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On Post-Election State Violence in Turkey

[Map showing sites of attacks against HDP offices, vehicles, and supporters this year. Image via Google Maps.] [Map showing sites of attacks against HDP offices, vehicles, and supporters this year. Image via Google Maps.]

On 7 June, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 13.1 percent of the vote in national parliamentary elections and was widely seen as having denied the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party the parliamentary majority it was seeking. For the first time, a pro-Kurdish party had succeeded in getting past the extraordinary ten-percent threshold in Turkey’s elections. The run-up to the elections had witnessed violence against the HDP, but that was nothing compared to the unprecedented attacks suffered by the HDP in the aftermath of the elections. Many in Turkey initially celebrated the HDP’s election results, particularly because the HDP’s success had also deprived the AKP of the Kurdish support it needed to increase its own vote share. The AKP’s share in the elections fell to 40.8 percent and the party was blocked from unilaterally adopting a new constitution with a “presidential system,” a goal the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had set for these elections. The initial celebrations of the HDP’s performance have since given way to despair in the face of the AKP’s post-election scorched earth policies.

In the aftermath of the election, the AKP’s strategy was to block the formation of a government based on the 7 June vote and to undermine the electoral prospects of the HDP going forward. AKP obstructionism effectively prevented a coalition government from taking shape, and snap elections are now set for 1 November. In the run-up to these elections, the AKP is simultaneously repressing the HDP’s constituency and stoking nationalist sentiments to draw votes away from the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and consolidate its own electoral position.

These twin strategies are being executed through renewed anti-Kurdish policies: over the summer, the AKP called an end to the ceasefire deal it had struck with the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, in 2013. Then the government proclaimed that they would assist in the United States’ air campaign against Islamic State forces in Syria by opening two airbases for use by US warplanes and by adding Turkish warplanes to the air campaign. Yet instead of striking IS bases in Syria, the ensuing Turkish air campaign has primarily focused on attacking PKK bases in Iraq and Syria. In addition, the Turkish government has engaged in massive detentions of alleged Kurdish militants at home.

As the government increased its attacks on Kurdish forces within and beyond its borders, violent attacks on Turkish soldiers and police officers by Kurdish rebels in the country’s southeastern provinces also increased. Most recently, sixteen soldiers were killed on Monday, 7 September in clashes between Kurdish militants and Turkish forces, followed a few hours later by a bomb attack on a police minibus that left fourteen officers dead. Untold scores of Kurdish militants have also died in clashes within Turkey, but the government’s focus and media attention has been on military and police casualties. Public outrage at these losses has become a pretext for the government to crack down on Kurdish civilians and politicians while giving free reign to ultranationalist demonstrators and thugs to target Kurds across the country.

The predictable result has been a chilling campaign of violence against pro-Kurdish groups nationwide that culminated in Tuesday night’s coordinated firebombings and arson attacks against 128 HDP buildings, including the party headquarters in Ankara. The failure of police to intervene in these attacks has been widely reported. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s denunciation of the violence against HDP offices rings hollow in light of this failure by the police to protect civilians and party offices from an orchestrated campaign of attacks. In addition, the offices of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet have come under repeated attack by pro-AKP protesters, who allege that the paper misquoted the president in comments concerning the relationship between the election results and the outbreak of violence in Turkey since June. HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş has warned that Turkey is being dragged into a civil war due to the unbridled anti-Kurdish violence across the country by private actors, abetted by the government and by Turkish police and military forces. This week’s events lend credence to Demirtaş’s grim warning.

More information on these unfolding events (including calls for international solidarity in light of the recent attacks) can be found in the following links:

Military Curfews, Firebombings, Airstrikes and Shattered Peace Deal: Is Turkey on Brink of Civil War?” (Interview with Zeynep Gambetti and Ayşe Berktay)

“Urgent Call for International Action” (statement from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the HDP)

Akademisyenlerden barış ve adalet çağrısı / Academics Call for Peace and Justice

“Disturbing Coordinated Mob-Attacks and Lynchings against the Kurds in Western Turkey” (press release from the Kurdistan National Congress)

Map Showing All Attacks on HDP Offices, Vehicles, and Members over the Past Year

Vijay Prashad, “Turkey's Night of the Firebombs

Firat Bozcali, “Turkey’s Three-Front War?

Nazan Üstündağ, “Ekin Wan’in bedeninde ifsa olan devlet ya da kadinlar sira bizde          

Nicholas Glastonbury, “'What Does the State Want from Dead Bodies?': Suruç and the History of Unmournability

Elif Sarı,First Thoughts on the Elections in Turkey: A Roundtable

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