The truth of who was behind Saturday’s atrocity in Ankara may never be uncovered. Supported by the ascendant left-wing and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the rally at which over 100 people were killed represented some of the most progressive forces extant in the entire region at this time. As such, their enemies are many, ranging from the governing [moderate-Islamist] Justice and Development Party (AKP), to ultra-nationalists and Islamic extremists.
Nonetheless, there will be justified suspicion that the state is at least partly to blame. Demonstrations have been called across Turkey and the diaspora, prominently featuring the slogan katil devlet – killer state. Selahattin Demirtaş, co-leader of the HDP, has openly accused the regime of complicity. This can only heighten the tensions which may cause the region’s wider conflict to detonate inside Turkey in the form of a civil war.
This bombing bears a distinct similarity to the one perpetrated three months ago in the border city of Suruç. Young socialists who had assembled in order to assist with the rebuilding of Kobanî, situated a mere six miles across the Syrian border and latterly besieged by Islamic State, were struck by a cluster bomb attack which claimed 33 lives and wounded many more.
In the aftermath of that attack, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) apportioned blame to the Turkish government, with whom they have been entangled in a decades-long struggle for Kurdish rights and autonomy. Two Turkish police officers were killed in a revenge attack for which the PKK claimed responsibility, thus reigniting the conflict. The so-called “solution process” of peaceful negotiations reached a new low for the decade.
Under pressure, Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan seized the opportunity to combine his domestic political agenda with his function as the long arm of NATO law, and proceeded to bomb not only ISIS forces in Syria – widely portrayed in foreign media as the principal source of the country’s problems – but also the PKK in Iraq. This is despite the fact that the PKK and its sister organisations are themselves adversaries of ISIS in Syria. At the same time a general domestic crackdown was launched, in which not only individuals linked to ISIS and the PKK, but also other dissidents (including members of leftwing groups) were arrested.
Whether or not this latest attack is genuinely the work of ISIS, what follows will have to be seen in the context of the Erdoğan regime’s grave provocations designed to stymie the snowballing popularity of the leftwing opposition in recent months. The HDP, founded out of somewhat uncertain and disparate alliances, has exceeded all expectations in its three short years of existence – most recently by shattering the anti-democratic 10% threshold to gain 80 MPs in parliament.
Erdoğan has spared no effort in trying to beat back this rising democratic tide: throughout recent election campaigns, HDP activists were intimidated and beaten, their headquarters firebombed, and the general climate of fear culminated in the city of Cizre being placed under siege by state forces.
Now, several of the HDP’s candidates in the November legislative elections lie dead. That the violence has now reached the streets of the country’s capital will presumably give the government even greater latitude to infringe upon civil liberties, round up and detain its critics, and try to stir the PKK from its current self-imposed restraint into an open conflict it cannot hope to win.
We extend our solidarity and condolences to comrades of the HDP and all organisations currently engaged in the struggle for emancipation and social justice, and call for the immediate release of those among them currently held as political prisoners in the jails of the Turkish state.