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With escalating violence with the Kurds and the arrest of VICE reporters, Trent University’s Baris Karaagac explains how the AKP is appealing to their base

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. In the lead-up to the November Turkish elections violence has resumed between Turkish police forces and Kurdish rebels, a part of the PKK. On Sunday several people were killed in a confrontation, and a state of emergency has been declared in more than 100 different Kurdish areas. Also, a widespread media crackdown is taking place across Turkey and on Monday, three VICE journalists were charged with, quote, aiding a terrorist organization for their stories on ISIS, which highlighted their access to the organization. Now joining us to put this all into context is Baris Karaagac. He’s a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. Thank you so much for joining us, Baris. BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIVERSITY: Hi, Jessica. Thanks for having me. DESVARIEUX: Baris, some are seeing this escalation of violence as being reminiscent of the bloody war in the ’90s between the PKK and the Turkish state that claimed the lives of thousands. Can you talk about the escalation of violence in the context of this upcoming election? KARAAGAC: Well, we have not had this much violence for a few years, actually. And there has been a ceasefire, or there had been a ceasefire in effect till 2013, until the Turkish state effectively ended it at the end of July. And since then we see, again we see when you watch the news or when you read the newspapers, we see news about the martyrs. This is is the discourse used by especially the media that is very close to the AKP and Erdogan. The discourse is used by both parties, but also by the Kurds. So we’ve been hearing and watching the news of many people being killed. And among them are some children, of course. And as you said, effectively there has been a state of emergency in tens of towns in the predominantly Kurdish populated parts of Turkey. This a huge region. There was so much violence and we actually heard so little about it because the media was not allowed in those spaces. Even the members of the parliament, the elected members of the parliament, particular from the HDP, the pro-Kurdish party, were not allowed in their own ridings. The armed forces basically surrounded the towns. And for a couple of days we heard nothing in terms of what was going on in those places. And of course this reminds us of the bloody conflict and war from the 1990s. And again, for our audience, I need to give you some context. There’s been a war going on since 1984, August 1984, between the Turkish state and the PKK, the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan. And this war has claimed the lives of, we don’t have exact numbers. But definitely more than 30,000 people from both sides. Some people even put the number at 40,000. And since 2013 when a ceasefire was declared, there was no armed conflict. No one was dying. But again, after the election of June 7, we see the resumption of this violence, which was initiated, to be clear on this issue, by the Turkish state. And there was retaliation by the Kurdish side. By the armed wing of the Kurdish movement, the PKK. DESVARIEUX: Okay. And you mentioned the media crackdown. Again, as I said earlier, VICE journalists were charged, as well as Turkish media groups also earlier Tuesday morning, they’ve come after them as well. What are the tactics that the government is using to silence the media, and how are they justifying it? KARAAGAC: We see actually an escalation of repression of the media, particularly since Tayyip Erdogan became president in 2014. Since then Article 299 of the Turkish penal code, which is about insulting a President of the Republic of Turkey, has been used numerous times by the lawyers of Tayyip Erdogan, as well as public prosecutors to repress the media, the critical media. So if you publish anything that is critical of either Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, or the members of his family who have been involved in corruption, that’s what the allegations are, then you become immediately targets. An interesting thing happened. This morning actually, early this morning, there were police raids on a number of media outlets that have been quite critical and that are known to be close to the Gülen congregation. And of course this is very concerning process. Turkey ranks 149th on the world press freedom index out of 180 countries. And Turkey is supposed to be a liberal democracy. But what we’ve seen, particularly since last year, is quite concerning regarding the freedom of the press in Turkey, and it is only escalating. This is not of course restricted to newspapers or TV stations. This also, this can be extended to online outlets. There’s been a crackdown on the use of Twitter and Facebook in Turkey, since particularly, again, the uprising of 2013. There’s also very interesting phenomena that–I think our audience might be interested in this. All of this online repression, crackdown, is related to only one individual. Or one source. We don’t know how many people are involved in this. His name is Fuat Avni and he’s been tweeting online for a couple of years now. He seems to be part of Erdogan’s very close circle. But at the same time many people argue that he’s a member of the Gülen Movement. Gülen Movement’s people and Erdogan’s close circle, has formed actually a coalition since 2002, but this coalition came to an end in late 2013. Since then they’ve been the biggest enemies. This guy, Fuat Avni has been tweeting regularly regarding what is going on in that close circle and what plans Erdogan is making. So a couple of days ago actually he tweeted there would be a huge crackdown on some media institutions. And this morning this is what we observed. DESVARIEUX: So essentially Erdogan’s administration has a mole in it. That’s kind of interesting. I’m trying to get into that space and figuring out why Erdogan would be doing all of this if not to appeal to his base. Or at least, as we mentioned, elections are coming up in November, so this must be strategic electorally. Can you speak to what section of the Turkish populace actually supports policies like these, and why? KARAAGAC: That’s an excellent question. This whole issue actually is about Erdogan trying to bring a presidential system to Turkey. So he wants to have more power. He wants to concentrate political power in his own hands. Right now it is that as president he has at least on paper constitutionally, he has symbolic power. But he wants to turn it into constitutional, real power. Again, one of the deputy, the deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç actually a month ago made it very clear this escalation of violence, all this crackdown, all this increase in conflict in Turkey is because of the pro-Kurdish parties and the other democratic forces’ attempt to not make Erdogan or elect him, or bring in this presidential system and concentrate even more power in his own hands. So what Erdogan and the people close to him, head of the AKP government, have been trying to do recently is to disparage the name that the pro-Kurdish party has very carefully produced in the last couple of years. If possible, maybe, turn the leaders of this party, of this movement, ineffective. They could be sent to prison. They could, that other measures could be used to render them ineffective. If this pro-Kurdish party loses the election, which means cannot pass the electoral threshold of 10 percent, which is actually incredibly high for any democracy, then there’s a chance where most likely the AKP will again gain the majority of the members of the parliament. Right now the AKP doesn’t have the majority. This is a–but this is a very, very dangerous gamble because this, the, on one hand this has escalated violence and conflict that we had not seen since the 1990s. On the other hand this is eroding the trust that has formed. You know, that’s been quite shaky actually, but there has been some trust that started with the so-called peaceful solution process between the Turkish space and the Kurdish movement. So this can lead to, I hope this will never happen, but this can lead to further escalation and culminate with a civil war, and this can also lead to the division of the country, which is something that many, many Turks are concerned about or have been really scared of. DESVARIEUX: Yes, and we’re certainly concerned about and we’re going to keep a close eye on it. Thank you so much, Baris, for joining us. KARAAGAC: Thanks for having me. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.

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.