Socialist Worker

Protesters say no deal for war

by Turkish Socialists
Issue No. 1841

IN A shock move Turkey's parliament last weekend refused to allow the US to use the country as a launchpad for war. This is a stunning achievement for the global anti-war movement. As MPs met to discuss a deal between the US and the Turkish government, 100,000 people marched through the streets of the capital, Ankara. The demonstration was much larger than had been predicted.

One factor increasing the turnout was that the parliamentary vote had already been postponed once. Not enough MPs from the governing Islamist AK Party had been persuaded to vote yes. Opposition to the bill by the CHP (Republican People's Party, the main opposition) increased the confidence of the movement. Tens of thousands came from all over Turkey on buses and trains.

They had the feeling the government was wavering and that one big push could really change the course of events. It was a great feeling. The turnout was magnificent. It was the first anti-war demo in Turkey with a mass participation from both blue and white collar trade unions.

The march was organised by the unions with the local anti-war platforms in Istanbul and Ankara. Marchers were still leaving the assembly point hours after the head of the march had reached Sihhiye Square.

The large union delegations even from unions with right wing leaderships were particularly notable. In the morning an anti-war petition with a million signatures was presented to parliament. It was organised by the No to War in Iraq Coordination.

Parliament met in secret session. This was because 94 percent of the population as a whole and probably 97 percent of those who voted for the AK Party oppose the war. No MP would dare to speak or vote for war in an open debate. But secrecy could not stop the impact of the movement. The motion for war got 264 votes. There were 251 votes against and 19 abstentions.

However, the motion needed over 50 percent of those present to support it. So it fell by a margin of 6 votes. Nearly a third of AK Party MPs voted with the opposition CHP. News of the vote came after the demonstration had dispersed. First we heard that the resolution had been passed by just 13 votes, which created anger and disappointment.

When we heard that the resolution had actually fallen, many of those still in Ankara rushed out onto the streets again. A group of trade unionists and anti-war activists then marched around the city centre.

They gathered again for a demonstration in YŸksel Avenue in central Ankara. They were addressed by Sami Evren, general president of KESK (the main civil servants' union confederation), and Abdurrahman Dilipak, a leading Islamist journalist and anti-war activist.

A lively crowd of several thousand shouted, 'Now demolish Incirlik - and turn it into a football pitch!' Incirlik is the big airbase in south east Turkey. Another slogan was 'Tayyip - lightbulb' combined with an unscrewing hand motion. The symbol of the AK Party is a lightbulb and Tayyip Erdogan is its leader.

After the vote Tayyip Erdogan threatened MPs. He said, 'We will not even be able to pay your wages,' referring to the economic support package the US is offering in exchange for support for the war. The package is a series of International Monetary Fund (IMF) managed loans that will mortgage Turkey to the IMF for another generation. There are already suggestions that a new resolution to allow US troops in and deploy the Turkish army could be put before parliament.

However, nothing can change the fact that the movement in Turkey won an important victory on Saturday. Everyone saw that we can make a difference. All over Turkey people were celebrating on Saturday night. Crisis-ridden Turkey sent an important message to Bush and his IMF chequebook: 'Our world is not for sale.'

Now we have to continue to build on this to try to defeat future resolutions. Already one union, TumTis, has called for anti-war strike action.

Path to Kurdish freedom

'I BELIEVE in regime change, and I will support the government tonight,' said left wing Labour MP Ann Clwyd before voting for war last week. She had just returned from the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and seen victims of torture and Saddam's repression.

'That's the reality of Saddam's Iraq,' she said. 'When I hear people calling for more time I say, who is going to speak up for those victims?' It is impossible not to sympathise with her feelings. But one look at the situation in Turkey shows why she is wrong.

If Turkey allows US troops to use the military bases it will not only be about getting more IMF money. The Turkish government also wants a say in what happens in northern Iraq. It wants to stop the creation of any independent Kurdish state. Bush is reported already to have promised Turkey that this will not happen.

Still, Turkey will want to make sure. There is little doubt that as soon as war starts Turkish troops will enter the Kurdish areas of Iraq. They have massed in the area, and unknown numbers are already on Iraqi soil. Even if Bush and Blair were really concerned about the well-being of the Kurds, there is no chance the Kurds can gain anything from a military operation which has Turkey as one of the major actors.

The Kurds in Turkey would like to see Saddam overthrown, but they have no illusions that anything will be handed down to them by an alliance of Bush, Blair and Turkey.

A revolt against the IMF's favourite parties in Turkey

THE TURKISH economy imploded and the currency lost half its value overnight exactly two years ago. Everyone was suddenly twice as poor. Millions experienced in the most direct way possible what the IMF's recipe, the 'structural adjustment programme', means for working people.

IMF officials declared that, together with Argentina and South Korea, Turkey was the country they were most worried about. The Turkish employers' organisation, TUSIAD, warned of 'the danger of a social explosion'.

The government's response was to go back to the IMF and beg for billions of dollars to bail them out, in return for further doses of the medicine that had caused the collapse.

What people thought about this became clear at last November's general election. The government was a coalition of three parties. All three were smashed. They failed to exceed the 10 percent threshold needed to get into parliament. The largest of the three saw its vote fall from 22 percent to just over 1 percent.

One of the slogans on the left, 'No votes for IMF parties', had come almost completely true. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), a moderate Islamic party trying to remodel itself along the lines of Europe's Christian Democrat parties, won overwhelmingly.

This was not because of its Islamic beliefs, but because it was widely perceived as anti-IMF and generally anti-establishment. AK Party supporters are overwhelmingly against any attack on Iraq and even more strongly opposed to any Turkish involvement in such an attack. But the Turkish economy has only survived on loans from the IMF for the past two years.

This is the card the US uses in putting the government under pressure to allow US troops into the bases in south east Turkey. It is important for the US's strategy for a ground war that it is able to do so. But the government knows that allowing this would mean the end of its popularity and probably of its chance for re-election.

Turkish governments are not renowned for standing up to Washington. Yet the AK Party government has been dragging its feet for months. First it declared it would wait for the UN inspectors' report at the end of January.

Then it said it would have to have a vote in parliament. Then it delayed the vote. Finally, last Saturday parliament overturned the government's deal with the US.

The mass movement has created enormous tensions inside the AK Party. Whatever decision the parliament takes, the political crisis is set to deepen.

Plunged into poverty

THE VOTERS who unceremoniously dumped what were seen as the 'IMF parties' in the general election last November had seen their annual income decline by 27.2 percent to $2,165 over ten years.

Some 55 percent of the population have a monthly income of less than $180. Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2001 unemployment has increased by 41.5 percent for the urban workforce.

Some 18 percent of the population live below the poverty threshold. While the richest 10 percent of the population receive 32.3 percent of the income, the poorest 10 percent get 2.3 percent.

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Sat 8 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1841
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