Erodgan would be well-advised to make peace with the Kurds but his ethnocentric Islamist ideology will most likely prevent that.
Two bombs ripped through Istanbul December 10 killing at least 38 people and injuring 166. The first and most powerful bomb was detonated by remote control outside the Vodaphone Arena, the stadium of the top-division Besiktas soccer team, hours after a game finished.
The device appeared to be targeting police officers, as it exploded next to a police bus used to carry security personnel guarding the stadium. No fans were reported injured as they had previously left the area.
A second, smaller explosion occurred close to a half an hour later in a nearby park when a suicide bomber or possibly a car bomber detonated his charge.
Thirty of the dead were police officers, leading Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus to say, “The arrows point at the PKK (the Kurdish Worker’s Party). It is clearly a planned event. There will be an announcement once the investigations are over. We cannot say anything definite for now,” he said.
The attack comes two months after a similar strike outside a police station in Istanbul, which injured ten people. In July, Kurdish fighters were killed trying to storm a Turkish military base. Yet another attack on a police bus in June killed 12 and injured 15 and in March, an attack by Kurds killed 37 in a suicide car bombing in Ankara.
The violence against the police points to the PKK, designated as a terror group by the U.S. as well. However, Islamic State cannot be ruled out as just last week, the brutal Islamist group sent out a directive instructing its supporters to target Turkey’s “security, military, economic and media establishment.”
In June, Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) supporters attacked an Istanbul airport, killing 45 and injuring hundreds.
“Early suspicions would fall on the PKK or an affiliated organization, TAK, which always targets the police and has been behind similar bombings in Ankara,” said Erdal Güven, editor-in-chief of Diken, an independent news outlet based in Istanbul, speaking to The Guardian. “The other suspect, Isis, attacks indiscriminately. It doesn’t care if civilians are killed as well. This seems to have been specifically aimed at the police.”
Whoever is responsible for the attack, the Turkish government knows its enemies are the PKK, the Gulenists (an alternative Islamist faction imbedded in every upper echelon of Turkish society) and ISIS.
The Kurds have been vying for national dignity and self-determination for decades. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most recent crackdown against this ethnic group he so fears for their challenge to his power base came after national elections last June saw massive losses for Erdogan’s Islamist AK party and substantial gains for the Kurdish HDP party.
The previous year, Turkish jets bombed Kurds inside Turkey, with Ankara claiming it was retaliating for the shelling of a military outpost by the PKK, effectively breaking the 2013 ceasefire that both parties signed ending 30 years of armed struggle by the PKK.
After the election, heavy-handed police were sent to crackdown on dissidents in Kurdish neighborhoods, which resulted in massive arrests, violence, curfews and killings.
After spending the first years of the West’s fight against ISIS buying black market crude oil from the terror group and allowing ISIS fighters access across its border, when it finally joined the coalition in its air strikes against ISIS, the Turkish government used its jets to bomb Kurdish PKK forces as well.
This latest attack, if perpetrated by the PKK, bears marks of the group’s modus operandi as ISIS attacks have generally and indiscriminately targeted civilians.
Erdogan would be well-advised to make peace with the Kurdish factions of his country – a prospect overwhelmingly supported by the Kurds themselves. Challenges posed by the Gulenists, who most likely perpetrated the failed coup against Erdogan this summer, as well as by ISIS are less resolvable.
However, given the ethnocentric mentality of Erdogan and his compatriot Turkish Islamists, which consistently view the “other” with disdain, it is unlikely that such an obvious and generous gesture will be possible.