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The War Against Democracy

by Haluk Gerger

The Turkish state has been fighting the guerrillas of the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK) since 1984. The protracted violence has turned
into endless full-scale warfare that holds the whole of society in its
grip.  It now defines, conditions and shapes the entire Turkish
polity.

This is not the first time the Turkish state has fought the Kurds.
According to former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, the Kurds have
risen up against the Turkish state 28 times, only to be ruthlessly
overwhelmed by the Turkish Army. The main reason for this series of
uprisings is Turkey's consistent refusal to recognise the existence of
the Kurds.

A form of latent violence in itself, this obstinate refusal to accept
Kurdish reality inevitably stimulates chauvinism and blatant
militarism.  Attempts at forced assimilation were a natural extension
of this denial.  Kurdish children, as part of their school routine,
begin each day by declaring themselves to be proud Turks dedicated to
Turkish existence.  All peaceful and democratic channels of
self-expression have been closed, and violence has become commonplace.

The denial of Kurdish existence reproduces itself in some grotesque
ways. Despite more than a decade of violence involving hundreds of
thousands of ground troops, the gendarmerie, Special Teams, the police
force, paramilitary Village Guards and the Air Force, the Turkish
regime still refuses to admit that it is fighting a war. It
categorically rejects the existence of a `Kurdish Question'. The
denial of war prevents rational discourse and free debate. It hinders
democratisation, distorts social sensitivities, and paralyses and
profoundly corrupts the political system.

A political party faces immediate closure by the Supreme Court if its
programme even mentions the existence of a Kurdish people in Turkey.
Turkish citizens do not have the legal right to try to understand the
causes of the terrible violence gripping their society, unless they
remain within the confines of the official ideology. Conducting
research that contradicts the view of the state is punishable under
law. For criticising state violence one is branded a
terrorist. Speaking or writing about Kurdish struggles or demands for
a peaceful political solution is high treason.

Access to vital information about the war, its causes and the Kurdish
question is severely restricted, if not totally barred. This in itself
destroys the basis for exercising other fundamental human rights, for
without information and access to facts society becomes defenceless
against manipulation at the hands of the warlords. In short, a Turkish
citizen has no right to think about or express his or her opinion on
the most crucial problem facing the society he or she lives in.

There is no popular participation in the war. The regime confines
society at large to the role of a subject of ideological manipulation
and a source of troops. And because the regime lacks an attainable
objective for its war effort, or a vision of a political settlement,
the war is also devoid of political goals. Devoid of social and
political substance, such a war cannot be a continuation of politics
by other means. It degenerates inevitably into blind, dead-end terror,
and the striving for peace becomes a serious crime.

There are also indirect ways through which the war hinders
democratisation. From its meagre resources, Turkey is siphoning about
$8 billion into its war effort each year. This creates severe economic
dislocation which in turn provokes widespread social unrest. It is
also the main reason for the country's chronic political instability.
Incapable of terminating the war, and thus unable to solve grave
economic and social problems, the political class is scared of its own
people. The natural extension of their fear is a dread of popular
participation, democracy, and human rights.

The regime uses the conflict and the notion of `enemies of the
fatherland' to strengthen internal discipline and forestall challenges
from the disenchanted masses. It hopes that by sowing paranoia and a
siege mentality among the populace, it will reap a harvest of
xenophobia. Through continuous agitation and use of the family, the
school, the mosque and the barracks, the regime engraves militaristic
values and chauvinism on the collective psyche. On the pretext of
fighting the `enemies of the people', paramilitary groups of fascist
thugs are organised and given extra-judicial rights and
privileges. The extreme nationalistic rhetoric cloaks corruption,
impotence, and abuse.

Over the years, a national security cult has been created and the
whole of society has become almost addicted to violence. Real power
lies with the military: the country is ruled by the National Security
Council, composed of military commanders, key bureaucrats,
intelligence chiefs and some ministers. The government simply provides
a civilian facade, executing the council's orders, while politicians
act as public relations personnel.

This national security apparatus is suffocating the country. All
institutions, including the universities and the press, have lost
whatever autonomy they had and have been forced, through intimidation
or corruption, to become unscrupulous pawns in psychological warfare.
All universal ideologies - liberalism, socialism, democracy,
patriotism, and Islam - are corrupted into advocacy of the official
ideology and servitude to the state.

The war and the continuing violence have begun to create their own
clientele within the establishment. The war itself is used to justify
organised crime with participation from security forces, state
officials and politicians [see sidebar]. The warlords' mafia has
developed a vested interest in the perpetuation of the war.

An organic unity exists between Turkey's terrible human rights record
and the war. It is impossible to comprehend the systematic torture,
disappearances, extra-judicial executions and the like without
relating them directly to the regime's unwillingness or inability to
find a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question. The
devastated Kurdish land, the burned villages, the smouldering forests
and fields, and millions of uprooted Kurds forced to live in utter
misery - all testify to a barbaric vendetta, a dirty war waged with
complete disregard for moral norms and legal rules. In 1996, the
European Commission on Human Rights removed the pre-condition of
`exhausting of all remedies' from applications from Turkish Kurdistan.
This shows that legal rule has fully collapsed in the region.

Of course this violence is also exported to Turkey proper and to the
Turkish people too. All investigations undertaken by impartial
international organisations have proved that torture in Turkey is
widespread and systematic. In the number of murdered journalists,
Turkey competes with the war-zones of the former Yugoslavia. Since the
1980s, the extra-judicial executions with strong indications either of
security force involvement or of links to clandestine organisations,
widely suspected of operating with official sanction, are in the
thousands. The files on hundreds of political assassinations are
closed, for no culprits are ever caught and brought to
justice. Disappearances have long been a national tragedy. The Turkish
Penal Code, Press Law, Anti-Terror Law, etc., and indeed the
Constitution of the military regime established by the 1980 coup,
prohibit the exercise of fundamental human rights, including freedom
of expression.
 
Dissent is invariably prosecuted. Scores of journalists, academics and
writers are sentenced daily to very heavy prison terms, simply for
expressing opinions that contradict the official ideology. Behind the
facade of a multi-party civilian democracy, an oppressive police state
asphyxiates hope and freedom. For the state and the government there
is a profound contradiction, indeed an antagonism, between the war
effort and human rights. Democracy is perceived as an obstacle to
success in the battlefield and as a lethal threat to state security.

The corollary of this is that organic links exist between peace,
Kurdish rights and the democratisation of Turkey. Emancipation of the
Kurds would also mean liberation for Turks. A solution to the Kurdish
problem would start a democratisation process that would also benefit
Arabs, Iranians, and others in the Middle East, starting a new era in
the region based upon the voluntary and peaceful association of
peoples.

A peace based upon acceptance of Kurdish existence and rights would
completely transform the Turkish state structure, its institution and
its monolithic, totalitarian and militaristic ideology. Once the
official ideology based upon the `undemocratic and unconditional
hegemony of one supreme nation' is removed, aggressive nationalism
would come to an end. Then unjust laws would be eliminated and
repressive institutions democratised, and Turkish people would be able
to free themselves from the yoke of reaction, militarism and
oppression. They would be able to mobilise social energy for more
constructive efforts: for economic, social and cultural development,
for creating, sustaining and developing a more humane, pluralist and
tolerant society that can flourish in diversity. Social harmony, the
values of common humanity and fraternity would enrich Turkish
life. The Turkish people would be able to reconcile their history and
imperialist past, to find inner peace, and respect and appreciate
other cultures. When state fetishism is defeated, the idea of an
omnipotent and omnipresent sacred state that must be protected against
the individual and the community will give way to a democratic state
and to a democratic system designed to safeguard the rights of
citizens. If war is Turkey's curse on herself and her victims, peace -
and-democracy - would be the Kurds' promise to their oppressors.

 Nov/Dec 1997

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Dr. Haluk Gerger is a political scientist, author, and journalist,
who has promoted and protected human rights in Turkey. In January,
he was imprisoned for writing in the Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem
which was banned by the authorities. in 1996, The Science and Human
Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science (AAAS) and the Committee of Concerned Scientists honored
Dr. Gerger for his contributions to Human Rights.

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