The terror attack against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Friday is a boomerang effect of Turkey’s Syria policy that has targeted Turkey more than the United States.
The clearest clue to is this the political content of the statement by Revolutionary Peoples’ Liberation Party-Front [DHKP-C] claiming responsibility for the attack that killed an embassy security guard and the suicide bomber.
Leaving aside classical mottos of “anti-USA and imperialism,” the following expressions targeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government places the terror attack in its current context:
“Syrian people decide how Syria will be governed and by whom. Syrian collaborationist looters are trained and armed on our land and are sent back to massacre Syrian people. Syrian people are brothers of Turkish people. We don’t want our land to be used for interests of imperialists. The No. 1 enemy of the people of the world is America. Therefore, to support those resisting America is the primary duty of revolutionaries and people of the world.”
The conclusion you can deduct from these words is that for DHKP-C supporting the Baath regime is a “revolutionary duty.” The organization attributes legitimacy of this support for the Baath regime to resistance of Damascus against the United States. The instrument of DHKP-C support is terrorism.
It has been possible of late to detect the clashes in Syria assuming a regional character with increasing role of proxy elements. DHKP-C’s latest action has to be studied in this context.
DHKP-C is an illegal leftist organization that adheres to Guevara’s 1960s “pioneer guerrilla” concept derived from the Maoist peoples’ war. DHKP-C’s ideology and political culture have been shaped during Cold war years. Actually DHKP-C doesn’t need to be subcontractor of the Baath regime to pursue it anti-Americanism.
During the first Iraq war in 1991 they targeted Americans in Turkey. Turkish police launched series of operations in Istanbul in the summer of 1991 before the visit of then President George W. Bush and captured dead more than 10 senior officials of the organization. The visit took place without any threat of terror.
The suicide attack in Ankara took place 11 days after we learned that the new U.S. Secretary of State of John Kerry will be visiting Ankara in February. The actual date of the visit has not been announced.
Kerry’s Ankara visit could well the factor determining the timing of this bombing message to the United States and Turkey. In Ankara, Kerry will discuss what Turkey and the U.S. can do against the Damascus regime from now on. Naturally this visit is of crucial importance to the Damascus regime.
After the Turkish press wrote about Kerry’s pending visit, the police launched major anti-DHKP-C operations in Istanbul and Izmir. Among 90 people detained in these operations there were many lawyers, members of a famous leftist music group and workers of a leftist journal. Total of 40 were arrested included nine lawyers and five journal workers but there were no suicide bombers among them. No weapons, bombs or suicide bomber mechanisms were found.
These police operations may have been triggered by the information received by Turkish intelligence services about the intention of DHKP-C to launch terror operations linked to the Syrian crisis.
But the attack in Ankara couldn’t be prevented. Even if DHKP-C had not claimed credit for this attack, since it is known that there is no other organization available of launching such an operation, attention would have focused on it anyway.
The Kurdish PKK, although a natural ally of the Damascus regime, would not definitely be involved in such an attack.
First of all, the possibility that a true peace process could be in the offing, would not allow the PKK to carry out such a terror act in Turkey’s capital. The possibility of an such an accord with Turkey makes the PKK’s alliance with the Damascus regime relative.
Second, the PKK which has not carried out a single attack against American targets from its birth until today, would have been nuts to do it today.
It is now accepted how Ankara has been on the mark for making attempts to disarm the PKK while Turkey’s Kurdish issue was regionalizing. Ankara has thus minimized the threat of proxy elements against itself.
Al-Qaeda couldn’t have been behind the attack. Al-Qaeda has no reasons to choose Turkey as a location of attack the United States. Turkey’s land and settlements along the Syrian border are open to use by international jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Turkey serves as a logistics base for their operations against the Baath regime. Why should they upset Turkey that is so vital to them and worse, at its capital?
That naturally leaves DHKP-C as the only candidate. Cooperation between the Damascus regime and DHKP-C goes back years. In beginning of 1990s, DHKP-C that at the time was still called “Revolutionary Left” had a military training base near a PKK base in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. This camp could not have been there without the knowledge and support of Damascus. There were also reports that some of the higher level officials of the organization were under protection of Damascus.
This movement that was based on petit-bourgeoisie and rural-origin university youth prior to the 1980 coup, experienced a rapid socio-cultural change in late 1980s and based itself on Turkish Alawite population. It is known that the organization had gained much strength from the Arab Alawite people of the Hatay region that had naturally affinity to Syria.
Messages and photos in internet websites close to DHKP-C provide enough clues to the sympathy relationship between the movement and the Damascus regime.
The Damascus regime has decided to retaliate against Ankara that has declared its target of toppling the Damascus regime; that has been trying to coordinate the opposition and international forces that oppose the Baath regime and that has been actively helping the opposition.
For the Damascus regime the only way to hit back at Turkey at the moment is to use the DHKP-C, the sole local terrorism instrument that is available to it.
Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007. He focuses primarily on Turkish foreign policy, international affairs and Turkey’s Kurdish question, as well as Turkey’s evolving political Islam.