Marxilainen Työväenliitto,
11.1.2008, 15.24


Turkish bombing of Northern Iraq: Turning point for Kurdish national struggle in Turkey

Written by Sungur Savran (*)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The bombing of the PKK camps in Northern Iraq by the Turkish air force on 16 December 2007 is the first major product of the U.S.-Turkish alliance against the Kurdish national movement sealed in the White House on 5 November 2007 between Bush and the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. It destroys a multitude of myths concerning U.S. policy vis-à-vis Turkey on the Kurdish question rampant within the Turkish left and the Kurdish movement. But it also symbolizes the opening up of a new period for the Kurdish national movement.

So much hysteria had been provoked for the last four years in Turkey regarding a supposed alliance between the U.S. and the PKK, the guerrilla movement that has been fighting for Kurdish national rights since 1984, that even the prime minister himself, a staunch ally of the U.S., threatened an end to the long established U.S.-Turkish alliance in October. The myth had been propagated by the fascist movement, pretending to be an anti-U.S. force in the name of Turkish national interests, and the so-called "nationalist left", a very wide array of political, intellectual and organisational forces posing as anti-imperialist while in effect pursuing a decidedly chauvinistic policy towards the Kurdish national cause. The White House talks on 5 November put an end to this entire hypocrisy. Bush declared the PKK to be an enemy of the U.S., promised real time intelligence to Turkey to help it in its planned attacks on Northern Iraq, and reined in the fiery reaction of the Kurdish leadership of Northern Iraq (Barzani and Talabani) in the face of prospective Turkish cross-border operations. The bombing of PKK bases and villages supposedly harbouring PKK guerrillas in Northern Iraq on 16 December was the first serious application of this new agreement. The chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces (TSK) took pains to emphasize the contribution of the U.S. to the operation, pointing out that not only had the U.S. provided intelligence, but it had also given Turkey clearance to enter Iraqi airspace. More symbolically, of the fighter jets used by Turkey to pound PKK targets, the F-4's had been modernised by Israel. One finds here, in almost pure expression, a front of the most reactionary forces active in the Middle East.

This development utterly destroys the painstakingly detailed myths constructed since the Iraq war of 2003 by the nationalist left and lays bare their hypocrisy. After all, the force that they had constantly cast as anti-imperialist and anti-U.S. and supported as against the semi-Islamic government, the TSK, is now collaborating on the battle field with the U.S.! So they are now finding themselves on the same side of the barricade as imperialism!

Unfortunately, the nationalist left and the fascists were not alone in painting this unreal picture in the period that extended between the Iraq war and the White House agreement. The Kurdish national movement itself built castles in the air trying to make believe that the U.S. had definitively opted for its new Kurdish allies in all countries of the Middle East, i.e. not only in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but also in Turkey. The idea was that unless Turkey stopped oppressing its Kurdish population, it would suffer the same fate as the three countries in question. This proposition, echoing the ideas of the nationalist left and the fascists from the other side of the barricade, was mistaken through and through. The other three countries in question had been dubbed as the "Axis of Evil" by Bush in the aftermath of 11 September, while Turkey was perhaps the single most important ally of the U.S. in the Middle East after Israel. With an army that ranks second in size only to that of the U.S. in NATO, with the most advanced capitalist economy of the region save Israel, with a secular regime cast in the Western mould, integrated in all the supranational institutions of the Western world and engaged in accession negotiations with the EU, hence to be presented as a role model to the Islamic world, Turkey is an indispensable ally for the U.S., especially in these times of war and conflict in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

We at Workers' Struggle have, all throughout these years, done the utmost to explain this simple fact to the Kurdish, socialist and workers' movements. The recent turn of events is a clear confirmation of the analysis we have made. The Kurdish movement and the rest have now to draw the conclusions of this state of affairs and rapidly realign their policies accordingly.

The Kurdish national movement between the hammer and the anvil

The White House agreement was, of course, not a one-way deal. In return for the support extended on its fight against the PKK, Turkey was convinced to change its orientation concerning the Iraqi Kurdish allies of the U.S. (We do not yet know what kind of dirty deal was made regarding Iran.) Since the early 1990s, when the U.S. made clear in the heat of the Gulf War that it was now turning to the Kurdish movement of Iraq as a new ally, an otherwise sound alliance between the U.S. and Turkey has been marred by the latter's unease at seeing the rise of an independent Kurdish political entity to its south. As we insisted from the early 1990s on, the U.S. solution to this thorny problem of contradictions between its two allies, Turkey and the Kurds of Iraq, was a new setup on the basis of which Turkey would be the protector of the new entity in return for economic and political advantages and assistance from the Kurdish leadership in Iraq in its quest to crush the PKK. There were many in the Turkish establishment who had already been won over to this idea. Yet the TSK, the most powerful actor of Turkish bourgeois politics, seemed aloof and distant. The White House agreement seems to have been a turning point in the wholesale conversion of the Turkish establishment to this U.S. solution. A striking sign is the amazing volte-face of the leader of the so-called social democrats of CHP (the Republican People's Party) immediately after the White House talks, suddenly discovering the necessity of good neighbourly relations with the Kurdish entity in Iraq, when he was only the day before heaping insults on Barzani and company. Although it is too early to say that the dice have been definitively cast, Turkey seems to be heading towards a kind of stance of "big brother" for Iraqi Kurdistan.

An extension of this change in Turkish policy regarding Iraqi Kurdistan seems to be a more subtle attitude towards the rank and file and the great mass of supporters of the PKK. The Turkish government seems to have secured the support of the TSK in following a double-pronged strategy. Along with the recourse to cross-border operations and a rise in militaristic hysteria, the government has been gradually disclosing a measure that could finally turn out to be an amnesty for thousands of rank and file guerrillas. This has been called a "project of fraternity" by the deputy prime minister, an amazing term that implicitly concedes that what is in question is not "terrorism", as the official line always has gone, but the vital question of the future of the relation between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. This kind of overture has its bases in the electoral success of AKP, the government party, in Kurdish provinces during the July elections. The AKP has now set its eyes on taking back the municipalities of big Kurdish cities, to start with Diyarbakir, from the DTP, the Kurdish Herri Batasuna, and is explicitly asking the rest of the establishment to support its bid. So the Kurdish question seems to have temporarily calmed down nerves in the political civil war of the two wings of the bourgeoisie, the Western-secularist and the semi-Islamist, which brought Turkey to the threshold of a military coup in spring 2007 over presidential elections. But temporary this will necessarily have to be, for the contradictions continue to simmer, especially over the new constitution proposed by the government and the question of the wearing of the Islamic headscarf at universities.

All in all, the Kurdish national movement is under attack from all sides. The EU, for years hypocritically supportive of Kurdish rights in Turkey, endorses the U.S.-Turkish attack. Having lined up with an impressive list of allies such as the U.S., the EU, and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, the Turkish state is attacking the Kurdish national movement from above and below, so to speak. While it tries to weaken the PKK militarily, it is also trying to break the morale of the rank and file and trying to convince them, through amnesty-like measures, to give up fighting and "return home". It is also attacking the DTP, thus leaving no ground for the movement for manoeuvre. The president of the party was arrested on returning to Ankara from a European tour on charges of fraud in order to avoid military service and was put into jail as a preventive measure, a scandal even in a country where preventive detention is commonly abused.

A whole period has come to an end for the Kurdish national movement. For years now it has been extending a hand to all kinds of reactionary forces, the U.S., the EU, the so-called "liberal" bourgeoisie of Turkey, the AKP, and the Kurdish bourgeoisie itself. All these forces have now turned their backs on the Kurdish cause, even the Kurdish bourgeoisie gradually dissociating itself from the movement. Workers' Struggle has been hammering in the idea that the only reliable ally of the oppressed Kurd in Turkey is the working class. Should the DTP deputies turn towards the working class and the toiling population and start using their parliamentary position to defend radically the working class from the unceasing onslaught of the bourgeoisie, the whole chemistry of the country might change. Until then difficult days will be in store both for the Kurdish cause and the Turkish socialist movement.

(*)Sungur Savran on Isci Mücadalesi -puolueen puheenjohtaja. IM (Työläisten Taistelu) on CRFI:n jaosto Turkissa

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