Turkey – democracy denied but not yet lost

With democracy teetering on the edge and the country accelerating towards dictatorship under the autocratic rule of President Recep Tayip Erdogan, last Saturday’s 3rd annual Solidarity with the People of Turkey(SPOT) conference in London brought together some 200 people. The purpose was to hear eye witness reports from Turkey and the Kurdish community and to plan future solidarity action aimed at calling to account the Turkish government and to challenge the complicity of European governments in their support for the Erdogan regime.

Opening the Conference, Christine Blower reported on the current political situation. The state of emergency introduced following the reckless and bloody July 2016 coup had been incorporated into law and an executive presidency had been firmly established, sidestepping parliament. She referred to the recent solidarity action by the NUJ in condemning the imprisonment of Ayse Duzan and four other journalists for just doing their jobs and to the solidarity message to the conference from the French journalist union SNJ-CGT. She also paid tribute to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn for his message of support to the conference and long standing solidarity with those resisting oppression in Turkey.

Jeremy’s words of solidarity were echoed by Labour MP for Edmonton, north London, Kate Osamor, who also condemned the refusal of the British Consulate in Istanbul to grant a visa to journalist and writer Dr. Mehmet Arif Kosar, who was due to speak at the conference. The NUJ had also protested to the Consulate about their refusal. She went on to highlight the increasing oppression of women in Turkey. She declared that President Erdogan was an enemy of womens’ rights whose policies encouraged their oppression. She pledged her continuing solidarity to the people of Turkey.

Writer Aydin Cubukcu reminded the conference that parliament had no powers and that the Government saw the forthcoming local government elections in Turkey on 31 March as a vote of confidence. An opposition electoral alliance had been set up to fight these elections and he saw this as an important part of the fight back against dictatorship. Speakers from the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) described the situation with the economy slowing down, greater media consolidation in the hands of the Government with over 90% of the media being under its influence and increasing violence against Kurds, women and minorities groups. Reference was also made to increasing inequality of wealth under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AFK) since 2002, while former HDP MP, Osman Baydemir, spoke about the increasing attacks on human rights in general and the Kurds in particular. He called for action to defeat fascism in Turkey, as had been done in the past in Spain, Italy and Germany.

Two workshops followed the opening session, on the workers’ fight back against ever increasing attacks on their rights to organise; and on media censorship and criminalisation of journalists in a country that was the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

Afternoon workshops considered how to preserve academic freedom in Turkey under authoritarian rule and democracy and the political landscape in Turkey. In the latter session Julie Ward MEP for North West England spoke of her visits to the region, the hostility she had faced from the authorities,  the work she was doing in the European Parliament to raise awareness of the situation in Turkey and her efforts  to put pressure on the European Institutions to act in defence of civil and human rights.

The final plenary session debated what was being done in Turkey to fight for democracy and what we in the UK could do to continue to build solidarity, with speakers from the public services union UNISON, Stop the War Coalition, the Ethical Journalists Network and the Guardian Foundation.

For more information about SPOT visit www.spotturkey.co.uk

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