Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s unconvincing war

In the alleys of Turkish cities, people are questioning official accounts of what lies behind a wave of deadly bombings and President Erdogan’s war on Kurdish groups, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the dark backstreets of Ankara, their voices lowered to a whisper, people talk about the wave of bombings that began to strike country in July last year. “MIT is behind them,” some say, using the acronym of the Turkish intelligence agency. Others speak of various frightening scenarios, shadowy webs of connections and nefarious designs.

The observer who hears their arguments cannot but help to acknowledge their cogency, even if they lack conclusive evidence to substantiate and corroborate their theories. The following paragraphs have given free rein to those imaginations to weave their complex stories.

Last year’s Suruç bombing, on 20 July, targeted a peaceful rally of Kurdish activists who were calling for support for the Syrian town Kobani, about 10 kilometres away. The attack, which left 35 people dead and over 100 injured, was the prelude to the unanticipated announcement by Ankara that it was high time it joined the US-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.

Ankara had been dragging its feet on this for quite a while as it simultaneously hummed and hawed over whether to give Washington access to the Incirlik airbase for that mission. The sudden announcement of its determination to sign up with the cause certainly put paid to those tendentious rumours, circulating ever more wildly, that held that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was in cahoots with the very takfiri jihadist groups in Syria that the coalition was fighting.

Others, amazingly, have described the Suruç attack as the prelude to the AKP government’s unilateral jettisoning of the peace negotiations that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, personally, in total secrecy and with certain ambitions of his own in mind, had initiated a few years before when he was still prime minister.

Then, on 10 October, came the bombing near the Ankara Central railway station, killing 105 people, most of them Kurds. They were assembling for a peace rally to protest the mounting bloodshed in a needless conflict. The authorities pointed their fingers at the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), though no evidence has been produced to substantiate this. People were left wondering why a Kurd would target fellow Kurds.

In all events, the effect was twofold. The attacks, combined with the spreading chaos of conflict, spread fear and terror among the majority of southeast Anatolian cities. At the same time, the government succeeded, by means of various insinuations, in drumming up xenophobic ultranationalist passions and directing them at the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The strategy worked.

A large portion of the electorate, hoping for a return to stability, cast their votes for the AKP in the early elections held on 1 November. At the same time, the HDP share in parliamentary seats declined. The right-wing National Movement Party (MHP) sustained a similar loss, as many of its voters were won over by the rhetoric of the AKP that had become even more chauvinistic and xenophobic, more bellicose, more stridently opposed to Kurdish political and cultural rights demands, and more hostile to foreign powers scheming to divide the country.

Some of these sentiments were voiced by President Erdogan’s chief advisor, Seref Malkoç. “The purpose of World War I was to partition the geography of the Islamic world and the Ottoman Empire,” said Malkoç. “This is still the intention for the coming phase that will see a drive to divide Turkey with the support of Russia, Iran and, unfortunately, some friendly countries.”

“Some friendly countries” referred, of course, to the US. Such beliefs strengthened the conviction of Turkish powers that be that the November election results were merely a mandate to pursue the same policies and continue the war with greater ferocity.

The AKP rhetoric succeeded in gaining support from some figures in other political parties so as not to appear the only warmonger. Deniz Baykal, the former leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), criticised the current leadership of his party for not supporting the government’s decision to bombard PYD (Democratic Union Party, a Kurdish political party) and YPG (People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia) locations in northern Syria, suggesting it was Turkey’s right to use military means to prevent Syrian Kurds from establishing a geographically contiguous area together with their fellow Kurds in Iraq.

The objective of the suicide bombing in Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul in January, which killed eight German tourists, was clear: to destroy tourism in that historic centre filled with so many monuments. No strike could be more consistent with the IS culture and less attributable to even the most militant Kurdish separatists. Days later Ankara was rocked by the second suicide bomb attack in less than four months, which is quite remarkable for a capital that had not experienced terrorist bombings for decades.

The perpetrator of the last Ankara attack was identified as a Kurd from Van in far eastern Anatolia, near the border with Iran. The mystery, however, is how he managed to infiltrate into that crucial, high-security neighbourhood of the capital in which are located the office of the army chiefs of staff; the headquarters of the ground, air and naval forces, and the national gendarmerie; the national parliament and quite a few ministries and government agencies.

This puzzle has led some of the wildest imaginations to suggest that security laxness, to use the term of former AKP leader and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, encouraged the criminal attack. As for the motives behind it, they remain unknown. But some frenzied imaginations have conjectured that one purpose might be to further Erdogan’s persistent and single-minded drive to realise his dream of a “Turkish-style” presidential system, which is to say autocracy.

For that dream to come true, he needs to eliminate the HDP which, despite all pressures and attacks, still passed the parliamentary threshold in November and thus stubbornly stands in the way. Therefore, he is propelling the judiciary and parliament to open investigations against HDP deputies and lift their immunity on the basis of the types of charges that have been used against all his critics, creating a lot of vacant seats to be filled.

Hürriyet observed that these tactics will further complicate efforts to reach a political solution with the Kurds and so increase the lack of trust and ideological differences and make it virtually impossible to resolve that question and achieve a Turkish-Kurdish peace.

The view resonated among a large segment of public opinion in Turkey where the general mood is growing increasingly gloomy and frustrated. This development could pose a new challenge to Erdogan and his autocratic regime. People are fed up with waking every morning to the news of more of their fellow citizens killed and wounded, and with the endless televised scenes of death and destruction that see them off to bed at night. They are growing angry and no longer believe the government’s claims.

To weave another curious thread into the narratives of the sceptics who harbour doubts about the information and statistics cited on Turkish government websites, that speak of operations that have taken out dozens of “terrorists”, meaning members of the PKK as opposed to IS, where is the proof?

Are these reports part of the pattern of AKP claims and charges that are never substantiated? Is the purpose merely to placate the public by having them believe that their relatives, friends and fellow citizens have not lost their lives in vain?


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