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Turkey’s Dirty War Rages in Kurdistan

Since the beginning of the year, Turkey has been waging a dirty war against Kurdistan, terrorizing the civilian population with chemical weapons and drone strikes. What’s behind the action, and how is Germany aiding the onslaught?

Tom Krüger

August 14, 2022
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Two Turkish military members stand in front of a tank with the Turkish flag in the foreground and another tank with military members is visible in the background.

Since the beginning of the year, Turkey has been waging a dirty war against Kurdistan — one that is having a particularly strong impact on the civilian population, thanks to the targeting of civilian facilities with chemical weapons and drone strikes. 

The regime of Recep Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) is under pressure, currently in danger of losing its majority in next year’s elections. To secure its rule and divert attention from the country’s ever-worsening social crisis, the regime is trying to “prove” itself with some successes in the foreign policy arena.

Great Ottoman chauvinism is one of the strongest ideological scaffolds upon which the rule of Erdoğan and the AKP is built, which comes with it the racist devaluation of Kurds. Since the beginning of this year, one of the central aspects of Turkish foreign policy has been the expanded attacks on Kurdistan, all aimed at subjugating the Kurds and integrating the territory into Turkey.

The Turkish attacks are particularly brutal. Since January, not a single month has gone by without several drone attacks resulting in large numbers of dead and wounded. Strong resistance by Kurdish guerrillas has compelled Turkey to adopt a strategy aimed at wearing down the civilian population as a way to defeat the self-organization of the Kurdish people militarily and also break them psychologically over the long term.

The drone strikes aren’t all; Turkey is also using chemical weapons on a regular basis — which often settle in the ground and are still deadly when dust is whirled up much later. later. Many of these chemical warfare agents attack the nervous system and can cause severe disability and psychological damage. It’s notable in this context that Turkey is a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is centrally controlled by NATO — of which Turkey is also a member. Thus far, the OPCW has not investigated Turkey’s actions. Turkey is also cooperating with Russia by ensuring there are no obstacles to the latter’s war plans for the Kurdish self-governing region. 

Support for Turkey doesn’t only come in the form of NATO’s help in covering up Erdoğan’s use of poison gas. The country has long enjoyed a key political partnership with Germany, which is one of Turkey’s most important arms suppliers. In 2019, for example, a third of all German arms exports went to the Turkish military. But Turkey can also rely on Germany at the political level, with the German government continuing its massive repression against Kurdish activists reflected in, for example, the brutal enforcement of a ban on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ban on publishers Mezopotamya and MIR Verlag, and regular extraditions of activists directly to Turkey. In the first five months of 2022 alone, 206 people were deported from Germany to Turkey, which puts this year on a pace for 490 such expulsions (compared to 361 last year). Angela Merkel paid lip service to criticizing the Turkish offensive in Kurdistan during her last visit to Turkey in October 2021, but there have been no long-term political consequences for the Erdoğan regime.

What political perspective should we adopt, given this war? It won’t come from working within bourgeois governments — especially not in imperialist Germany, which is strategically interdependent with Turkey. It is solidarity between the workers of Kurdistan, Turkey, and Germany that is required. In Germany, the central demands should be for an immediate halt to arms exports to Turkey and the lifting of the ban on the PKK. Central axes for activity in Germany should be demands for a halt to arms exports to Turkey and the lifting of the PKK ban. We can’t be timid, like the British trade unions that issued an open letter denouncing the Turkish war against Kurdistan, but within the framework of bourgeois pacifism. We have to expand international solidarity within Germany, confront the trade union bureaucracy that is collaborating with German imperialism, and bring the demands of a halt to arms exports and the lifting of the PKK ban to the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

In this context, the striking dockworkers could play a key role in enforcing these demands. They have the capability to block arms exports to Turkey. In Hamburg, for instance, they have already launched an initiative to stop arms shipments and thus aid the Kurdish movement.

First published in German on August 11 in Klasse Gegen Klasse.

Translation by Scott Cooper

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