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The Raids Against the Opposition in Turkey Show Erdoğan’s Weakness

This morning, Turkish police arrested 82 leading members of the left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP, while also mounting a separate assault on the opposition in Istanbul. As its own social base crumbles under the weight of economic and public-health crises, Erdoğan’s regime is mounting an increasingly desperate campaign against “the enemy within.”

An anti-government protest in Ankara, Turkey. on November 4, 2016 after leaders of the pro-Kurdish political party Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were detained in a police raid on the HDP party headquarters. Photo: Getty

This morning, Turkey once again awoke to news of massive police raids against the opposition.

Such news is hardly uncommon. Just two weeks ago, there was a concerted raid against the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (Ezilenlerin Sosyalist Partisi, ESP), with seventeen people first taken into custody and then detained.

But this morning’s raids were a much vaster operation, spanning many provinces all over the country. As the picture became clearer, we came to understand that there were actually two separate attacks going on — with two related but different targets.

The first series of raids, conducted by the chief prosecutor in Ankara, was directed against the leftist, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP has been a thorn in the side of the regime for years, particularly after it managed to enter parliament in 2015 despite the 10 percent threshold for representation.

The official justification was that the raids happened because of the so-called “Kobanê events” of October 6–8, 2014. That’s right — a lightning police response to events that took place six years ago.

“Kobanê events” refers to what happened in late 2014, when the self-declared Islamic State began to attack the Kurdish city of Kobanê in northern Syria, on the border with Turkey. As a result, clashes broke out in several cities in Turkey, particularly in the Kurdish southeast. This is the pretext on which leading HDP politicians are now being taken into custody.

The arrestees include the joint mayor of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen; the former MP and movie director Sırrı Süreyya Önder; the former MPs Altan Tan, Emine Ayna, and Nazmi Gür; and former and current HDP central executive board members such as the academic Beyza Üstün, the feminist researcher Gülfer Akkaya, the socialist writer and Abstrakt editor Alp Altınörs,  Can Memiş, Günay Kubilay, and Dilek Yağlı. Overall, there are said to be warrants for eighty-two people in seven provinces.

A particularly tasty nugget of information for understanding what is going on is that Ankara chief prosecutor Yüksel Kocaman, who initiated this attack, was only recently a guest in president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s palace after getting married. Together with his wife, Kocaman took the time to pose for a picture with the president.

Twitter Coup?

However, there also was a second series of raids, directed by prosecutors in Istanbul. Officially, it appears as if this second attack is directed against a loose platform called “Movement of the Nameless,” which is active on social media with hashtag campaigns on Twitter.

The people taken into custody in supposed connection to that platform in fact seem rather random, even if they do represent various elements of the leftist and social opposition in Istanbul. Arrestees include the lawyer Tamer Doğan; the writer and intellectual Temel Demirer; the writer and spokesperson for the Party of Social Freedom (Toplumsal Özgürlük Partisi, TÖP) Perihan Koca; and the writer and journalist Hakan Gülseven.

While lawyers have not been able to access the case files yet, it appears that the charge is “coup attempt via social media.” Further information seems to suggest that the Turkish state wants to present the “Movement of the Nameless” as a terrorist organization that seeks to stage a coup via tweets.

While the justifications for both these attacks are absurd, the target of each is relatively clear. In the first case, the target is the Kurdish movement and particularly the HDP; in the second, it’s the social opposition that crystallized in the Gezi Uprising in 2013. While there are currently no protests of that scale, the regime around Erdoğan still fears that a coalition of social dynamics similar to Gezi could take to the streets again.

But there are also deeper objective factors behind these assaults. The social and economic crises in Turkey are constantly deepening, and the regime seems to be unable to get them under control. The pandemic was horrendously mishandled, hospitals are overloaded, health workers are dying, and even the doctors’ association is protesting the government’s handling of the crisis.

A recent ill-fated attempt to discredit the protesting doctors by Erdoğan ally Devlet Bahçeli of the fascist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) backfired, as the doctors were defend by large swaths of society. Added to that, the economic crisis continuously worsens, and the impoverishment of the population is advancing rapidly.

No wonder social support for the regime is dwindling. The most recent poll shows the pro-regime coalition of the AKP and MHP parties with a combined score of 38.8 percent. Thus, while the regime has more or less established full control over all the central organs of the state, it still lacks social legitimacy. It is attempting to solve this crisis through more and more violence, directed both externally and internally. The troubled relations with more or less all neighboring countries are an indication of the former trend; this morning’s attacks are further proof of the latter.

Wider Clampdown

It is very clear that, with these attacks and the recent raids against the ESP, the regime is testing the waters. Very likely, this will be only the beginning of a campaign against all political and social opposition in Turkey, which could eventually encompass even the bourgeois opposition. If this strategy works, we could be faced with snap elections very soon.

Yet there is also resistance. Even though it is difficult to take to the streets in mass numbers in these days, declarations of solidarity have been made in many cities across the country already.

Furthermore, the regime has not been able to get social media under its control, as much as it wishes. A recently passed internet law to be enforced starting October 1 attempts to accomplish this. The law will essentially require all companies to have a representative based in Turkey and to share information with the Turkish state. It is yet to be seen if companies like YouTube and Twitter, which are important platforms of the opposition, will comply with this demand — and what will happen if they don’t.

For the time being, it is paramount that we stand in solidarity with all the revolutionary and democratic forces in Turkey — forces that are mounting a heroic struggle for a free society.