A declaration signed by over 1,100 academics, including world renowned U.S. linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, has called on the Turkish government to “abandon its deliberate massacre" of the country’s Kurdish population.
The document, which has gone viral, has rankled Ankara, with President Recep Erdogan calling all the signatories "dark, nefarious and brutal."
The document is drawing international attention to a U.S. ally and NATO member that is becoming increasingly authoritarian and employing state violence and repression to create a climate of terror in the country.
“What the media is telling you is very different from what we are experiencing. See us, hear us and please extend a helping hand to us,” said Ayse Çelik, a teacher from the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, who called into the Beyaz Show – one of the highest rated entertainment television show in Turkey. “Don’t let people die, don’t let children die and don’t let mothers cry.”
Turkey is probably one of the few countries in the world where this sort of a statement is prosecuted as terrorism, the TV show investigated for “terrorist propaganda,” and where the host of the show had to publicly apologize for his remarks and expresses his full support to the state’s military operations.
Çelik’s call was a desperate attempt at breaking the silence in the country’s predominantly Turkish West. While the West wraps itself with nationalism and unflinching support for narratives coming out of Ankara in which the military operations in Kurdish provinces are justified as an anti-terror operations in defense of the state, the political reality in the Kurdish Southeast evokes a war zone, where curfews, torture and executions have become commonplace.
The Turkish-Kurdish conflict is more than three decades old, yet has reached new levels of violence recently. Today, the state continues to imply the same logic as 20 years ago: cutting down any Kurdish political demand through applying harsh securitization policies and coercion under vaguely defined anti-terrorism laws and a constitution written in 1982 by a military junta ruled by General Kenan Evren.
After calling off the peace process with the PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party, in August 2015, the Erdogan government launched military offensive on Kurdish cities in Turkey’s southeast. Dozens of curfews were imposed, the longest being the city of Diyarbakır’s Sur district, which is now at 49 days. The heaviest curfews have been remarkably imposed in those Kurdish cities where the Erdogan’s AKP, or Justice and Development Party, was almost completely voted out in the recent elections.
The Kurds however have emancipated themselves from the state’s approach to the Kurdish issue in redefining the concept of democracy and struggling for a dignified peace. Today it is not solely the PKK that challenges the Turkish state at the forefront, but it is an ad-hoc organization of civilians - women, children, elderly people - that defend their lives behind trenches and barricades.
Resisting a state that flexes its muscle through heavy weapons, shellfire, armored vehicles, helicopters and capricious detentions occurs only possible in becoming invisible for the state. Trenches and barricades therefore are spaces of survival and not the outcome of a Kurdish separatist agenda, as falsely proclaimed by the Turkish state.
Life behind the barricades and trenches during curfew in Sur district of Diyarbakir. Photo: AFP
In violently imposing curfews in a de facto state of emergency, the Turkish state has not only put Kurdish cities under siege, but has also sabotaged any chance of peacefully negotiating a political settlement.
Kurdish autonomy within Turkish borders is only being discussed and thus criminalized as part of the so-called “trench-politics” by mainstream columnists and politicians rather than assessing the demand of self-determination as a fundamental right. Hence, the AKP government has no problem in further militarizing the conflict. Putting Kurdish demands under siege, best shown in the onslaught against civilian lives, certainly demonstrates an attempt at isolating the Kurdish issue from the greater discussions around Turkey’s democratic shortcomings.
While the government’s isolation strategy seemed to be successful with regards to the silencing of critical voices in western parts of Turkey, it was the initiative by academics calling for immediate peace in order to bring an end to the rising death toll in the Southeast of the country that triggered a discussion on Turkey’s war against its citizens, not only in western Turkey, but even internationally.
The declaration was initially signed by 1,128 academics from 89 Turkish universities, as well as more than 300 scientists from outside the country. Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar, David Harvey and Tariq Ali are among the most popular names of the many supporters.
“The right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated,” the declaration read. “We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region.”
The declaration also calls for an independent delegation of international observers to go into the region, as well as an end to the curfews. Certainly, in a country like Turkey that reinforces nationalism through concepts of traitors and terrorists, the intellectuals have put out their neck in saying: “We will not be a part to this crime.”
Now all academic signatories are facing criminal and professional retaliation after President Erdogan called them “dark traitors” and the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) announced an investigation against the scholars that support the initiative. More than 20 academics have already been detained for “terrorist propaganda.”
Turkey’s descent into a growing authoritarian state is marked by which any peaceful dissent, calling for peace with the Kurds, as well as spreading awareness to civilian deaths, is branded as treachery.
In a response to the AKP’s attack on academic freedom, Judith Butler stated that “the labelling of critical discussion as treachery is an old and indefensible tactic of governments that want to broaden their power at the expense of democracy.”
When the prerogative of interpretation lies in the hands of a state that is in a dangerous authoritarian drift, it is no surprise that calling for peace is perceived as a great threat to the state’s power.
Rosa Burç, 25, is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Department of Comparative Government, University of Bonn. Her research is on Nation-States and Theories of (Post-) Nationalism.