, Alevit, Sunni, Shia or whatever.
The most vigorous weapon
Insofar, the most vigorous weapon against IS that exists, is none you can order from Heckler&Koch or death’s authorized dealer, Frank-Walter Steinmeier: it’s a political idea. This doesn’t mean this idea could prosper without violence. But it has to mean, that without it you can’t win on the long run. The Kurdish movement has such an idea of living together in a democracy organized by councils without discrimination by sex and beyond violence motivated by ethnic or religious beliefs. And so does the Turkish left, in their quarters and factories like Kazova, where they produce without bosses. Some call it “democratic confederalism”, others socialism or communism, some call it anarchism. And also the enemies in this fight have their political ideas, even if they hide them behind theological veils. AKP has it’s idea of an authoritarian Islamic society, charged with neoliberally unleashed capitalist production and the jingoism of a great power. The Islamic States strives for a caliphate basing on an economy of selling oil and gas while internally ruled by some kind of modernized feudalism. It’s not hard to see that “our” side is equipped with the more vigorous weapons. But there’s no answer still to the question if we will learn to use it the right way.
No majority for the uprising
The point of departure from which the ongoing uprising set out was less than promising. Results of the communal elections in march 2014 show: those parties who actively fight progressive ideas and change are backed by more than 50% of Turkish voters. The fascist MHP and the islamistic-neoliberal AKP, together with some smaller sects and parties, are backed by more than 60% of the voters. The mostly Kurdish left parties HDP and BDP gained about 6% (though some surprising 10% voted for them in the following presidential elections). Parts of the radical revolutionary left do not participate in elections, so these can be counted as well, but they aren’t enough to really alter the picture.
Shortly: at this time, there is no majority in Turkey backing the uprising. There’s just the strongholds of the Kurdish movement (obviously in the regions of northern Kurdistan) and those of the revolutionary left in some quarters of Turkey’s big cities. This is probably not enough to cause a regime change. So the first question is: which steps have to be taken, which smaller goals to be reached, in which ways this uprising can become another step towards changing the balance of power within the context of a wider strategy? Which topics and alliances are most important for those who desire to send Erdogan together with Al-Bagdadi to that place, where no virgins are waiting for them?
Abbreveating the conflict in ethnic terms
One year before this escalation, I met with a very smart observer of the Kurdish movement, journalist Metin Yegin. We talked about Gezi and the Kurdish question, and he said: “The Kurds of Europe haven’t yet learned to market this great idea they have and which they are bringing to life in Rojava, very well. They do have lots to tell about their democratic project based on councils, ecology and equality of genders. But mostly they keep talking about their discrimination as Kurds. This is not wrong, but it’s the less interesting part of the story. Their political project is way more interesting.”
There’s a lot of truth in these words. Sure, Kurds are being discriminated in Turkey, in Syria and Iran just because they are Kurds. But the current situation demands first and foremost to reject any ethnic explanation of this conflict. In practice the Kurds have done this already: In Rojava nobody gives a shit whether you are Kurdish, Syrian, Iraqi or anything else. In the same way religious divisions do not matter. Before IS started to attack Rojava, it was a safe haven for everyone, independently from origins and beliefs.
The Islamic State is focusing on an explanation of this conflict that draws the line between (Sunni) Muslims and „infidels“. The Turkish right now hitting the streets take it as a conflict between Turks and Kurds. The resistance would be well advised to break this ethnicizing and theologization of the conflict. The political idea of the Kurdish movement, shared at least in most aspects with the Turkish left, has to be set as the focus of debate.
One important element, among the many of this project, is the basic idea of secularism, that society does not have to follow the rules of one religion, that church and state have to be strictly divided. In this very moment it makes much sense to highlight this topic within the discourse in Turkey. Beyond the radical left and the Kurdish movement, it is also capable of attracting those parts of society who do foster prejudices against the Kurds basing on their kemalist and nationalist ideas on the one hand, but on the other might rather side up with the left and the Kurds for a secular and democratic Turkey than surrender to AKP’s policies of islamization and their now openly visible complicity with islamistic sects of jihadist. Of course this strategy for alliance has narrow borders: There’s no need to associate with the old, nationalist-chauvinist elites, the military whose power has been seized by Erdogan and the bourgeoisie belonging to them. But this way, the “normal” CHP-voters could maybe freed from some of their resentments.
Shortly: The Kurds have to clarify carefully: this fight concerns everyone living in the region, not just Kurds (or leftists). Everyone who does not desire to live in a caliphate or in Erdogan’s neoliberal softcore-version of a caliphate should support the fight. Especially the biggest party in opposition, CHP, needs to understand this, as it still doesn’t take a clear stand and their representatives, who, besides criticizing Erdogan the right ways, keep talking bullshit about the Kurdish movement.
States are no „friends“
A second basic misunderstanding that has to be cleared, concerns the role of capitalist states. The misbelief of states as entities one could „appeal to“ nicely to gain their support and help, is as old as it’s dangerous. Imperialist states as Germany or the USA do not take actions out of altruism, humanity or empathy. States take actions ruled by interest, always and at any time.
It may happen that those interest sometimes coincide and overlap with our own. Let’s imagine – purely hypothetical – the German government would ship weapons the YPG to Kobani, hoping to gain some more geostrategic influence in the north of Syria or because they were after the oil fields there. Of course it would be irresponsible and short-sighted if YPG wouldn’t accept those weapons. Lenin was travelling on a German train back to Russia when the revolution began. He utilized the contradictions between the interests of Germany, that wanted to score off Russia, and the Russian Empire, for his own goals, the goals of the revolution. In the same way YPG could accept those weapons, but taking these weapons would have to be measured against whether they made concessions to get them (bad choice), or not.
So it is possible to utilize actions of states pushing their interests within the context of a revolutionary strategy. But one has to be careful not to view them as “allies”, “friends” or something else like
that. Especially looking at the USA this should be obvious. Trying to push its own interests in the region, Washington has made use of many different allies from all political, ethnical and religious backgrounds. But this was never a help for the involved societies themselves.
Shortly: capitalist states take actions based on their own interests and the interest of their capital fractions. From time to time, one can utilize this, but in the end they don’t change their shitty character and sooner or later we will have to smash them anyway.
Unity from „below“
„No saviour from on high delivers, no faith have we in prince or peer. / Our own right hand the chains must shiver, Chains of hatred, greed and fear“, an old song of the workers’ movement tells us. These words, though old, have lost nothing of their importance and actuality and mean basically just the same as Abdullah Öcalan meant when he said: “The Kurdish movement for freedom has always understood it’s twenty year long fight as a defense of the brotherhood of the turkish and kurdish people as well as everyone else in the Middle East. At all times they were striving for democratic unity. To do so, we rely on our own strength and free will. We have always been very careful to keep our own sovereignty.“
Öcalan is suggesting “democratic unity” from “below”, across ethnic or religious divisions, bridging them by a political project. This “democratic unity” sooner or later will have to deal with the sunni-muslim majority in the region, a fact that is not going to change, in order to make it possible to establish a political system in Turkey, Iran, Iraq or Syria which are neither Failed States, caliphates or puppet regimes of the west.
Next to trying to attract those parts of the society who are in favor of a secular society, also those initiatives have to be empowered who are focusing on a rational interpretation of their religion within the coordinate system of Islam. In their heartlands, PKK has been doing so for quite some time, and even more interesting is an initiative called “Anticapitalistic Muslims” who have been raising their voice ever since the Gezi-movement.
In their manifesto (parts of it can be found here in German, the full Turkish version is here) they explain that the prophet can be understood as a “position of resistance against the ruling system of his times”. Because of this, they declared, they want to side up with the “oppressed and exploited” of all “anticapitalist points of view with no regard towards faith or faithlessness, origin, language or ideology” and cooperate.
The power within
The narrative used by IS is just partly theological, mainly it’s a political one. Scrolling through the profiles of propagandists of jihad on twitter or facebook it’s easy to find out what they actually use to attract followers. They mainly focus on the humiliations the sunni parts of society have suffered in Iraq and Syria. There is no profile without pictures from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib or other cases of abuse committed by US-soldiers or their allied militias in Iraq. War crimes committed in the war of aggression against Iraq, started by the US in 2003 were the point of departure from which the actual situation resulted and may not be forgotten or ignored.
Because of this, the Islamic State is grateful for every US-intervention on behalf of their enemies. “Is this all you are capable of?” IS-spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adani asked after the first airstrikes of the coalition. “Aren’t you and your allies able to come down to the ground?” Jihadists on twitter try their very best to depict the IS as Allah’s movement persecuted by all “evil” powers: “The USA, France, Great Britain, the Kurds, Turkey, Assad – everyone’s against us, but everyone’s loosing,” one person wrote.
The myth IS is trying to create and has already been quite successful in doing so, tells: We are the only ones standing up for Sunnis, you can rely on nobody but us. This myth enables them on one hand to find allies among tribal militias as well as with formerly baathist groups, as seen in Mosul. On the other hand it works to gain support from the people.
Here’s the problem: in the very moment the west decided to intervene together with a coalition made up of about everyone who’s being rejected by the Sunnis, the west also started to serve that myth. As the British General Jonathan Shaw put it: “In which way will IS profit from our participation in the campaign? The answer is: it enables them to unite the muslim world against the Christian parts. We’ve played straightly into their hands. We did exactly what they were expecting us to.”
Besides their half-heartedness and lack of effect for the resistance in Kobani (not quite surprising, the airstrikes weren’t carried out focusing on how to help YPG the best way, but focusing on those targets the west had the most interest in destroying) this intervention has the political side effect of serving the myth spread by IS. This side effect we have to keep in mind and deal with, and all of those who’d like to see the Kurds as “allies” of the US, France, Great Britain and Germany (a position which is less spread within the Kurdish movement itself but taken by some of their supporters), shouldn’t lose the sight of it.
To prevent misunderstandings: Should one reject the airstrikes that help the defenders of Kobani (as long as they really do so)? No. Should one be opposed to shipment of arms (if there were any weapons to be shipped, which is not happening) to YPG? Definitely not. But it is necessary to understand that only a strategy that is based on the power within “all people of the Middle East” – to once again cite Öcalan – will be accepted in the region. And such a strategy has to turn against the western imperialism, even if at some times and places interests may overlap.
-by Peter Schaber (translated from German by 2Laut)