On 10.10.2015, Ankara, the capital of Turkey shook by multiple explosions. Two suicide bombers detonated themselves in the middle of a crowd of civilians gathered to rally for peace. Peace in Syria, peace in the Southeast, peace on earth. A week later, details of the attack are still not clear, yet despite the media ban, it is now almost definite that the attack was carried by two men, both members of a splinter jihadist group we all came to know after the suicide attack in Suruc, that claimed 34 lives: Dokumacilar (the Weavers.) The attack in Ankara is our very own 9/11.
With the number of dead hovering over 100 and the number of injured well over 400, some still in critical condition, the trauma of the attack and its immediate aftermath will linger in our collective psyche for a very long time, along with the question: how did we get here?
Turkey was inching towards the Ankara massacre with solid steps. The hope that sprung with the June 6th elections did not last long. Coalition talks rendered fruitless, rumors abounded that the “Palace” (the Presidency) did not favor anything but a single party rule by the AKP, thus a re-election.
The country started spiraling into chaos. First there was the suicide bombing in Suruc that killed 34 bright, young people, en route to Kobane to help rebuild the war-torn Kurdish town in northern Syria. Immediately afterwards, the Turkish Parliament (with MPs holding temporary seats until a new government is formed) re-approved the cross-border operation clearance for the Turkish army. Turkish jets flew over the border, yet instead of heavily bombing ISIS targets in Syria, they bombed the PKK stronghold of Qandil in Northern Iraq.
PKK ended the ceasefire. First came the murders, execution style, of two policemen in Urfa’s Ceylanpinar, infamous for its proximity to the Syrian border and cross-border bombs landing near its residential areas. One officer was from the anti-terror squad and the other a riot police, both men were shot in the head in their apartment. As Reuters sourced the murders to PKK, Turkish media reported that they were carried out by HPG, the military wing of PKK, who in turn denounced the 3 year long ceasefire, calling it “pointless”.
The murders were enough of a reason for the security forces to step up their presence in neighborhoods in Diyarbakir, Sirnak, Cizre, reminiscent of the dark and bloody ’90s. Misinformation ran galore.
In Ankara the politicians, opposition mostly, were still trying to work out a coalition despite all odds. But the ex-government officials were not helping with their remarks on the “peace process” – thus, a lull of gunfire amidst talks to disarm the PKK was now a dream. Immediately after the end of the ceasefire between PKK and the Turkish armed forces, the country’s Southeast once again spiraled into unabated, uncontrolled violence. Cizre, Nusaybin, Diyarbakir, all HDP strongholds once again became war zones. Misinformation and censorship marred the news coverage from the region, blurred the psyches, pushed the subliminal buttons that said “segregation”, and once again the Turkish society was split into camps: Kurds and pro-Kurds vs the Nationalists, or AKP vs the opposition, or as Demirtas put it: supporters of peace vs advocates of war.
Ankara was hot, Southeast was hotter, and Syria was fuming. While Turkey was battling with its inner conflicts, with the transition government in place until the next round of elections in November, Russia decided to step out of the closet and voiced its open military support of Assad in Syria with airstrikes. The once covert Iranian military backing of Assad government in Syria was now publicly mourning its high-level military losses.
Turkey was now at war on all fronts:
- Relationship with Europe was sour due to the refugee influx, something the European elite was not too happy with, and they, although not openly, blamed Turkey for not keeping these people at bay.
- The relationship with the US was strained as Turkish armed forces, instead of using their beyond border operation clearance on deprecating ISIS, was instead using it to continue its vendetta with PKK. The Kurds had shown valor and determination in fighting ISIS. They were long time allies of the US in Iraq, and although PKK was a terrorist group denounced by the US, they could be tolerated given the fact that ISIS was a bigger threat, and the Parliament could explain their support of the Kurds to their constituents much easier than their support of other jihadists fractions within Syria while battling ISIS. So Turkey bombing the Kurdish guerrillas was not helping the US at all.
- Relations with Russia were, how should we put it, near frozen, ever since Turkey, at the presidential level, denounced Assad in derogatory terms, and insisted he be ousted on several accounts. And when the Russian jets started doing something the Turkish jets greatly failed at, bomb ISIS positions, although diplomacy ran at the highest level, it became even more strained when a Russian jet crossed into Turkish airspace. It was high time for NATO, an organization that was finding it hard to find itself a niche in the post-coldwar era. It announced its backing of Turkey should Russia not behave. A nice allegory on Rules of Engagement and border security.
The Ankara attack came at such a junction. Weeks before the next round of elections, to which polls showed would produce similar results in distribution of votes, something that Erdogan reportedly found unsatisfactory from start. A single party rule for another four years with majority in the Turkish parliament could grant him the necessary constitutional majority to change Turkey’s parliamentary system to single presidency, something he claimed would be better for Turkey. One-man rule. An open invitation to dictatorship should it end in the wrong hands.
To be continued….
Part II of the Ankara bombing series will be published when the media ban imposed by a Turkish court, effective as of 14 October 2015 on any related coverage, is lifted.