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Vol. 80/No. 44      November 21, 2016

(front page)

Ankara steps up attacks on Kurds in Turkey, Syria

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accelerated its offensive against the Kurdish population and a broader crackdown on political rights. Authorities arrested the co-chairs of the Kurdish-based Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and 10 other HDP members of parliament Nov. 4, accusing them of backing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The repression goes hand in hand with Turkish military incursions in Iraq and Syria, where Ankara is seeking greater weight in relation to Washington and Moscow, and to its capitalist rivals in the region.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, flew to Ankara Nov. 6 to “coordinate operational planning” against Islamic State with his Turkish counterpart and to “work through some challenging issues.” Washington and Ankara are allies in NATO, but their aims aren’t the same. The U.S. rulers want to stabilize the region in their imperialist interests. Erdogan’s priority is to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish region in Syria and the impetus that gives to the Kurdish national struggle within Turkey.

Washington is depending on forces led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in its drive to capture the city of Raqqa in Syria from Islamic State. Syrian Kurdish leaders announced Nov. 6 that the military push towards Raqqa had begun, but warned that it would come to a halt if the Turkish military mounted new attacks on them. Ankara calls the YPG “terrorist” and a wing of the PKK.

“We strongly condemn the arrests of our Co-Chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag as well as our MPs and demand their immediate release,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a vice co-chair of the HDP, in a Nov. 4 statement. “The manufactured charges against them and all other party members must be dropped.”

An editorial in the Nov. 4 Daily Sabah labeled the HDP “terror-supporting fanatics” and called for it to be outlawed.

Thousands framed up in Turkey

Thousands of HDP members, officers and elected officials have been imprisoned since June 2015, when it became the first Kurdish-based party to win more than 10 percent of the vote and gain seats in Turkey’s parliament. In May, Erdogan’s government stripped most HDP legislators of their parliamentary immunity from prosecution. “As he could not prevent us from entering parliament, he now orders us into prison,” Ozsoy said.

Kurdish political leaders narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack on police buildings where they were being detained in Diyarbakir, the main Kurdish city, Nov. 4. Islamic State said it carried out the attack, which killed 11, including a municipal Kurdish leader. Ankara blamed the PKK.

Kurds make up the largest oppressed nationality without their own state. They live in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, where they comprise some 20 percent of the population. Since the breakdown of a cease-fire in July 2015 with the PKK, the Turkish army has laid siege to cities and towns across the Kurdish southeast, killing hundreds, including many civilians, and displacing several hundred thousand. Many buildings have been damaged in the offensive, which has included armored vehicles and airstrikes.

Terror attacks by Stalinist PKK forces have killed additional civilians.

The Erdogan government has shuttered Kurdish-language newspapers, radio stations and television channels. Overseas journalists and agencies are barred from visiting the southeast. As it carried out the latest arrests, Ankara shut down the internet in Diyarbakir and blocked social media websites nationwide.

Under the state of emergency adopted July 20 following a failed coup attempt against him, Erdogan and his cabinet can bypass parliament and rule by decree and restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

Under decrees issued overnight Oct. 30, 10,000 civil servants were dismissed, including academics, teachers and health workers considered disloyal to Erdogan’s government. Over 100,000 had already been fired since July, with 37,000 arrested. The targets are both Kurds and alleged followers of former ally cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan claims masterminded the coup attempt. Gulen has lived in the U.S. since 1999.

The editor and 14 staff were arrested at the prominent daily Cumhuriyet, one of the last remaining newspapers not under government control. Since July, 185 media outlets have been closed and over 100 journalists imprisoned.

There are increasing reports of extreme violence and torture against those in jail.

Erdogan plans to change Turkey’s constitution to codify the executive powers he has assumed. “I don’t care if they call me a dictator,” he told the media Nov. 6.

Conflict over attack on Raqqa

The YPG and allied Arab and Turkmen militias that make up the Syrian Democratic Forces are mounting the assault on Raqqa, backed by U.S. airstrikes and special operations troops. The plan “is to liberate the surrounding countryside, then encircle the city,” SDF representative Talal Sillo told The Associated Press Nov. 6. The operation, which involves some 30,000 fighters, is expected to take months.

This operation is timed to coincide with the efforts of Iraqi government troops, peshmerga Kurdish forces and U.S. troops and bombers to oust Islamic State from Mosul. Over Baghdad’s opposition, Erdogan has established a military base in Iraq outside Mosul and says it will defend its interests there.

Raqqa has been controlled by Islamic State since early 2014 and is its leadership center. The Turkish government has been demanding that Washington end collaboration with the SDF and instead support a Turkish-led offensive. Washington says there may be a role for Ankara in the final assault and occupation of Raqqa.

The Turkish military is continuing to attack the SDF as it advances into northern Syria, aiming to block Kurdish forces from linking territory in the east and west that would result in an autonomous Kurdish region along Syria’s border with Turkey. Ankara says it intends to push the SDF from cities and towns recently liberated from Islamic State and create a military buffer zone. It is also building a large concrete wall along its 560-mile border with Syria.  
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