Blast & death year in Turkey
A terrorist attack in Istanbul’s ‘Reina’ night club on the New Year Eve resulted in heavy casualties: 39 people were killed and over 70-injured. But this horrible event in itself is discussed in the international media in no less grievous context: it was the 5th terrorist attack in Turkey in the past month alone, while over 20 terrorist attacks were reported in the country since the beginning of the year.
2016 turned out to be a hard year for Turkey. The country experienced a failed military coup attempt, a policy setback in Syria and a string of terrorist attacks.
To what extent was the New Year’s Eve terrorist attack a continuation of the domestic policy problems related to Erdogan’s strengthening of presidential power after the failed coup attempt?
The Kurds’ independence a greater threat than ISIS
The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the Istanbul night club attack, as a response to Ankara’s support for the international efforts to suppress its activity in Syria and Iraq.
The Guardian newspaper reminds that an extremist Kurdish nationalist group known as the Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for part of the previous terrorist attacks in Turkey, namely, the bomb explosions outside a football stadium in Istanbul that killed 45 people in December 2016, and a car blast in Adana in November.
Analysis based on The Guardian materials.
TAK is a breakaway faction of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The faction publicly claims that its actions are a response to a harsh crackdown by the Turkish army and police in Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. The matter concerns a crackdown following the disruption in 2015 of a ceasefire deal between the PKK and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which resulted in displacement of thousands of civilians.
Several dozen serious terrorist attacks, committed in Turkey in 2016, often targeted the police and army, though they accidentally killed a considerable number of civilians who were at the terrorist attack scene.
Turkish government officials also blamed Syrian Kurds for some terrorist attacks. The following argument was brought as a motive: the Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units (YPG) are allied to the KPP and share its aim of creating the autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria and Turkey.
Turkey’s ground and air military interventions in northern Syria in 2016 further inflamed the already tense situation.
Turkey turned out to be the only NATO member-state that launched direct intervention in Syria. Officially, Erdoğan ordered the aforesaid to assist the fight against ISIS. However, there was another goal that was probably of more importance for Erdoğan – to impede the YPG’s advancement and prevent possible linkup of Kurdish areas in Turkey with the autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
Turkey still pursues this plan. Namely, the YPG was purposefully excluded from the Syrian ceasefire deal, jointly brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran last week of December 2016.
Whether Erdoğan’s policy will be successful or not still remains unclear.
Conflict with USA
Erdoğan’s maneuverings have brought Turkey into a conflict with its long-time ally – USA.
The USA doesn’t share Ankara’s view of the YPG as terrorists. On the contrary, the officials in Washington regard them as useful anti-Assad fighters in Syria. The USA’s support for the YPG, including providing of weapons, stirred up Turkish authorities’ protest throughout 2016.
Problems with Iran
Erdoğan’s intervention in Syrian conflict has also brought a new wave of strain in relations with Iran.
Iran is Turkey’s historical rival dating back to the time of the Ottoman and Persian empires. Although both governments oppose Kurdish minority aspirations, Sunni Muslim Turkey resents Shia Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq and Syria and in other areas it views as within its traditional spheres of influence.
Generally speaking, Erdoğan’s Syrian policy flopped badly in 2016.
Russia as a forced partnership
Having burnt his bridges with Washington Erdoğan had to join Moscow in its peacekeeping efforts. Then in the light of the Russian and Iranian successes, namely, the fall of Aleppo, he was forced to give up on his major demand that Assad step down.
However, Russian Ambassador’s assassination in Turkey in December 2016 reminded how fragile those bilateral relations are. A man, who shot Russian Ambassador during the opening of an exhibition in Ankara, was shouting: ‘Remember Aleppo!’ While Ankara’s rapprochement with Moscow takes place just a year after the bilateral relations were nearly disrupted following downing of the Russian warplane by Turkey.
A failed coup
An attempted army coup in summer 2016 almost succeeded in overthrowing Erdoğan. It was followed by a wave of repression. Thousands of alleged supporters of the exiled cleric, Fethullah Gulen, were jailed. A ruthless mass crackdown on the judiciary, academia and the media was launched.
Erdoğan blamed HDP, a leading pro-Kurdish party, for supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Some leaders of the HDP were arrested.
At the same time, Erdoğan continued introduction of the constitutional changes, giving him quasi-autocratic presidential powers. A referendum on strengthening presidential powers was conducted in Turkey in March 2017.
Erdoğan’s reaction to the failed coup further strained ties with Washington: the USA refused to extradite Gulen and the Turkish officials blamed Barack Obama’s administration for supporting the coup attempt.
Simultaneously, Erdoğan fell out with the European Union due to its sharp criticism of Turkey’s post-coup violations of human rights.
As the new year begins, Erdoğan is apparently set on strengthening his grip on power, by both democratic and undemocratic means, and pursuing his onslaught against the Kurds inside Turkey and in Syria.
In a statement released following the Istanbul night club attack, Erdoğan pledged to ‘fight to the end’ against terrorist whose aim is, as he put it, ‘to create chaos and destabilize the situation in the country’.
However, the community heard such tough statements from Erdoğan on too many similar occasions in 2016.
According to The Foreign Affairs magazine, many in Turkey are discontent with the special services’ work, pointing to their amateurishness and lack of competence.
More and more people may conclude that it is the president’s failed, divisive policies that must change if the carnage is to end.
10 major terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2016:
- January 12: a blast in Istanbul central square10 people were killed and 15 – injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
- January 13: a blast in the vicinity of the police department in Diyarbakır6 people, including 3 children, were killed and 30 were reported injured. The authorities accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Nobody claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
- February 17: a blast near the General Staff and Parliament building in Ankara, on February 1729 people were killed and 61 were reported wounded. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
- March 13: a blast at the bus stop in Ankara center37 people were killed and 125 were injured. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
- June 28: a blast at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport45 people were killed and 239 were reported injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack
- August 18: a string of terrorist attacks at the police departments in Turkey’s southeast11 people were killed and 226 were reported injured. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party assumed responsibility for the terrorist attacks.
- August 20: a blast at the Kurdish wedding party, Gaziantep town50 people were killed and over 100 were reported injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
- October 9: a blast in Turkey’s southeast province18 people were killed, including 10 military. 27 were reported injured.
The authorities accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Nobody claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
- December 10, Istanbul: 2 blasts at Beşiktaş Vodafone Arena and Dolmabahçe park44 people were killed, including 36 police officers. 166 people were reported wounded. The Kurdish Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks.
- December 17: a blast of a bus with military in Kayseri13 off-duty soldiers were killed and 50 were reported injured. The authorities accused the Kurdish Workers’ Party. Nobody claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.