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Baris Karaagac of Trent University says Erdogan’s presidential ambitions are coming in conflict with the political alternative offered by the pro-Kurdish HDP – and it could bring violence to Turkey not seen since the 1990’s

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SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Shaghayegh Tajvidi in Baltimore. Yesterday the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. conducted its first drone strike into northern Syria from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. In a major policy shift, Turkey opened its air bases to the U.S. last month to fight the Islamic State in exchange for the establishment of a safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkey has been launching air strikes against IS and the Kurds in Iraq and Syria since last month, which has ended the two-year ceasefire. Now, just back from Turkey and here to discuss the latest is Baris Karaagac. He’s a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Thank you for joining us. BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIV.: Hi, thanks for having me. TAJVIDI: So Baris, could you give us an update on the situation. KARAAGAC: Well, on June 7, we had an historic election. For the first time in 13 years the AKP, the ruling party, lost its majority in the parliament. This, the significant aspect of this election is that it was kind of a referendum on Erdogan’s plans to bring a presidential system to Turkey. Erdogan has been planning to concentrate more power in his own hands through bringing to Turkey a presidential system that is similar to the one in the U.S. or in France, but without the checks and balances. So maybe critics have been accusing him of trying to concentrate power and actually trying to become the next sultan of Turkey. And these elections were a huge failure for Erdogan, when the AKP failed to acquire at least half of the seats in the parliament. And of course the culprit was the HDP, the pro-Kurdish party which received about 13 percent of the popular vote. And the HDP was campaigning by saying that it would prevent Erdogan from becoming the president. Meaning more power for the president within a presidential system. And this created a lot of tension. Then on June 30, we again heard the news that there was some violence, attacks between the Turkish state and the PKK, the armed wing of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. And its main base is in northern Iraq, almost on the Iranian border. And then, but the critical date is July 20. on this day there was a very sad bombing in one of the border towns in Suruc, or in Kurdish Pirsus, that borders, neighbors Syria. About 300 university students who are socialists had gone there, and they were staying at a cultural center before they moved on to Khobani. Their aim was, their goal was to rebuild, contribute to the process of rebuilding Khobani, which had been devastated during the war between ISIS and the Kurdish-led resistance there last year. And when they were doing their press release, all of a sudden a bomb exploded. It was done by a suicide bomber, and 32 people, young people, were killed and more than 100 got wounded. Then it was found out that the person who did this, the suicide bomber, was a member of ISIS. Two days later on July 22 there was retaliation coming from the Kurds in, again in one of the small towns on the border of Syria. On the Turkish side. Two police officers were killed by a group called the [inaud.] of Apo. The [inaud.]. And then a high-ranking ISIS member was killed in this [stumble]. Then on July 24, we see attacks coming from the Turkish state at a couple of ISIS bases, or areas controlled by ISIS in northern Syria. But mostly directed at the PKK in northern IRAQ. And so Turkey’s been going, this escalation of violence reminds many people of the 1990s. Or when there was so much, whenever you watch the news or you listen to radio, you would hear about many soldiers getting killed, or the PKK fighters getting killed. There’s a lot of concern that Turkey’s going back to that decade. TAJVIDI: So given all this violence and all the escalation that has happened since the Suruc bombing, what do you think this actually means for the Kurdish peace process? Would you say that the political situation has been significantly backtracked? KARAAGAC: Of course. You know, it has very serious and important consequences for the peace process. As it stands, as things stand right now, we can say, I would argue that the peace process has ended. Actually, on 24th of July, or after the, after July 22 when two police officers were killed by Kurdish fighters. Erdogan, and [inaud.], the architects, so-called architects of the solution or peace process, declared the end of the process. And since then, we see a very nationalist and aggressive rhetoric by both Erdogan and the AKP in general directed towards Kurds, in particular towards the PKK and the HDP. The party who got 13 percent of the vote. So Erdogan, through hitting the PKK or hurting the PKK, I think Erdogan’s goal is to eventually hurt the HDP and weaken the party so that it can realize, he can realize his goal of becoming a more powerful president rather than a symbolic one, that is, in the constitution of the Turkish republic. But the peace process seems that it has come to an end right now. Which is very, very concerning. Most of us do not want to go back to the 1990s, when every day corpses were sent to several cities and several villages within Turkey. And of course most of the people, I would like to emphasize this, it was never children of rich people or the powerful people or the parliamentarians who died in this war, or who are dying in this war today, or then. So it was always the children of the poor masses who paid the price of this violence. TAJVIDI: And finally, Baris, what do you think this political tension means for left politics in Turkey? KARAAGAC: The weakening of the HDP, which has been a space for some time, for many left-wing movements and actors, of course has a negative impact on the left, overall left in Turkey. When you look at the HDP you can see that it’s been a coalition. Although a significant part of the leadership is Kurdish, you can see that it’s a coalition among socialists, environmentalists, LGBT groups, activists, feminists, et cetera. And when you read the program of the party, it is–you know, we’ve never seen such a program in the history of Turkey. It’s a very progressive, pro-labor, left-wing program. And the weakening of this party will of course–and in the last ten years, the HDP–again, I would like to make this clear, is the most important actor. Or maybe the only actor which has come up with an alternative project, a project alternative to the one which has been presented by the AKP, and which has been able to acquire the support for such an alternative project among the left. Therefore the weakening of such a party would have devastating, at least in the short run, for the left forces within the country. But it will also have a devastating effect on the attempts to build peace in Turkey. Since 2012, we’ve been talking about this peace process. And between 2013, and until last month, there was a ceasefire. And these were really important steps. So getting rid of the HDP, which has been focusing on peaceful democratic politics for such a long time, would not leave much space, or peaceful space, for Kurds or the other minorities or the oppressed within Turkey. And this could exacerbate violence within the country. And that’s something that we really do not want to see. TAJVIDI: Thank you so much for joining us, Baris. KARAAGAC: Thanks for having me. TAJVIDI: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.