Turkey Pulse

Outrage over Istanbul bombing turns anti-Kurdish

Article Summary
The swift crackdown on Kurdish and pro-Kurdish activists by the Turkish government following the Istanbul bombing has set off a nationalist, anti-Kurdish frenzy in Turkey.

The Istanbul bombing that took 44 lives, 36 of them policemen, and wounded more than 155 triggered unprecedented outrage in the country. The bloodshed of innocent, defenseless people, among them a 19-year-old medical school freshman, touched the hearts of ordinary Turks.

A day later, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for the attack. TAK is believed to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the growing public outrage turned against the Kurds. Taking full advantage, the Turkish regime increased its grip on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Hundreds of party members and others were arrested in a nationwide crackdown on Kurdish and pro-Kurdish activists.

At the time of this writing, some 600 people had been detained and more arrests are expected. Two more lawmakers were added to the 10 HDP lawmakers already behind bars. The party’s co-chairs are in prison, as well. Last week, during a conference in Brussels, I met prominent HDP parliamentarian Osman Baydemir, who is also the former mayor of Diyarbakir. He told me that they expect another wave of arrests in the second half of December, and that he probably will be among those arrested. He voiced his gloomy prediction at the rostrum of the European Parliament, but he also added that his party will never give in. His defiance won a standing ovation in the hall of the European Parliament.

However, the crackdown came a bit earlier than he predicted. He could not foresee a deadly terrorist attack in Istanbul perpetrated by Kurdish suicide bombers. The HDP, especially Selahattin Demirtas from his prison cell, took the lead in condemning the attack in strongest terms. But it was not enough to dispel the outrage fueled by the government.

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Given the speed and breadth of the clampdown on Kurdish and pro-Kurdish activists, it looks like the PKK — and the wider Kurdish issue — are back in the government's focus for the first time since the July 15 coup attempt.

Surprisingly, since the moment of the blast that shook not only Istanbul but the conscience of many Turks, there has been nearly no official reference to Fethullah Gulen or the Gulenists. Right after the attack, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus emphasized that Turkey is fighting a list of different terrorist groups, naming them as the PKK, the Gulenists and the Islamic State (IS). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan never forgets to add the Democratic Union Party and the People's Protection Units, the Syrian Kurdish allies of the Western-supported anti-IS coalition in Syria.

With the anti-Kurdish frenzy dominating Turkey in the wake of the bombing, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quick to promise vengeance. In today’s Turkey, it is not unusual for people occupying ministerial posts to speak with such ferocity. During a joint press conference with his Czech counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the European Parliament of tolerance toward the PKK. He even accused parliamentarians of sympathizing with the PKK.

“There are parliamentarians and some groups at the European Parliament that sympathize with the PKK, support the PKK. Why? You are defending the same ideology. Damn your ideology,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of Erdogan's chief advisers, well-known former journalist Ilnur Cevik, said the PKK smuggles the weapons provided to Syrian Kurds by the United States into Turkey. Cevik suggested Turkey should attack the “PKK bases” in Kobani and Afrin in northern Syria.

For the Turkish street, there is no difference between the TAK, PKK, HDP and the Kurds. Thus, outrage over the Istanbul bombing quickly became a nationalist, anti-Kurdish frenzy, and from there it has taken an anti-Western, particularly anti-EU turn. The pro-government dailies are filled with analyses along those lines. Ibrahim Karagul, the editor-in-chief of pro-government daily Yeni Safak, was blunt in the headline of his daily column: “US and Europe, take your hands off terror!

One other pro-government columnist evaluated the Istanbul bombing as a “card of Western diplomacy toward Turkey.”

As Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Ankara, rightly observed, “Turkey’s leaders are heading toward a clear-cut divorce from the European Union, due to current domestic political trends in the country,” citing "the unstable domestic environment in Turkey and Ankara’s proclivity to denounce so-called enemies everywhere to ramp up nationalist feelings."

Not only the leaders but the Turkish public in general appear to be on track to lose all rationality. The Istanbul bombing accelerated this dangerous trend further. Yet there is another danger of which few are aware: With the post-coup purges at an unprecedented level, Turkey's apparent security and intelligence shortcomings make it almost impossible to emerge victorious from its multi-front “war” against the alleged Gulenist networks within the state and society, against IS outside Turkey’s borders, against Turkey's Kurdish population and various Kurdish organizations in the broader region, and against the institutions of the European Union and above all the European Parliament.

This will prove to be an unwinnable war. With the apparent downhill trend that began to manifest itself in a once healthy and robust economy, Turkey’s population is getting more nervous. With an already-weakened security and intelligence apparatus, how can Turkey confront terrorist attacks and how can it win against enemies everywhere?

How can Turkey become a secure, stable and prospering country once again? This is the big question increasingly demoralized Turks are asking themselves.

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Found in: ypg, tak, peoples' democratic party, people's protection units, pkk, kurdistan workers party, kurdistan freedom falcons, kurdish issue, istanbul, hdp

Cengiz Candar is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. A journalist since 1976, he is the author of seven books in the Turkish language, mainly on Middle East issues, including the best-seller Mesopotamia Express: A Journey in History. Currently, he is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS) and a Senior Associate Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). On Twitter: @cengizcandar

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