Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Second Ankara bombing

That Turkish authorities were so quick to blame Syrian Kurdish armed groups for a bombing in Ankara has raised eyebrows and questions, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

The snowball is growing and gathering speed. The alarm is mounting and questions are accumulating. Given the current climate, it is difficult to predict what might happen the next moment, let alone the next day. Within less than an hour after the working day ended on Wednesday 17 February, when tens of thousands of people were on their way home, Ankara was rocked by a horrific explosion.

The bombing, the second in four months in the city, was clearly borne by the winds of devastation that are striking Anatolia from across the border with Syria, where the future appears darker than ever and forebodes a fully fledged international war.

Not long after the incident, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters at the elegant late-Ottoman era Ciragan Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus, assured Turkish and international public opinion that his country was still one of the safest on earth. How could anyone have missed it? Or, perhaps it was a form of optimism inspired by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s announcement that his government was putting into place a tightly designed, comprehensive security plan to ward off any repetition of such attacks.

Some quarters of opinion were at a loss as to the source of the prime minister’s excessive confidence. The Sözçü noted that the Finance Ministry has allocated the huge sum of YTL 1.636 billion (about 500 billion euros) to the national intelligence agency (MIT). Yet, this agency “worked to suit the personal considerations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rather than to protect and safeguard Turkish national security,” the newspaper wrote.

In addition, YTL 21.1 billion (6.5 billion euros) was earmarked for the General Security Director and allocations were increased for the Ministry of Interior and the Gendarmerie General Command to help them fight terrorism. Even so, Turkey was not spared from that plague which, from 7 July to the present, has claimed 254 soldiers and 353 policemen, village sentinels and civilians. To these alarming figures we should add 185 lives lost in the bomb attacks in Suruç (20 July 2015), Ankara train station (10 October 2015), Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul (12 January 2016) and the recent second Ankara bombing (17 February 2016).

In the aftermath of the most recent bombing, Özgür Özel — parliamentary bloc leader for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) — slammed what he called not just the poor performance of the intelligence agencies but the “intelligence shame”. The suicide bombing occurred near the highly sensitive Kizilay neighbourhood, home to the headquarters of the army, navy, air force and the army chiefs of staff, not to mention the parliament and Ministry of Interior. Özel demanded the resignation of both Interior Minister Efkan Ala and Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan.

Evidently, the CHP official overlooked the fact that the notion of resigning for foibles such as gross negligence is alien to the culture of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The examples are many, but suffice it to say that the loyal AKP member Mehmet Kiliçlar once served as security director of Reyhanli during which time the agency he was supervising failed to foresee a deadly bombing, and that rather than having to resign he was promoted. The position he was promoted to was governor of Ankara, where two more lethal attacks have now carried out under his watch. Needless to say, he will not resign.

Meanwhile, it takes quite a stretch of the imagination to call the situation “stable” when you have a government that, even before the smoke has cleared after the suicide bombing on Inonu Boulevard in Ankara, points its finger at the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (DYP) in Syria, and from there to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Anatolia.

Moreover, that government continued to insist that these were the culprits even after the Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), which split away from the PKK about a decade ago, claimed responsibility for the bombing, named the perpetrator and vowed more to come.

Davutoglu immediately dismissed the TAK claim of responsibility, as it came three days afterwards (not unusual in the annals of terrorist attacks), and called upon allies to support the “incontrovertible” evidence, yet to be produced, that leaves no shadow of a doubt that the Syrian Kurds in the YPG and DYP and their Anatolian brethren, the PKK, were all responsible.

Interestingly, Davutoglu did not find it necessary to deny TAK’s claim of responsibility for the mortar bomb attack against Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, in late December.

In all events, these AKP machinations found no takers on the EU/US side. Europe kept its mouth shut while the US State Department spokesperson indicated that there was no evidence to support Turkish claims. Moreover, President Barack Obama called up Erdogan and pressed home the need for the Turks and the Syrian Kurds to exercise restraint, as though the two sides were equal.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which noticed that a very large proportion of the civilian victims of recent terrorist attacks, and in fact of most of the political violence in Turkey these days, happened to be ethnically Kurdish, could not help but to wonder at Davutoglu’s claims.

As HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen pointed out, the authorities seem to have no clue regarding the identity of the perpetrators of the Ankara train station bombing, which targeted Kurdish peace activists, and the Suruç bombing before that, which targeted a predominantly Kurdish political rally. Yet, miraculously, in the case of the recent Ankara bombing, the government and security forces knew the identities of the perpetrators even before they knew that of the victims.

CHP Chairman Kemal Kiliçdaroglu echoed this view and noted that quite a few NGOs and even some government organisations have strong doubts concerning the government’s claim regarding the identity of the perpetrators of the recent attack. Cumhuriyet newspaper remarked that Erdogan and his prime minister had put themselves in a very awkward position with respect to Turkish and international public opinion: that AKP foreign policy on Syria is what has exploded in the middle of the Turkish capital.

As Kiliçdaroglu pointed out, that policy is what drove Turkey day after day into the “Middle East quagmire”. He added that neighbouring Syria is turning into an Afghanistan and Turkey is playing the role that Pakistan once played in the 1980s. In other words, Turkey under the AKP has become a conduit for jihadist fighters, Muslim Brotherhood figures and all sorts of other Islamist extremists into Syrian territory.

The leader of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, went one further. The ruling AKP is a political extension of the Islamic State (IS) group and a funder of terrorism, he said. In order to conceal these facts, the AKP government and Erdogan are accusing artists, intellectuals and journalists in Turkey, and the DYP and the YPG in Syria, of being terrorists, even though the AKP, itself, is the largest producer of terrorism.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the situation is racing from bad to worse. Fear and anxiety are spreading throughout the country, especially the major cities and particularly in the vicinity of train stations, metro stops, police stations and other possible terrorist targets.

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