Ever since the meeting in Sochi where Erdoğan met with Putin, drone strikes in northeast Syria have increased significantly. It’s hard to keep up even with which target was hit when and where exactly, and how many people were killed or injured. It reminds me of the outrageous amount of court cases against Kurds in Turkey, which are likewise impossible to keep track of. This psychological component of the war against Kurds is intended by Ankara.
Psychological warfare is tactics used in war to reduce the opponent’s moral or mental wellbeing by instilling fear, anxiety and terror. It is used in every war by all sides, and it is also really quite common to used it against civilians. In general, civilians are targeted with propaganda, either positive or negative, about the parties at war, or, in other words, by painting a better picture of one side in the war and a worse one of the other. Turkey though, has been taking it to new levels for decades, targeting civilians not just with propaganda but with assorted tactics aimed at destroying their lives.
Pot of tea
It was years ago, probably in 2011 or 2012, that I decided that I wanted to finally get a good grasp of the court cases going on against Kurds in Turkey. I wanted to know how many Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members were in jail, how many were being prosecuted, how many had been convicted, and how many court cases were going on in total. I headed to Ankara and met with one of the lawyers who worked for the BDP. He told me that nobody knew how many BDP members were being prosecuted, nobody knew how many court cases were going on, and nobody knew how many members were in detention, had already been formally arrested, or had been released.
He tried to paint a picture of the situation to make me understand how mind-blowingly huge the judicial war against the Kurds was. There were, and are, house raids and detentions literally almost every day. It wasn’t even possible to keep track of BDP members in trouble, let alone of politically active Kurds in general. There are journalists, lawyers and activists for a wide range of NGOs involved in cultural, social and political work and in human rights, all people who may not be party members but are active for their communities and very likely to be detained, prosecuted and jailed as well.
That’s ten thousands of people in trouble, and the majority of them have not one but several court cases against them, all in different stages in different courts. Like in Aysel Tuğluk’s case now, the veteran Kurdish politician who is in jail but should be freed because she was diagnosed with dementia: a court ordered her release earlier this month, but she remained in jail because she was already convicted in another case and the release order didn’t affect the case for which she was jailed. Former People’s Democracy Party (HDP) co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş is another example: I’m sure his lawyers know how many court cases there are against him but it would cost them too much time to explain it all to you, time they desperately need to juggle all the cases without losing track, and to try to get him out of jail.
If that is not a clear case of not just judicial warfare but psychological warfare as well, I don’t know what is. Imagine what it does not only to the people involved, but their families and friends as well, and to the Kurdish community as a whole.
The intense bombing campaign in northeast Syria, and in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq for that matter, has the same kind of effect. What if you want to keep proper track? You’d want to know when Turkey bombed where, and what and who the target was. People die in attacks and it’s not always clear immediately, or ever, if they are fighters or civilians, which is especially relevant in a war. Injured people may recover, but some of them succumb to their wounds later. Some are juveniles, others are children. What doesn’t help either, is that some people are known by various names.
Targeting fighters is legitimate in a war. There are rules to be followed though. Theoretically Turkey is allowed to kill fighters with drones in northeast Syria because it has permission from the country where the killing is taking place – indirectly that is, by getting a green light from Putin, who is speaking for Assad. But that theory desintegrates in practice, because Turkey is not just targeting fighters but explicitly bombing civilian areas as well, with civilian casualties as a result. For the theoretical rules of war to be applicable in practice, it is required that the parties have the intention to respect the rules and strive to, for example, protect civilians as well as possible. Now look at the three men involved here, theoretically responsible for maintaining the rules of warfare: Putin, Assad and Erdoğan. Need I say more?
The casualties among civilians of course instill a lot of fear and anxiety into the population, just as the judicial warfare in Turkey intimidates millions of people, who always have to be ready for anti-terrorism squads to barge into their homes, for prosecutors to open yet another case against them and for judges to order their release or renewed or continued detention. Both the judicial warfare in Turkey and the indiscriminate drone attacks in northeast Syria once again make very clear who Turkey sees as its opponent: not just armed fighters, but explicitly civilians as well.