In a week when a suicide bomb attack ripped through its historic centre in Istanbul and violence has escalated to an all-out war in its south-east, Turkey’s Prime Minister described the country as “being in the middle of a circle of fire”.
Turks are not known for their understatement, but if there ever was one, this must be it.
The sparks of fire that have scorched Syria have already flown and now landed in Turkey.
If last year’s Suruc and Ankara massacres were not enough of a wake-up call, the Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square should have been seen as evidence of Turkey’s foreign and security policies backfiring.
Turkish authorities were quick to identify the culprit as ISIS after the Istanbul bombing. Prime Minister Davutoglu announced that their land forces have already responded to the attack by targeting 500 ISIS positions along the border with Syria and in northern Iraq.
After three major terrorist atrocities and multiple foiled attempts, Turkey has finally begun to clamp down seriously on ISIS. With a well-established radical Islamist infrastructure and networks inside its borders, how effective Turkey’s efforts to deal with the ISIS threat will remain to be seen.
With US Vice -President Joe Biden and the British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond’s separate visits to Turkey this month, the American and British sources seem to be focusing their attention on identifying any concrete changes of approach by Turkey towards ISIS and other radical Islamist militant groups.
If President Erdogan’s long speech on the day of the Sultanahmet bombing is anything to go by, they will have to look long and hard.
Addressing his country’s ambassadors gathered in his palace, for more than half an hour, Mr. Erdogan talked about the attack for a mere 44 seconds. Having declared a Syrian militant of ISIS responsible for the killing of 10 foreign citizens in Istanbul, he then immediately resorted to his well-known “cocktail of terrorism” theory. According to President, there was no difference between ISIS and the “terrorist organisation”, meaning the armed Kurdish movement, the PKK. He went on to repeat his criticism of the west for having double standards when it came to Turkey and for their wide-spread Islamophobia. But he saved his strongest indignation for Turkey’s some 1128 academics who had signed a petition calling for an end to violence in the south east. The president called them dark forces, even worse, “traitors” and instructed the authorities to “act on the matter”.
Apart from the Kurds, intellectuals, the leader of the main opposition party, Russians and some other foreigners, the followers of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen also received their fair share of insults. So much so, the President even told his audience that it was an ambassador’s main duty to combat the Gulen movement abroad and the most successful ambassador was the one that hit the movement the hardest.
His Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu continued to toe the line. A day later, again addressing the yearly gathering of Turkey’s ambassadors, Mr Davutoglu spent most of his time attacking the academics and critics of his government. He, too, put the blame on outside forces for Turkey’s troubles, claiming that they have pushed some buttons since last July to get ISIS, the PKK and the left-wing illegal organisation DHKP-C to attack Turkey simultaneously.
Conspiracy theories aside, Turkey does face multiple and serious security threats; the existential one being the worsening conflict in the southeast with the Kurdish insurgents.
The latest car bomb attack by the PKK in the Cinar district of Diyarbakir, killing at least six people, including a five-month old baby, points to a dangerous escalation.
The PKK’s return to indiscriminate killings and increasingly deadly clashes in urban areas must stop immediately.
At the same time, the Turkish authorities must deal with the legitimate security threats within the boundaries of law, avoiding the unfair and excessive actions that we have been witnessing in recent weeks.
Both sides must genuinely acknowledge the need to negotiate for a peaceful and long-lasting solution of the Kurdish issue.
Today’s crisis-stricken Turkey needs good leadership and solidarity more than any other time in its recent history. With its lawless, polarising and arrogant leadership and its already polarised society, insensitive to others’ suffering, it has neither.
Rekindling the fires of its neighbour Syria, Turkey has already burnt its fingers. Choosing to fight fire with fire inside its own borders may well end up with a third degree burn. Having tried to break the hands of everyone that refuses to fan the flames of this inferno, will Turkey have anyone left to apply the ointment?
This post is also available in: Turkish