Theresa May with President Erdogan

Putting the spotlight on UK arms sales to Turkey

Earlier this year, Turkish forces entered Afrin, Syria. Ceren Sagir and Cinar Altun from Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT) highlight the UK’s complicity in the atrocities that are taking place.

World leaders have watched idly as Turkey has fallen into even great authoritarianism and repression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in any other country, with other 160 news organisations closed since the coup-attempt: including 45 newspapers. 32 radio stations, 30 TV channels and 19 magazines. That is one reason why Freedom House has taken the step of declaring Turkey ‘not free’ for the first time this year.

Human rights and the foundations of democracy are being dismantled, but many EU countries have willingly ignored the oppression taking place while distastefully bartering over refugee numbers and quietly continuing to arm the regime.

Last year, Theresa May signed a £100m fighter jet deal with Erdoğan during a high profile visit to Ankara. Turkey is listed among the ‘priority markets’ for UK arms exports. That means that civil servants from the Department of International Trade will work to promote and prioritise arms exports to it. Turkey was also present at the DSEI arms fair last year.

In recent years, as the conflict in Syria has grown, the Turkish Government’s foreign policy has become increasingly aggressive. Turkey’s aggression both against its own people and across its borders in Syria have been largely ignored by Western states, including our very own government.

Earlier this year, the Turkish government launched an unprovoked invasion against the Kurdish held region of Afrin. This terrible war was a sign of things to come.

Even in its early days, this invasion utilised widespread air strikes and shelling, killing hundreds and forcing thousands to flee. The Turkish State has also carried out a bloody crackdown on its own Kurdish population and anyone expressing support for the Kurds is routinely branded a terrorist.

The Turkish government claims that the Kurds in northern Syria are a threat to its security and has vowed to purge them from the region. The UK government has expressed support for Turkey saying that it has the right to defend its borders, but it is clear that Erdogan’s motives go far beyond defending borders. More than 300 people were arrested in Turkey after posting messages online criticising the offensive in Syria.

The Turkish Government have been implicated in recruiting ex-ISIS fighters who have been accused of killing, looting and terrorising civilians in Afrin. The intervention has left an estimated 150,000 people displaced and 500 civilians killed.

Meanwhile, Erdogan has boasted that “Almost all of the armoured carriers in Afrin are domestically produced”, whilst simultaneously blaming the deaths of Turkish soldiers in Afrin on countries that did not sell Turkey complex weapons, including armed drones. In recent years, Erdogan has taken direct control of Turkey’s arms industry, with the goal of reducing its dependency on imported arms.

But Erdogan’s war mongering is as much about drumming up nationalist sentiments as it is about making sure Turkey remains a dominant player in regional politics. That sentiment was a key driver of his vote in the Presidential elections this year. It is therefore no surprise that in order to entrench his leadership, Erdogan has vowed to expand Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria into other Kurdish-held areas.

The question now is how far will he go now that the elections are over? International solidarity is urgently needed to fight against the war and repression being pursued by Erdogan and his colleagues. Calling the UK Government to account for its complicity in Turkey’s aggression is a vital first step.

Solidarity with People of Turkey (SPOT) is an umbrella group made up of progressive organisations, campaign groups and trade unions in the UK.

SPOT aims to support those struggling for democracy and fundamental freedoms in Turkey, whilst also contributing to the working people’s struggle in the UK. You can find out more about SPOT here.

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