On Saturday Oct. 10, two bomb blasts hit a rally in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, during a non-violent demonstration calling for a peaceful solution of the conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish nationalist organizations in the East of the Country. It is not yet known who was behind the bombings, but the incident has set off massive anti-government demonstrations both in Ankara and in Istanbul.
About 14,000 demonstrators, organized by labor and civic groups and opposition parties and including a high proportion from Turkey’s Kurdish minority, had gathered in front of Ankara’s main train station when the blasts went off in quick succession, right in the middle of the massed demonstrators. First reports indicated that 95 people were killed with hundreds injured, many seriously. However, other sources close to the organizers of the demonstration put the death toll at 128.
Either way, this is the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of the Turkish Republic.
But it is not an isolated incident. Several other attacks have been carried out this year, most of them directed against the Kurdish people and organizations, including another very bloody one in Suruç, across the border from the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, on July 20.
In that attack, a mostly Kurdish group of young socialists had gathered in Suruç to organize humanitarian aid to the people of Kobani, where local Kurdish militia were engaged in an epic battle against armed fighters from the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, linked to ISIS), a violent Islamist extremist group which is fighting to seize control of Syria and Iraq. ISIL claimed credit for the attack in which 33 people were killed. There have been several other incidents.
The left wing and secularist opposition lost several members in Saturday’s Ankara attack. The EMEP (Turkish Labor Party), a Marxist group, stated that nine of its members were killed, including a member of its Central Committee. The Communist Party, some of whose members participated as part of labor unions which were involved, reported several injuries.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Ordogan and Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) deplored the attack, which they claim was done by two as yet unidentified suicide bombers, and blamed it either on ISIS or on the PKK, the Kurdish Labor Party, with which the government is involved in armed struggle in the East of the country. Authorities also suggested culpability by an extreme Maoist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party.
But the opposition is not buying this.
Instead, they point their fingers directly at the Erdogan-Davutoglu government. At the very least, they claim that the authorities were criminally negligent in not providing proper security for the demonstration, and in not allowing ambulances quick access to the scene of mayhem.
But many opponents of the government go much further and hint at a much higher level of criminal responsibility.
Erdogan’s government had won some praise for its willingness to negotiate with the Kurdish PKK, but in the elections of June 7 of this year, a secular, left-center political party with roots in the Kurdish population, the People’s Democratic Party or HDP, did unexpectedly well, and deprived Erdogan’s right wing and Islamist AKP of its majority in parliament. Subsequently the AKP was not able to put together a working parliamentary coalition, and Erdogan called for a new election on November 1. There is every indication that the HDP will do even better this time around.
Meanwhile, the government finds itself in multiple difficulties. After the Suruç terrorist attack, the PKK, which blamed the government for allowing ISIL forces to carry the attack out, resumed armed struggle against Turkish security forces, with the result that many have been killed on both sides.
Turkey also has 2.5 million Syrian refugees on its soil, and is under internal and external pressure to stop its policy of allowing Islamic State fighters to pass back and forth across its southern border in their efforts to topple the government of Syrian president Bashir al Assad. But the United States has also pressured Turkey to allow it to launch air attacks against Islamic State targets in Syria from Turkish soil.
One of the main leaders of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, whose party was one of the main sponsors of the Ankara peace demonstration, very bluntly blamed the attack and others like it, as well as right wing riots which attacked the HDP headquarters and the anti-government Hurriyet newspaper in Istanbul on September 8, on the government. A communique from the Foreign Affairs Commission of the HDP, issued before the Ankara bombings, accused the government of not really fighting against ISIS but instead attacking the Kurdish people and their leaders.
This appears to be the general opinion of the left and secularist opposition: That at some level there is collusion between Erdogan’s and Davutoglu’s government and violent Islamist and anti Kurdish nationalists that is making these attacks possible.
The PKK announced a unilateral truce so that the November 1 elections can take place peacefully. But the drift toward even higher levels of conflict, even civil war, is evident.