Turkey, opposition disunited, Kurdish Question ignored

Interview with political analyst Cengiz Aktar

The "march for democracy" organized by the pro-Kurdish leftist People's Democratic Party (HDP), began yesterday in Turkey to protest against political repression against the opposition. The goal to be reached in five days is Ankara, but the police immediately intervened by blocking the protesters, who were about to move from Edirne, in the north-west, and from Hakkari, in the south-east, and making arrests. The government imposed a temporary ban on assembly, public gathering and moving to cities on the grounds of the risks associated with the Covid-19 epidemic, while the governors of the eight provinces affected by the march closed administrative borders by prohibiting transit.

We talk about the situation in Turkey with Cengiz Aktar, Turkish political analyst expert in minority issues and supporter of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, to which he dedicated the book "L'Appel au pardon" published in French in 2010. After twenty years to the United Nations, Aktar returned to academia in 2000 in Turkey. He currently lives in Greece and is lecturer at the University of Athens, Faculty of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies.

On 4 June 2020, HDP deputies Leyla Güven and Musa Farisoğulları and CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu were stripped of their parliamentary mandates and imprisoned, taking to ten the number of deputies in prison. And there was no reaction in the public opinion. Why?
In general in the Turkish public opinion there is no empathy towards the Kurds. Nothing new: there are many other elected officials in the Parliament or local officials of Kurdish origin who have been dismissed, jailed, tortured, mistreated since years. It restarted in 2015 and very few people care of them. And the majority just even don’t see this. And the same happens now with these three MPs, two Kurdish, one Turkish. The regime has released the Turkish one and his party has immediately forgotten what happened to the other two MPs.

Now the situation in the Kurdish provinces: with 21 HDP co-mayors elected in March 2019 and at least 27 Kurdish mayors elected in 2014 local elections arrested and still behind bars plus the arrests of human rights defenders, journalists and intellectuals, can we talk about ethnic cleansing in the southeast provinces?

The majority of the mayors has been removed, out of 65 municipalities won by Kurdish politicians at the last elections, only 20 were left in office, the others are dismissed. The government aims at politically cleanse the Kurds, as they cannot cleanse them ethnically. 

Do you believe this might change?
I think it’s a permanent trend in the Turkish politics to ignore what is happening to the Kurds in general and actually this is one of the reasons why the Turkish opposition is so disunited against the regime. And this is why they will never ever manage to be a trouble for this regime, because they are incapable of acting together. They do not consider the Kurds as equal citizens. It’s like racism in the United States and in Europe. They are racists, they hate non-Muslims and they hate Kurds. One consequence is that there is a million Kurds from Turkey living in Europe.

What prospect does Turkish civil society have to defend itself and regain the right to express?
The Turkish civil society has been very seriously harmed and the most evident proof is the case of Osman Kavala, who is one of the leading figures of the Turkish civil society and is jailed since 950 days without one single concrete accusation against him. The entire world is complaining about this and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had asked for his immediate release, but Turkey is not a country where the rule of law prevails. They don’t care about what people say and especially about the Court of Human Rights.

Do you believe there are Righteous in Turkey whose initiative together with the support from groups abroad can improve Turkish democracy?
It is always useful to have support and there are many Righteous in Turkey and abroad. But the Turkish civil society is now in such dire straits that I don’t see how the external support might change things. Turkey is a totalitarian country. Turkey and the regime must be isolated and the isolation of the regime can be done only by the governments and the international political bodies, but they are not doing it. Frankly, the support by foreign civic organizations might not be enough to reach that until the governments decide to change attitude. Especially Germany, who happily continues to sell arms to the regime, and the EU, who is only concerned of the refugees issue. Nothing else interests them.

The future of Rojava: will this experience of federal self-government with different ethnic communities (Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and Turkmen of Syria) be able to survive?
The situation there is stabilized, for the time being Idlib is the priority for Turkey, I think it would be very difficult for the government to go ahead and move against Rojava, because there is Kurdish army there now. It would be very difficult to fight this army, to fight in Idlib and in Libya, to sustain two different fronts. Libya is more important. They are getting involved in too many fronts and they will have problems soon or later

Turkey too has been involved in the Covid-19 pandemic. The updated statistics show around 180,000 cases, 152,000 recovered and only 4,825 deaths, over a population of 83 million. According to these figures Turkey, like other authoritarian countries, seems to have managed the pandemic better than many Western democracies. Which are the reasons of the success: an efficient health system, a severe lockdown, or what else?
First of all the success is very relative because international circles, especially like the main academic body that is keeping track with the pandemic statistics, the John Hopkins University, are not taking the Turkish and the Chinese figures seriously, and there are also many scholars in Turkey and abroad who are saying the same. And there are more reasons actually.
First: the numbers of deaths of course are nothing, but the figures depend very much on the number of tests. If you make less tests, you will have less positive results.
Two: they are not following the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations regarding the deaths, because there are many deaths whose cause is indirectly due to the coronavirus as a secondary effect. These deaths are not registered as due to coronavirus.
And the third reason is probably in connection with the second: they are hiding the figures because they are desperate to reopen the economy and more than desperate to reopen the touristic season. And of course it won’t work, no one will believe that, no European country will allow its citizens to go on vacation to Turkey, to start with Germany. But there are other reasons why they look as though they dealt properly with the pandemic. First of all their figures are not transparent. Two, the population is very young and the number of deaths is very much related to this . And finally they have built extensive private medical facilities in the last fifteen years, totally unnecessary in the beginning, but now they are useful to deal with the intensive care units. These are the main reasons why it looks as it worked.

16 June 2020

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