Anti-NATO Conference and Demonstrations in Istanbul

At the invitation of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), Harpal Brar, in his capacity as editor of Lalkar, was invited to participate in an International Conference in Istanbul to coincide with the NATO summit to be held in the same Turkish city. The purpose of this Conference is clear from the title it was held under, namely, “The probable new roles of NATO in the future imperialist scenarios: How to stop NATO?”

At the beginning of this year, the TKP had initiated the “Istanbul is closing its doors to NATO” campaign with a series of activities aimed at building a movement against the “… military, political and economic actions” emanating from the centres of imperialism. By way of a climax to that campaign and to express vehement opposition to the NATO summit in Istanbul and, more importantly to NATO as the instrument of imperialist aggression and predatory wars, the TKP took the initiative to unite the three coalitions which had been preparing to protest against the Istanbul NATO summit. Following discussions, all the three – the Committee against the Occupation (including TKP, Workers’ Council and Peace Association), the Coordination for Global Peace and Justice, and Unity against NATO and Bush – signed an accord, which made it possible for there to be a single anti-NATO demonstration in Istanbul on Sunday 27 June. This united demonstration was an encouraging big step forward for the progressive forces in Turkey.

The 27 June Rally, held in Kadikoy, the centre of the Asian part of Istanbul, attracted a huge crowd estimated at 40,000. The numbers could have been larger still had the Erdogan government, in its desire to please NATO, not put many obstacles in the way of its organisation. The government initially made strenuous efforts to prevent the rally taking place at all at any central location. However, under pressure from the organisers, the government had to relent and allow it to take place in Kadikoy Square. The government went to the extent of cancelling water transport between Kadikoy and the European part of Istanbul. It is a measure of the determination of the organisers and demonstrators alike that so many people did take part in this historic gathering, which was the largest anti-NATO rally anywhere, and one of the largest rallies to take place in Turkey in the recent past.

The rally was addressed by leaders of the labour unions and representatives from several other organisations. During their speeches, several speakers recited poems by the celebrated revolutionary communist poet of Turkey, Nazim Hikmet. The rally’s close was marked by musical performances given by several groups.

The crowd at the rally was remarkably young and a spirit of youthful enthusiasm and revolutionary optimism pervaded its proceedings from the beginning to the end.

The following day (28 June), the anti-NATO Conference was held in the TKP’s Beyoglu Branch headquarters on Istiklal Street, not very far from the venue of the NATO summit. Comrade Kemal Okuyan, the General Secretary of the TKP, in his brief opening address stated that until last year, NATO was not on the agenda in Turkey. After learning about the proposed NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June, the TKP worked hard to put NATO on the agenda. As a result, Turkish people no longer think that NATO is in their interests; they are angered by the presence of NATO leaders in Turkey.

He said, to the Turkish people, imperialism is synonymous with the US, adding that we must focus on NATO – not just Bush. The other problem the TKP had to grapple with was the attitude of the Turkish people towards the EU, as most Turks entertain the belief that the EU would act as a counter-weight to the US. For all that, he said the TKP was continuing to pursue its anti-imperialist and anti-NATO policy.

Representatives of approximately 15 fraternal parties and organisations from Europe, the Middle East and Australia were represented at the Conference and addressed it.

At the lunch break, the participants had the rare opportunity to view, from the third floor of the building, which serves as the headquarters of the TKP in this part of the town, a demonstration organised by the TKP, of about 4,000 people protesting against the NATO summit. During this demonstration, a group of TKP demonstrators hung an anti-NATO banner on the wall of the French Consulate. The banner read “Imperialists! Your are not wanted here!”

The final communiqué of the Conference expressed its categorical opposition to NATO. It went on: to say

– “We condemn the NATO Summit that is being held in Istanbul and the decisions of this aggressive political-military organisation to intervene in various parts of the world.

– “We demand that the occupation in Iraq should be brought to an end straight away, and the foreign troops deployed in this country should be immediately withdrawn.

– “We firmly believe that solidarity with the Palestinian people is an obligatory part of the fight against imperialism and thus should be further elevated.

– “We consider the unveiling of the critical role played by NATO as the watchdog of privatisations and all other economic and social assaults against the working classes to be an urgent task within the struggle against NATO”.

Lalkar takes this opportunity of thanking the comrades of the TKP for their warm and generous hospitality, as well as for their invitation to its editor to participate in the demonstration of 27 June and the Conference the following day.