Last week terrorism returned to Turkey. Turkey’s embattled President Recep Erdoğan immediately blamed PKK and ISIS and said, “We consider all terror organization groups a terror threat, but the PKK is the number one threat in terms of terror in our country. Daesh is an outside threat to our country.” The pair of suicide bombers at a pro-Kurdish peace rally rocked the secular country, killing 97 and wounding hundreds more. So far government investigators confirm the bombing was likely the work of ISIS or the PKK Kurds.
The besieged Turkish president made it clear that war in the Middle East has consequences and accused Syria’s allies of propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime, a main factor in his country’s unrest: “They are [Iran and Russia] giving them arms support, financial support and allowing the administration to continue to get rid of the opposition there. And Daesh is the biggest supporter of the regime.”
But, Middle East experts say Erdoğan’s posturing is nothing more than a political play to win a majority of seats in the critical November election so he can avoid corruption probes, and legitimately cement his power.
While the conflict continues to expand throughout the Middle East, Russia’s involvement in Syria forced the Obama administration to respond to critics blaming America’s lack of leadership. And as Russia’s bombing efforts increased, a CNN report stated that the US military airdropped 112 pallets of weapons in northern Syria hoping any US-trained rebels would recover the 50 tons of munitions to fight ISIS.
The regional insurgency and the unrest in Turkey are adding to the growing problems plaguing the European Union. To date, the economic and cultural consequences of Turkey’s two million Syrian refugees, Lebanon’s 1.1 million refugees, Syria’s six million internally displaced citizens, and Europe’s estimated million refugees, all from secular countries, are becoming increasingly catastrophic for the region and beyond.
Domestically, the 15-year wars have the American populace fatigued while allies in the region are continually weakened by the clash of cultures. The concerns for the US will primarily center on economic demands and national security. Currently, US taxpayers fund most major international relief organizations through the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the US Agency for International Development, US Information Agency, and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).
The concern for many analysts is whether the Turkish terror attack was the work of ISIS/Daesh or PKK or was it a “false flag” operation spearheaded by Turkey’s intelligence agencies to unite Turks behind Erdoğan. The double bombing raised alarms, because they looked like a trademark of Al-Qaeda, but surprisingly no terror organization claimed responsibility for the twin bombings that struck Ankara. Normally terror organizations claim responsibility for attacks to boost insurgent’s moral and its power over other rival jihadis.
However, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda or the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) groups have not claimed responsibility for the bombings. This fact leads many political opposition groups inside Turkey to believe the suicide attacks may lie at the feet of the notorious Turkish intelligence agency.
Daniel Pipes, an expert at a DC think tank, the Middle East Forum said, “ISIS involvement must have taken place with the connivance of Turkish intelligence. The government has a motive: Eager to win a majority of seats in the next election both to avoid corruption probes and legitimately increase his power, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has initiated a quasi-war against the Kurds of Turkey hoping thereby to rouse Turkish nationalist feelings. The Ankara bombing fits exactly into this pattern. Further, it conforms to Turkish intelligence’s history of dirty tricks, including some against Kurds, as well as a pattern of fabricating evidence against domestic rivals (such as the military or the Fethullah Gülen movement).”
The Kurdish members in Turkey’s coalition government that stunned Erdoğan’s AKP party in the last election cycle may end up as political losers in the important November elections that will ultimately either consolidate or strip Erdoğan’s power in the EU gateway country.
The leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party, Selahattin Demirtaş, responded to the attacks this way; “The state which has information about the bird that flies and every flap of its wings was not able to prevent a massacre in the heart of Ankara?” He also suggested that his party blames the Erdoğan regime until they view conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise. Not surprisingly, Erdoğan has clamped down on eyewitness reports by shutting off social media. Adding to transparency concerns is a blanket gag order that the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, essentially, banning any reporting or criticism about the Ankara, Turkey bombing. In addition, the Turkish government suspended most of Ankara’s law enforcement. “In order to run a healthy investigation into the abominable terrorist attack … and in line with the requests from chief civil and police inspectors, Ankara’s provincial police chief, intelligence department chief and security department chiefs have been removed from duty,” a statement from the ministry’s website explained
Turkey has identified the twin bombers as Şeyh Abdurrahman Alagöz and Yunus Emre Alagöz. According to court documents presented by Republican People’s Party (CHP), one of the suspected terrorists was taped saying goodbye to another family member two months prior to the attack.
A Cumhuriyet daily report postulated, “This could be our last conversation. Last conversation both with me and with Abdurrahman, God willing. My will is that [you] take care of the family. Do not leave them in that dirt. Do not stay there and do not leave them [the family] there. Come here, for God’s sake.”
Backing up his president is Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “We are working on (investigating) two terrorist organizations, Daesh (Islamic State) and PKK, because we have certain evidence regarding the suicide bombers having links with Daesh, but also some linkages with PKK groups. Some suspects were in Syria for many months.”
If there is one topic that unites Turkey, it is the growing population of the Kurds. Not only have they have grown their role in the Turkish government, but they now make up approximately 20 percent of the country’s population. The concern for the Turks is the Kurdish group will make a land grab in the north and consolidate with their neighbor’s in northern Syria as well as Iraq.
“We don’t see any difference between Daesh and PKK. They are both criminals, both terrorist organizations attacking Turkey, attacking civilians,” Davutoglu said.
But the Kurds contend the Ankara bombing was work of the sitting government in an effort to thwart any competition for the AK Party founded by President Tayyip Erdoğan. His regime lost its majority for the first time in 13 years last June, in part to the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). So far the November election is a dead heat between the two parties.
Also adding to the caldron of complexities inside Turkey is their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. Before allowing the US to use Turkish airbases to launch airstrikes on neighboring Syria, Erdoğan called for the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria that would shrink the flow of refugees uprooted by the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars. However, those calls went unheeded.
“The two million Syrians are not a burden only financially, but also in other terms,” Omer Celik, spokesman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) told reporters. “The best solution would be to set up the safety zone inside Syria, settle the Syrians there, and provide them assistance through Turkey.”
However many European governments don’t want to grant full visa-free access to 78 million Turkish citizens. The East meets West territory is primarily Muslim and if Erdoğan reclaims power it becomes more likely, the last secular country in the Middle East, will lean towards Islamization.
“Syrians don’t see their future in Turkey because of the uncertainty of their status, lack of decent housing and inability to get their children into schools,” said Andrew Gardner from Amnesty International.
Meanwhile the Europeans are considering a pledge of $3.4 billion in humanitarian aid requested by Turkey to stem the flow of migrants currently overwhelming Europe. But before Turkey steps up to the plate, it is demanding EU membership negotiations be restarted and expedited.