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Report: One autocrat down, One more to go

One autocrat down…
Alliance between Trump and Erdogan caused great damage to humanity and freedom

One more to go
With Donald Trump gone, Erdogan keeps threat of anti-democratic, warmongering policies alive

Content
1. Introduction
2. Trump and Erdogan: A Common Threat 3. Dividing Society
4. Destabilizing the Middle East
5. Two Autocrats, Many Critics
6. After Trump and Erdogan
PDF: Report – One autocrat down, one more to go

1. Introduction 

With this report we intend to draw attention to the situation of the Kurdish people, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and the dangerous relationship between the two autocrats Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Our aim is to prevent that in the future two such autocrats will again be able to judge over the fate of a people, commit new massacres, carry out new ethnic cleansings and occupy even wider swaths of land. On this basis, we consider it our responsibility to share this extensive analysis of the dangerous Trump-Erdogan relationship with you.

The Trump-Erdogan relationship never looked like a traditional relationship between heads of states. In retrospect, their relationship is still ambiguous. In this regard, it would be a mistake to deem this relationship as a US-Turkey relationship because it was privatized by Trump and Erdogan.

On December 13, 2019 the New York Times wrote that Trump and Erdogan’s sons-in-laws – Jared Kushner and Berat Albayrak – had formed a “new generation communication channel’. Erdogan was one of those people that could reach Trump whenever he wanted. In this as of yet incomprehensible codependent relationship, Trump would sometimes warn Erdogan with sentences like “don’t be a fool,” and sometimes would describe him as “brave, trustworthy and a close friend”. The parameters of this relationship are all laid bare in former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book “The Room Where It Happened”.

The “Halkbank Case,” which is a trial of an extensive Iranian sanctions busting scheme, actually implicates high level Turkish government officials. The comprehensive indictment included a “conspiracy to evade the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, defrauding the US Treasury Secretary, Embezzlement and money laundering.”

In his book, Bolton writes that in a phone call with Trump Erdogan asked for help in this case with the former US President promising to do so. It is still not known what this help was contingent on. However, Pastor Andre Brunson, who was at the time being detained in a Turkish prison on significant terrorism charges, was released as per Trump’s demand and Erdogan’s order to the judiciary.

Both Trump and Erdogan used the traditional mechanisms, institutions and principles of government to their own personal ends. Both the Halkbank case and the Pastor Brunson case were resolved by politicians, not by legal proceedings. Both Trump and Erdogan’s overlapping megalomaniac, churlish, rude and disrespectful characteristics enhanced their relationship. Trump even indulged Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defence system from Russia. Instead of criticizing the contradiction this posed to Turkey’s NATO commitments, Trump weirdly owned the purchase by saying, “the US did not sell Turkey the missiles so Turkey had to buy them from Russia.”

Another topic in which Trump was completely consumed by Erdogan was the Kurds. In the fights against ISIS the US and the Kurds are part of the same coalition. Turkey, on the other hand, has been supporting al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and ISIS. However, Trump and his Syria Envoy James Jeffrey instead of supporting their partners the Kurds, supported Turkey. On October 7, 2019 this support paved the way for Trump to announce that he was withdrawing American soldiers from Syria, effectively green lighting Turkey’s invasion of Serekaniye and Gire Spi on Ocober 9, 2019.

In this report you can find a detailed account of the huge harm the two autocrats Trump and Erdogan have inflicted on the Kurds, the other people in the region and their very own societies.

2. Trump and Erdogan: A Common Threat

The last weeks of Donald Trump`s presidency have shown the world what immediate danger autocratic rulers pose even to societies that have a deeply democratic self-understanding. Peoples, politicians and journalists from all continents followed in awe the turbulent events that accompanied Trump`s removal from power. Even greater was the sense of relief when this chapter of US-American history came to an end and the new US administration began its work. Yet, the problem Trump represented continues to exist. The Trump administration might have been removed from power for now by the American people. But the ideology and policy of Trump are being held alive by leaders of other countries causing great harm to their own people and neighboring societies.

The most prominent and widely discussed example is the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been ruling Turkey since 2002. While he was first celebrated as a democratic hope for the country and the Middle East, criticism over his treatment of ethnic groups like the Kurds and Armenians or increasing corruption among the national elite soon grew stronger. Today, Erdogan`s Turkey finds itself massively isolated politically while it is involved in basically all military conflicts of the MENA region. After nearly 20 years of his rule, Turkey`s society is more divided than ever, the countries economy ruined and political freedoms are virtually non-existent. The European Union, all major Arab countries and the USA find themselves in contradictions with Erdogan that – despite temporary tactical maneuvers – seem to get increasingly deeper.

With Donald Trump gone, the US society and countries all over the world feel a great sense of relief. They are looking forward to a more predictable, comprehensive US policy that does not show complete disregard for human rights, basic democratic principles and the rule of law. It would be only consequent to expand these demands to autocratic rulers like Erdogan, who continue to subject their countries and the international community to unacceptable pain and suffering. While societies in countries with strong democratic institutions have the chance to make use of elections in order to choose the government they consider best for their interests, the people of Turkey are faced with a ruler that shows no intentions to respect the democratic will of its population. Therefore, the international community has the urgent responsibility to support the ongoing and steadily intensifying protest of Turkey`s population against the autocratic rule of Erdogan. Effective international pressure on Erdogan and his supporters will be of great help for the people of Turkey to achieve what Americans have recently successfully fought for: getting rid of an autocratic ruler and taking the necessary steps to build a democratic and free future for their country. For all those who have fought to prevent a second term of Trump, removing Erdogan from power is the next necessary step to take.

3. Dividing Society

Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan share many similarities in a variety of fields. The populist and intolerant policy of both has taken its toll on their respective societies. While Americans have successfully fought for the opportunity to heal their wounds after four years of Donald Trump, the society of Turkey continues to struggle under very oppressive circumstances against Erdogan`s policy of division, hate and war in their country.

Right-wing basis

The former US-president and the current Turkish ruler have both proven to be right-wing populists willing to make and break coalitions with more ideologically defined right-wing factions to gain and hold onto power. While Trump did not split with any faction of the American right as quickly and dramatically as Erdogan split with the Gulen movement, he was willing to alternatively embrace and distance himself from mainstream-centrist Republicans, organized far-right groups, white-supremacy activists, and other right-wing constituencies.

Both leaders are more interested in maintaining power and relevance than aligning themselves with a specific and coherent position on the political right, and both countries have right-wing social and political elements that do not always agree with each other, allowing room for these maneuvers.

Their sole reliance on a right-wing, nationalist faction of society and the state apparatus has created a sense of exclusion among groups that don`t feel their point of view is being considered. While Donald Trump left office with a historically low approval rate of only 34%1, the last Turkish elections in March 2019 showed that more than half of the population doesn`t support Erdogan. This disapproval has only increased ever since. Meanwhile, nationalist supporters of Erdogan – similar to Trump`s support base – constantly threaten critical voices2 and people they identify as non-compliant with their nationalist ideals and don`t fall short of putting their threats into practice3.

Especially the HDP (People`s Democratic Party) and its supporters are faced with heavy pressure. In the past years, thousands of HDP members have been arrested, several of HDP Member of Parliament had their immunity revoked4 and the former co-chairs of the party, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag, have been imprisoned for over four years. This one-sided, intolerant policy of Trump and Erdogan has led to a poisoned domestic atmosphere in both the US and Turkey. Re-establishing the practice of vivid democratic debate and compromise is something the US society has just recently embarked on while the people of Turkey still find themselves threatened with imprisonment and murder for claiming their most basic right such as free speech and protest5.

Corruption

The former US-president and the current ruler of Turkey both cast themselves as opposed to elites, despite being firmly entrenched in the social and cultural elite of their respective countries. Both leaders are wealthy and corrupt, and have used their office to enrich themselves and their inner circles. Erdogan has shaped elite culture around his preferences through his control of public discourse, while Trump – a former reality star and famous businessman – was already a part of the cultural mainstream. Yet they are both able to contrast themselves with elite figures in their opposition – largely due to the inability of centrists in both countries to craft compelling economic and political messages.

Having grown up in a poor family in Istanbul, Erdogan has become a billionaire during the almost two decades of his of rule. Today, he is considered the most corrupt leader in Turkey`s history6 with similar accusations being made against Donald Trump7. The reckless personal enrichment both have pursued has caused great damage to the democratic institutions of their countries and have significantly weakened the people`s trust in democratic principles. The great damage this intransparent policy has caused to American democratic culture and institutions is now slowly being repaired. Yet, in Turkey Erdogan continues to use the country`s riches for his personal advantages thus destabilizing established democratic mechanisms and leading Turkey into an intensifying state crisis8. Even more, his corrupt policies have become a basis for his relations to other leaders in the region thus spreading the destabilizing effect of intransparency and corruption to other parts of the Middle East9.

Ethnic Divisions

The incitement of hatred and violence against oppressed peoples is also a commonality of Trump and Erdogan. For both leaders, racism is an essential component of their most authoritarian tendencies. Erdogan’s renewed hostility towards the Kurds since his abandonment of the peace process in 2015 that had been initiated by the imprisoned Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan is a defining aspect of his regime, regardless of his earlier, more conciliatory approach to the issue. This dynamic has shaped every aspect of Turkey’s foreign10 and domestic politics11.

Trump campaigned on racist rhetoric against nearly every non-white community in the United States, as well as many foreign countries12. His reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020 showed how he was willing to sideline democratic rights and give security forces precedent over civilian governments in order to crush anti-racist organizing.

The racist, nationalist policy of the Turkish president Erdogan continues to threaten the multi- cultural fabric of the country. Today, anyone who does not comply with Erdogan`s ideal of a male, Sunni, Turkish citizen is confronted with daily experiences of discrimination and assault at the least. Even worse, many critics of Erdogan have been arrested, extradited or killed on the pretext of supporting terrorism. In today`s Turkey, people have even been killed for listening to Kurdish music13 or speaking in their Kurdish mother tongue14. Armenians, Greeks and other ethnic groups are faced with similar attacks that only seem to increase due to the warmongering, nationalist atmosphere created by Erdogan. With his policy Erdogan aims at instigating enmity between the Kurdish and Turkish population. Especially after forming a coalition with the ultra-fascist MHP party, this policy has intensified tremendously taking a huge toll not only in Turkey itself, but in all countries with a major Kurdish population (Iraq, Syria, Iran and EU member states). Since the Turkish president hopes to stabilize his grip on power by inciting nationalism and racism, the diverse fabric of Turkey`s society has become seriously threatened.

Hostility Towards Women

Both leaders share a hostility towards women’s rights as well. Trump is infamous for bragging about his record of sexually assaulting women in a leaked tape published late in the 2016 presidential campaign15. Erdogan has said that he does not think women and men can ever be equal16 and has not refrained from giving women advice on motherhood, calling those who don`t comply with his ideal “incomplete”17. Violence against women has increased dramatically in the last decade of his rule18. The religious conservatives whose support drives the success of both the AKP and the Republican Party mandate a degree of inequality, but both Erdogan and Trump have been more open about embracing stereotypes and celebrating violence than average conservative politicians.

Today, women in Turkey are faced with constantly increasing pressure on their basic rights and their livelihoods. In the Western part of the country women`s protests against Turkey leaving the Istanbul Convention – a European treaty against gender-based violence – have dominated 2020. Today, women in Turkey are faced with a social atmosphere that grants perpetrators of sexual abuse impunity19, allows major media outlets – all under Erdogan`s control – to spread sexist propaganda and regularly motivates politicians and well-known public figures to express their contempt for women publicly20. Because of their high degree of political women`s organization – fighting for women liberation and against patriarchy – and their strong protest, especially Kurdish women have become a target of Erdogan`s attacks. Many women representatives such as activists and elected majors have been arrested21.

Women are also faced with systematic attacks on their livelihoods with dozens of cases of women being murdered by their men, many of them members of Turkish security forces. The case of Gülistan Doku, a 21-year-old woman who went missing in the eastern province of Dersim on Jan. 5, 2020, gained huge national and international public attention22. In 2019, almost 500 women were murdered in Turkey with widespread concerns that this number has increased remarkably during the Corona pandemic of 202023. Especially the attacks on women continue to have a destructive effect on the social climate in Turkey weakening the solidarity and trust among the people – things so desperately needed for the struggle for a democratic Turkey.

Disregard for Free Media

Erdogan and Trump value control over the media, though they had different capacities to put this into practice. Erdogan uses a massive state media apparatus to speak to his audience, Trump preferred a Twitter account. Both considered media opposed to their preferences to be a threat. Trump was not able to target journalists on the scale that Erdogan did, though it is likely his rhetoric about both the media and about protests led to the massive increase in the targeting of journalists by local police departments seen during Black Lives Matter protests24.

As a conclusion of a four-day mission to Turkey in October last year, 11 international press freedom, journalism and human rights groups criticized the “growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment”25 in the country.

In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index Turkey was ranked 154th clearly indicating the dire circumstances that make it impossible for journalists to do their work independently in the country26. In 2020, 37 journalists – most of them Kurdish – were jailed in Turkish prisons – the second highest number after China27. The Turkish president Erdogan has repeatedly labeled critical journalists “terrorists”28 which – under his autocratic rule – equals ordering the courts to put them in prison.

Nevertheless, Turkish and Kurdish journalists continue to insist on their right to free reporting both in- and outside of Turkey despite the tremendous price many of them have to pay for doing so.

4. Destabilizing the Middle East

On foreign policy, Trump and Erdogan were both guided by nationalist ambition, personal gain, and a disregard for human rights. Both see international politics, like domestic politics, as a way to enrich themselves and those around them. For Trump, restoring American greatness in the world included efforts to disengage from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, while for Erdogan, making Turkey great again involved outright neo-Ottoman expansionism. After four years of the Erdogan-Trump alliance, the chaos in the Middle East has only grown bigger with millions of people forced to leave their homes and radical Islamist groups terrorizing populations in the whole MENA region.

Occupation

Donald Trump`s reluctance to start new wars did not automatically lead to him solving the ones that had been started before his term in office. During his term as President of the USA, the conflict between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish population of Iraq escalated in late 2017, Turkey and its Islamist proxies occupied Afrin – the most secure and prosperous Kurdish enclave in Syria – in March 2018 and the North Syrian cities Gire Spi and Serekaniye in October 2019. Trump had given green light for these Turkish occupations without even consulting his own administration. As a result of this murderous cooperation between Erdogan and Trump, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes. Those who decided to stay, are facing daily kidnappings29, extortion and sexual abuse of women30.

The Turkish occupation has heavily violated international law31 and the crimes committed by these occupational forces are considered by many observers a crime against humanity32. Since 2018, around a thousand women have been abducted by Turkish soldiers and their Islamist proxies in Afrin. The fate of 400 of the kidnapped victims is unclear. 76 women were murdered and another 76 raped. Child marriage has increased from ten to forty percent33. A similar fate has struck Ezidis in Sinjar, the population of Libya, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Kurdish villagers in North Iraq – all regions that were attacked and occupied with direct or indirect support of Erdogan and his Islamist mercenaries. Current Turkish military operations in North Iraq against Kurdish freedom fighters (PKK) have had an especially high toll on the local civilians and have paved the way for the Turkish military to establish more than 40 bases in South Kurdistan/North Iraq. This clear violation of humanitarian law had been actively supported by the Trump administration. Currently, the region is facing the threat of a massive military operation with the aim of occupying all of North Iraq/South Kurdistan and crushing the resistance of the Kurdish guerrilla.

Ethnic Cleansing

Trump and Erdogan notably made common cause in North and East Syria in October 2019, when the American President gave his Turkish counterpart green light to invade, occupy, and ethnically cleanse Serekaniye and Gire Spi. Despite Trump`s cynical claims that “Kurds are much safer right now”34, the population of the Kurdish areas occupied by Turkish troops and radical Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Kaida, the IS and al-Nusra continue to face systematic attacks on their livelihoods that can only be called ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Islamist fighter alongside their families have been allowed to settle in abandoned Kurdish villages in Afrin since its occupation in early 201835. About 300.000 inhabitants of the North Syrian city Serekaniye were forcefully removed from their homes and again replaced with Islamist proxies and their families36. The world witnessed similar scenes after Turkish-backed Islamists and Azerbaijani forces pushed out Armenian residents from their villages in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Donald Trump`s open support or silence paved the way for Erdogan`s policy of ethnic cleansing in Syria, Iraq and Armenia/Azerbaijan. Although Trump is gone now, the one who actively planned and carried out this policy – Recep Tayyip Erdogan – remains in power and seems to be planning more of these atrocious acts.

Refugee Blackmailing and New Walls

While international observers have repeatedly acknowledged Turkey`s role in sheltering war refugees, Erdogan has been keen on instrumentalizing the suffering of millions of people in order to blackmail the European Union and its member states. “We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” he told European countries thus turning the fate of war refugees into a matter of political bargaining37. Pictures of tens of thousands of refugees being transported to the Turkish-Greek border with buses went around the world in the spring of 2020. Trump, too, has used the suffering of those forced to flee from wars and poverty for his own political agenda. For months, his border wall project occupied the news and showed the whole world how Trump intended to treat the most defenseless: He wished for “an electrified fence and sharp spikes on top” and suggested to shoot at those trying to get across the border.38 Both Erdogan and Trump have repeatedly proven their willingness to exploit refugees for their nationalist and racist agenda. In the USA, this has led to an intense feeling of exclusion among people from refugee communities and increasing racist attacks against those discriminated against by Trumps remarks. For the millions of Syrians, Kurds, Afghans or Iraqis that have fled to Turkey, Erdogan`s policy has meant vicious attacks by nationalist crowds39 and a sense of complete exclusion. Tens of thousands of them see no other way but to try to reach Europe using extremely dangerous routes such as the trip by boat to Greek islands. News of children, women and whole families that drowned between the Turkish coast and neighboring Greek islands have become an almost daily reality.

Plight of Ezidis

The instrumentalization of refugees and the policy of occupation and ethnic cleansing have taken the highest toll on the Ezidi population of Sinjar. The mountain and its surrounding villages located in north-western Iraq were attacked by IS in August 2014. Ever since, ample proof of Erdogan`s massive support for IS has surfaced.40 Hundreds of thousands of Ezidis were driven out of Sinjar and thousands killed. Thousands of women were abducted, raped and sold as sex slaves.41 Today, there is proof of Ezidi women still being held as slaves in Turkey.42 With his support for IS, Erdogan has directly contributed to uprooting one of the oldest communities of the Middle East. While many Ezidis have returned to Sinjar today and insist on rebuilding their lifes there, the Turkish autocrat continues to threaten the local Ezidi population. Regular attacks by Turkish warplanes and drones have taken a high toll on the people living in Sinjar.43 These attacks constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and Iraqi sovereignty. A deal signed on October 9, 2020 by the central Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since been confronted with heavy criticism of Sinjar`s population. They consider the Baghdad-Erbil deal a renewal of the devastating attacks by IS that had put the Ezidi community at the risk of extinction44. Observers have stated stressed that the implementation of the deal is in Erdogan`s interest since it would allow the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party, strong ally of Erdogan) to regain influence in the region. Unfortunately, the UN have played the role of a facilitator of this dangerous deal thus violating its own charter guaranteeing the right of self-determination for all people. The UN charter clearly states that “all peoples have the right of self-determination”45 although the secession of a people from its state is understood as a matter of last resort only. This is the case for people who are being oppressed or not justly represented by the state governing them – clearly being the case for the Ezidi population of Sinjar.

5. Two Autocrats, Many Critics

With their aggressive and polarizing policies, both Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have led their countries into deep international isolation. Trump`s four-year term was marked by strong criticism from the very beginning. Especially women, the African-American community and journalists became strong voices against the one-sided, self-centered agenda of the former American president. This amounted to two impeachments and the accusation that Trump had supported violent, armed rioters in the American capital. Erdogan, too, has faced an ever-growing number of critics both in- and outside of Turkey. The many Kurdish political activists, journalists and lawyers who have been protesting against Erdogan`s autocratic rule are increasingly joined by academics, students and human rights activists from other parts of Turkey. This developments has intensified remarkably ever since Erdogan started a new war against the Kurdish population of Turkey in June 2015.

Thus, the list of national and international critics that have been raising awareness for the many crimes of the Turkish president seems endless. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament and the former European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator referred to Erdogan and Trump as a “ring of autocrats” and described their most striking similarities as follows: “Not only do they like each other, they also have one thing in common. Bashing and destroying our way of thinking, our values, our European liberal democracy”46. Similarly, the lawyer and former Member of the Austrian Parliament for the Austrian Green Party, Berivan Aslan, has referred to Erdogan`s policy as “nothing else but fascism” and stated that “his policy in North Syria aims at ethnic cleansing”. She has accused him of providing essential support to IS and concluded: “When IS was in Kobane, right at the Turkish border, this did not constitute a problem for Erdogan.”47

Asli Erdogan, world-renowned Turkish author and human rights activist, has found clear words for the autocratic rule of the Turkish president: “Maybe it has really come the time now, to start using the term `fascism`.”48 Duran Kalkan, member of the PKK Executive Committee, also underlined the destructive results of the Trump-Erdogan alliance that led to several invasions, a broadening occupation and brutal ethnic cleansing in Kurdistan. He emphasized the strong complicity between both autocratic rulers49.

In the USA, too, a growing number of critics have sharply criticized the policy of the Turkish ruler. Noam Chomsky has called Erdogan “a murderer” and the Turkish government “deeply authoritarian”.50 Concerning Erdogan`s strong ties with radical Islam Chomsky stated: “Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different.”51 In line with Chomsky`s serious accusations, David L. Phillips, professor at Columbia University and former senior advisor to the U.S. Department of State, has said: “Crimes that his Free Syrian Army (FSA) mercenaries commit in his name are Erdogan’s responsibility; the FSA is under Turkey’s command”. He stated that “Since the so-called coup of 2016, Erdogan has turned Turkey into a giant gulag”. Phillip`s conclusion is clear: “Erdogan shouldn’t be in the White House, he should be in the Hague facing judges for the crimes he’s committed”. Drawing similarities between the devastating results of Trump`s and Erdogan`s policies, he called for radical actions: “We need a regime change, not only in Turkey, but in the United States, to put this relationship back on track.”52

A long list of international presidents and prime ministers have repeatedly voiced strong criticism over the Turkish ruler. The French president, Emanuel Macron, asked Erdogan to “not tell lies and […] not utter insults”.53 Much clearer words came from the current US-president, Joe Biden, who has referred to Erdogan as an “autocrat” and stated that “He has to pay a price”. Consequently, Biden has said: “What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership.” Biden has made it clear that it is the international community`s urgent responsibility to support the opposition in Turkey “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process”, thus paving the way for a democratization of the country.54

Critics from all specters of the American society have worked constantly and relentlessly for four years to finally achieve the removal of Donald Trump from power. Kurds, Armenians, women, the youth, students, worker`s unions and many more have been critically following every step of Erdogan since he won power in 2002. With every step he has taken towards his autocratic, nationalist and warmongering policy, their protest has become louder. Today, the whole world can hear their demands for the removal of Erdogan from power and the start of a long-needed process of peace and democratization in Turkey. Many state leaders, human rights activists, academics and artists from all over the world have responded to this call and have found clear words for the necessary fate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today, increasing this vital support for all political activists and opposition parties in Turkey is more urgent than ever. If increased, Turkey will get the chance to win back its most basic rights of freedom and democracy.

6. After Trump and Erdogan

Unlike Erdogan, Trump has recently been removed from power. Eventually, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a summer of civil unrest cost him reelection. His actions in the aftermath of that election, which culminated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol by far-right groups on January 6th, cost him the support of Congress, the military, and large corporations. These other centers of power in America decided that the attempt to overturn the election results through undemocratic legal tactics, open violence, and support for conspiracy theories was too dangerous to tolerate.
The fact that his successor, Democratic President Joe Biden, is far from what would qualify as radical even in the narrow terms of American politics likely eased this decision. While it is certainly important to note that American institutions “worked” to provide a peaceful transfer of power, it must be noted that they only took action against Trump when their interests were specifically threatened.

Erdogan has been much more effective in installing loyalists across all relevant areas of the state and society, and thus cannot be pushed back from anti-democratic behavior by a competing elite consensus. It is also much easier for him to rig and suppress votes in the first place than it is for an American president to do so. Erdogan clearly showed the willingness to do exactly that after the general election on June 7, 2015, when he lost his majority and as a response openly rejected the election results only to incite a wave of violence against the Kurdish population and its political party HDP. Thus, in the summer of 2015 the country experienced an unprecedented wave of violence that Erdogan used to win the votes of nationalist voters for the election in November of the same year. This clearly shows that the danger Erdogan constitutes for democracy is even higher than the extent to which Donald Trump threatened the democratic institutions and principles of the USA on January 6, 2021.

It is only possible to challenge the autocratic Erdogan regime through strong international support for the opposition in Turkey. The international community and states need to take a clear stance against all blackmailing by Erdogan. All international institutions should pressure Erdogan to follow basic democratic principles in line with decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Council (CoE), especially the recent ECHR decision regarding imprisoned Kurdish politicians55 and Turkish intellectuals56. A report published by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) – an institution of the CoE – that was published last year also urged Turkey to lift the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan and defined the many violations of Mr. Öcalan`s rights as outright torture. Based on these important decisions made recently by major European institutions, the international community and states need to increase their pressure by imposing an embargo on Turkey. The international community should not sacrifice their own law and values and the democratic and legal rights of the population of Turkey for their economic and military interests.

Americans are now realizing that defeating racism, nationalism and authoritarianism altogether will be far more difficult than removing one racist, nationalist, authoritarian individual from power was. Progressive and democratic political forces in Turkey and Kurdistan have always known that removing a leader like Erdogan is less than half of the battle.

To establish peace and democracy in the Middle East, the peoples of this region will have to address the prejudices and structural problems that allowed Erdogan to become what he is. A political program to do just that already exists. Rojava is one shining example of how people who suffered under authoritarian rule can transform society when given a chance to do so. The changes that are possible when a dictator finally falls are difficult, but more than worthwhile to make. It will be a good day for the Middle East and the world when the peoples of Turkey and Kurdistan are in a position to implement them. For this to happen, the international community needs to increase its pressure on Erdogan and its support for all supporters of democracy in Turkey. The successful, year-long struggle for the removal of Donald Trump from power shows that it is possible. After Trump, it is only logical for the Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan to go next.

PDF: Report – One autocrat down, one more to go

For more information please contact:
Kurdistan National Congress – KNK
[email protected]
Tel. :+32.2647 3084
Fax:+32.2647 6849