Coup and Counter Coup IV The Kurdish issue in Turkey

Previous parts here, here and here. As mentioned in the last post, in the immediate post coup atmosphere President Erdoğan appeared to have the support of some significant part of Kemalist (as in Kemal Atatürk who shaped the Turkish republic with reference to secularism, modernisation, national sovereignty and statism) opinion, the more hard core part, seeing shared enemies in both violent Kurdish separatists and Gülenist (members of a religious community, see previous posts) infiltrators into the state apparatus. The return of PKK (the Kurdish acronym for Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) violence against state forces and civilians (the latter largely undertaken by the Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan, TAK in the Kurdish acronym, a product of the PKK) in the summer of 2015 already placed the AKP, hardcore Kemalists, and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, rooted in a ‘Grey Wolf’ or ‘Idealist’ ideology of absolutist state nationalism and Pan-Turkism) on the same side advocating a militant response including support for the army-led destruction of whole urban areas in PKK strongholds in the southeast. Previously the latter two groups had regarded the AKP as treasonous for holding talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder-leader of the PKK, fearing a federalised Turkey with a southeast federal region under strong PKK influence. The talks were not at all public, no attempt was made to prepare public opinion for possible evolution in the Turkish state tradition, or to hold any kind of open discussion on the issues at stake.

The talks collapsed with Öcalan returned to strict prison conditions. Despite the MHP and hardcore Kemalist fears about federalisation on PKK terms, it seems likely that Erdoğan never intended more than token concessions to Kurdish identity and autonomy for the southeast, in exchange for operating for the PKK and a party with a common origin as an external support of the AKP. The party which has a common origin with the PKK is DBP (Turkish acronym for Democratic Regions Party) and the umbrella party it formed to accommodate small leftist groups (which don’t have specific Kurdish origins). It appears that the DBP hardcore does not like accommodating non-Kurds so the survival of HDP is not guaranteed. It poses a very happy image to leftist educated Turks, of interest in social liberalism, minority rights and left socialist policies. This reflects a historical feeling of marginalisation, because the CHP (Republican People’s Party: Kemalist/social democratic something like the French Socialist Party in merging Jacobin, social democratic and socialist traditions) is seen as too nationalist and not ‘really’ leftwing.

It tells you something about Turkish politics that there are people who insist that HDP is not leftwing despite its obvious leftwing policies and roots in the Maoist orientation of the PKK. This insistence is rooted in the belief that all left polices must be non-ethnic, that raising ethnic issues is inherently divisive and chauvinistic, reflecting of course a blindness to how some people experience the Turkish state as unaccommodating of, and even hostile to, expressions of identity by those people in Turkey who have a first language, and associated culture, other than Turkish. The Maoist and terrorist origins of the main expressions of Kurdish autonomy politics supports that majoritarian blindness and even chauvinism. Clearly they feed off each other.

The HDP has been turned into an effectively semi-legal party since the summer of 2015, which is not the right state reaction from the point of view of constitutional democracy and individual liberty. However, the HDP has to some degree brought this on itself, because while condemning the acts of terror directed from mountains in Iraq by the current PKK leader Cemil Bayık, it has never rejected the PKK as such, treating Öcalan as the symbolic leader of Kurds in Turkey, and adhering to a political rhetoric of ‘autonomy’ shared with the PKK.

The government has now used the state of emergency to take over the administration of all HDP led local government, that is local government throughout the southeast, appointing ‘trustees’ to run these municipalities. All media with an HDP orientation has been closed down and blocked online if based abroad.

Accusations have been made of the HDP using local government as infrastructure and a source of money for the PKK. This has yet to be proven in court. If it was, we would certainly have to consider the HDP to have taken a very bad path. As things stand, this has not been proven and the persecution of HDP politicians along with the takeover of HDP municipalities is highly premature, serving political power goals and grossly overriding any idea that guilt only exists if and when proven in court, preferably with judges under less political pressure than is the case at present in Turkey.

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Coup and Counter Coup III (Gülenists and Kemalists)

My last post established the party structure in Turkey. The flow of events since the attempted coup of fifteenth July and the emergency regime instituted on twentieth July is that of a government assault on opposition. Democracy as liberal democracy continues to give way to illiberal majoritarianism. Liberal democracy has never existed in its purest form in Turkey, but there was more of it ten years ago and it looks like becoming further diluted. Initial indications that the state of emergency would be three months only, rather than the constitutionally allowed maximum of six months have been undermined by constant renewal with no debate and no indication of when the renewals will end.

When the AKP first came to power its campaign materials included claims that it would end the use of the state of emergency as a tool of government. A long period of emergency rule in the southeast (that is where ethnic Kurds are a majority) had only recently ended. The AKP is now the party that has turned the state of emergency into a permanent state tool for the whole of Turkey. If it ends, it will only be if next month’s referendum gives President Erdoğan the further powers he is seeking, and he sees that as sufficient to compensate for the loss of emergency powers. The ‘presidential’ regime proposed, in reality a regime of elective authoritarianism with an enfeebled National Assembly and judiciary, would turn some emergency powers, particularly rule by decree with the force of law, into ‘normal’ practices.

Not only was the three month period of state of emergency a mislead to dissipate any opposition to the emergency regime, it was dishonestly presented as purely a means to crack down on the Gülenists (followers of the religious community leader Fetullah Gülen who lives in the United States) involved in the coup attempt. The investigation of the coup quickly turned into broad persecution of any associate of the Gülen movement, along with any one connected with Kurdish autonomy movements and the far left in general.

Anyone too loudly questioning the government’s methods, going back to criticisms during the night of the coup with regard to using the mosques to call people to protest and encouraging civilians to put themselves in danger at such protests (hundreds did die), or the mob violence atmosphere of that night, has been accused of Gülenism and been persecuted. Persecution has taken the form of loss of employment, arrest, detention and prison sentences, all relying on emergency powers. Opponents of the AKP have been very willing to believe accusations of Gülenism and to ignore, or downplay, the injustices taking place.

The role of the Gülenists in the coup is debated, though mostly outside Turkey. Most people in Turkey, including myself, have observed the power and ruthlessness of the group, and do not see another plausible candidate. If the idea of a Gülenist conspiracy seems like conspiracy theory, there are real conspiracies and only conspiracy theory could explain why the coup is believed to be Gülenist, if it is not true there has been a Gülenist conspiracy. It was pointed out years ago by the well known Turkish-American economist and Harvard professor Dani Rodrik that Gülenist police, prosecutors and judges had falsified evidence of an army coup with civilian collaborators and given long jail sentences, enabling officers to rise up who participated in the July coup attempt. Ahmet Şik, a journalist now in prison, wrote a well known  book exposing the Gülenists in their infiltration and manipulation of the state and was imprisoned himself now. Amongst the twisted actions of the emergency empowered states, Şik has now been imprisoned on charges of Gülenism.

Maybe other malcontents including some hardcore Kemalists participated, but the initial reaction of hard core Kemalists after the coup was to support Erdoğan. In one case this appears to have meant a radical move from complete opposition to Erdoğan to complete support. That is Doğu Perinçek, one of the most extraordinary characters in Turkish politics, a marginal figure in prison under more than one regime, who has never gained real electoral support who nevertheless finds his way to the centre of events. Perinçek has renamed his ‘Workers Party’, ‘Nation Party’ and may have acted as a contact with Putin through Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian nationalist thinker who enjoys an ambiguous relationship with the Russian President. Perinçek is a novelistic parody of a Kemalist who somehow found his way into real life. He does act as a point of reference for an ‘anti-imperialist’, that is anti-American and anti-EU form of Kemalism, which sees the Baath party (that is the authoritarian pan-Arabist ‘Renaissance’ party of the Assad regime in Syria and in the past of the Saddam regime in Iraq) as a natural ally.

Less colourful characters in the army with comparable views, who were sacked or retired during the faked trials orchestrated by the Gülenists, have come back apparently working with Erdoğan on a Eurasian perspective, as an alternative to the EU and Nato. This position existed in some senior army people before the AKP came to power, though the overall army line was to support NATO and the application process for the EU. The alliance with Putin is now looking ragged, as the Russian troops are clearly co-operating with a Kurdish group in Syria, PYD, defined as terrorist partners of the PKK by the Turkish government. The immediate atmosphere in July and soon after pushed some significant proportion of Kemalists towards Erdoğan as an enemy of their two old enemies: Gülenists and the PKK. The mainstream inheritor of the Kemalist legacy, the CHP, has continued to oppose Erdoğan and the emergency regime, even if rather cautiously and in fear of persecution if they go ‘too far’.

(A discursive approach is taking over from narration of events and future posts will probably proceed in the same way as I try to build a rounded account of Turkey since July 2016, with some historical background. The next post should give some account of other aspects of Kemalist legacy along with the polarisations the AKP seeks and uses to maintain its position.)

Coup and Counter Coup in Turkey II (Immediately after the coup and party politics)

Continuing from here. President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan proclaimed a state of stare of emergency on the evening of twentieth July 2016. He preceded that announcement by asking his audience, the Council of Ministers, for a round of applause for the opposition parties in the National Assembly, because they had opposed the coup. On the night of the coup (fifteenth to sixteenth July), deputies from all parties sheltering in a basement of the National Assembly, while it was under attack from fighter jets, drew up an anti-coup proclamation. Erdoğan also dropped a large number of cases for ‘insulting the President’ as a good will gesture. This generosity to the opposition did not last long, though there appears to have been at least one further disingenuous conversation. Apparently Erdoğan told the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, about this time that he was unaware that the opposition received a fraction of the coverage on state television of that enjoyed by the government party and thought this should change. Of course the situation has not changed and the government has intensified its efforts to weaken opposition in every way. Prosecutions for insulting the President have continued and often lead to imprisonment, even for legal juveniles.

An account of the political parties in Turkey, along, with some political history, is advisable here so that readers can follow political events. The governing party is the AKP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Justice and Development Party. It has centre right, religious conservative, Ottomanist, and nationalist components. The first component has evidently declined over the years and the hardcore was always driven by the three other components. At one time it presented itself as more liberal, pro-EU and sympathetic to Kurdish rights than the other parties. It now clearly occupies contrary positions.

The leading opposition party is the CHP standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Republican People’s Party. It was founded by Kemal Atatürk in 1919 (though at one point as the People’s Party) and is Turkey’s oldest party. It has social democratic, left nationalist/sovereigntist and secularist components. As the party of Atatürk it is associated with the elites (Kemalist elites referring to Atatürk’s first name Kemal, which was his second name, but not family name until he instituted family names for Muslims) and maintained it as a secularist nation state until the AKP came to power in 2002. However, the CHP was only in government for ten years after 1950, so is associated more with a permanent ‘Kemalist’ state elite rather than government.

The third party in the National Assembly is the HDP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of People’s Democratic Party. It is itself an umbrella party for an alliance of the BDP (Democratic Regions Party), which is based in the Kurdish southeast, with a number of small Turkish leftist parties and activist groups. It is very socialist and socially liberal in orientation though some of its base is non-leftist Kurds, including major land owning families who support BDP-HDP as a Kurdish party rather than a socialist or socially liberal party.

The fourth party in the National Assembly is the MHP, standing for the Turkish language equivalent of Nationalist Action (or Movement) Party. It goes back to the sixties and is largely what its name suggests, an ultranationalist party which has a an aggressive and even violent hard core base of support. It’s nationalism mixes ethnic Pan-Turkism (referring to Turkish peoples in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia), Ottomanism, and Atatürkism (which on the whole bases nationalism on identity and culture rather than ethnic origin). Religious identity plays a role, but the MHP defines itself as following secularist republicanism. This is interesting tension with the party symbol, which is an Ottoman grouping of three red crescent moons, but that is in the nature of the MHP.

Both the AKP and MHP have a base in Turkish nationalism and Sunni Islam. The AKP has had Kurdish support but has largely lost this as it emphasises nationalism along with state action against Kurdish radicals more. The Sunni identity is partly promoted in contrast with the Alevi population. Alevis are the largest religious minority in Turkey. Defining Alevism is itself contentious, but it can be said to be either a branch of, or related to, Shia Islam, the main alternative to Sunnism within Islam as a whole. It maybe resembles Ismaili Islam, as in the community led by the Aga Khan. Christian and Jewish groups constitute no more than 0.2% of the population. At least since the sixties it has been identified with the left and with secularism, reinforcing traditional Sunni suspicions amongst religious conservatives of supposed heresy and deviant practices of various forms. The CHP core vote includes Alevis, who are otherwise likely to support HDP. The AKP and MHP support is concentrated in the central areas of Anatolia (the main land mass of Turkey), those parts of Istanbul where there has been most immigration from Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast. The CHP is geographically concentrated in Thrace (the Balkan part of Turkey) and the Aegean coast. These geographical distinctions, which of course conceal a great deal of detailed mixture at the local level, coincide with the political distinctions in which the AKP and MHP represent the most Turkish traditional and Muslim parts of heartland Turkey, while the HDP represents the Kurdish population of the southeast, and the CHP represents the more western and European oriented parts of Turkey.

The electoral threshold to enter the National Assembly is ten percent and all parties other than the four above get some mere fraction of one percent. The only party with some kind of classical liberal or libertarian foundation is the Liberal Democrat Party, which gets a small fraction of one percent.

I have tried to be concise in this summary of party politics in Turkey, but have still taken up the space of a reasonably sized post. I will return very soon to recent and current political events very soon, to be followed by some deeper history.

Coup and Counter Coup in Turkey (first of a series of posts on Turkey since 15th July 2016 and background topics)

On July 15th 2016, a group of army officers up to at least the Brigadier General (one star general) level attempted to seize control of the Turkish state. On the morning of the 20th it was evident that the coup had collapsed though the government, along with its allies in the media, social media, think tanks and so on was eager to promote the idea of an unended coup which might spring back into life, like the villain in a horror film, at any moment over a long indefinite period of time. No follow-up coup materialised. The most that can be said for that unending coup mentality was that it is difficult to know how much of the army would have gone over if the coup organisation had captured or killed President Erdoğan. What the never-ending coup claims achieved was to legitimise and mobilise paranoia, intolerance, and authoritarian state reactions with regard to anyone who might be in opposition to the Erdogan/Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The overwhelming feeling among government supporters and opponents on the 21st was that the coup was instigated by followers of Fetullah Gülen, a religious leader who went into exile before the AKP came to power in 2002. His followers control an international network of businesses, banks, schools, and media organisations. They carefully targeted the most sensitive areas of state employment in Turkey with the goal of creating a Gülenist dominated state and were aided in this enterprise by the AKP governments who wanted a network to rival the ‘Kemalists’, relatively secular people in the state, business, media, and educational sectors. Their relationship broke down in 2013 for reasons which are inevitably obscure at present, but appear to arise from the conflicting extreme ambitions for absolute power on both sides.

The coup may have been joined by Kemalists and the coup organisers gestured towards this position when a television announcement proclaimed that the coup council name referred to a well-known slogan of Kemal Atatürk, ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. Kemalism of course refers to the ideology of secularist nationalist republicanism endorsed by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. I will return to this topic in a later post, but in brief Kemalism of some kind – and there are many kinds and many grey areas – was the dominant influence in the army and allied parts of the state until recently. It is roughly analogous to the Jacobin tradition in France and in the same way has referred both to popular sovereignty and vanguardism. There are some who promoted the idea in the past that Kemalism was the problem and the AKP was the solution, and they are having difficulty in not seeing the 15th July Coup attempt as at least a Gülenist-Kemalist partnership. However, there is no evidence that Kemalists participated in any more than an individual ad hoc basis. Indeed after the 15th, retired generals associated with Kemalism were called back into service, in a process which now seems to have ended Kemalist sympathy for Erdoğan as a bulwark against the Gülenists and the PKK (socialist-Kurdish autonomy guerrilla/terrorist group), which intensified its activities in the summer of 2015.

Vast waves of arrest began after the coup attempt, which, unlike the coup itself, have not ended. For the first wave of arrests it was just about possible to believe they were genuine attempts to find coup plotters, but it quickly became apparent that the scope of arrests was much wider. President Erdoğan announced soon after the coup attempt that it was a gift of God and showed how he wanted to use this gift on July 20th, when he proclaimed a state of emergency. The state of emergency has become the means for Erdoğan to purge and punish tens of thousands who have no connection with the coup. The AKP supporters who obsessed about the follow-up coup were right, but the follow-up coup came from their own side. The state of emergency is the real coup, though it is also just a moment in the process of the creation of an AKP-Erdoğanist state, designed to facilitate what appears to be Erdoğan’s final goal (though maybe there will be others later): the creation of an extreme version of the presidential political system in which the head of state is more an elected dictator than the head of a system of checks and balances under law. More soon.

Hating Energy Dependence, Not Loving Energy Independence

I have been working on this piece since November 30th. I wrote the bulk of it on the first day, and most editing since has been cosmetic. It is related to a project I am helping a friend with, although that is not the reason I wrote it. I don’t often blog about things that recently happened, and when I do bring up current events it is usually in a very general way. The same is true about this post as well. Still, gas prices have been falling, where I’m located at least, ever since before Thanksgiving. A gallon of regular has been stuck at $2.94 for a week or more now and I begin to wonder if they’re not ready to go back up again. Mentioning that is the best I can do to tie to any recent goings-on to the material below, which I hope you, the reader, enjoy, as it is my very first official Notes on Liberty contribution. Thanks again, Brandon, et al.

What’s so bad about Energy Dependence?

Contrary to what one might be led to think, energy independence need not be the opposite of energy (inter)dependence. Likewise, contrary to what many advocates of free markets and free trade will say, energy dependence (perhaps not their choice of words), is not a good thing. Energy interdependence certainly can be a good thing, but in today’s world I can’t agree that every instance of it always is.

The argument in support of energy interdependence runs, energy is cost-effective so long as it is abundant, therefore, the more suppliers of energy we have, the better. But the statement can also lead to another conclusion: therefore, the larger the size of the supply, the better. What this should mean is a very large domestic supply is as good or better than simply a large foreign supply. This does not mean they aren’t both good. And of course, the more suppliers there are the greater the potential for competition to lower prices, but I suspect that it is much easier to get competition amongst a few suppliers in a free (well, sort of) country than it is to get competition amongst several suppliers in an unfree world. Continue reading