Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion2015-08-29T10:08:18Z contributors <![CDATA[Ghoul’s Glossary: “Migrants” or “Refugees” or “Anchor Babies”?]]> 2015-08-29T10:08:18Z 2015-08-29T10:06:32Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Migrants: Those who voluntarily go to another country to live and work, seeking a better life.

Refugees: Those who are forced out of their homes, because of political persecution or natural disaster or a chronically bad economy. and have no choice but to try to make a new life elsewhere.

Illegals: (N.B. slang, usage error, since human beings are born with certain inalienable rights, are made in the image of God, and cannot be illegal.) Actions can be illegal, people cannot.

Climate Change: No entry found.

Far right wing politics: The conviction held by losers that their country never needs new blood or talent, despite their own political staleness and complete incompetence.

Mediterranean Sea: Graveyard for desperate refugees if the European Union won’t police it with rescue vessels.

Anchor baby: Demeaning term for natural-born citizen of the United States one or more parents of which are not US citizens. That Americans are those born on US soil keeps the US from becoming like Gulf Arab oil states, which lack labor protections for their temporary guest workers, who almost never become citizens (in Gulf states citizens are a small minority of residents, enjoying special privileges that imported temporary workers do not).

Racism: Generalizing about very large groups of people on the basis of a small number of individuals.

Donald Trump: See “racism.”


Related video:

The Nation (New Zealand): “What’s changed recently to create a flood of refugees into Europe?” – UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark says the fighting in Syria is at the heart of Europe’s refugee problems.

contributors <![CDATA[Appeals Court Falls for Government’s Shell Game in NSA Spying Case]]> 2015-08-29T09:11:28Z 2015-08-29T09:11:28Z By Cindy Cohn | (Electronic Frontier Foundation) | – –

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s opinion today in Klayman v. Obama is highly disappointing and, worse, based on a mistaken concern about the underlying facts. The court said that since the plaintiffs’ phone service was provided by one subsidiary of Verizon—Verizon Wireless—rather than another—Verizon Business—they couldn’t prove that they had standing to sue. The court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon to give the Klayman plaintiffs an opportunity to prove that their records were in fact collected. The appeals court did not rule one way or the other of the constitutionality of the mass collection program.

As an initial matter, recent releases by the government make clear that the plaintiffs’ records were in fact collected. Earlier this month, in response to a Freedom of Information request from the New York Times, the government released documents confirming that it does indeed collect bulk telephone records from Verizon Wireless under Section 215. Specifically, the formally-released documents reference orders to Verizon Wireless as of September 29, 2010, when they had to report a problem to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

This should mean that the plaintiffs records were collected, at least as of 2010, but likely long before and after. The government should give up its shell game here and admit the time frame that it collected the Klayman plaintiffs records, along with all other Verizon Wireless customers.

But more importantly, the government’s telephone records collection was, by design, a mass collection program. Famously, then NSA Director Keith Alexander told Congress that “you need the haystack to find the needle.” Admittedly then, the records of millions of innocent Americans were collected.

Yet despite this, the court allowed itself to be blinded. The court declined to consider the critically important questions of whether the U.S. Constitution allows the government to secretly shift from targeted to mass surveillance of the telephone calls (and associations) of Americans. It surrendered its role to ensure that the law is justly interpreted and applied and that the government act within the Constitution. Instead, it endorsed the government’s argument that no public, adversarial court can review its actions unless those seeking review can prove with some certainty that they were one of the millions whose records were collected. The court thus joined the government in requiring that one challenging the mass collection perform an almost impossible task—proving the still secret details of an admitted mass surveillance program in order to have a court determine whether it is constitutional.

The ruling is a letdown, especially since the court seemed interested in addressing the underlying questions about the government’s ability to collect the records during the oral argument in November 2014, in which I was allowed to participate on behalf of EFF and the ACLU. We’ll have a later post explaining likely future steps in the case and how this fits in with the passage of USA FREEDOM Act. EFF will continue to fight to hold the NSA accountable for mass collection of Americans’ private information. Our phone and Internet networks should be protected from unfettered government spying.

Via Electronic Frontier Foundation


Related video added by Juan Cole:

New China TV: “Why White House glad of court ruling to continue NSA spy program?”

contributors <![CDATA[Missing, Believed Murdered: ISIL in Mosul Releases 1st ‘Death List’ of 2,070 Victims]]> 2015-08-29T09:03:27Z 2015-08-29T09:02:05Z Khales Joumah | Mosul | (

The Islamic State group in Mosul has released lists of locals whose families thought they were missing, but who have been executed. The extremists are also carefully monitoring who wants the information.

Streets of Mosul, a city where thousands are missing, most likely murdered by extremists.

His heart began beating rapidly and he was short of breath. The cause for Mustafa Hassan’s distress was a piece of information on the social media site, Facebook. The pages Hassan*, a young man originally from Mosul but now living in Dohuk, was reading specialise in news and information from inside his hometown, which has been under the control of the extremist group known as the Islamic State since last June.

Hassan and his father spent two days in one of Mosul’s prisons at the end of last June, after they were arrested by Islamic State, or IS, fighters. After they were released Hassan fled the city. But his father stayed. And for the past 13 months, Hassan has been desperately hoping for news of his parent.

The piece of news that quickened his pulse was information that the IS group had published a list of over 2,000 names, all of whom had been executed by the group, which bases it’s ideology on arcane and brutal practices. Locals in Mosul are punished for everything from smoking to watching football games to adultery with lashings, stonings and death.

Hassan had heard conflicting reports about his father and he hoped that he might still be alive. But he also suspected he might have been murdered by the IS group. The list could be his family’s chance to find out for sure.

In Mosul there are literally thousands of missing persons, most of them thought to be arrested and in prisons run by the IS group. Nobody knows their fate, whether they are alive or dead – and this is the first time that the IS group have published such a list.

The “death list” as locals have called it, contained 2,070 names and copies of it were hung on the walls of what the IS group calls it’s Islamic Police Stations.

As word of the lists spread, local people rushed to the police stations to scan the names for information about their missing relatives and friends.

Omar Jirjis lives near the IS-run police station in the Somar neighbourhood in eastern Mosul and he described to NIQASH what he saw. “Dozens of people came to the centre to search for the names of sons, brothers, husbands and other relatives. Many of them had pale faces. Many left the centre with tears in their eyes and many of the women who left began crying loudly and beating themselves,” he told NIQASH.

As the people came near the walls where the death lists were hanging, members of the IS police force checked their identities and temporarily confiscated their phones and cameras. They wouldn’t allow anyone to take pictures of the lists while they were checking the names – presumably so family members would have to come to check the lists in person.

“Members of the group were heavily armed and they were watching reactions of the people closely,” Jirjis says. “This meant that anyone who did see the name of a loved one on the list couldn’t even complain or curse those who had murdered them – because they knew that the IS members wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who curses the organisation’s name or objects to its verdicts.”

“I saw a man putting his hand over the mouth of one of the women who came – she was wearing a niqab – to prevent her from saying a word,” Jirjis continues. “When she left she got into a car. He closed the doors and the woman started to scream and cry and beat her face. But I couldn’t hear a word she said.”

All of the names on the list were prosecuted and arrested by the IS group on different dates during the past year, although most of them seem to have been detained during the first four months of the IS group’s control of the city.

The victims on the lists come from all sectors of Mosul’s society and are both male and female – most of them do seem to have been acting in some official capacity at some time: Members of the army or police, politicians or political candidates, members of local or provincial authorities and councils, civil servants, journalists and a number of moderate clerics who were opposed to the IS group’s extremist ideology.

While the number of names – 2,070 – can explain the growing number of orphans in Mosul, there are no graves to match those without families. Most of the corpses were disposed of in a sort of sinkhole and cavern south of the city called Al Khafsa. Other bodies were burned and still others were executed by explosion and other means, that didn’t leave any remains.

The death lists have brought closure for some Mosul locals. For months now, local man Abu Samir has been hoping to see his only son again – he was arrested by the IS group on suspicion of being a member of a group opposed to them. Abu Samir told NIQASH he used to go to one of the members of the IS group and ask about his son. The man always told him that his son was still alive and in good health.

But his son’s name was on the death lists. After reading this, Abu Samir went to the fighter who used to tell him his son was alive; he was crying and asked the fighter why he had lied.

“Do you think the Islamic State has hotels to accommodate the apostates,” the IS fighter scoffed.

But not everyone is certain about the fate of their disappeared relatives yet. The death lists do not contain all of the names of all of the IS group’s victims – mostly the lists held names of detainees whose fate was unknown until then. And there are rumours about another list, with another 570 names on it, this time of individuals executed during the past four months.

One doctor, who recently managed to escape Mosul, told NIQASH that the morgues in Mosul’s hospitals are still full of bodies of those more recently executed by the extremists.

“There are usually two or three bodies in storage where only one body is meant to be stored,” the doctor explained.

The IS group stopped using the Al Khafsa hole for disposing of bodies at the beginning of 2015. But there are still many locals who have disappeared and whose names were not on the death list. Which is why unhappy locals believe that the IS group will publish more lists, one after the other, because there is no hope that the group will be expelled from the city anytime soon.

As for Hassan, who is now living in relative safety in the Dohuk area which is controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish military, he was still desperate to find out if his father’s name was on the list. But none of his relatives still living in Mosul would dare to look at the lists. They were afraid they would be arrested too. So the family asked a more distant relative to go and check the death list for them.

Hassan’s family waited for three days, Hassan told NIQASH. “This man started to lie to us. He told us he couldn’t go and check the list. On the second day he said he was sick. But finally he told us: Our father’s name was on the list.”

Hassan and his brothers have accepted the inevitable. They recently held a funeral in Dohuk – even though they were unable to accord their father’s body the respect they knew he deserved.


*Names of locals living in Mosul have been changed for their safety and their families’ safety.

contributors <![CDATA[Are Turkish Pres. Erdogan’s anti-PKK Campaign, Snap Elections Backfiring?]]> 2015-08-29T08:54:55Z 2015-08-29T08:45:38Z By Kubilay Yado Arin | (ISLAMiCommentary) | – –

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week called for new elections on November 1, after his government failed to form a coalition following the June poll in which his party —the AKP — failed to win a majority of seats.

His party’s iron grip on government would have been greatly restricted by either a coalition government with the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) — the talks failed due to deep divergences on foreign and education policies and disagreement over the amount of power allotted to the Turkish president — or the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) whose gains in the June election deprived his party of its majority.

So, with new elections, Erdoğan is hoping for a second shot at holding onto power.

But economic and political uncertainty in Turkey has increased in recent weeks as Turkey grapples with an immense rise in violence between security forces and Kurdish rebels. Opponents have accused Erdogan of escalating the conflict against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in a bid to win nationalists’ support and discredit the HDP.

Selahattin Demirtaş — the leader of the HDP whose constituents include not only Kurds but socialists and other leftist factions, as well as minority groups including women, the poor, the unemployed, non-Muslims, gays and the disabled — has repeatedly called on Kurdish militants and the Turkish military to agree to an unconditional ceasefire.

In protest of the renewed conflict that ended the two-year-old peace process, several mayors in Kurdish-controlled municipalities dared to declare self-rule (öz yönetim). They were arrested. Erdogan regards Kurdish demands for minority rights and self-rule as a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey and he’s accused HDP lawmakers of separatism and links to Kurdish rebels. All this may further hamper Demirtaş’ peace-brokering initiatives.

Demirtaş has no room for political manoeuvering as Turkish deputy prime ministers Yalcin Akdogan and Bülent Arinc or Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have put conditions on peace talks Demirtaş cannot fulfill, such as asking him to give up any kind of Kurdish demands for autonomy.

If he gives in to these demands, he risks losing face and his standing and reputation within the Kurdish minority community. Turkish officials know this very well and have tried to get the HDP to loosen its bonds with both Kurdish nationalists and Turkish liberals.

Mediation efforts, on Demirtaş’ part, with KCK (the PKK’s outlawed political wing) representatives in Brussels on August 10 was a smart move. In doing so, the KCK leadership confirmed its commitment to democracy and the peace process.

Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP co-chair (photo courtesy VOA)

Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP co-chair (photo courtesy VOA)

Without Demirtaş the KCK would not have sent a signal to Turkish authorities that they are ready for a return to the negotiation table. But Erdoğan rejected this strongly as he wants the arms ‘buried under concrete’ and ‘not one terrorist left in the country.’ It therefore comes as no surprise that the coalition talks — which the HDP called as vital as the peace talks — failed. Demirtaş and the HDP’s political future depend on a return to the negotiating table. Erdoğan is aware of this and won’t give the Kurdish representatives a chance to play the honest broker.

Now, as the Kemalist CHP and the neofascist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) refuse to take interim cabinet posts, the AKP finds itself dependent on members of the pro-Kurdish HDP and non-aligned parliamentarians. So far, only the HDP has accepted ministerial posts in the power-sharing interim government that will rule the country until the November poll. That puts the AKP in the awkward position of governing with members of a pro-Kurdish party that it ruled out as a coalition partner. Notably, since the prospect of forming a government with the HDP, however brief, is an unsettling prospect for Prime Minister Davutoğlu (who was asked by President Erdoğan to form the interim cabinet), he only invited HDP lawmakers of Turkish origin into this temporary power-sharing arrangement.

HDP-logo.svgThe HDP ministers invited were Ali Haydar Konca, Levent Tüzel and Müslüm Dogan, none of which, according to Gülenist newspaper Today’s Zaman, “are Kurdish, and all are from western Turkey, even though the HDP received the overwhelming majority of its support from the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast.” Konca and Dogan, who are Alevis (a heterodox religious minority), accepted the invitation. Tüzel, a far-left activist (and ethnically Turkish) member of the HDP, turned down the offer, faulting Davutoğlu and Erdoğan for ‘chaos’ and the escalation of violence.

This kind of caretaker government is unprecedented in Turkish history; never before have Turkish parties failed to form a government and a snap election called. While the Kemalist CHP and the neofascist MHP — with the exception of one MHP lawmaker (the son of the MHP’s founder) who gave up his party membership to become minister in the interim government — rejected the offer as ‘immoral’, HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdag announced the HDP would participate at at any ‘cost.’

The Kurds are appalled with the Turks for excluding them, but the HDP did say it would allow it’s non-Kurdish members (mentioned above) to join this interim government with the AKP, with the hope of preventing further bloodshed.

While one can hope the AKP will appoint an ethnic Kurd from the HDP to appease increasing tensions with this minority, the participation of the HDP in the temporary government is already highly contentious, particularly as Turkish jets are bombing Kurdish militants. Ankara has declared more than 100 temporary military zones across the Kurdish east.

Pro-Kurdish ministers in cabinet could cost the ruling AKP crucial votes in November. Already a survey by pollster Metropoll on Aug. 24 showed a rise in HDP support to 14.7 percent from the 13.1 percent it won in June, while the AKP is said to be still short of the votes it would need to form a single-party government. In early elections, The HDP is now predicted to become the third most supported party, even passing its archrival the neofascist MHP who vehemently oppose peace talks with the Kurds.

To boost his popularity, Erdoğan presents himself as a strong war-time president capable of saving the nation from terrorists of all colors. Like in the Hollywood movie “Wag the Dog”, where an unpopular US president fabricates war to win reelection, Council on Foreign Relations Steven Cook faults him for restarting a war to boost his party’s popularity among voters following a mantra that crises create opportunities.

Critics also allege that Erdoğan and his entourage are also guided by Clausewitz famous dictum that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”

The warmongers need to acknowledge that their manipulative strategy — of having used the ISIS suicide bombing in Suruc as justification for reigniting their war with the PKK — has backfired as Turks see casualties rising by the day. The overwhelming majority of Turks wants reconciliation with Kurds.

The single-party rule of the AKP is gone, in any case, and cannot be regained by attacks on the HDP.

A recent survey by ANAR, which is known by its proximity to the AKP, found that the snap elections will not bring a return to the single-party government of the AKP. Rather the AKP would lose further votes dropping from 40 to 37%. The Kemalist newspaper Cumhuriyet concludes from the survey that this is reflective of the AKP’s responsibility for the renewed conflict, and predicts that all three opposition parties will raise their share of votes, inhibiting an executive presidency and reinstalling parliamentary checks and balances.

Whether it changes the course of Turkey’s conflict with the Kurds, is an open question.


Kubilay Yado Arin is a Visiting Scholar at Duke University’s Middle East Studies Center (July 2015 – June 2016). A Kurdish scholar, his research focuses on conservative think tanks in the US and Turkey, US-Turkish relations, EU and US foreign policy towards the Middle East. Previously he was a Visiting Scholar at Middle East Technical University and Portland State University (PSU). In January and February 2015 he started postdoctoral research on his current book project “Think Tanks in Turkish Foreign Policy” at UC Berkeley and at PSU, which he plans to continue at Duke’s Middle East Studies Center. This year I.B. Tauris will publish his book on “Turkey, the US and the EU: The New Foreign policies.” If interested in these and other of his publications, visit

Via ISLAMICommentary


ISLAMiCommentary is a public scholarship forum that engages scholars, journalists, policymakers, advocates and artists in their fields of expertise. It is a key component of the Transcultural Islam Project; an initiative managed out of the Duke Islamic Studies Center in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). This article was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Austrian Truck Tragedy echoes Palestinian Story, reminding us of 7 mn still stateless]]> 2015-08-28T19:06:10Z 2015-08-28T11:04:42Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The gruesome discovery of an abandoned truck in eastern Austria with 71 dead refugees in it, 4 of them children, has horrified the world. But few will realize that the plot of this story was laid out in the 1960s by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, in his 1962 novel, Men in the Sun (Amazon link here.)

Of the 1.2 million Palestinians living in the British Mandate of Palestine, Zionist settlers allowed in by the British attacked and expelled over half of them in 1948, about 720,000, from their homes. To this day, of the 11 million Palestinians, 7.1 million are still refugees or displaced. Many of them are stateless, lacking the basic rights bestowed by citizenship in a state.

Kanafani’s novel treats 3 Palestinian workers who cannot work in Lebanon, who decided to try to get to Kuwait, being smuggled in the back of a tanker truck. When the driver finally makes it to Kuwait, he looks inside the empty tank, only to find them dead.

Kanafani was murdered by a covert Israeli hit squad in 1972.

The dead in the real truck in Austria appear to have been mainly Syrian. Of today’s 22 million Syrians, 11 million are displaced or refugees (including many internally displaced).

But often the great refugee crises, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, end by the refugees returning home when peace descends.

The Palestinians don’t have that prospect. Their home has been stolen from them by the Israelis and they were unceremoniously dumped on the neighbors or in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. They are stateless. They are the original truck people.


Related video:

Euronews: “As many as 50 dead refugees found in truck in Austria”

contributors <![CDATA[Can Donald Trump Become President Without Latinos?]]> 2015-08-28T08:10:38Z 2015-08-28T08:10:38Z AJ+ | (Video Report) – –

“After attacking immigrants, Mexicans and other Latinos, can Donald Trump become president without their votes? We look at the numbers and come up with an answer.”

AJ+ “Can Donald Trump Become President Without Latinos?”

contributors <![CDATA[What if it were your kids’ School the Israelis were demolishing?]]> 2015-08-28T07:42:31Z 2015-08-28T07:40:19Z By: Fadwa Baroud | (Ma’an News Analysis) | – –

On July 12, 2015, Israel announced that it would seek to carry out demolition orders of structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in what is known as Area C, an area that covers 60 percent of the West Bank, under Israeli control, including the tiny school that consists of four classrooms, three toilets and a kitchen. Before the school was built in 2010, the original classrooms were made of tents that were destroyed by a heavy storm.

The school and kindergarten are among the 170 structures in Susiya that face demolition orders. Other structures include 32 residential tents, 26 animal shelters, 20 water cisterns, 20 latrines and two health clinics. The demolition orders can be implemented at any time.

Israel says the structures can be demolished because they were built without permits and are illegal. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Israel has rejected more than 90 percent of building permit applications. That means most Palestinians must choose between building without a permit or not building at all.

Seventy-year-old Sara Nawaja’a has witnessed three waves of displacement in her lifetime.
“In 1986, the Israeli authorities declared the area of my original house in Susiya an archaeological site and evicted all of the residents in Susiya to a new site”, she said. “But after that in 2001 they declared the area as military zone, and demolished all our tents. We had to move to this site half a kilometer away.

Demolitions also happened in 2011, and we have received the latest demolition order last month”.
Residents continue to fight the orders through the courts. Close to the village is an Israeli settlement that shares the same name.

“Israeli citizens living in Susiya settlement have a swimming pool and playground, but we are not even allowed to build a cistern!” said Mohammad Nawaja’a, a 12 year-old. “I love playing football, but I want to be a journalist and write all the stories of injustice in Palestine”.

Mohammad lives half a kilometer (3.1 miles) away from the school. He said: “I want other children of the world to hear our voice, and listen to our misery in the face of Israeli settlers. They are violent and I’m afraid to walk to school alone as last year Israeli settlers attacked me.”

In addition to the demolition threat, the village suffers from a lack of basic infrastructures and is not connected to the main electricity or public water supplies.

According to various humanitarian organisations, in 2014 alone, 800 olive trees and saplings owned by Palestinian residents of Susiya were vandalized and damaged by Israeli settlers.

Susiya residents spend up to a third of their income to pay for drinking water brought in via tanks, costing them around €5 per cubic meters ($5.5 per 35 cubic feet) – five times higher than the water costs paid by nearby Israeli settlers, who are served by the Israeli water network.

Demolitions in Area C are also on the rise. OCHA reported that on average 64 structures were demolished each month in the first three months of 2015 in Area C – compared to 51 demolitions over the same period in 2014 and 53 in 2013.

The European Union has repeatedly called upon the Government of Israel to put an end to demolitions in Area C and has highlighted the worsening living conditions for Palestinians living there.

In the case of Susiya, a statement issued after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in July urged the Israeli authorities to halt plans for the forced transfer of Susiya’s population and the demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure in the community. The statement concluded: “these actions seriously threaten the two-state solution.”

Humanitarian assistance is provided to communities in need in Area C through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). In Susiya, ECHO has supported humanitarian partners to provide water and sanitation services to the children, as well as rehabilitate some classrooms.
But in the meantime, while the school has opened for the new term, children and their parents are still uncertain about the future. The question that remains for Mohammad and other children in Susiya: what if we wake up next day, and we find that our school has been demolished?

The views expressed in this article are the authors and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Fadwa Baroud is the Information and Communication Assistant for The European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) in Jerusalem .@FadwaBaroud

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Middle East Eye: “Susiya residents reject threats by Israel to demolish their village”

contributors <![CDATA[Fighting at Funerals: Turkey plunges back into Conflict]]> 2015-08-28T05:25:26Z 2015-08-28T05:38:28Z T. Deniz Erkmen | (Informed Comment) | – –

         It has been a month since the government of Turkey has ended the tenuous peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), by bombing Qandil mountains in Iraq and rounding up Kurdish activists. What instigated the resumption of the conflict was the killing of two police officers by PKK, a retaliation following the bombing of leftist youth activists in Suruç allegedly by an ISIS affiliate. Yet at this point many – political analysts, Kurds and Turks alike – believe what actually led to the end of the truce was President Erdoğan’s political ambitions. In a recent poll, fifty six percent of those who were polled said that it was Erdoğan who was responsible for the conflict. Erdoğan, who has seen his plans for a presidential system destroyed at the parliamentary elections of June 7 when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority, is planning for a new election in November and is believed to be clambering for the nationalist vote and attempting to weaken HDP, the pro-Kurdish party, by restarting a conflict that claimed over 40,000 lives in three decades. 


         The re-escalation brings back the terrible memories of the 90s in Turkey when the conflict was at its most violent, when along with the military, all the extra-judicial mechanisms of the deep state were mobilized against not just the PKK, but civilians in the region. There is escalating urban warfare in the Kurdish populated southeast; forests are being burnt, and villagers are being forced out of their villages – yet again. There seems to be a constancy to news of violence and death: as of August 20, there are a total of 139 casualties, including PKK fighters, police, soldiers, and civilians; many Kurdish activists, including politicians, have also been detained or jailed.


         The constant stream of dead bodies means a constant stream of funerals, held in different corners of Turkey. Funerals are important symbolic events anywhere; and in the Turkish case the funerals of soldiers who died fighting the PKK have always been national political spectacles. Who gets to have a funeral and how, carries meaning, orchestrated by the state that demonstrates that even after the end of life it controls one’s body. In the Turkish case, ‘terrorists’ are not allowed to have a funeral, they have no graves, their bodies can get mutilated, ridiculed. Funerals can be disrupted, attacked if they are the funerals of the ‘wrong’ kind of people. Funerals of soldiers, however, are attended by the military and politicians and marked by symbols of the nation, especially the flag on the coffin. The one who passed away is never just an individual – he is a ‘martyr,’ a member of the military who gave away his life for the ‘nation’. These funerals are attended by large crowds and they become arenas where people collectively express their anger and grief, usually aimed at ‘terrorists’. They are reported about on the first page of national newspapers, on televisions; almost always in a formulaic way, employing a certain nationalist repertoire, aimed at creating feelings of national unity against ‘nation’s enemies’. Nowadays in Turkey, you will hear people say that ‘Erdoğan wants funerals.’ The sense is that Erdoğan is using the war in order to garner support, in order to create nationalist fervor which will help him regain the votes he lost. And when you see the picture of Erdoğan, with his hand on a coffin covered by a flag, you suspect that there might be some truth to that.


         Yet this is the interesting thing about political spectacles. Being chaotic, public events, they are hard to control. They can be used to garner nationalist fervor; but they can also become spaces of contestation. They can backfire, get out of control. And in fact, it is specifically at funerals and the reactions to the funerals in news and social media we see that it is not 1990s in Turkey anymore and that Erdoğan might in fact have miscalculated. In almost all funerals, there were voices raised, not only against PKK, but primarily against the government and Erdoğan himself. Ministers in attendance have been attacked and chased by the public, family members have questioned the necessity of war and the motives of Erdoğan. Mothers have shouted “Erdoğan send your sons to the military!” and in the most widely circulated event, extensively shared on social media, leading to a smear campaign and an investigation, the brother of the dead soldier, a lieutenant colonel himself shouted in anger, taking jabs at both Erdoğan and the Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, who has declared that he would die for his country. This, a career soldier criticizing the government and war openly during the funeral of another soldier would have been inconceivable in the past.


            If violence and funerals were supposed to bring people together in support of Erdoğan, they seem to be failing. Instead they point to the crumbling dominance of Erdoğan, who was once revered by the conservative public. There is no question that Erdoğan still garners a significant share of votes. But the bond he once had with the public seems to be broken; first with the corruption scandals involving his family, then with the Soma mining disaster and Kobani, and now with the end of the peace process. Even among the conservative Muslims, there is unease and anger that is being openly expressed. Dictators do not become dictators solely by coercion or by controlling material resources; they also do so by their ability to manage the symbolic world, by manipulating the meaning of events. These funerals signify that Erdoğan might be running into hardship in this respect, and as such, in his effort to become the sole center of political power in Turkey. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that he is going to stop trying.

T. Deniz Erkmen is Assistant Professor, International Relations Department, School of Social Sciences Özyeğin University, Istanbul

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France24: “Turkey: killed soldier brother blames government for reigniting fight with Kurds”