Great news for democracy in Turkey

July 31, 2008 at 9:44 am (AK Party, democracy, dtp, turkey, voltairespriest)

In a stunning reversal of every historical precedent, Turkey’s constitutional court has rejected a motion to ban the ruling AK Parti. More later, but for now let it suffice to say that I think this is a marvellous result for democratic politics in Turkey, which should be celebrated by all progressives and socialists. Let us hope that the forthcoming verdict on the left-wing DT Parti goes the same way.

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Democratic Society: not yet strangled

July 22, 2008 at 6:52 am (dtp, Human rights, left, turkey, Uncategorized, voltairespriest)

Demokratik Topllum PartisiInteresting summary in today’s Zaman of goings on at the congress of the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-Kurdish nationalist coalition in the Turkish parliament which is threatened by closure along with the ruling AK Partisi. It would seem that the party’s “moderates”, led by Ahmet Türk, have the leadership but have gotten it on the basis of an accommodation with more radical factions. It is pleasing to see such unity in the face of potentially devastating attack from the state.

Albeit deeply flawed, the DTP is the nearest thing in national level Turkish politics to a significant left-wing force. It is therefore an entity whose persecution should be of some concern to all progressive and left-wing people in the West who care about Turkey and its future. One would certainly hope that, even where people (wrongly in my view) might support the use of the Constitutional Court against the Islamist-descended AKP, they would at least stand in defence of a party explicitly set up to stand for progressive politics and Kurdish rights.

In particular, the discussion of the current Ergenekon investigations looks potentially revealing. Whilst many within the DTP (including Türk) see this as a welcome weeding-out of the “deep state” and therefore as a very real opportunity for a democratic polity to take greater hold over Turkey, others such as left-winger Emine Ayna see it as a “clash of powers” where two entrenched and reactionary sections of the ruling class tear at each other in a struggle for power over the oppressed mass. This is obviously a very fundamental difference of perspective, albeit one that appears for now to have been accommodated.

Who is right? Türk is certainly correct that the destruction of the shadowy ultra-nationalist networks which have been in evidence since the 1996 Susurluk incident can only be a good thing. But the real issue here is not simply those networks themselves, nor of some of the waffle that one reads from “left-wingers” in the UK suggesting that the AKP represents some (presumably progressive) surge of the oppressed classes against their rulers. The real question is which set of forces – the military with its historical allegiance to Kemalism or the AKP and their backers in the police – actually has the interests of the Turkish working classes at heart? The answer is clearly that neither does. Ergenekon and the “Ataturk Thought Association” (sponsors of massive pro-nationalist demonstrations over the weekend) represent an old order of ruling class in Turkey, and the AKP is now the party of neoliberalism. In that sense Emine Ayna and the DTP’s radicals are right – the left should have no trust in religious-political forces to deliver progressive change, even the more “moderate” religious parties such as the AKP. Erdogan is not a latter-day Khomeini, but neither is he a latter-day Nye Bevan.

All too often we on the left project a political template on to complex situations that bear no resemblance to that template. Both the “B52 Liberal” and cod-anti-imperialist tendencies (the latter being the SWP et al) in politics are guilty of this. Those templates inevitably skew our perception of the political realities faced by people in Turkey; fortunately the debates within organisations such as the DTP are there to correct us.

Long may they continue and Biji Kurdistan.

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Turkey: is this what democracy looks like?

July 6, 2008 at 9:48 am (AK Party, dtp, elections, fascism, politics, turkey, voltairespriest)

An interesting turn of events has recently happened in Turkey, where for months now the Constitional Court has been processing a case driven by hard-line nationalists for the closure of the ruling AK Parti and the banning of its leaders (including President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan) from political participation for five years. For those who may not know, it bears repeating that the AK Parti is a nominally Islamist reincarnation of the old (actually Islamist) Refah Parti which was led by veteran Turkish political-religionist Necmettin Erbakan. More to the point, it is the twice democratically elected government of Turkey, the last time by an overwhelming margin of the sort that would make Gordon Brown weep with envy. Having failed to defeat AK at the polls, the nationalist movement has sought recourse via the courts, also threatening to close the Kurdish dominated, leftist Demokratik Toplum Parti which did unexpectedly well at the last general elections. Of course, if this was Robert Mugabe we all know what western political parties would be saying, but coincidentally they’re strangely silent when it comes to a NATO member and strategic ally.

So that gives the background to the court case. Basically if it can be “proven” that the AK Parti actually has a political-Islamist agenda which runs contrary to the country’s Kemalist constitution or the colloquial litmus test of “Turkishness”, then in all likelihood the governing party will be shut down. Which, ironically, would be the first case of the west falling silent whilst a liberal, pro-EU Islamist party was replaced in a coup by a pro-Syria, pro-Iran, hard-right wing secularist opposition. There again, by the same coin it wouldn’t be the first time the army had revoked an election whose results it disapproved of, but it just might be the first time that the people would publicly disagree en masse with the coup.

Yet it would seem there’s a fly in the nationalists’ ointment. For many years now, stories have periodically surfaced about a political-military “deep state”, a shadowy ultra-nationalist network trying to orchestrate the course of Turkish political history from behind the scenes. Notably this network hit the mainstream media for a time following the 1996 Susurluk incident when evidence recovered from a car crash revealed clear connections between the right wing of Turkish nationalism and organised crime. Now it raises its head again in the shape of “Ergenekon”, a network dedicated to creating the conditions whereby the AK government would be so undermined that the army could remove it from office on the back of a wave of popular support. This would be backed up by assassinations of key liberal figures and usher in a new era of right-wing “Grey Wolf” style nationalism, forever changing the face of Turkish politics and that of the Anatolian region as a whole.

However, Ergenekon hit a stumbling block when its plans came to light, and now a massive counter-terrorism operation is in the process of detaining its leading figures, including former generals, far-right politicians – and lawyers. The use of the courts to stamp out oppostion was part of Ergenekon’s strategy, and the current AK case is only the latest of these. The arrest and trial of prominent liberals such as Orhan Pamuk (for acknowledging the 1917 Armenian Genocide) are previous examples of operations run by the shadowy network’s legal arm.

As a consequence of the raids, the government suddenly finds itself far less beleagured. The mainstream Kemalist opposition CHP finds itself with questions to answer as to whether any of its own leaders were aware of Ergenekon, and the far-right MHP emerges looking like the shabby bunch of fascists that it always was. An additional preceived moral authority is thus imparted to the AK Parti, making it far more difficult for a “conviction” to be fabricated.

What is interesting, is that it is highly unlikely Ergenekon could have been blown up so spectacularly without the consent of at least a section of the military establishment. It is possible that officers supportive of the (historically) left-nationalist CHP, whilst hostile to Erdoğan, were not prepared to stomach a far-right led coup, and therefore tacitly agreed to the raids going ahead. If that is the case then it can only be good news for democracy in Turkey.

From the perspective of left wing, progressive politics it is clear that neither faction is composed of our political friends. The idea of supporting a far-right takeover is so obviously ludicrous as not to deserve discussion. Also, the AK Parti is not in an of itself a progressive force. Whilst it has liberalised laws in parts of the country – in particular during Erdoğan’s first government, towards the Kurds – it has also shown itself to have a neoliberal economic agenda coupled with social policies that do on occasion verge on political-religious. I personally am far from convinced that Gül, in particular, has broken with his past as completely as his public persona would suggest, and it would be worth remembering that even Erdoğan has a relatively recent conviction (1998, served 4 months in jail) for incitement to religious hatred. Nevertheless the AK government was legitimately elected, and as such the left in the UK should support the will of the Turkish people in opposing the closure of the ruling party in any way that we can. Aside from anything else, stopping the closure might well set a liberalising precedent in which a genuine, pluralist left could thrive.

Furthermore the unveiling of Ergenekon merely goes to show what it at stake in Turkey. The one thing that unites the left is opposition to fascism, and this is an attempted fascist coup at its most raw. Let us hope that progressives in Turkey and across the world see it that way and prepare to fight.

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Turkish parliament liberalises headscarf laws

February 10, 2008 at 9:06 am (AK Party, chp, dtp, Islam, politics, students, turkey, voltairespriest)

PhotobucketIn a stunning victory for secularism and pluralism over the colonial-model state direction that has characterised social policy in the past, the AK Partisi majority in the Turkish parliament has voted to liberalise the law regarding the wearing of the headscarf in universities. The law, which amends the Turkish constitution in altering the state’s stance on the headscarf, will be signed by President Abdullah Gul and students will then have the right if they so choose to wear the headscarf whilst they study and move around campus.

One can imagine the responses to this, and apparently today we are now facing the spectacle of the nominally left-of-centre opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi and Demokratik Sol Partisi, lining up to organise protests. The CHP also intends to take the law to the Supreme Court of Appeals, whose new head has revealed attitudes which may indicate that he would look kindly on such an action.

It is also of note that the leftish, pro-Kurdish nationalist Demokratik Toplum Partisi actually gave some support to the AK government in the vote, thus scotching the notion that this was a case of an Islamic government simply steamrolling a secular opposition. The ultranationalist, far-right Milliyet Hareket Partisi (presumably for reasons of its own) also supported the AK government in the vote.

Personally, I think that the new law is a good thing. It is a common misconception on the left, one perpetuated by both sides in many of our debates about religion and law, that secularism equates with state-enforced bans on religious expression. In fact that is not what the term means and it never has done so. Secularism merely refers to equality of treatment under the law for those of all religions and none, and to non-religious control of the state. There is, therefore, no threat at all posed to secularism by a 21 year old woman wearing a headscarf whilst she attends lectures at the University of Istanbul. Rather, it is a welcome expression of those very freedoms that those of us who do call ourselves secularists on the basis of a proper understanding of the concept, hold so dear. For that reason I for one am pleased to see that a law has been passed which facilitates those freedoms, and I hope that others on the left will see the change in the same light.

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Turkey: Erdoğan’s Summer, Kurdish Dawn

July 23, 2007 at 7:34 am (AK Party, chp, dtp, elections, Free Speech, Human rights, kurdistan, national liberation, pkk, politics, turkey, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe people have spoken. Yesterday’s general elections in Turkey were nothing if not decisive. Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s mildly Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi increase its vote by almost 13% on the previous general election, taking more than 46% – a margin unheard of since the days of iconic 1980s Turkish leader Turgut Ozal. More significant than that, the new parliament will contain over 20 representatives from the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-nationalist Kurdish grouping that dominates politics in the south-east of the country. The former leader of the leftist Özgürlük ve Dayanısma Partisi, Ufuk Uras, was also elected on the DTP slate. The ability of Ahmet Türk’s party to beat off its previous excluded status (due to Turkey’s electoral system, which requires all parties to gain 10% of the vote to enter parliament even if they dominate a particular region, as the DTP does) came from its tactical decision to run all of its candidates as independents, and have them coalesce under a partisan banner only when they physically enter parliament. What is remarkable about the thawing of Turkish politics under the AKP, is that this appears at this stage to have been more or less universally accepted in political circles.

The fascist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi re-entered parliament on the back of a coalescing of the hard nationalist vote, but was held to third place and in reality saw its vote increase by less than 9%. After running a campaign overly focussed on Erdogan’s (and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s) wife’s choice of headwear, the main opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi took slightly below 20% of the vote, and will enter parliament in second place. Its useless, burned out and right-wing leader, Deniz Baykal, seems safe for now.

These elections marked a rejection of the ultra-nationalist surge which has recently enveloped the country, manifesting in its most extreme forms as the arrest of liberals such as Orhan Pamuk and the politically-motivated murder of figures such as Hrant Dink. Whilst the MHP did re-enter parliament, there was no tidal wave for the “Grey Wolves”, who could not even surpass the lacklustre CHP to become the main opposition. The new parliament will contain more leftish voices than any in decades, and will be dominated by the force that has liberalised relations within the Kurdish regions.

The result also also marks a rejection of the army as a force in politics, particularly given the bellicose noises made in recent months by Chief of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt. This can only be a good thing from the perspective of any democrat.

It is to be hoped that this will be a wake-up call to progressives and people on the left outside of Turkey, who now have in the DTP a genuinely liberationist force in national politics to which they can relate, as well as one which has a significant left wing of its own. In Turkey the usual choice posed by so many western “anti-imperialists”, whether to side with “pro-Western” governments or reactionary oppositions, does not apply. There is a political choice to be made here, and I hope for once that the left steps up to the plate.

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