No one makes a Grey Wolves sign by mistake.
It is not a natural hand shape, so the excuse from the Turkish footballer, who plays for Everton in the English Premier League, that he was simply “pointing to the sky” is not credible, even without the knowledge that Cenk Tosun had previously used an international match to give a military salute to the Turkish army who were then invading Rojava.
Tosun also expects us to believe that he has never heard of the Grey Wolves, a group whose violent role in Turkish politics has lasted more than half a century. They have been responsible for the assassination and massacre of hundreds of people, and are linked to the far-right party that President Erdogan relies on to keep himself in power. Grey Wolf organisations are also very active in promoting racism and violence in the Turkish diaspora, and have been described as the biggest far-right group in Germany (though it is unclear what exactly this means) and the hand signal has been banned in Austria since 2019.
Making the wolf sign has been compared to giving a Nazi salute, but the Football Association have chosen to play Tosum’s game and not question his story. Their purposeful inaction is not only a slap in the face for the whole campaign to “show racism the red card”, but also contradicts the FA’s stated aim of keeping politics out of football. They may be focused on the beautiful game – and its ugly business deals and transfer fees – but the impacts of their inaction go much wider.
If you stand by and do nothing while someone gives a fascist salute, this has political consequences. You are making a clear political statement that such an action and, by extension, the ideas it signifies, are unobjectionable. That this could happen at a time when the normalisation of fascism has become a focus of concerned discussion only reinforces the idea that Turkish nationalist violence is acceptable.
A blinkered self-serving stance from the FA is bad enough, but, despite the largely symbolic bans mentioned above, the position taken by the leaders of the liberal democracies has not been so very different. European political consciences are now being put to the test again by a renewed Turkish attempt to woo the EU. With his bully-loving friend about to leave the White House, and with a lot of new enemies created by his aggressive foreign policy, Erdogan needs to be sure of friends to do business with. He has altered his rhetoric towards the EU, telling ambassadors on Tuesday, “We are ready to put our relations back on track… We expect our European friends to show the same goodwill”.
Erdogan has clearly calculated that there is no need to accompany his words with any let-up in his policies of oppression, even when this has been expressly demanded by the European Court of Human Rights. However, in a positive development, the European Parliament has just announced an emergency debate for next week on the ECtHR’s demand for the release of Selahattin Demirtaș and on human rights abuses in Turkey more generally. Watch this space.
Turkey’s legal processes continue against 108 HDP politicians who are accused, under terrorism charges, of calling for protests when Kobanê was under siege from ISIS in October 2014. Turkey had provided the main conduit for fighters to join ISIS, but was preventing Kurds from crossing the border to support the Kurdish forces defending the city – while Erdogan announced complacently that “Ayn-al Arab (Kobanê) is about to fall”. The protests were met with police brutality, aided by local reactionary Islamist groups. A great many people were wounded, and it is claimed that over 50 died, most of them protesters (estimated numbers vary). In the distorted world of the Turkish courts, the politicians are being accused of separatism and the murder of those who died as a result of this state-sponsored crackdown. On Tuesday, seven other people who took part in the protests were given life sentences for “violating the unity and territorial integrity of the state”.
On Thursday 48 members and executives of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed, which is included under the HDP umbrella, were taken into custody. Those detained included the co-chair, Özlem Gümüştaş. Party offices were raided, and computers were taken or destroyed.
And yesterday there was a brutal attack by the mafia state on a journalist, Orhan Uğuroğlu, and an opposition politician, Selçuk Özdağ, vice president of the Future Party – which split from the AKP. This occurred after Uğuroğlu referred to the 2015 corruption scandals involving Erdoğan and the AKP, and commented that the MHP leader who had then been so critical of the corruption was now supporting Erdoğan.
Among the many accounts of state brutality and personal tragedy that form the staple fare of Kurdish news outlets, we can find numerous examples of the different ways that the Turkish state attempts to crush the indomitable Kurdish will to survive, and to survive as Kurds. The relentless nature of this cultural genocide is demonstrated by an interview, in yesterday’s Medya News, with a young woman in Lice, where the community is being subjected to collective punishment as part of the Turkish army’s war against the PKK and against the very existence of Kurdish villages. Speaking as the military continued to blockade their village, she explained that, in the recent raid on her home, both her parents had been detained and her ill father had been imprisoned — but that this was nothing unusual. They have come to expect raids every fifteen days or so, making it impossible to sleep or to earn a living. The army puts them under pressure to become informers, and many villagers have left and only come back for a few months of the year.
From other reports this week: a mother tells how her son is imprisoned so far away that she has only been able to visit him twice in four years, despite his poor and deteriorating health. A fifteen-year-old boy is taken into custody for selling smuggled cigarettes, and is forced to sing the Turkish national anthem non-stop throughout the day. And a journalist faces a potential 7 ½ years in prison for photographing the Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakir in 2015. She has responded: “They are trying to silence us. But whenever someone says shut up, I want to speak out louder… Do you think we are afraid of prison?”
The attacks are never-ending, but there are also positive signs of increasing international awareness of the nature of the Turkish regime – an awareness that must be the foundation of any campaign to make international business-as-usual unacceptable. The Financial Times, the ultimate establishment newspaper, has published lengthy criticism of Turkey’s belligerent approach to foreign policy.
A British arms manufacturer has responded to protests from the Armenian embassy, and has stopped supplying a fuel system that was discovered to have been fitted in Turkish drones used by Azerbajan in Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh (though the campaign goes on against other arms manufacturers). The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has joined the international Freedom for Ocalan Campaign, making parallels with their own experience in South Africa. They note the precedent of the UN’s call for the release of Nelson Mandela, and they are asking the UN to press Turkey to alleviate Ocalan’s prison conditions, and also to call for his release and to facilitate the resumption of peace talks. A member of Oslo’s cultural affairs committee has responded to Turkey’s request that they remove a mural featuring YPJ fighters with the tweet “In Norway we believe in the freedom of speech and democracy. Politicians can not- and will not- change or remove a painting. Watch and learn”. The mural quotes Ocalan: “A society can never be free without women’s liberation”. In blatant Orwellian double-speak the Turkish embassy had claimed “PYD/YPG is one of the leading actors as regards to the abuse of women”.
From a very different political perspective to that of the Financial Times, Jacobin has published a powerful account of meetings with survivors of the Dersim massacre and their descendants. The report ends with a quote from a young former PKK guerrilla: “It has been decades of massacres and wars. But we are still here. The rivers of Dersim run through our blood. We will never leave. I believe if we continue to resist, no matter the obstacles, one day the Turkish government will have no choice but to finally leave us alone”. Dersim is essential to understanding Turkey, but such extensive coverage is rare.
This week, Noam Chomsky gave a sobering lecture to inaugurate Rojava University’s annual lecture series, which was watched live across the globe. And, on what would have been Murray Bookchin’s 100th birthday, his daughter, Debbie, observed: “It would be my father’s great joy to know, a hundred years after his birth and nearly 15 years after his death, that the hope he placed in the future was well-founded; that even amidst intense global turmoil and the increasing threat of an ecological holocaust, aspects of his vision of a rational society have been taken up around the world, serving as a model for anyone who seeks to engage with them”.
One group who have become enthusiastic practitioners of Bookchin’s and Ocalan’s ideas on local autonomy are the Yazadis of Shengal, who were helped to set up their own administration and defence forces by the Kurdish YPG and YPJ after the Kurds had succeeded in finally driving away their ISIS murderers and kidnappers. Now Yazidi autonomy is itself under attack from the US-sponsored agreement that has handed their region over to the joint control of the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government – effectively the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is working closely with Turkey. The same people who proclaim their horror at the attempted usurpation of democracy in Washington, have not felt the need even to consult the Yazidis over their future. But the people of Shengal have vowed to resist.
After 45 days they are still holding a vigil outside the headquarters of their autonomous asayîš (security forces), and – so far – Iraq has held off from forcing their dissolution, although this is stipulated in the “agreement”. Long-lasting actions such as this quickly fall off the news agenda, even in those few places where they were originally noted. Solidarity begins by not allowing these actions to be forgotten.