To be considered for NATO membership, Sweden and Finland have been forced, by Turkey, to sign a memorandum that pits them against the Kurdish freedom movement and undermines their own purported democratic values. This is not just a hurdle to be overcome to allow them to join NATO. Crushing freedom movements is what NATO does. The Nordic countries have applied to join an organisation that, for the sake of preserving US hegemony, doesn’t hesitate to push aside peoples and democratic institutions that get in its way; an organisation that makes it its mission to stamp out all emerging shoots of socialism that could provide an alternative to the capitalism that has destroyed millions of lives and is fast destroying our planet.
Sweden and Finland’s Faustian Pact
I will say more about the nature of NATO, but first I want to look more closely at the memorandum of agreement itself and its role in Turkey’s international criminalisation of the Kurdish struggle. The memorandum was signed by the foreign ministers of Sweden, Finland and Turkey on Tuesday, on the eve of the NATO summit in Madrid. Among the many discussions on social media, there is an argument that it does not actually commit the two countries to much more than they were already doing. The Finnish President has even claimed that “nothing has actually changed”. This is partially true, but only partially. And it also ignores the vital impact of the memorandum in reinforcing Turkey’s “Kurdish terrorism” discourse.
The fourth point in the memorandum clearly accepts Turkey’s claim that the People’s Defence Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) pose threats to Turkey’s national security, and promises that Sweden and Finland will not provide them with support. The YPG (and female YPJ) are the Kurdish forces in Syria that played the major role in the fight against ISIS. The PYD is the main political party in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and has promoted the development of political structures that maximise local control and promote women’s rights and the coexistence of different ethnicities and religions. Both the YPG/YPJ and the PYD are guided by the ideas of the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, but they act within Syria. Turkey has never stopped attacking their organisations and targeting their leaders with drone strikes, but the YPG and PYD do not interfere with Turkey. The memorandum does not describe them as terrorists, as Turkey wanted, and doesn’t specify any actions to be taken against them, but it is clearly designed – by Turkey – to damage their reputation, and make it even harder for them to win international recognition and support. And Sweden had been prominent in giving them diplomatic backing. Only last December, Foreign Minster Ann Linde had tweeted “Appreciate sincere discussion with [Syrian Democratic Council] SDC’s Ilham Ahmad on the situation in northeastern Syria. Sweden remains active partner.” Ahmad is a leading PYD politician. Shiyar Ali, representative of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria in Sweden, told North Press Agency on Thursday that Swedish leaders had said that their relationship would not change, but it is difficult to see how that can survive as Turkey’s final ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership is not yet secure.
At a time when there are growing demands for removing the PKK from terrorist lists – not least from Sweden’s own Left Party and its 27 MPs, the memorandum ensures that the two countries reaffirm their designation of the PKK as a terrorist group. Further, it extends this designation to “affiliated and inspired groups or networks” – an open-ended definition that looks set to generate many future legal and diplomatic arguments at the expense of Kurdish activists and organisations. Specific references are made to control over financing and what is described as “disinformation”.
Point 7 states that there are no arms embargos against Turkey. But bans, if not an official embargo, had been brought in in response to Turkey’s unprovoked invasion into North and East Syria in 2019, so these are being scrapped. And point 8 commits to cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which could endanger dissidents and asylum seekers.
The memorandum contains no promise to extradite the people that Turkey has demanded – only to address pending requests expeditiously and thoroughly – however Turkey can be expected to hold the future of these people hostage throughout the negotiation period. Erdoğan told a news conference at the NATO summit on Thursday “In the coming period, we will monitor the enforcement of the elements in the memorandum and will take our steps accordingly. First Sweden and Finland should carry out their duties and those are in the text … But if they don’t, of course it is out of the question for the ratification to be sent to our parliament.” Erdoğan claims that Sweden agreed to carry out over seventy extraditions, however Sweden denies this and, legally, such an agreement would not be possible as extradition decisions must be made by a court.
But if this memorandum does not represent total capitulation to Turkish demands, the overall effect is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. The purpose of terrorism designations is to render some groups beyond the pale. What Turkey has attempted to do here, is to stain the Kurdish cause indelibly with the stigma of “terrorism”. Sweden and Finland have put their names to a document that will be used not only against Kurdish activists in their own countries but as justification for Turkey’s brutal assault on Kurds everywhere.
Further, they have gifted Erdoğan a diplomatic prize that he can use in his attempt to prolong his authoritarian reign and continue his demolition of Turkey’s few remaining democratic structures.
NATO’s poison chalice
The smiles of the political leaders after they had signed this Faustian pact could hardly be less appropriate. Clearly the Nordic leaders are hugely relieved at the prospect of coming under NATO’s mutual defence umbrella; but there is no evidence that they were at risk before, while NATOs aggressive militarism is making the world a much more dangerous place. Putin has said Russia will match any increase in NATO infrastructure in the region. The Nordic countries have traded Kurdish hopes and their own freedoms for membership of an organisation dedicated to the ruthless advancement of Wall Street.
Far from guaranteeing freedom and security and promoting democracy, as claimed on its website, NATO has always been an instrument for pushing and maintaining the dominance of US capitalism, all according to the doctrine that the end justifies the means.
In the initial Cold-War period, NATO’s actions included the creation of an undercover network of paramilitary organisations in European countries dedicated to preventing the establishment of the left in European politics. The activities of these organisations, which often incorporated former Nazis, included assassinations, false flag operations, and coups d’états. Among their many interventions, they were involved in the imposition of military dictatorship in Greece, and in coups and campaigns of terror in Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO and its defence industries thrived on promoting fears of the “Soviet threat”.
NATO’s ostensible role was as defence against the Soviet Union, but its real imperial purpose did not disappear when the Soviet Union collapsed; in fact, this provided opportunities for bringing more countries into the orbit of US capitalism – right up to the Russian border.
From the 1990s, NATO has also spread its control through overt military action – often posing as humanitarian intervention – and they have used the supremacy of the US dollar to deploy crippling sanctions as an alternative weapon of war.
NATO is currently promoting an international militarisation of terrifying proportions. This is not the place to examine the argument that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was – in the words of Pope Francis – “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”. However, from when Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, the United States – NATO’s leading power – has pushed for all out military victory, discouraging peace talks and the possibility of a diplomatic solution in its desire to destroy Russian competition and maintain its own imperial dominance. As hundreds die in the fighting every day, NATO countries have poured more weapons into Ukraine and turbo-charged their own arms industries. This week’s NATO summit pledged to “deliver the full range of forces” needed “for high-intensity, multi-domain warfighting against nuclear-armed peer-competitors.”
The United States rewarded Turkey for agreeing to lift its veto, after successfully blackmailing Sweden and Finland, by moving forward on an agreement to sell Turkey F 16 fighter jets and update their existing fleet. On Wednesday, President Erdoğan was granted a long-desired meeting with President Biden, and Biden made it clear that Washington supports the sale, though it still requires approval from Congress where concerns over Turkey’s purchase and deployment of a Russian missile system have not gone away. The F-16s, like other military hardware that they have bought from the US and Europe, would give Turkey even more lethal firepower in their wars against the Kurds. Greece is worried too. And every diplomatic success awarded to Erdoğan aids his re-election campaign and is thus another stab in the back for Turkish democracy and freedoms.
Turkish aggression and oppression
Turkey uses its position as a strategically placed NATO member to garner support from other NATO countries who are terrified of pushing them to defect to the Russian camp. Human rights abuses and military aggression that would be loudly condemned if carried out by Russia are allowed to pass without comment when Turkey is the perpetrator. Numerous reports of Turkish war-crimes go unheeded – from ethnic cleansing to blocking vital river water. Even use of chemical weapons.
A war of aggression was deemed by the Nuremberg Tribunal to be the supreme international crime. Every day, Turkey and its mercenary militias carry out unprovoked attacks on the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and these have been increasing. Just this week, shelling from an area under Turkish occupation killed two cousins aged 12 and 13. On Wednesday, there were four drone attacks within 24 hours.
On Monday, Erdoğan repeated his announcement that Turkey will soon carry out another full-scale invasion into North and East Syria, though by Friday he was telling reporters that they were in no hurry. The one positive factor of the NATO deal is that it makes Russia less likely to concede to Turkey’s demands to move Russian forces out of the way so as to allow the planned invasion to happen.
While NATO politicians talk about extraditions, more evidence piles up of the almost total destruction of Turkey’s judicial independence. At least 35 politicians and activists were detained in raids on houses and offices in Adana on Monday. The detainees were battered, and a woman who raised her voice in protest was subjected to a strip-search. Those detained included the Adana Provincial co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
A further legal anomaly came to light in the Kobanê case, whose 108 defendants include leading HDP members. The statement of a secret “witness” was shown to be identical to the statement of a different secret “witness” given over a year ago. Such shoddiness can be partly explained by the fact that everyone knows that the outcome of the trial will be decided politically, so evidence and argument become relatively unimportant.
A 1 ½ year prison sentence has been given to Abdurrahman Gök, the journalist who took the award-winning photograph that showed the moment police murdered student Kemal Kurkuk at the Diyarbakir Newroz in 2017; meanwhile the policeman who pulled the trigger has not been punished.
And another report has highlighted the appalling conditions faced by the inmates of Turkey’s prisons, which include overcrowding, and a lack of heat, ventilation, adequate provisions, and clean water. Ill prisoners are subject to especially poor treatment which further damages their health.
But none of this is happening without resistance. When I interviewed Swedish Left Party MP, Daniel Riazat, for Medya News, he told me that the Swedish government’s concessions to Erdoğan at the expense of the Kurds had produced widespread anger, with people discussing ending their membership of the Social Democratic Party; and he described a spirit of resistance and defiance on the left and among Kurdish activists, exemplified by his own tweet of himself in a PKK T-shirt, which met with a “a great response”. He also told me that in recent years, outside government, attitudes towards the PKK have become much more positive. The removal of the PKK from terrorism lists, as called for by the Left Party, is not only supported by legal argument, but would prevent Turkey from using other governments to justify their aggressions.
Meanwhile, in Turkey itself, despite all the detentions and imprisonments, and despite the ongoing court cases that could see numerous members sentenced for life and the party closed down, the HDP is gearing up for its national congress in Ankara tomorrow. Expect a show of support that would make other parties jealous.