Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Back to the grim 1990s

The ultranationalist bent of the Erdogan government continues, bringing hell to southeast Anatolia where a fragile peace had recently existed, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Parts of the country have begun to look like the towns and villages across the border. From the rubble and destruction, you wouldn’t know whether you are in Turkey or Syria. This is not an overstatement. Cizre, Silopi, Sur, Nusaybin and other towns have been reduced to ruins. Jagged skeletons of buildings are pierced with gaping holes caused by missile fire. The remains of walls are riddled with the pockmarks of random gunfire. The goddess of war has worked her art, ousting the chisels of craftsman and spray paint canisters of amateur mural artists. Dozens of houses have been left empty, their inhabitants having fled to neighbouring towns and villages in the hope of some calm, some water and electricity, some peace and safety for their children.

This spectacle of desolation, of fear, is the Kurdish vortex that appears to be the inextricable fate of southeast Anatolia. It engulfs dozens of lives a day and drives hundreds to flee from this hell.

Yet, amazingly, a glimmer of light had appeared on a long-closed horizon a couple of years ago or so, lifting hopes for safety and security for all and for a climate in which the voice of concord and reason would prevail. From the high-security prison on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving out a life sentence, called on his followers to halt military operations immediately in order to pave the way for peace talks. The process was a bumpy one, but it lasted. Then, the light was abruptly snuffed out.

On 8 June, the day after parliamentary elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) awoke to the shock that, for the first time since it came to power in 2002, it had lost its overwhelming parliamentary majority. The culprit was the Kurds who had voted “wrong”, allowing the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to pass the 10 per cent electoral threshold and secure a large chunk of parliamentary seats. Suddenly, the government took a 180 degree turn on the Kurdish question, rapidly propelling that situation back to square one. Within a couple of months, it seemed as though nothing had changed with regard to the three-decade long war that had claimed more than 40,000 lives.

So, once again a state of emergency prevails over towns and villages in southeast Turkey. Village guards and vigilantes have been mustered to help the police. Military vehicles patrol the streets with support from helicopters as air cover. Random arrests, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions are growing as rife as they had been two decades ago. From 16 August to 11 December 2015, curfews have been declared 52 times over 17 villages in seven administrative districts, most notably Diyarbakir and Mardin. Some towns and villages in the area have been declared “safe zones”, which is to say that they have been turned into military barracks. Schools have been closed, shops shut down and commerce and life in general has been paralysed. Gravediggers are having a field day.

Meanwhile, the ruling party’s mammoth propaganda machine is drumming up ultranationalist fervour. The irony of this is not lost on the many who recall that those in the seats of power today were, at the time of their meteoric rise, arch enemies of that trend. Today, their ultranationalist fanaticism outstrips that of the notorious Grey Wolves. The JDP and its founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan have struck up the four-part refrain: “One nation, one flag, one language, one state.” So much for cultural diversity.

In short, Turkey has been driven back to the 1990s and perhaps an even more extreme form of mentality that prevailed in power back then. Even the Milliyet, a newspaper that falls squarely in the pro-Erdogan camp, summoned the courage to voice a hint of criticism. The government was not giving the public sufficient information regarding the tragedy in southeast Turkey, especially in Diyarbakir and Mardin.

According to Cumhuriyet newspaper, the PKK has changed its tactics. It has moved out of the mountains and outskirts of the cities and into city centres, and instead of staging attacks against police posts, it is now waging urban guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately, the newspaper added sarcastically, instead of deploying its forces in these towns and cities, the government has sent its troops abroad, to Mosul for example.

In a similar spirit, Sözcü observed that the JDP government may have failed to assert its influence and power in neighbouring Syria but it has succeeded in imposing its might at home. Towards this end it has mobilised its “media pool”, which includes the national television and broadcasting organisation, to wage a pro-government propaganda campaign, a mission aided by the closure of numerous opposition newspapers, the imprisonment of more than 32 journalists and the elimination of political opponents. Nevertheless, the newspaper adds, the signs are that this government will not succeed in defeating terrorists or in purging the country of its militant Kurds.

 As though to pour more fuel on the fire, last Saturday a meeting that was scheduled for 30 December between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and PDP co-chairperson Selahattin Demirtaş was suddenly cancelled. A spokesman for the former stated that there was nothing to bring the two together at the same table. He added that Demirtaş had falsely accused the government of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds after thousands of troops have laid siege to five towns. The spokesman further accused the PDP leader of inciting hatred by advocating Kurdish self-rule and expanding the scope of popular resistance. What the spokesmen left unmentioned was what was probably the real motive for cancelling the meeting. Demirtaş had just visited Russia (which Ankara has recently added to its list of enemies) and met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

But there is a thread that winds its way throughout the events of the past six months. As bleak as the situation is, the president, his clique and his media pool have sustained a constant call to amend the country’s constitution in order to usher in a “presidential system”. In the eyes of current government, “peace can go to hell; what matters is power,” remarked Sezgin Tanrikulu, deputy chairman of the Republican People’s Party. He added that a kind of mandate has been imposed on the people and they are being dragged into very grim future.  

When it comes to the state of the country, the pro-Erdogan media uses a very different palette. Circumstances under the JDP’s exclusive management could not be rosier. Industrial production has increased and economic growth rates are climbing. So why, your average Turkish citizen may ask, is the value of our Turkish Lira plummeting? Why are the arrows on the Istanbul stock exchange pointing downwards? Why are there now more than three million unemployed? And last but not least, why has southeast Turkey been turned into a war zone?

With regard to that region, “no solution” appears to be the prevailing choice. Certainly there is no sign of an approaching end to the bloodbath, and the destruction and deprivation in many quarters of minimal infrastructural services. Thousands of people in southeast Anatolia face an unprecedentedly cold and brutal winter.

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