The political everyday never ceases to be eventful for those who live in Turkey or who follow it closely: the consolation of a smooth veneer disguising the wretched operations of structural violence is a luxury rarely exported to the global south. But what has been unfolding in Turkey since the early summer of 2015 has gone far beyond the usual state of agitation. The violence that has been unleashed onto the political scene after the general elections of June 2015 in which the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) lost its absolute majority has been immense beyond conception. One sentence that had been uttered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before the June elections takes on a particularly sinister significance in retrospect. Addressing a crowd in the southeast Anatolian town of Gaziantep in March 2015, Erdoğan had said “Give us 400 deputies and let this issue be resolved peacefully,” referring to the low-intensity war between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the Turkish state that has lasted for almost 40 years and taken more than 40 thousand lives. When the June elections only yielded 261 seats for the AKP, Erdoğan’s threat materialized in the form of a new bloody episode of the war against the PKK, as well as two potentially state-sponsored massacres – Suruç in July and Ankara in October. In the repeat elections of November 2015, the AKP increased its seats to 317. Yet the flood of violence they cynically unleashed is seemingly unstoppable: the war against the PKK rages on, subjecting civilian populations in various Kurdish towns and districts to open-ended and round-the-clock curfews for days, sometimes weeks on end, enforced by threat of summary execution by snipers: as of 21 January 2016, the civilian death toll of these curfews was 198, including 39 children.1
This intensification of violence has been complemented by the increasingly fierce crackdown on any form of dissent. Attacks against freedom of assembly have been partially formalized through a new security act passed in April 2015, which broadens police powers to use firearms against, search and detain protesters, and stipulates lengthy prison terms for various protest related offences.2 Attacks on freedom of expression take myriad forms, for example, ordinary citizens posting on social media about the president are hounded by a law that criminalizes “insulting” the president (more than 1300 have been prosecuted under this law during Erdoğan’s 1.5-year term as president);3 and media workers unwilling or unable to toe the line risk losing their livelihood or liberty.4
No one is exactly exempt from this crackdown. As this issue was being prepared, our contributor Haydar Darıcı was detained by the police in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakır for participating in a protest that called for the lifting of the curfew in the city’s Sur district. Although eventually released, he is currently subject to a travel ban and awaiting trial on charges of membership of a terrorist organization, doing propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization, and breaching the law of assembly. His academic work has been used to build the charges against him. Further, several of the contributors to this issue are, at the time of writing, under a criminal investigation for having signed a “not in my name” petition concerning the war,5 potentially facing terrorism related charges, as well as charges of “insulting Turkishness”. Colleagues based in Turkish institutions who are among the signatories of this petition are particularly vulnerable. In addition to criminal charges, they are threatened with fascist hate campaigns and formal action by their institutions including disciplinary proceedings, suspension, and dismissal. While the petition affair has had a global profile, generating widespread outrage and numerous international petitions and statements of support,6 its repercussions for individual signatories are likely to be long-lasting in a context where appointments and promotions are already highly politicized.
Thought inevitably attaches to what it already knows. A common trope in much of the oppositional political commentary in Turkey today is that of a “return”. The current regime of repressive authoritarianism is often discussed in...