By Cihad Hammy
Following the failed coup attempt in July, Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, declared a state of emergency throughout Turkey. President Erdogan infamously called the failed coup a “gift from God”, setting a new stage in Turkey; the movement from being the Middle-East’s so-called “model democracy” to Islamo-Turkish fascism. This new stage manifests in shutting down all non-state media outlets, the crushing of all opponents – whether they were involved in the so-called “coup” or not.
Yet in arresting co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yuksekdag, and over 30 other representatives of the People’s Democratic Party (HPD), the Turkish state is attempting to do more than eliminate their parliamentary opposition. This sweep launches a dramatic assault on the world-historic political sphere that has been slowly emerging in Turkey for decades. What are the consequences of such an action?
HDP and the Political Sphere
According to Hannah Arendt, Murray Bookchin, and Abdullah Ocalan the original meaning of politics in its classic Hellenistic sense is a creative way in which people can self-manage their lives within the community. The ‘political sphere’ is the space where people run their daily lives outside of the centralized nation-state. The focus of this kind of politics is the quality of life, a world in which citizens can directly determine their life in a free and ethical way. This kind of politics is in sharp contrast with statist politics which function only as affairs of the state; a method of social manipulation and techniques for engineering human consent and control.
Chaia Heller, a feminist and social ecologist, in her book Ecology of Everyday Life, defines the political sphere as “the space in which we assert ourselves publicly as managers of our own community affairs. It is the space in which we discuss, decide upon, and carry out the public policies which give form to social and political practices in our communities.”
The HPD, which garnered 5 million votes in Turkey’s snap-election and 6 million in the 7 June election before the siege of Kurdish cities, is engaged in parliamentary politics to push the state to embrace democracy. However, perhaps more importantly, the HPD works with citizens at the grassroots level to democratize Turkey and run their daily affairs. For this reason, the HDP has declared it is ceasing all activity in the Parliament and returning to work at the grassroots level.
Yet, more significantly the HPD is a part of a longer historical project to create a political sphere in Turkey. The HPD is part of an on-going attempt to construct an authentic political sphere in southeast Turkey (Kurdish region) that includes the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) as well. This political sphere is centred on the principles of ecology feminism, peace, equality, and freedom. Despite the immense difficulties posed by the Turkish state’s repression, the HPD has tried to deepen political consciousness and put its values and principles into practice not just for the Kurds, but for all of Turkey.
The kind of politics that the HPD is struggling to achieve is creative. It empowers people to think, work and struggle for what ought to be, not what is within the current society in Turkey. Their philosophy of “self-management” is rooted in the people themselves and based on their empowerment through participatory democratic institutions.
In addition to creating the political sphere, the HPD serves an incredibly important function for peace and stability in Turkey. The war between the Turkish state and the PKK has cost more than 40 thousand lives from both sides since it began three decades ago. This war has recently moved from the cities back to rural areas and has reached a level of intensity that rivals the 1990s. The HPD is the only legal mediation between the two sides. It is the only political party with a project for a resolution to the Kurdish question and also represents a third political way that can engage with both PKK and state actors.
However, the Turkish state has shown once again with recent arrests that it is not sincere in solving the Kurdish question. HDP co-chair Demirtas emphasized, “Whatever the conditions, we will continue our democratic struggle. We will continue to repeat our calls for peace”. But it seems that the Turkish state has decided on a policy that wants to silence these calls. The AKP and Erdogan’s alliance with the ultra-nationalist MHP is another nail in the coffin of peace and proof that dark times lie ahead. Although fascism leads to irrational and unthinkable acts make no mistake that this is a conscious policy.
Following the failed coup the AKP-Erdogan and their supporters argued that the putschists had wanted to destroy the “democracy” in Turkey. The argument that the putschists had tried to topple a democratically elected government through armed means was oft used. However the AKP has not refrained from using its monopoly on violence, the judiciary and law in destroying and crushing democracy by imprisoning elected HDP deputies. In this sense the AKP has become a “legitimate” putschist. HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, in a message via his lawyer called this “a different stage of the coup” led by the government and palace (Erdogan). The arrest of HDP MPs and thousands of HDP and DBP members means an end to democratic politics and the destruction of the political sphere created by the HDP. This, not incidentally, is the only way the ruling government-Erdogan can keep a hold on power and push through an executive presidential system that aims to guarantee the rest of Erdogan’s life as Turkey’s new ‘chief’, replacing former chief Kemal Ataturk.
Of course it was a process that brought us to this point and it must be kept in mind that the Turkish state could not have simply arrested democratically-elected political leaders without the consent and tacit-support of international capitalist forces led by the US and NATO. For the last two years, these powers turned a blind eye to the massacres and politicide now committed by the Turkish state against the Kurds on a regular basis. Support for Kurdish forces in Rojava-Northern Syria Federation to defeat the Islamic State has come at a price for Kurds in Turkey-Bakur. The aim of these forces is to uproot the revolutionary politics in the country. It is a kind of infanticide, to kill this powerful model of people’s management before it grows. Fascism can easily grow in a political desertification in which people are disempowered in running their lives through face-to-face politics in decentralist and confederalist institutions. Turkey is not only doing this for its own political interests, but also for the interests of capital and the powerful states controlling capital.
The relationship between freedom and domination is dialectical; between repression and resistance lies an on-going conflict that persists throughout history. In Turkey today, this tension is very apparent. As Michel Foucault so eloquently put in his book A History of Sexuality, “Where there is power, there is resistance.” In Bakur (North Kurdistan), the Kurdish people have their own means of expressing this, “The more you become ISIS, the more we become Kobane.” This slogan reflects the core of resistance in Bakur. The more the Turkish state tries to dominate the Kurdish people, the more they will resist.
By imprisoning HDP deputies and thousands of activists, the Turkish state believes it will be able to crush the democratic Kurdish resistance. This policy will only lead to a cul-de-sac, something recent history and memory shows us to be true. This is not the first time Kurdish politicians are being imprisoned. In 1993 Kurdish representatives from the People’s Labour Party (HEP), including Leyla Zana and Hatip Dicle were imprisoned for 10 years. During the same years thousands of villages were razed to the ground and millions of people displaced. However, this only strengthened the Kurdish movement in all spheres. Despite the abduction of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, which ended this period of history, the Kurds, with Ocalan’s ideological leadership from prison, restructured and recreated their movements to become one of the most progressive in the Middle East.
In Ocalan’s case and in the general case of the Kurdish movement, prisons have become a sphere of resistance that sets an example for other revolutionary movements across the world. Kurds have never forgotten that the founders of the PKK sparked the fire of revolution in Diyarbakır Prison. The story of Mazlum Doğan and his friends has become a collective memory. Only a few days ago Zehra Epli (Zeynep Sason), a member of the Free Woman Party of Kurdistan (PAJK), set herself on fire in Gebze prison in Turkey’s west to protest the Turkish government’s war against Kurds. A message from imprisoned HDP MP Selma Irmak echoed this call to resistance, “The resistance will continue, our people will resist outside, and we will resist here. Prisons have [always] been our second address,” she said. There are now tens of protests across the globe every day for an end to the state’s policies and the release of all political prisoners.
The destruction of the political sphere and democratic politics in Turkey-Bakur will have consequences that go beyond Turkey’s borders. Recent developments have already set off a new wave of resistance and revolutionary thought across Kurdistan, uniting people in their support for the HDP but also consolidating the HDP’s philosophy. Thousands came out onto streets in the four parts of the Kurdistan to demand the release of HDP MPs. This claim to the political will and sphere traversed even the Kurdish regions and found voice in streets from Europe to Afghanistan to Japan.
As Osman Baydemir, another HDP MP stated following the arrests: “This is my call to president Erdogan. Whether you detain or arrest us even if you put us in a vice and cut us into pieces, we will never give up our demand for freedom, as people and as loyal servants to these people. Under no circumstance will we ever, ever give up”.
The Kurds of Turkey-Bakur are one and the same with the people who defeated ISIS in Kobane and elsewhere. This is not because they are the same ethnicity, but because they are empowered by the same philosophy. Once their free will has been sparked, it cannot be uprooted.
This philosophy, centred around the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, has the potential to bring about democracy, peace and stability, secularism, gender equality, political pluralism, and freedom not for Turkey-Bakur but also for the entire Middle East.