Blood on Erdoğan’s hands
The message delivered by the Ankara bombers is that this is just the beginning, writes Esen Uslu
When I tried to translate into English the thoughts I had immediately after the October 10 massacre, the lyrics of an old rock tune that lingered in the depths of my mind came back to me - it may be something “you never gonna forget”, but “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
In the long, bloody history of Turkey we have not seen such an atrocious slaughter. We will remember this one along with the Armenian genocide, the expulsion of the Greek Orthodox population, the various Alevi massacres, the vile acts of fascist junta regimes, and the never-ending atrocities committed against Kurds. However, we must also keep in mind that 10/10 was just another cobble on the long road paved with blood-soaked stepping stones to crush the popular opposition. What the near future holds is, alas, further atrocities.
In the aftermath, the international news agencies, ruling class commentators, the Turkish government and its well-oiled propaganda machine - that is, expert public-opinion-benders - claimed that the massacre was an Islamic State operation aimed at destabilising the national integrity of Turkey. ‘IS declares war on Turkey’ was the headline of choice for the multitude of government-backed newspapers and websites.
That claim, in a logic warped according to the different segments of their audience, mentioned what has been happening in Syria and Iraq, the mass exodus of refugees, their hostile reception in the European Union and the involvement of Turkey in anti-IS attacks conducted by the US airforce, as well as the Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war.
They even circulated conspiracy theories that suggested an uncanny cooperation between the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and IS sleeper-cells, which were activated unawares under the command and control of a ‘superior mind’ - you may read this to mean intelligence agencies if you are left-inclined, or world Jewish organisations if you are Islamist-inclined!
The assertion that it was an IS attack is a false claim attempting to soften the impact in the international arena by sheltering under the umbrella of anti-IS sentiment. In the domestic arena, that false claim served to shift the blame - away from the bloody hands of Turkish state agencies.
Bombs and elections
On June 5, a bomber placed two explosive devices in a public square in Diyarbakır and detonated those devices during an election rally called by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). He killed four people, and wounded more than 400 others.
The suspect was arrested on June 8. He was a young man of Kurdish Alevi origin, who had been known to the authorities since 2011. He had gone to Syria to fight in the ranks of IS, and his family had lodged a missing person report with the police informing them of his likely whereabouts. Since October 2014 he had been on the list of wanted IS terrorists.
Interestingly, the check on the IDs of hotel guests against lists of wanted people - a regular police duty in Turkey - had identified him as an absconder from military service. He was arrested at his hotel room, and the paperwork to register him for the military was completed. Afterwards he was duly released - the police failed to pick up on the fact that he was a wanted terrorist!
The atrocity committed in Diyarbakır was the culmination of the terror campaign against the HDP before the June 7 elections. In that terror campaign almost every one of the party’s election offices had been attacked - fired on, bombed, broken into or set alight; many HDP campaign vehicles were attacked and several campaign workers were beaten, and even killed. The terror campaign was part of a strategy aimed at keeping the HDP vote under the electoral threshold for parliamentary representation. Most of these crimes remained unresolved.
However, the HDP overcame the electoral threshold and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failed to get enough seats in the parliament to form a government. The planned route for the constitutional amendment leading to a monarchical presidency and a docile parliament came to nothing. The aftermath of the AKP’s election disappointment was brutal vengeance. A full-scale air war on Kurds was launched.
Then, on July 20, a suicide bomber walked into the gathering of a group of young activists who were staying in Suruç before crossing the Syrian border to provide assistance to Kobanê. The explosion killed 32 people and maimed more than 100. The bomber was a friend of the Diyarbakır assailant - they had joined IS at the same time and trained together. And he has a brother who has also joined IS. They had all been recruited by the same person and formed a group in Adıyaman, which the police believed had about 20 members.
The suicide bomber and his brother had also been reported to the police by their family and they were on the list of wanted IS terrorists. Like others in the group, he came and went between Turkey and Syria with impunity, despite the fact that the police had been drawing up a list of 16 potential suicide bombers from among the group.
The Suruç bomb was identical to the one used in Diyarbakır - except it had been packed with steel balls to enhance its murderous effect. Two days later two policemen were shot at point-blank while they were asleep in their apartment and a group affiliated to the PKK claimed responsibility in what was quite a confusing manner. However, the ball was rolling: the government declared the peace process was dead and buried, and a new anti-terror war was unleashed on the Kurds.
The Turkish airforce commenced a full-scale bombing campaign on both Iraqi and Turkish territory. To obtain a veil of legitimacy for this assault, the government declared “war” on IS, and in the initial raid Turkish jets bombed two - yes, only two - IS targets (which had been abandoned before the raid). Since than no other IS targets have been hit.
The government placated US and international public opinion by allowing US access to İncirlik air base, from where Syrian targets could be more easily hit. And it stated that it would refrain from bombing any Kurdish targets in Syria, as the Kurds were considered to be the only reliable ally of the US.
Some raids conducted by the Turkish airforce employed almost all available planes with ground-attack capability. The targets included bases of the PKK in Iraq, as well as forward operating sites of guerrillas within Turkey.
The extent and result of the bombing campaign remain untold except for military communiqués. In a recent statement the airforce command stated that more than 2,000 smart bombs had been used on almost 1,500 targets. According to its estimates, more than 1,300 people had been killed during those raids.
The massive air campaign was accompanied with a ground offensive in rural areas, as well as in the cities. Three- to eight-day-long curfews were declared in different Kurdish towns. The people and guerrillas resisted the army and police onslaught, and savage battles were fought. Hundreds of innocent bystanders, including small children, were killed. Mobile units of the special police force had travelled from town to town to carry out those operations. Their brutality matched that of the dirty war of early 1990s. The HDP worked hard to restore the ceasefire, but in large cities any attempts to organise peace demonstrations were brutally stopped.
Meanwhile, the parliament formed after the election was rendered ineffective by the AKP and the constitutional time limit to form a government passed following futile negotiations over an unachievable constitution. A new election was called for November 1.
In line with the existing constitution, a government was formed which included ex-ministers appointed by the AKP. These ‘neutral’ ministers occupied critical posts, such as internal affairs and the justice ministry. And the onslaught on the Kurds went on unabated.
Despite the AKP’s strategy to achieve a parliamentary majority in the coming election, the war on the Kurds did not seem to be providing the intended outcome. The Erdoğan regime sought to disrupt the poll in Kurdish districts by declaring some localities unsafe for election, and tried to move the ballot boxes to other districts.
To date it has failed to persuade even the docile judiciary working in the electoral commission to comply. But the intention was clear: to make it impossible for the election to be held in Kurdistan by stepping up state violence. However, preventing Kurds from voting in Kurdistan was never going to be enough to achieve electoral success for the AKP. The number of disaffected people likely to vote for opposition parties in the large cities was ever increasing. Polls indicated stronger support for the HDP. Therefore, other measures were put into practice, such as arresting members of the HDP and other left groups on terrorism charges, as well as applying a blanket censorship against the opposition media.
The HDP and left forces coagulating around it in the large cities has to be stopped. The war on the Kurds has been extended into working class districts of the cities in the guise of anti-terror raids. However, to keep them dispersed and disoriented during the final month before the election was a top priority. Hence the 10/10 atrocity.
An AKP clique formed around Erdoğan and his immediate circle and family in the interim government has been able to keep their control over the army, state bureaucracy and judiciary, so long as they maintain a semblance of parliamentary legitimacy.
The nationalist cause, in the form of an anti-Kurdish war, has provided the backdrop to cementing support among the Kemalists, the officer corps, and top bureaucracy, while the considerable anti-IS sentiment is being exploited. At the same time there is an attempt to garner Islamist support through the ploy, inherited from the cold war, to paint a picture of the godless Russian bear once more meddling in the Middle East and threatening us from our southern borders. It is hoped that the pillars of Sunni Islam, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, can be kept onside following the nuclear agreement between Iran and the US, along with the threat of cooperation between Iran and Russia.
However, each of these options is full of dangers, which means that in the final weeks before the election - if it takes place - and the immediate aftermath bode ill for Turkey and the region.
Despite the PKK’s unilateral ceasefire, Turkish attacks are continuing. Border skirmishes with the Syrian army are possible, if it quickly occupies the ground previously lost along the border with Turkey. An ‘unforeseen’ clash between Syrian or Russian and Turkish planes may take us to the brink of war - a war which might trigger substantial involvement from other powers. All of this points to the postponement of the November 1 election until next year.
Such dangerous scenarios are now the order of the day. In order to achieve its aim of a new constitution, with a powerful president, the AKP needs to present itself as the custodian of national unity and may resort to war - against an external or internal enemy - so as to win a parliamentary majority.
Erdoğan’s ex-Mafioso supporters did not speak in vain about impending rivers of blood when they addressed rallies before the June election. They are determined to maintain their power at any cost.