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[INTERVIEW] Peace Petition Signatory Prof. Mehmet Ugur: “Regime in Turkey poses a serious security threat for ordinary Europeans”

We have published first and second part of our interview with prof. Mehmet Ugur, a member of Academics for Peace Initiative, which received much attention,

Finally, today we publish the last part of the interview.

In this part, Prof. Ugur shares with us his opinion on Turkey’s becoming security matter for EU countries and the region, Turkey’s Afrin offensive and the situation of Demirtas and other Kurdish politicians

*The last paragraph of the yesterday’s part was mistakenly omitted. We apologize to prof. Ugur and the readers and place it here:

“More significantly, if the religio-fascistic polity project is not challenged effectively in Europe, our freedoms will be compromised even further as our governments conclude new trade/arms deals with the regime and the latter becomes more aggressive towards its neighbours, including Cyprus and Greece.”

You argue that Europe’s appeasement policy in relation with Turkey has fired back and resulted in a Turkey which is a source of instability in the region. Can you please elaborate a bit on this – particularly in the context of Turkey’s attack on Afrin?


I truly believe that the dictatorial regime in Turkey poses a serious security threat for ordinary Europeans on a daily basis. This is because the security apparatus of the emerging religio-fascistic polity in Turkey will try to extend the model to the ‘Turkish’ diaspora in Europe.


News/evidence about targeting of dissenters in Europe with a view to assassinate them is in the media – and it is common knowledge among the European security establishment. The use of Turkish religious affairs attaché facilities for supporting such schemes is also common knowledge in Germany and Holland.


Yet the standard opening statement you read or listen to in the media or ‘expert reports’ on Turkey is usually like this: ‘Turkey is a strategic partner of ….’ [choose any western country or alliance to replace the dots]. I am not a security/defence expert, but I have always questioned the lack of wisdom behind such statements and the dirty deals that they try to cover or legitimise.


That Turkey could be a source of instability and insecurity in the region was evident since its intervention in Cyprus in 1974. The Turkish intervention has not only reinforced the divisions on the Island, but has also demonstrated that the Turkish ruling elite has an expansionist appetite when and where it can.


Now that we have a multi-polar world system and weaker international organisations, ‘regional powers’ such as Turkey are flexing their muscles that they had built with US and European arms. There is ample evidence since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011 to demonstrate that the neo-Ottomanist Turkish foreign and military policy has become a source of threat for peace in the region and beyond.


Had the European elites had the backbone to call a spade a spade, the rulers of the AKP regime could have well been on the dock for international crimes. The crimes would include supporting and arming Jihadi organisations, occupying lands in Syria, incursions into Iraqi territory, and bombing its own civilian population in the Kurdish region.


Add to that the deliberate failure to protect its own citizens against assassinations – as it was the case in the murder of the Armenian Journalist Hrant Dink. Add also what I have described as state-orchestrated terror, which involves turning a blind eye to or encouraging the bombing or peaceful election rallies with a view to terrorize the electorate.


The cross-border attack on Afrin is another step that demonstrates the extent to which Turkey has become a liability for both European and world peace and security. Turkey faced no military or security threat from the Kurds in Afrin or other parts of Rojava. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) has stated repeatedly that they want good neighbourly relations and peace with Turkey.


The PYD subscribes to the idea of democratic confederalism, which is based on democratic autonomy for the Kurds and inclusive representation of the ethnic/religious minorities who exist in mainly Kurdish towns and cities. The Kurdish defence units (YPG and YPJ) play a leading role in the Syrian democratic Forces (SDF), which include Arabs and Assyrian Christians. Neither the YPG/YPJ nor the SDF has attacked Turkey.


If anything, Turkey’s security along the Syrian border is threatened by the very Jihadi groups that it supports. The movements of these groups between Turkey and Syria was allowed and encouraged by the government itself.

Stated differently, Turkey has made its border with Syria porous deliberately and let down not only the Syrian people who have been attacked by Jihadi groups but also its own citizens! For example, we now have evidence that the bomb attack on Reyhanli in 2013, which was blamed on pro-Assad forces, was carried out by Jihadi groups that Turkey supports.


It must be noted that Afrin has been one of the most peaceful and stable regions in Syria. That is why it has attracted a significant number of internally displaced people. Furthermore, under the Astana Agreement, Turkey was supposed to de-conflict Idlib, which is a neighbouring town where Al Nusra and other Jihadi terrorists are concentrated – not Afrin. Therefore, the attack on Afrin is a totally illegal cross-border invasion and as such it is a crime under international law.


I would like to end with a quote from Kersten Knipp, a Deutcshe Welle editor:

By launching an offensive against Kurdish YPG militias in northern Syria, Turkey is again proving itself to be an unpredictable actor. … The West’s failure to condemn Turkey is disgraceful. And it’s risky, because it lets the Turkish government go about its aggressive domestic and foreign policy unhindered.



Finally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that defendants in the trials linked to last year’s failed coup as well as terrorism suspects will now have to wear a standard brownish prison uniform. Demirtas said “if they give us jumpsuits, we will tear and bin them. We will protect the honour of our people and will never wear them”.

What is your take on the introduction of prison uniforms?

Why do Demirtas and other Kurdish politicians take it so seriously? What is the meaning of this for the Kurdish movement?


This is a typical practice by (and dilemma of) the dictatorial regimes in Turkey. To crash dissent, they put hundreds of thousands of people in prison. Then the prison itself becomes a new centre of resistance. Therefore, the regime then turns on the prisons to crash the resistance of the prisoners. I myself have been through this in the 1980s, as a political prisoners from 1981-85.


The military Junta of the time and the civil governments under its tutelage had consistently tortured and maltreated the prisoners to break their morale and resistance. Prison uniform and the resistance against it characterised the regime in the 1980s and they are set to characterise this regime now.


The film Midnight Express may be criticised for its prejudice-laden take on prison life in Turkey. Nevertheless, conditions in Turkish prisons are pretty harsh – unless the prisoners are able to shield themselves against maltreatment through collective resistance. This is especially the case with respect to political prisoners.


Collective resistance is made both necessary and justified because authoritarian regimes in Turkey have always filled the prisons with no or little attention to due process and evidence-based decisions. In the judicial system of the 1980s and today, a political prisoners is declared guilty until s/he proves innocence – not the other way round. Again, in both cases, but more so currently, the Turkish judiciary has been only trigger-happy to carry out the wishes of the executive power.


Given this set up, the move to introduce a prison uniform has two objectives:

(i) breaking down the ability and morale of the political prisoners to engage in collective resistance against unfair detentions and maltreatment; and

(ii) frightening the population at large with images of political prisoners presented as ordinary criminals at best and a sub-humans at worst.


Both of these objectives are clearly in line with the function of the prison discussed at length in Foucault and other scholars. But what is unique to Turkey is that the Turkish ruling elite has a preference to lend support to Foucault’s theory when it comes to political prisoners. In the case of non-political prisoners, we move towards the story in Midnight Express where prison lords rather than the government call the shots.


I am sorry for this lengthy exposition but this is only to make the point that the introduction of prison uniforms poses a very serious threat to the lives of the political prisoners in Turkey. It is highly likely to lead to resistance by prisoners and unimaginably excessive use of force by the government.


The HDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, knows well about this because of his career as a progressive lawyer who defended political detainees and because of his first-hand experience with Turkish prisons in the Kurdish region. Both qualities ensure that he has a good grasp of the threat and the associated risks.


That is why I call on the European public to add another point of action to the list above: Please urgently and pressure your governments and representatives to call on the Turkish government to stop the prison uniform project immediately. Unless we raise a strong voice across Europe, loss of life and wide-spread torture in Turkish prisons are imminent risks.


Fernando Lozano
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