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Turkey: What Led to the Attack in Ankara?

Published On October 13, 2015 | Central Asia & Middle East, Europe

Five years ago, as Prime Minister (he became President in 2014), Erdogan`s way to combine Islam and democracy appealed to many in countries as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, countries emerging from the Arab Spring. He was much appreciated in all of these countries. Turkey`s economy started to be successful and to grow healthy; its politics were stable as Erdogan’s party was supported by a parliamentary majority.

In this period, Turkey became home for almost 2 million refugees as the conflict in Syria began. The state has spent more than $7.5 billion caring for the refugees, and some analysts think another 500,000 Syrians may seek shelter in Turkey. Tensions aroused between Turkey and Europe – and between Turkey and the Gulf states – regarding the process of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in the words of Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group, peace between the Turks and the Kurds has been as evasive as ever. This toxic combination would include a stammering economy, renewed Kurdish unrest and an ISIS terrorist campaign in Turkish cities – the indicators seem to be not so optimistic. The shock of the Ankara attack could lead to a reconsideration by the government and Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

PKK, known as The Kurdistan Worker`s Party, is a left-wing Kurdish nationalist militant organization, based in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey. Starting 1984, PKK started to show interest in cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds in the Turkish state. This interest led to armed struggles against Turkey. HPG (People`s Defense Force) is the armed wing of PKK and was formerly called ARGK (Kurdistan National Liberty Army). PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by NATO, European Union and UN.

For nearly four decades, PKK is fighting for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and Ankara sees this as a threat to the country’s integrity. In 1984, the PKK launched a military offensive against government troops. The Turkish military fought back hard. The bloody conflict killed more than 40,000 people. Thousands of villages in southeastern and eastern Turkey, majority-Kurdish regions have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands have fled to other parts of the country or abroad. In the 90s, after waves of attacks, the PKK abandoned the idea of an independent Kurdish state and demanded extensive autonomy. However, in 1999, the party received a harsh blow: movement leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was arrested and sentenced to death for betrayal, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Between 2009 and 2011 secret negotiations took place in Oslo between the leaders of PKK and the Turkish government. After several setbacks, in March 2013 was announced a historic agreement. Behind the bars, Ocalan demanded Kurdish fighters to lay down arms. Kurdish opposition leader, whose party won a historic score of 13% in the last election, said that Turkish Prime Minister really does not care about peace. Instead, President of Turkey remains on his position: peace process with Kurds died. The cease-fire violations were denounced by both parties in July 2015 with the Turkish military raids against PKK positions in northern Iraq. The operation was launched after the bombing of the Suruci in southern Turkey was claimed by the Islamic State and resulted in 32 deaths.

In this tense and unstable context, two suicide bombers blew themselves at a rally for peace and killed at least 128 people in Ankara. Explosive charges were detonated on Saturday, a few minutes after 10 am, near the central station in Ankara. Thousands of militants coming from all over Turkey were gathered there. Two explosions caused most likely by kamikaze terrorists made a terrible massacre among participants in a demonstration for peace, organized by the opposition pro-Kurdish. The attack took place three weeks before early elections, in which the ruling party seeks to obtain the majority missed at the previous poll. At the June elections, the Kurdish HDP (Democratic Party of People) managed the first to cross the threshold of 10% of the vote set for entry in the Parliament, which has complicated the plan of the Islamic-conservative party, to amend the Constitution in favor of some increased presidential powers.

The terrorists of the Islamic State, PKK militants and the People’s Liberation Revolutionary Party groups are suspected to be behind the attack. The bombings Saturday could bear the hallmarks of ISIS, which has threatened to attack Turkey since the government agreed to join the international coalition against the group.mPrime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu declared that for some time, Turkey has been receiving intelligence information based on some PKK and ISIS statements that suicide attackers would be sent to Turkey. He also said that ISIS and PKK could be behind the twin blasts from Saturday.

President Erdogan is considered to be a secondary culpable, for increasing tensions between the Turkish and the Kurds. In recent weeks, Turkey has intensified its offensive against Kurdish militants in the southeast, with raids in Syria and Iraq to combat Islamic State. Turkey’s prime minister has called the heads of the security services. Authorities announced this event as an attack.  Also, Turkish fighters launched on Saturday night air strikes against PKK positions in northern Iraq and Turkey. The general chief of staff said in a statement that 49 militants were killed and gun positions and shelters were destroyed. The irony is that in these countries the Kurds are also fighting against the Islamic state.

Turkey may face a heightened campaign of such attacks and  the bombings may also poison an already volatile political atmosphere and further inflame relations between the state and Turkey’s Kurdish groups, some of which were prominently involved in the Ankara rally.


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