Professor Bülent Gökay
Professor of International Relations – SPIRE
On Sunday, 13 March, at least 37 people were killed and 125 wounded in a car bomb attack in a busy commuter hub, Kizilay Square near a major bus stop and shopping centre, of Ankara, the capital of Turkey. This attack had similarities to the February 17 car bombing, the last terrorist attack carried out by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a splinter group from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), near the military headquarters, parliament and other key government institutions in Ankara, killing 29, most of them soldiers. Several months before that a dual suicide -attack organised by the Islamic State (IS) against a peace rally planned by socialist students and trade unions near the Ankara Railway Station left more than 100 dead.
After the latest attack, the president and his government seized the opportunity to further promote anti-Kurdish nationalist and military propaganda justifying ongoing military operations against Turkey’s own Kurdish citizens and intensifying cross-border shelling of Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. Immediately after the explosion, Turkish jets bombarded arms depots and PKK shelters in the Kandil and Gara regions in northern Iraq, while Turkish security forces rounding up dozens of Kurdish militants in different cities of Turkey.
Although no organization so far claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, the government sources claimed that there was concrete information pointing to the Kurdish terrorist groups for the attack. Hours after the explosion, it was announced that the PKK, and its Syrian brand YPG, were directly responsible.
The intentional targeting of civilians in the middle of Ankara, and the obvious cruelty of this terrorist act against defenceless people has horrified Turkey and the world. It is an atrocity and whoever carried it out are ruthless criminals. Absolutely nothing progressive can come of such barbarous terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. Extreme violent methods indiscriminately employed by terrorists, whether they are of Islamic origins or Kurdish separatist, are absolutely reactionary and entirely counter-productive, and can neither be supported nor defended. However, to recognise this political fact and state it openly in no way minimises the heavy-handed repression going on in Kurdish towns and villages of Turkey for months by the army and security forces. An estimated 10,000 Turkish troops were deployed in the predominantly Kurdish south-east of Turkey since late summer 2015. Since then martial law and indefinite curfews are commonplace in major Kurdish metropolitan areas. They are allegedly designed to block movement of Kurdish activists from one city to another. The government sources also claim that Kurdish rebels are using hospitals and schools as hideouts, so it is therefore justified in bombing them. In particular Cizre, Sur, Idil, Sirnak, Yuksekova and Nusaybin were targeted heavily by Turkish army’s heavy artillery. More than a thousand civilians were killed and some 350,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Disturbing images, showing Turkish security forces exhibiting bodies of dead Kurdish men and women fighters in broad daylight in the streets of Cizre, shocked the country.
Suicide bombings, like the recent one in Ankara, are the inevitable consequence of a war that has taken the form of state-organised terror against its own people. The brutal war carried out by the army and security forces in most of eastern and southeastern Turkey has altered the nature of the Kurdish politics and rebellion, fuelling the growth of terrorist separatist movements, hardening its fighters, and putting the extreme elements in the driving seat. All these increased the desperation of the local people and pushing thousands of young Kurds towards violent radicalism and suicide bombing.
The brutality of the Turkish state-run policy of oppression in Cizre, Sur and other Kurdish towns and villages has turned the whole region into living hell, and those Kurdish fighters and suicide bombers were, like it or not, the children of this hell. But the heavy-handed tactics of the Turkish army and security apparatus in the region and thousands of Kurdish citizens killed and injured cannot justify the terrorist actions against Turkish civilians in Ankara. Such barbarous terrorist acts against civilians will only strengthen the hand of President Erdogan’s heavy-handed security policies, and compounds anti-Kurdish militancy among ordinary Turks.
Professor Bülent Gökay is a leading expert on contemporary issues in and the political economy of resources in Eurasia, and has published widely in these areas. He is a regular commentator in the media on issues in and politics of Eurasia, including Turkey, on which he has also written articles for sources such as Open Democracy. Professor Gökay serves as an editor for Global Faultlines, an online magazine of global political economy, politics and culture.
Image credit: obtained from BBC Online, attributed to AP.