Turkish Communists: Still Waging A Cold War That No Longer Exists

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By Palash R. Ghosh | February 4, 2013 2:04 AM EST

An obscure extreme left-wing terrorist group in Turkey claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the U.S. embassy in Ankara which killed a security guard and the attacker.

The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) said the attack represented a "act of self-sacrifice" designed to target the US, whom they describe as the "murderer of the people of the world".

Marxist groups have carried out dozens of Turkish police, military, government and security officials as part of an orchestrated plan to establish a Communist state in Turkey.

However, Turkey’s Communists – who are largely fragmented and disorganized – are only one of many extremist organizations that have declared war on the Turkish state, including Islamist militants, Kurdish separatists, right-wing nationalists and others.

Indeed, Communists, who have existed in one form or another in Turkey for at least the past 90 years, have become marginalized, although they still carry out periodic attacks.

International Business Times spoke with an expert on Turkish and Middle East politics to sort out the complex history of Turkey’s various Communist factions.

Dr. Dilshod Achilov is Assistant Professor of Political Science at East Tennessee State University.

IB TIMES: An outlawed Turkish Marxist party has been linked to the suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday. I know there are many different Communist parties operating in Turkey currently, but generally speaking, has their power and influence been in decline over the past few decades?

ACHILOV: Yes, the influence of Marxist-Communist movements upon Turkish politics has significantly declined over the past two decades -- especially after the collapse of the USSR. With the end of the Cold War, the Communist ideology lost its appeal as it did in many other parts of the world.

The DHKP-C’s mentality, for instance, is still trapped in the Cold War. For them, the Cold War apparently never ended. This terrorist group has been long targeting the U.S. and its allies due to their relationship with Turkish Republic.

It is actually somewhat surprising that this movement is still active in this day and age. The number of followers of the radical DHKP-C is extremely low (in the hundreds, not in the thousands). Yet, being a radical terrorist entity, it remains a serious security threat to Turkey.  

DHKP-C is listed as a terrorist organization both by Turkey and the U.S. State Dept.

IB TIMES: The original Communist Party in Turkey was the Türkiye Komünist Partisi (TKP), which was formed in 1920 by Mustafa Suphi. Were they controlled by Moscow? And what was their primary goal for Turkey?

ACHILOV: Socialism was the most powerful ideology of the 20th century which triumphed with the rise of the USSR. In the early years following the Russian revolution, the effects of Communist-Socialist ideology began to inspire many prominent activists around the world. Turkey was no exception.

Although the extent of Moscow’s involvement was limited in early 1920s, after the World War 2, the Soviet Union was fully engaged in helping Turkish Communist activists in Turkey.

After that war, Moscow would play a central role in spreading the Communist ideology around the world. The ideology of TKP was to establish a classless Socialist-Communist political system similar that of the newly established Soviet Union.

The U.S. was highly concerned about the Soviet influence in Turkey. This led to the adoption of Truman Doctrine, which specifically targeted the spread of Communism in Turkey and Greece. The Truman Doctrine was instrumental in containing the spread of Communism -- especially in the newly established Turkish Republic.

IB TIMES: Are Communists generally banned in Turkey? Or have there been exceptions?

ACHILOV: From the early years of newly established Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was firm in not allowing the Communist ideology to take root in Turkey. There have been legal Turkish Communist parties which were essentially set up to “control” and “contain” the movement under the close watch of the state.

However, the Turkish Republic, since its inception, has been firm and clear in not allowing Communists to thrive or ever gaining power in political arena. The U.S. (e.g., through the Truman Doctrine) played a key role in alleviating the influence of Communism in Turkey after the World War 2.

While several Turkish Communist parties were closed down, several other new ones emerged throughout the Cold War era.

There is currently a legal TKP today. And of course, there is one notorious, marginal, violence-prone, terrorist, radical Communist DHKP-C which was responsible for the February 1 bombing.

IB TIMES: At what point did Communists enjoy the greatest support in Turkey and what was the principal source of their support? Trade unionists? The peasants? The intellectuals?

ACHILOV: The USSR was the main supporter of the Turkish Communist movement during the Cold War. Despite harsh state persecutions of Communist activists, the number and influence of Turkish Communists grew fairly rapidly during the Cold War.

The most prominent intellectual in the ranks of Turkish Communists was Nazim Hikmet, a novelist, poet and playwright. He made immense contributions to Turkish literature. His works are highly regarded and considered “classic” masterpieces in Turkish literature.

He fled from Turkey to escape state persecution and died in exile in Moscow.

After Hikmet’s death, the Communist movement in Turkey continued to revive and became a potent political force in 1970s. In fact, during 1970s, Turkish Communist movement enjoyed the rapid growth and support.

IB TIMES: Why are there so many different Turkish Communist parties and so much infighting? Why have they not been able to unite as one party?

ACHILOV: In general terms, we can divide Turkish Communist parties into two categories: moderate and radical Communists.

The methodology and strategies of attaining a Marxist-Leninist Socialist state can vary from faction to faction. While the current TKP is a considered legal and non-violent Communist party, the DHKP-C is a violent radical movement listed as a terrorist organization.

In addition, the size of various Communist factions are so small that it is virtually impractical to come into common terms as a big, potent, and united political front.

IB TIMES: Have there ever been Communists elected to high political office in Turkey?

ACHILOV: No Communist party ever came to power in Turkey. Yet, many prominent figures who sympathized with Communism reportedly held various lower-rank state and provincial government positions. But many of them chose to disguise their political identities to avoid state persecution or getting labeled.

Being a Communist and holding high office would be highly controversial (at a domestic level) and would not be welcomed either by the Turkish elites or the country’s Western allies.

IB TIMES: In contemporary Turkey, what do the Communists seek for the country, given that Marxism has declined around the world?

ACHILOV: Turkish Communists have become highly marginalized since the 1990s. The number of followers is very low; the impact of Marxist-Leninist Socialism is very negligible (next to nothing) in Turkish politics today.

The ideology of the current TKP is to establish a classless, secular, Socialist state -- not that different from the original vision. TKP objects to the Western-dominated capitalist economic system and views other major Turkish political parties – the ruling The Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Republican People's Party (CHP) -- as divisive and “bourgeoisie.”

IB TIMES: Are Turkish Communists in any way allied with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is also Marxist? Do Turkish Communists support Kurdish statehood or, at least, autonomy?

ACHILOV: Marxist-Leninist ideology stands at the core of PKK’s foundation and its political, social and economic philosophies. While both the PKK and the Communists are leftist movements, it does not mean that all Turkish Communists support the PKK or its cause.

In fact, the majority of TKP members do not support the PKK, viewing them as puppets of Western imperialism. PKK is largely viewed as a separatist movement that is manipulated by regional and other foreign capitalist powers.

A separatist-nationalist element of PKK is not supported by the majority of Turkish Communists (mainly by current TKP members).

IB TIMES: Do the Turkish Communists oppose religion, given that Turkish people are overwhelmingly Muslim? How can they possible hope to gain power then?

ACHILOV: Turkish Communists are ultra-secular who reject the role of religion in any aspect of public or individual life. In fact, religion is a major element of confrontation between the Communist-left and all the other centrist groups and, of course, those parties who are on the right.

Nevertheless, what makes the Turkish Communists so marginal and negligible in Turkey is not only due to religion. The large majority of the Turkish public, regardless if they are religious or secular, rejects and denounces Communism on the basis of its core political, economic and social programs/orientations/philosophies.

The Turkish Communist worldview is largely out of touch from the realities of modern Turkish public’s perceptions. They seem to be disconnected from the mainstream public’s vision of solving the pressing issues that country faces both at domestic (e.g., economic growth, privatization, etc.) and global levels (e.g., regional security, NATO, foreign policy, etc.).

With this in mind, secular Communist ideology’s possible triumph to power in Turkey is a very distant probability: it is impossible in any foreseeable future.

IB TIMES: What is the Communists view of Islamist organizations in Turkey?

ACHILOV: Turkish Communists are very skeptical of Islamic organizations. In particularly, the Communist left constantly bombards the conservative ruling Justice and Development party on almost every issue. The Communists also view themselves as “true” guardians of secularism -- as a cornerstone of modern Turkey -- enshrined in the Turkish constitution.

In their view, AKP is bringing down the secularism and replacing it with a theocratic rule. This is a rather radical and misguided view. In essence, the Communists believe that religion is an obstacle for the future of the Turkish Republic. This is a very misguided and narrow worldview in which there is no or limited space for individual civil liberties and religious tolerance.

IB TIMES: Are the Turkish Communists hopelessly fragmented and demoralized by the state’s crackdown to have any kind of future?

ACHILOV: First of all, Turkish Communist factions are already very marginal -- both in numbers and influence on Turkish political discourse. When asked, the majority of Turkish Communists are, in fact, optimistic about the future: they believe that the capitalist-bourgeoisie dominated class-based society will collapse one day and they shall rise again from the ashes.

The trend analysis suggests, however, that the influence of Communist factions continues to decline and erode. If this trend persists, as it will most likely do, the voice of Turkish Communism is expected to further dissipate in the near future.

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