“One Nation, One People, One Flag, One State!”
This was the chant shouted by thousands in Ankara as Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated his coronation as the Sultan of a revived Ottoman Empire. Yes, it may have taken place under the guise of a new executive presidential system in the Turkish Republic, but to those who have been following the country’s swift descent into authoritarianism, the parallels to the fallen empire of a century ago are all too apparent.
Long before the votes were even counted, the posters celebrating his victory had been printed. Before it was even certain that a run-off vote wouldn’t be necessary, he had taken to the podium in front of a massive crowd of adoring supporters to announce a new era in Turkey’s history.
That this was no ordinary election is without question. Initially scheduled for November 2019, Erdogan’s decision to move forward the vote by almost a year and half indicated just how emboldened his Justice & Development Party (AKP) felt by the events of the failed putsch of the summer of 2016.
The massive purges of Kemalists, Gulenists, socialists, and just about anybody deemed to be an enemy of the AKP’s agenda was paradoxically hailed by Erdogan as a means of protecting and enriching the country’s democracy.
The coup was the perfect opportunity for the aspiring Sultan to work toward consolidating his power. It was in effect his version of the Reichstag fire. Now two years later, the whole of the country is on the verge of being ungulphed in flames, even if the polls present the mirage of a functioning democracy.
The AKP-MHP Fascist Alliance
Erdogan and the AKP haven’t acted alone in their mission to bring about a new Ottoman entity. There has long been a tacit alliance between Erdogan’s party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an organization so fascistic in its ideology that it would certainly bring comfort to the ghosts of Hitler and Mussolini.
The MHP’s Grey Wolves paramilitary is an appendage of the Turkish state’s military in the manner in which it deals with dissenters to the ‘one nation, one people’ notion so wrapped up with Turkish nationalism.
The AKP-MHP alliance was solidified for this election, as the two parties ran under the banner of the ‘People’s Alliance’. One would be keen to know precisely what ‘people’ they consider to be their own, given the wave of violence they have inflicted on so many across the country, particularly minorities such as Kurds in the southeast.
The danger now looms of a possible permanent AKP-MHP alliance in the form of a united political party. The irony here is that the Erdoganists are more aligned with Islamism than the secular Kemalism which they often wage ideological battles against, most notably in the form of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). In fact, it’s worth mentioning that the MHP was founded by those who believed the CHP had drifted too far from the principles of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
This may seem perplexing at first glance, but a fundamental point of unity between these forces is clear. Whether ‘nationalist’ or ‘Islamist’, secular or theocratic, when it comes to the Kurdish question, these forces are aligned. Again, ‘one nation, one flag’ reigns supreme. In that sense, their fascist credentials and views are shared.
What About the Secular Opposition?
This brings us to the question of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and their role in the election. The CHP is both the oldest party in Turkey, as well as the country’s principle opposition force, although the way they have navigated the political terrain vis-à-vis Erdogan in the aftermath of the coup has left many skeptical about employing language like ‘opposition’ to refer to the party.
In the weeks following the 2016 coup attempt, the CHP happily shared stages with Erdogan and other AKP leaders to celebrate the fact that democracy had supposedly been salvaged in the country.
Although they now decry ‘one-man rule’ coming to Turkey and vow to fight for a return to their lost secular dream, their Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince also said plainly the evening after the vote, "Of course this was not a fair election, but I admit that Erdogan has won." One has to wonder if a genuine opposition pole can really be born from such a passive voice.
The CHP formed the Nation Alliance for this election as a front to counter the AKP-MHP electoral list. The alliance was one which the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had expressed interest in joining in order to prevent the Erdogan coronation as head of a new executive system. The HDP was ultimately blocked from joining by right-wing forces in the alliance who consider them to be ‘terrorists’, precisely the same word the state uses to refer to them.
Although the CHP’s candidate Ince had visited HDP leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas in prison – a move which led Erdogan to say he was visiting (surprise, surprise) a ‘terrorist’ – he has also said he never advanced the slogan of calling for Demirtas’ freedom.
One has to wonder what exactly the CHP are opposed to in terms of the current direction of the Turkish state. Many Kurdish voters would have found the prospect of voting for a Kemalist in a run-off between Ince and Erdogan out of the question. After all, wasn’t it the CHP responsible for the ‘one nation, one state’ ideology to begin with that Erdogan has upheld and ran with?
Although there may be some scope for an anti-Erdogan alliance under certain conditions (as could be seen during the constitutional referendum when the CHP and HDP both pushed for a ‘no’ vote), would the CHP being back in power actually stop the genocidal policies inflicted upon the country’s Kurdish population? History seems to say no.
HDP: A Glimpse of Hope and Resistance
"You may have stolen the ballot box but the future is ours" is a slogan that has been seen sprayed on walls across the Kurdish lands of the Turkish state in the days following the election.
Undoubtedly, the fact that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has made it into Parliament once again despite the violent methods employed by the AKP and its supporters, the Grey Wolves, and the other fascistically minded opponents of pluralism and democracy is one of the few positives to come out of the snap election.
Erdogan made it clear that for him one of the most important aspects of his campaign was ensuring the HDP couldn’t cross the ridiculously high 10 percent threshold needed for Parliamentary representation. In a closed speech to AKP cadres on June 9th which was later leaked, Erdogan said, “if the HDP falls below the election threshold it would mean that we would be in a much better place.” He was then seen telling party members they should conduct “special work” to prevent this from happening. Days later, three HDP voters were murdered in Suruc. It isn’t at all a far-fetched proposition to believe that this was an example of the “special work” advocated by Erdogan.
The campaign of Selahattin Demirtas, which was a battle waged from a prison cell, became a source of profound inspiration and pride for not only the Kurdish populace, but those across the country of many nationalities who saw in the HDP candidate the potential of a radically different future that had been caged. He was in many ways the concentrated form of crushed ideals that had not yet been killed. In him, there was still hope for the whole of the Republic.
From Afrin to Qandil: An Attempt At Genocide
War propaganda played an indispensable role in the AKP-MHP election campaign. The rhetoric employed by Erdogan was inextricably tied to the Turkish military’s operation in Syria, quite absurdly dubbed Operation Olive Branch.
With the occupation of Afrin achieved by Turkish military forces and their ‘Free Syrian Army’ proxies in March, a further emboldened Erdogan felt the groundwork had been laid in order to call the election rather quickly thereafter. Had his forces have continued to have been bogged down in Afrin – where they initially struggled to advance for a considerable period of time against the People’s & Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) -- there is little doubt the election would never have been called.
With his apparent victory in Afrin, Erdogan seems to have become a bit dizzy with success, or at least the notion of it, claiming that soon the Turkish military will march on Manbij, Kobane, Qamishlo, and simultaneously on the Kurdish region of Iraq where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is based in the Qandil mountains.
It’s laughable that the Turkish state says with all seriousness that this is simply a campaign against ‘terrorism’ and isn’t directed at Kurdish identity and the prospect of a truly democratic society emerging in neighboring states.
Afrin was in many ways the primary success story of the Syrian civil war. The city and surrounding canton comprised a thriving and peaceful region in which refugees from all across the country came to live. Now, the flourishing grassroots democracy that had existed there has been replaced with a governance based on the same retrograde principles that the Islamic State had fought for, which is hardly a surprise given the ties that have existed between the Turkish state and Salafist groups throughout the course of Syria’s conflict.
If it can be said that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 gained steam among a sector of the U.S. population for its ‘American exceptionalism’ that emphasized the prospect of literally destroying other countries, it’s clear that Erdogan’s go-to message – as that of other chauvinist candidates in the Turkish Republic’s past – was the obliteration of the Kurdish nation. Even if framed as an ‘anti-terror’ campaign or ‘anti-PKK’ struggle, the message was the same as always – those outside the framework of the ‘one nation, one state’ formulation had to be dealt with.
Where Is the Resistance?
To say that fascism has reared its ugly head in Turkey may be an expression delivered far too late at this point. Some would argue that the history of the Republic has validated the thesis that the state has had at least fascistic characteristics from the onset of its existence in 1923. The national question remains the most burning and important question in modern-day Turkey.
This is what makes the conversation about ‘what kind of resistance’ is being waged against Erdogan’s government so important. Are we merely talking about a return to the pre-AKP and pre-executive system? That may satisfy the Kemalists. But how could it possibly satisfy a Kurdish population that have never been equal citizens in this state for nearly a century?
In this sense, the existence of the Kurdish Freedom Movement is indispensable. After all, that movement is not merely about the liberation and freedom of the Kurdish masses anymore. At this point, it also shows the greatest potential for the multi-ethnic unity of the republic’s nationalities, as well as for the radical democratization of society which can lead the way to a much brighter future for Turkey as a whole.
Erdogan may have won this time around. Afrin may have fallen temporarily. The democratic forces of the Kurdish movement may be under what seems like permanent attack. But if history has taught us one absolutely crucial lesson, it’s that the power of the people always has the ability of throw fascism into the dustbin of history.