Turkey, Syria and war

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Recently, the Turkish agenda has been shaken by the possibility of war with Syria; a situation which is still, more or less, intact. Following the deaths of five civilians as a result of the shelling of a town called Akçakale, near the city of Urfa, the government rapidly included Syria in the new bill it was preparing, giving it the right to militarily intervene in Iraq. It was altered to give the government the authority to militarily intervene abroad in general. It was also declared that Turkey had started shelling Syria. As the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and members of his Justice and Development Party started openly expressing the possibility of the war option, death dealers quickly appeared among the Turkish bourgeois press, going as far as accusing those opposed to war of cowardice.

Despite all this, what actually happened remains uncertain. It turns out that while it didn’t claim lives, the Turkish side of the border had been a target for bombs before the Akçakale attack. Moreover, it isn’t really certain who launched these bombs or the Akçakale shelling. The Syrian government’s reaction was one of denial, declaring they will investigate the situation and expressing how sorry they were at the deaths of the victims and expressing their condolences to the relatives of the deceased, thus denying any responsibility for the shelling. The part of Syria bombed by Turkey, on the other hand, is a zone where the clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad regime are quite intense and which is mostly under Free Syrian Army control. It seems that Turkey, under the guise of retaliation, has been responding in kind to all the previous shellings as well. Soon followed the rumour that the shells have been fired from the area controlled by the Free Syrian Army, that the shell itself was produced by NATO and was not used by the military forces of the Assad regime, and that indeed the Free Syrian Army had fired the shells.

Whatever the truth of this rumour, it is not in the Syrian regime’s interests to bomb the Turkish border, an act which would obviously increase Turkey’s enmity towards the Assad regime, while fighting a fully-fledged civil war against the Free Syrian Army and suppressing Sunni dissidents in an extremely brutal fashion. Besides, Syria does not have anything to gain from such shellings or from killing a handful of civilians in Akçakale. On the other hand, it is not difficult to see that these shellings did indeed work to the advantage of Erdogan’s government and the Free Syrian Army, giving Turkey the legal basis for giving the Free Syrian Army the much needed strategic air support against Assad, as well as enabling Erdogan to pass the war bill in the parliament and strengthen the pro-war nationalists. The strongest possibility is that the Free Syrian Army did this attack in contact with and under the orders of Turkey itself.

Nevertheless, despite the pro-war mood which the government is trying to create, a Turkish invasion of Syria still remains rather unlikely. The first reason for this is that the Turkish state itself is already engaged in war in Turkish Kurdistan, and far from looking like winning it, they seem to be doing rather poorly. At the moment, there are territories within the borders of the Turkish state which are controlled by the Kurdish nationalist PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which the Turkish army can’t enter by land and which are expanding, although slowly. It wouldn’t be very reasonable for a state which is fighting such a war within its own borders to attempt to invade another country.

The second and more important reason is that the working class doesn’t want to fight, and even has a certain reaction against the idea of war. The war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which has been going on for over thirty years, has resulted in a growing hostility to war among a significant amount of people living in Western Turkey, and in the recognition of the fact that those who died weren’t the children of the rulers but their own children. In this sense, it is possible to say that there isn’t a pro-war mood among the Turkish working class in general.

In this situation there have been a number of ‘anti-war’ demonstrations across Turkey. Although called to oppose the government on a pro-Assad, populist or pacifist basis they have attracted far more people who would not usually attend such demonstrations and may not support the reactionary slogans of the groups who called them. While we cannot be sure what this represents, we can see that the state has responded by brutally repressing them.

There were clashes at the demonstrations in the city of Hatay, where the Syrian refugee camps are located. Called by an ultra-nationalist and Turkish chauvinist structure called the Workers’ Party, it was themed “Syria and Turkey are brothers” (by which they mean support for the Assad regime) and held on September 16th, attended by well over ten thousand people. Although the governorship of Hatay officially banned the demonstration, thousands who didn’t have a relation to any political organization gathered in the declared demonstration area. These masses argued with the Workers Party representatives and eventually kicked them away from the demonstration after the supposedly dissident Workers’ Party members made a press announcement and told the masses to disperse. The Hatay residents were attacked by the police after the Workers’ Party members left and some of them were taken into custody. However the masses fought back against the police who kept attacking them. Clashes lasted till night in neighbourhoods of the city, until the police eventually had to release those who were detained.

Other than that, it’s worth mentioning the demonstration in Akçakale itself right after the shelling, where hundreds including the relatives of the deceased participated, shouted anti-government slogans and called for the resignation of the governors of Akçakale and Urfa. The mayor of Akçakale, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party who was on TV during the demonstration, which clearly showed that something was going on in the area, declared that he didn’t understand why this demonstration was taking place; in the meanwhile the police were attacking the demonstrators. This demonstration also led to clashes with the police.

Lastly there were the anti-war demonstrations in numerous cities in Turkey on 4 October when the war bill was passed. All of these demonstrations, the largest of which took place in Istanbul, where according to some accounts up to a hundred thousand gathered, were violently attacked by the police.

The state reaction manifests itself in the form of brutality against all sorts of anti-war demonstrations, from the tiniest ones to the most massive. This pushes the masses to face and clash with the armed forces of the state more or less instantly and shows the masses that in order to succeed against war, there is a need to struggle – the fact that the demonstrators in Hatay and Akçakale, an overwhelming majority of which were apolitical before the demonstrations, effectively resisted the attacks and spontaneously clashed with the police is a proof of this phenomenon. This being said, especially the organizations of the bourgeois left are creating very large illusions and confusions among the anti-war masses, with pro-Assad, populist or pacifist slogans. In this way they help to prevent the reaction against imperialist war developing on a class basis.

Against all sorts of pro-Assad, populist and pacifist illusions, for the anti-war movement to be successful and the working class to avoid giving the lives and blood of its children for the interests of the imperialist Turkish state, we can only raise the slogan Lenin put forward against World War 1 in 1914:

“Revolutionary class war against the imperialist war!” 

Gerdûn  October 2012

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