Between Erdogan and Rojava: Interview with Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF) in Turkey

DAF members at rally, flags with group name fly above.

As political repression continues to increase in Turkey amidst a widespread economic crisis, the current situation under the autocratic Erdogan regime has important implications for the current in Rojava as well as the ongoing Syrian conflict. We republish this interview with Turkey-based anarchist organization Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF) [@DAFaaliyet]  from October 2018 to give insight into the current situation. The interview was conducted by a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) of Ireland.

Paddy Rua: Since the half-hearted attempt at a coup against Erdogan in 2016, his policy has become more aggressive internally and externally. What do you think are the main manifestations of this policy and their consequences?

DAF: The coup became a crucial stage for [Turkish Presidnet] Erdogan and his AKP party, especially by enabling a “state of emergency” which was declared in the name of eliminating the “enemies” inside many state institutions. The ongoing war between FETO (which is a religious group and had many members in society and important positions in institutions, from high courts to the military, and said to have organised the coup attempt) and AKP evolved to legitimate repression by the latter after the coup attempt. Erdogan took advantage of this situation (being the leader of a party which was intended to be deprived of political power by the coup). “Being an elected leader” baptized him with the holy spirit of democracy during the coup ruckus. He and his party had been elected in the general elections and the “enemies of democracy” tried to kill him and tried to take control of the state in an undemocratic way!

During the coup ruckus and after, the propaganda of “democracy” played an important role in convincing every group (even the main opposition party) and individual of AKP’s “legitimate” political existence. Every authoritarian step taken by the government (and, indeed, the government is Erdogan) has been taken in the name of democracy. The “democratic” victory of Erdogan against the military coup helped him change the regime (now a presidential regime) and got all the legislative, executive and judicial power.

Erdogan and his party’s “illusion of democracy” plan enables them to have political power. With this legitimated political stage they have declared an “undemocratic” state of emergency. During this process, they held one election and one referendum. A referendum for changing the system of election for parliament/president… So think about the so-called democracy of the elections! It wasn’t a surprise that they got all they wished from the elections. This part of the whole process is important, because they tried to present themselves as being democratic for domestic and foreign politics. So every step by Erdogan and his party was guaranteed politically.

In this democratically guaranteed political process, a big wave of repression has occurred for the people and organisations on the opposition side. Many people and organisations have experienced the repressive face of the state of emergency. Many people have been sent to prison without any judicial justification, according to the wish of the “president” and for the sake of the “nation”. Many organisation have been closed down, banned; many of them faced with punishments… So the state of emergency helped them eliminate social opposition. In fact, they targeted revolutionary people and organisations more than FETO.

And the so-called opposition just focused on the elections, through which they thought there was a chance to beat Erdogan in a democratic way. This option was very naive, and helped legitimate Erdogan and his party more.

These aggressive politics from the president encouraged fascist and conservative mobilizations in society. The fascist and Islamist organisations or groups tried to punish people or groups whom they saw as an “enemy to the nation and religion”. State supported para-military groups even occurred.

Beneath these domestic repressive steps, they use the same aggressive strategies in foreign politics. During the state of emergency period they have attacked and invaded some parts of Rojava.

PR: The country, in the mean time, is facing a dramatic economic crisis and there are no signs of it getting any better. What is the impact of this crisis on ordinary Turkish people?

DAF: It is obvious that everyday it is getting harder to keep up with the crisis. The last figure for the poverty limit which was declared by a worker union confederation was around 5500 lira and the hunger limit around 1800 lira, whereas the minimum wage was around 1500 lira before the crisis. The rise in prices is affecting any good necessary for human need.

Actually, before the “dollar crisis”, the economic condition was also bad. We are talking about an economy which has been tried to be re-structured by the president and the government. Since the AKP’s economic corruption was uncovered in the ongoing war with FETO 4 years before, Erdogan (especially his family members figured out in this corruption) and his party tried to organize the economy again. The biggest companies in different sectors in the capitalist economy were replaced with other companies. Sometimes the state assigns state trustees to big companies, sometimes the bosses of these companies are forced to sell their companies at low prices to other bosses who somehow have a direct link with AKP. So Erdogan and his party are creating a new type of capitalism pioneered by the state.

The economic relations with states like Russia, Iran etc. have also direct links with this new economic strategy. The new economic deals between these states, or the state companies of these states, on one hand are a good way for eliminating the old figures of capitalism which are not suitable and sometimes oppose Erdogan’s new strategies and it is an opportunity for enabling the new figures. On the other hand, it is a tool to keep money flowing by hiding the economic crisis and maintaining benefits from the economic crisis for the companies.
The constant changing in foreign relations is making the economy more open to any influence. The dollar crisis is just a consequence of this policy.

In spite of the economic crisis, a social reaction to the crisis hasn’t appeared yet. The main reason for this immobility is the political repression guaranteed by the presidential regime. Any kind of protest is forbidden de facto, and it is easy to arrest people or close down organisations with a “terrorist” decree. For example, last week a protest of construction workers for Istanbul’s 3rd airport was forbidden. 600 workers were taken into custody by a police operation under the pretext of being a “terrorist strike organizing with the help of foreign powers”, 13 of them were sent to prison.

So in such a totalitarian regime things are not going in the way of Marxist belief. The Marxist analysis of the situation is just focusing on the role of the companies which are raising the prices and trying to benefit from the crisis. The role of the state has to be assessed and try to build up strategies to struggle against the state.

The bad conditions of the people are getting worse. The self-organised efforts of the people in such conditions of economic crisis in different geographies are becoming more important models day-by-day, which we see as a way to keep up with the crisis and try to organize in society. It is an important lively solution which must be carried out through a political organised struggle.

PR: The relationship with the US is at an all-time low, with an ongoing trade war, a diplomatic stand off in relation to a US citizen arrested in Turkey and tensions within NATO in relation to the Kurdish and Syria… how do you think this crisis will impact the course of the Erdogan authoritarian project?

DAF: The foreign politics of the Turkish State are unstable. This is the state’s foreign strategy. A few years ago the tension between Russia had been forgotten, but a war with Russia was nearly caused by shooting down a Russian combat plane in Syria. But now, one of the biggest allies in the region seems to be Russia.

This strategy is not a sui generis example for the Turkish State. The ally states are becoming an enemy, and the enemies are becoming allies. The long-term strategies are replaced with short-term strategies in international relations. This is the trend of new politics worldwide.

Now, it seems like the interests of the Turkish, Russian and Iranian (also Esad, who was the Turkish state’s biggest enemy once upon a time) states in Rojava and Syria have intersections. And these intersections probably have something to do with the hatred of Kurdish political existence in Rojava. It is obvious neither Esad nor Erdogan want Kurdish political existence in Rojava. And more, it seems like economic deals on gas and oil pipelines between these states are being prepared.

But, as I mentioned, the strategies are being maintained in short-term periods. It would not be so surprising if, a few months from now, a big partnership appeared between the US and Turkish States. Erdogan and Trump could have similar populist conversions.

PR: The US seems to have a very contradictory position in relation to Syria: on the one hand, it supports the SDF, which ignites the tensions with Turkey, and on the other hand, it is bent on defending the Al Qaeda Idlib pocket, which objectively strengthens Turkey. He is playing, seemingly, both cards at the same time. What is your view on this policy and how will it affect the outcome of the bloody Syrian war?

All the actors in the Syrian War have the same kinds of strategies. All actors in the geography knew that it is a place in the Middle East and every step has many outcomes.

It is not just the US playing both cards at the same time. It is a way to be in the game. Despite the cold relations with the US, Erdogan is mentioning “possible support” if a step is made by the US for Idlib. The changing position of Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s support for Turkey, the Russia-Iran-Syria alliance, the US-EU pact. All the agreements between these states, from economics to politics, are alterable. For instance, social mobilization in Iraq can change any strategy in Syria.

These strategies of the states keep the conflicts in these regions raging, and the bloody wars in these regions keep the bloody murderers like Erdogan, Esad, Trump or Putin in the power. The main strategy of all is built on this; keeping the power.

PR: Do you think the attack on Afrin and the defense of the jihadists in Idlib seem like an attempt to annex those territories permanently from Syria as part of a neo-Ottomanist project [Turkish expansionism]?

DAF: This could be the propaganda of these strategies inside Turkey. The increasing neo-Ottoman discourse has obvious reflections in the changing nationalist character in Turkey. But that geography is not a region in which the centenary nationalist or religious projects can have a chance to appear. It is not suitable for strategies that depend on agreement with other political or economic powers in the region.

PR:  Do you think the US support of the SDF is threatening to turn them into a proxy army for the US, affecting their autonomy project and having an impact on the revolutionary credentials of the Kurdish liberation movement?

US silence on the attacks by the Turkish state have shown that the so-called alliance is not an alliance relationship at some times. This is a reality and the Kurdish Freedom Movement has stated this reality many times. So it means, far from being a proxy army, the US or Russia can discard the Kurdish Freedom Movement for a strategy.

The important thing is that the Kurdish Freedom Movement didn’t start this resistance of existence with the sponsorship of the US or Russia. There is the will of the people who are living there and they are struggling against statist and capitalist strategies in the land.

These kind of risks must be talked about with the will of the people there. The strategies of the revolutionary actors must be criticized with the knowledge of the revolutionaries who are still struggling there. This is more constructive criticism. Otherwise, it is a criticism which has nothing to do with the reality of the region and just wants to make a reduction.

And of course, the risks of the strategies must make the revolutionary actors more aware of different issues and more open to criticisms which are in favor of the Rojava Revolution and revolutionary character of Rojava.

While we are discussing the revolutionary character of Rojava, generally we forget to debate. I think this debate is just as important as criticism of SDF and US relations. We have to debate the role of the “revolutionary” or “anti-imperialist” combatants in Esad’s regime’s fronts. There are many organisations from different parts of the world which are fighting with Russian/USSR motivation.

PR: Not so long ago, the anarchists in Turkey were getting to feel Erdogan’s repressive policies as your paper Meydan was being persecuted, has the situation changed for you, and what do you think is the future for a libertarian alternative in Turkey?

DAF: As mentioned before the political repression is getting higher day-by-day. The state of emergency hasn’t been lifted, it has been transformed into another form with the presidential regime. The state’s project of eliminating revolutionary opposition hasn’t finished yet. Now, economic crisis is another repression. On the other hand, we are faced with the state’s new nationalist-religious culture. It is a part of creating a new society.

So the thing that we are trying to do are:

• Socializing another form of politics. During the state of emergency, opposition just focused on an electoral solution. It is important to socialize another type of politics which does not consider elections as a solution. Politics which focuses on elections clearly pacifies society and creates blocks to social mobilizations against political, economic and social problems. During this period, we tried to be in the streets, react to the nationalist and repressive policies of the state and make propaganda for anarchism.

• Finding practical solutions to economic crisis. Economic crisis is not just a situation that has to be analyzed. It is important to talk about ways of prevention. It is clear that we must demolish capitalism. But the need for self-organised economic models appear in such times of crisis. The many experiences around the whole world in such times are important examples to create ours. During this period, we are trying to create alternative economies and socializing the need to create lively links between repressed peoples.

• Socializing our culture based on sharing and solidarity. All the political and economic repression by the state and capitalists are being legitimated with the help of religious and nationalist propaganda from the media to education. It is important to socialize our culture based on sharing and solidarity against this. With the social activities and our social centers trying to socialize a new culture against the culture of capitalism and state.

Political and economic crises are hard periods, but it is important to keep up our struggle in these circumstances. The situation that we are in is not just related to our geography. All the economic, political and social strategies of the capitalists and states are targeting the repressed of the whole world. We call this period “terrorocracy” which is being led by figures like Erdogan, Putin, Esad, Trump, Maduro. We need solidarity more than ever as the repressed peoples in whole world. And we need nothing more than a social revolution.

This article was originally published as “Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet: “The state’s project of eliminating revolutionary opposition hasn’t finished yet“at in October 2018.