In the above photo, we see Turkish fascists marching with torches in 2014, chanting anti-Kurdish slogans and displaying the hand signal of the Grey Wolves three years before US fascists marched with the same kind of torches at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the United States and many other countries, Turkey has been on a trajectory towards escalating authoritarianism for a long time; it is arguably further along this trajectory than most. How did an autocratic government gain control in Turkey, forging an alliance between a once-secular nationalism and fundamentalist Islam? Studying the roots of present-day fascism in Turkey will help us to understand the origins of the Turkish invasion of Rojava, identify potential comrades and fault lines within Turkish society, and catch a glimpse of what the future may look like everywhere if we don’t succeed in halting the rise of autocracy.
The appendix includes an interview with a member of Revolutionary Anarchist Action, an anarchist organization active in Turkey for ten years.
Not long ago, Turkey was a darling of the Western world. A favorite tourist destination of Europeans and Russians, home to the one of the longest-standing US foreign military bases, and a top recipient of IMF/World Bank loans, the country bridging Asia and Europe once had a generally a favorable reputation among all from US military brass to financial speculators. This image has been severely tarnished by the Turkish military’s latest incursion into northern Syria, which elicited widespread disapproval from various politicians as well as international social movements.
Yet although the invasion took many people by surprise, Turkey itself has always been shaped by a mix of fascisms—an ethno-state built upon the slaughter of Armenians and the expulsion of Greeks as well as the colonial assimilation of the local Kurdish population. At its foundation, the national Turkish identity was conceived for the benefit of the Muslim population, borrowed from the “nation system” by which the Ottoman Empire divided the population according to religion.