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Here is the trans­la­tion of an inci­sive reflec­tion ‑the kind we always like- on the cur­rent state of Turkey by Hamit Bozarslan.

Inter­view led by Ser­pil İlg­ün, pub­lished on Octo­ber 3 2020 on Evrensel

Hamit Bozarslan:
“This is not an episode of the current order, but the reinforcement of the regime”

Dur­ing the pre­ced­ing week, one of the head­line top­ics of dis­cus­sion was the tak­ing into cus­tody of 20 women and men politi­cians from the HDP Par­ty [Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty]. Some of the politi­cians being inter­ro­gat­ed while this inter­view is about to be pub­lished are peo­ple who played a role in the “res­o­lu­tion process”.1

We spoke with Hamit Bozarslan, polit­i­cal his­to­ri­an, direc­tor of stud­ies at the EHESS, about the dif­fer­ent aspects of this oper­a­tion in cur­rent news. Accord­ing to Bozarslan, the liq­ui­da­tion of the HDP is one of the most impor­tant objec­tives of those in pow­er, but this objec­tive must be under­stood in a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. Bozarslan says that in Turkey nowa­days, there exists a car­tel phe­nom­e­non [oli­gop­oly] that has tak­en on hege­mon­ic pro­por­tions and he under­lines the nec­es­sary rein­force­ment and deep­en­ing of the zones of resis­tance in Turkey, and of the indis­pens­able inter­con­nec­tions between them.

The oper­a­tion tar­get­ing HDP politi­cians was inter­pret­ed as the break-up of the “Nation’s Alliance” 2, a sig­nal of intim­i­da­tion, through the HDP, for all oppo­si­tion forces, in response to a call by this same HDP to “peace and an anti-cap­i­tal­ist front”, or again as “the sound of boots announc­ing an ear­ly elec­tion” and “a change in the present times”.

We will talk about the diver­sion of cur­rent affairs lat­er, but let’s begin with your inter­pre­ta­tion of the fact an oper­a­tion tar­get­ing HDP politi­cians is being con­duct­ed once again, 6 years after the events of 5–8 Octo­ber 2014. 3

The cur­rent debate revolves around the ques­tion of deter­min­ing if we are wit­ness­ing a change in the agen­da [allow­ing those in pow­er to dis­tract pub­lic opin­ion from eco­nom­ic or san­i­tary ques­tions onto oth­er top­ics] or a change in the “regime”. But in fact, it is rather the regime gain­ing strength. This is about the con­sol­i­da­tion of a regime that is not only that of the years 2010, nor that of 2020, but of the 90s, or even of the 60s and 70s. In Turkey one sees a loss of mem­o­ry which explains the for­get­ting of major scan­dals, such as the Susurluk affair 4 One must not for­get the prob­lem of uni­formed gangs formed in the 90S, the prob­lem of the JİTEM5. In the 90s in Turkey, one already wit­ness­es a process of para­mil­i­ta­riza­tion evi­dent in the for­ma­tion of new secu­ri­ty units, trib­al units of the ultra-nation­al­ist mafia. The 90s inevitably lead us back to the 60s and 70s, mean­ing to the counter-gueril­la, to the “com­man­do” camps, the ultra-nation­al­ism that was armed and trans­formed into mili­tia… When looked at in this per­spec­tive, it is impos­si­ble to claim that the regime has changed in Turkey, quite the oppo­site, it is a mat­ter of rein­force­ment of this regime which, in a his­tor­i­cal process, shows this same instance of extreme lev­els of paramilitarization.

What is the difference?

The dif­fer­ence is the fol­low­ing: cur­rent­ly, Turkey has become some­thing like a dis­ori­ent­ed tor­pe­do. The actu­al hege­mon­ic block did not exist in the Turkey of the 60s, 70s, 90s. Today in Turkey, there exists a car­tel phe­nom­e­non and, at the same time, there is a leader. Let’s say that this leader is both the fun­da­men­tal source of legit­i­ma­cy and its high­est author­i­ty. But around this leader, there exist at the same time para­mil­i­tary forces hav­ing each their own dynam­ics. This ‘para-nation­al­iza­tion’ is clear­ly vis­i­ble not only in the domain of secu­ri­ty but also in the econ­o­my and artic­u­lates itself into the phe­nom­e­non of an hege­mon­ic car­tel. The fact this car­tel attains hege­mon­ic dimen­sions is a nov­el­ty. But in order to observe what is going on, we must look beyond the HDP, and return to the 60s and 70s.

Could you devel­op on the effects of this para­mil­i­tary train­ing on the lead­er’s regime, as it affects the impos­si­bil­i­ty of a res­o­lu­tion of the Kur­dish question?

Despite all the per­se­cu­tions, arrests, mas­sacres and elec­toral frauds, the cur­rent Kur­dish move­ment is still pow­er­ful. Its elec­toral poten­tial nev­er dips below 10%. But what is at stake is not only the intim­i­da­tion of the Kur­dish move­ment, nor Erdoğan’s main­tain­ing pow­er through the liq­ui­da­tion of the HDP. This dynam­ic con­tains a social-dar­win­ist his­tor­i­cal dimen­sion. It con­sists of a sys­tem of per­cep­tion that con­sid­ers Kur­dic­i­ty as an almost bio­log­i­cal ene­my or again, reduces it to the sole dimen­sion of secu­ri­ty and sees it as a dynam­ic prob­lem threat­en­ing the Turk­ish Nation. It’s a sys­tem of thought that starts with “Mîsâk‑ı Mil­lî” 6, set­ting as its objec­tive the con­quest of the entire­ty of Kur­dis­tan. In fact, all these dimen­sions are present, and not only the ques­tion of the HDP. I think the liq­ui­da­tion of the HDP is cur­rent­ly one of the regime’s most impor­tant objec­tives, but they do not know how to pro­ceed. They have seen clear­ly that the HDP could not be beat­en elec­toral­ly. It is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for the AKP to man­age pre­sent­ing itself as an alter­na­tive to the HDP in the region 7. Per­haps this was fea­si­ble twen­ty years ago, but it is hard to imag­ine that the Kur­dish elec­torate would return to the AKP, after all that has hap­pened. It would also be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that the Kur­dish elec­torate might go spon­ta­neous­ly toward “The Nation’s Alliance”. Which means that, yes, the HDP’s liq­ui­da­tion is one of the most impor­tant objec­tives, but it must always be exam­ined in a his­tor­i­cal perspective.

In one of your inter­views in 2018, you said: “Turkey wants to impose itself as a region­al force and weak­en the Kur­dish move­ment. More­over, it repeats that the war is not only against the Kurds but against the West, par­tic­u­lar­ly against the Unit­ed States. Turkey is expe­ri­enc­ing a pow­er­ful nos­tal­gic pull toward Empire and needs to respond to it vio­lent­ly.” Lybia, the East­ern Mediter­ranean, Greece… If one recalls, there were steps back­ward in these regions, what else could you add to this obser­va­tion? Of course, we must also bear in mind that in the cur­rent Azer­baïd­jan-Arme­nia con­flict, Turkey is pro­vid­ing all man­ner of sup­port to Azerbaïdjan…

In Turkey, one can no longer even speak of a State. As I said, we can talk of a car­tel, a front, a para­mil­i­tary block, but the clas­si­cal pro­file of a State is non-exis­tent, and its dis­ap­pear­ance requires at the same time the dis­ap­pear­ance of the ratio­nal­i­ty that allows for the exis­tence of a State, includ­ing author­i­tar­i­an ones. This is the rea­son why the regime in Turkey absolute­ly resem­bles a lead­er­less tor­pe­do. Where this tor­pe­do will strike is unknown. Oppor­tunisms is the fun­da­men­tal fac­tor mov­ing this drunk­en ship along (as Ger­man soci­ol­o­gist Karl Mannheim had sug­gest­ed for the con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in the 1920s). From which tac­tics replace strat­e­gy and the log­ic of “what­ev­er works” replaces the strate­gic rea­son­ing in a State. It con­sists in the bru­tal use of nui­sance as a force. The States can also nor­mal­ly con­duct diplo­mat­ic and mil­i­tary affairs in par­al­lel, along with the econ­o­my, etc. But some States con­sid­er the trans­for­ma­tion of the capac­i­ty to be a nui­sance as the only worth­while democ­ra­cy. We saw this already in Mus­solin­i’s Italy, and then in Nazi Ger­many… And this capac­i­ty to do harm, in the con­text of Erdoğanism, has been rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful in Turkey, at least up to this day.

In the lat­est obser­va­tions, even if it has encoun­tered cer­tain lim­its, it has occu­pied a part of Syr­ia, trans­formed a part of Syr­i­an Kur­dis­tan into a jihadis­tan; in Lybia, it was stopped, but has nonethe­less played a role in the evo­lu­tion of the war; in the East­ern Mediter­ranean, it was also stopped, but then imme­di­ate­ly turned toward Azer­baïd­jan, as part of the cur­rent cri­sis with Arme­nia. Which means that the regime can­not main­tain itself if it is not pro­vok­ing crises. It is a regime which, as an inte­gral part of its rad­i­cal­iza­tion, con­tin­u­al­ly needs domes­tic or exter­nal crises. Cri­sis with Ger­many, cri­sis with the Unit­ed States, cri­sis with Rus­sia, with Greece… One gets lost in the chronol­o­gy. One no longer can fol­low the num­ber of crises, of all the episodes where a con­flict was pre­sent­ed as involv­ing the life or death of the nation, none remain in our mem­o­ries. But also, these crises inevitably weak­en the regime. We see this in the diplo­mat­ic area, and also in the econ­o­my. This is why I speak of the dis­ap­pear­ance of State rationality.

The desire for vengeance offered as a replacement for democracy and justice

Erdoğan has called this gov­er­nance sys­tem of man­ag­ing crises through fur­ther crises, the “Turk­ish Mod­el”. Dur­ing the enlarged meet­ing of provin­cial pres­i­dents he said: “Even if Europe and the Unit­ed States col­lapse com­plete­ly in mat­ters of democ­ra­cy and econ­o­my, we here, we will con­tin­ue devel­op­ment for our Nation. We are deter­mined to lead this fight, for our­selves but also for our friends, be they his­tor­i­cal or new rela­tion­ships. That is the Turk­ish Mod­el. Nowhere else will you find such a fair objec­tive, an ide­al of right and jus­tice so deeply root­ed, a democ­ra­cy as sin­cere­ly built on human val­ues”. What do you think of this definition?

Yes, I read the text of this speech. But already if we look at Erdoğan’s speech­es dur­ing the months of Feb­ru­ary, March, April, he often says: “Turkey will emerge from the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic rein­forced!” Why will it emerge rein­forced? Because all the oth­ers will be weak­ened. It is a ques­tion of the world’s trans­for­ma­tion into a ruin, and the fact that Turkey will appear as the lord and mas­ter of the world, even if it is weak­ened itself. That is noth­ing new either. The Islamists were say­ing the same thing in the 1910s: “Europe will destroy itself some day in such a way that we will have our revenge for Turci­ty and Islam”. And of course, what is inter­est­ing in these speech­es, is the fact Erdoğan presents this desire for revenge as a syn­onym of democ­ra­cy and jus­tice. Those Erdoğan describes as friends are, most prob­a­bly, the Syr­i­an mili­tia à la Tripoli and those in Idlib.

We are faced with a “regime in motion” abolishing time

At the moment in par­tic­u­lar, the main oppo­si­tion is inter­pret­ing the oper­a­tion against the HDP as “an effort to dis­tract atten­tion”. In fact, the frame­work you have drawn includes this top­ic also, but how do you see this dis­cus­sion? If this oper­a­tion is meant to dis­tract from facts, what then are the cur­rent facts?

Per­son­al­ly, I do not use the notion of “dis­tract­ing atten­tion from cur­rent news”, in oth­er words from impor­tant stakes such as the eco­nom­ic crises or the man­age­ment of COVID-19. In my opin­ion, there are two impor­tant issues here. First, when in dif­fi­cul­ty, those in pow­er insure their exis­tence, whether they want to or not, by fab­ri­cat­ing ene­mies. Fab­ri­cat­ing ene­mies is also an impor­tant way to rem­e­dy inter­nal block­ages. There is a sec­ond point: Han­nah Arendt often men­tioned it: cer­tain regimes are ” regimes in motion” as were also those of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler. Regimes that can­not stop, can­not find sta­bil­i­ty, that are oblig­ed to act con­stant­ly and mod­i­fy their dai­ly agen­das. Which means that we are faced with a regime that con­stant­ly changes its dai­ly agen­da and, con­se­quent­ly, can no longer afford to take more than three to five days in order to man­age the pri­or­i­ty it has imposed on itself, and which trans­forms every­thing into a tac­tic. The aim of the blow against the HDP is its liq­ui­da­tion, depriv­ing it of all space for legal action. But we must bear in mind the “per­pet­u­al motion” aspect with­out which the regime can­not survive.

Addi­tion­al­ly in Turkey, cer­tain insti­tu­tions are select­ed as tar­gets, reforms are under­tak­en. For exam­ple, the sys­tem of mul­ti­ple Bars is applied. Hagia Sophia is trans­formed into a mosque…

The ques­tion is not only about Hagia Sophia. It has already been for­got­ten. Same for the mul­ti­ple Bars. We must exam­ine this: for exam­ple in Turkey, laws per­tain­ing to min­ing have changed 200, 300 times over 18 years. The same holds true for the build­ing of hous­ing. Propos­ing “bulk laws”, in oth­er words, fifty bills on as many sep­a­rate top­ics and adopt­ing them as a sin­gle law is also part of a gov­ern­ment in motion. And beyond the move­ment, we wit­ness the anni­hi­la­tion of all insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures… In motion regimes, the leader remains as the sole ref­er­ence point. I think this is a fact in Turkey: the destruc­tion of insti­tu­tions, the trans­fer of legit­i­ma­cy, con­crete­ly, on the leader who is a real per­son, and, abstract­ed­ly, to a his­tor­i­cal mis­sion which is an abstract fact.

The his­tor­i­cal mis­sion of Turci­ty which begins in Malaz­girt 8 and which will last until eter­ni­ty — yet will be re-ini­ti­at­ed in 2017 — refers back to this abstract aspect.

Erdoğan is both extremely powerful and extremely weak at the same time

What approach do you take to the strength and weak­ness equa­tion? Because accord­ing to some, Erdoğan is con­duct­ing heavy offen­sives, accord­ing to oth­ers this would come from his weakness…

In my read­ing of Turkey today, Erdoğan is weak­er than he was in 2013. In the years 2000, he was a leader who had a legit­i­ma­cy, despite every­thing. He could address him­self to the dif­fer­ent social stra­ta and, at least in his own par­ty, he had not destroyed the mech­a­nisms insur­ing bal­ance and con­trol. Where­as now, Erdoğan’s word is the ulti­mate and con­crete source of his legit­i­ma­cy. At the same time, in order for this source to act, he needs com­po­nents of the car­tel which include the MHP [The Nation­al­ist Action Par­ty], the sov­er­eignists, also Süley­man Soy­lu [Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or] which per­pet­u­ate the tra­di­tion of Susurluk. Mehmet Agar [Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or in the days of the Susurluk affair] is anoth­er com­po­nent of this car­tel. Each of these com­po­nents con­sid­er­ably widen their respec­tive win­dow of oper­a­tions. This is why, in final analy­sis, Erdoğan is both extreme­ly pow­er­ful and extreme­ly weak.

He can surprise the Parliament

What would you like to say about the oppo­si­tion­s’s com­ment: “Pow­er is very blocked domes­ti­cal­ly and exter­nal­ly. With the approach of the vot­ing urns, they will van­ish”?

It is impos­si­ble to express a pre­dic­tion on this. Ulti­mate­ly, Maduro did not leave. Ulti­mate­ly, there may be elec­toral fraud, changes to the law… In the Unit­ed States, if there are five can­di­dates, the one obtain­ing the most votes, wins. The same would be pos­si­ble in Turkey also because, in fact, the regime has no need for par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It can just as offi­cial­ly tow­er over the Par­lia­ment. By trans­form­ing it into an open par­lia­ment, in its form, but emp­tied of all pre­rog­a­tives; and indeed, this is already the case. We can see this in how the prob­lem of health is han­dled, or with the answers Berat Albayrak [Min­is­ter of Trea­sury and Finances, Erdoğan’s son-in-law] pro­vides par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ ques­tions, how he can put an end to the mat­ter, just by pro­vid­ing a link to the inter­net. 9

The phenomenon of unpredictability must absolutely be worked into the equation

Ear­ly elec­tions are a con­stant top­ic in the par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion. The most wide­ly accept­ed vision is that there can be no talk of ear­ly elec­tions as long as Devlet Bahçeli [Gen­er­al sec­re­tary of the MHP, the Nation­al­ist Action Par­ty] has not brought it up. Would the main fac­tor that would define Erdoğan’s steps, be they con­cern­ing ear­ly elec­tions or oth­er top­ics, be the posi­tions adopt­ed by those actors which you have men­tioned, or the con­flict of inter­ests between them?

I can­not make a pre­dic­tion on this top­ic; I run the risk of being proven wrong by his­to­ry. But I can give you the fol­low­ing answer by return­ing to Han­nah Arendt once again, but also to Karl Kraus: motion regimes are unpredictable.

I think any pre­dic­tion we might express con­cern­ing the AKP and Erdoğanism may be proven wrong tomor­row. The rea­son for this is not that the pre­dic­tion is illog­i­cal or irra­tional in the cur­rent con­di­tions, but the fact of not tak­ing into account the unpre­dictabil­i­ty in our equa­tions. For exam­ple, after 2015–2016, some peo­ple said there was a con­ver­gence between the AKP and the MHP but, I think no one could have guessed that in such a brief peri­od of time, the pas­sage to a Pres­i­den­tial sys­tem would be real­ized thanks to the MHP. When speak­ing of unpre­dictabil­i­ty, this is part­ly what I am talk­ing about. This is why in ana­lyz­ing the regime, rather than ask­ing when will the elec­tions be held, if there will be ear­ly elec­tions, one must bear in mind the phe­nom­e­non of unpre­dictabli­ty. But once you fac­tor it in, the equa­tion becomes sim­ply impos­si­ble to resolve.

Fur­ther­more, the inter­ests of the cartel’s com­po­nents may also change. But this is impos­si­ble to pre­dict in advance. Because, in speak­ing of para­mil­i­taza­tion, we are talk­ing about forces in pos­ses­sion of seri­ous means of vio­lence, both legal or ille­gal. The PÖH 10 is an armed force, the JÖH 11 is anoth­er, SADAT 12 is also an armed force, and the mili­tia in Syr­ia are armed forces… In these con­di­tions we can­not claim, as we could in the past, that “in Turkey, there is an army, and it can con­trol every­thing”. More­o­ev­er, this para­mil­i­ta­riza­tion was already observed in the 70s and in the Susurluk affair in the 90s.

Cur­rent­ly, the num­ber of actors with the poten­tial for vio­lence, and who could become inde­pen­dent from one anoth­er, is more impor­tant than it was in the past. It is tru­ly impos­si­ble to pre­dict today if tomor­row the inter­ests of these com­po­nents will merge with Erdoğan’s inter­ests. And this also holds true for the MHP which is very pow­er­ful in its para­mil­i­tary struc­tures. Will the MHP’s inter­ests inter­sect with those of the AKP tomor­row, no one can guess. But we can say that by enter­ing such a process of para­mil­i­ta­riza­tion, and by accel­er­at­ing it, Erdoğan has indeed tak­en huge risks.

Fortifying zones of resistance is necessary

You say: “The dan­ger of fac­ing tyran­ni­cal regimes whose sole legit­i­ma­cy rests in their sur­vival must be ruled out by pol­i­tics. The fact that world wide, soci­eties are enter­ing a post-polit­i­cal peri­od is a cat­a­stroph­ic sce­nario and could put an end to World His­to­ry.” Is Turkey mov­ing fur­ther and fur­ther away from the pos­si­bil­i­ty of resolv­ing its prob­lems through politics?

In fact, I had said those words think­ing rather of Europe. In that con­text, local elec­tions in Italy allowed for some hope; the rad­i­cal right and the right­ist coali­tion did not suc­cess. Cur­rent­ly in Turkey, with a pol­i­cy reduced to Par­ty patri­o­tism, in my opin­ion, it is very dif­fi­cult to emerge from the cri­sis. But, In Turkey there is a phe­nom­e­non: spaces of resis­tance exist. Their rein­force­ment, their deep­en­ing and their inter­link­ing are nec­es­sary. This also holds true for the Kur­dish move­ment, for the wom­en’s move­ment and also for the spaces and mech­a­nisms for social­iz­ing youth, which are con­sid­ered apo­lit­i­cal, but who are filled with seri­ous expec­ta­tions. In my opin­ion, it would be a huge mis­take to ascribe sole­ly to the elec­tions the emer­gence from the cri­sis and the devel­op­ment of the image of a demo­c­ra­t­ic society.

At the moment, one of the most urgent expec­ta­tions is the safe­guard of men­tal fac­ul­ties, giv­ing mean­ing to the world and to what is going on in Turkey.

When you exam­ine the his­to­ry of France in the peri­od after 1958, you can iden­ti­ty 15, 20 his­tor­i­cal mile­stones. When we look at Turkey, at least after 2013, there are hun­dreds of events those in pow­er define each time as being “his­tor­i­cal breaks” and this gen­er­ates a seri­ous loss of mem­o­ry, and the destruc­tion of men­tal fac­ul­ties. The zones of resis­tance must, at the same time, allow for the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of these cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ties. These spaces of resis­tance can be indi­vid­ual, col­lec­tive, take the form of the­ater, of read­ing cen­ters, but it is manda­to­ry that they ren­der accept­able the notion of the legit­i­ma­cy of resis­tance at the social lev­el. Resis­tance must be defined as a legit­i­mate right that estab­lish­es citizenship.

Pho­to: Hamit Bozarslan / Pho­to MA

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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