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Ankara attack. The strategy of terror failed

Interview with Cengiz Aktar

People march in protest of an explosion that killed 97 people in Ankara

People march in protest of an explosion that killed 97 people in Ankara AP Photo

The bomb attack, that on 10 October killed 97 people and wounded hundreds of participants to a peace rally in Ankara, has shaken Turkey, provoking mass protests against Erdogan and the government. Gariwo has spoken with Turkish political analyst Cengiz Aktar about the scenario around the terrible blasts and the effects on the coming general elections. Aktar highlights the heavy pressure imposed by the government to limit Turkish media freedom, an issue ignored by the European Union.

 Ankara bombing was the biggest act of terror in Turkey’s history. What did it target?

A crowd of trade unionists, politicians, social activists had gathered to call for peace and democracy; both opposition parties, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP), had called for this meeting and the attack was clearly against them all. They claimed peace because the government had provoked since July, a month after the general election, a new spiral of violence in the country. Since then 694 people, mainly civilians, were killed because of the violent environment and the idea, behind this, was to collect as much nationalist support as possible, to recapture the majority of seats in the Parliament, which was lost at the last general election on 7 June. This is a gamble, and the President refused to see any coalition government and torpedoed any coalition talk between his party and the opposition parties. We have never seen in the history of the Turkish democracy and Turkish parliamentarianism a repeated voting for a second time in less than six months, because the President didn’t like the previous result and his aim is to remain in power and remain unaccountable for all what he is suspected for, namely the corruption case exploded in December 2013.

Can we speak of a strategy of tension in Turkey, as it happened in Italy in the ‘70s with the series of terror attacks?

I’m not talking about tension, I’m talking about a strategy of violence, sheer violence and it works, people are dying. When there are 694 people killed, it is no tension, it is blood. Tension is in more democratic countries, this is not the case, these were horrible assassinations.
We don’t know who organized this and who was the human bomb, but everything pointed in the direction of ISIL and we know that this government had been very tolerant with these militants coming and going to Turkey and crossing the border freely and joining the ISIL in Iraq and Syria. We also know that, according to the Turkish intelligence service, at least 3,000 Turkish nationals have joined the ISIL. In the biggest mass killing of the last months in Suruç, Urfa district, on 20 July, the human bomb was a Turkish ISIL militant. And it seems that these people are not only combatting in Iraq and Syria, but they may take action in Turkey itself.
The second element is that the government and the authorities in Ankara have been very loose and weak in terms of security for the meeting. They did not search and there was hardly any police on the spot. And third, for the previous mass assassinations starting three years ago, we haven’t seen any proper investigation leading somewhere.
When we put all these things together: complicity with ISIL, lack of security and unwillingness in investigating about the mass killings, many suspect that this was orchestrated, masterminded by who expects that the violence would have a beneficial impact on the elections. Moreover nobody, not a single authority, has dared to present his resignation. They stay there and pretend there was no security flaw.

Which may be the consequences of the terror attack on the coming elections?

First of all the Turkish public opinion is very angry with the authorities and won’t believe that stability can be ensured only by a one-party regime. On the contrary, people are rather going toward HDP and CHP, because they are very active on the scene after the bombing, so I think that if there were a strategy of taking advantage of this mass murder, it has completely backfired. We will see the result on 1 November.

What about the ceasefire that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had announced to respect till the November vote?

The PKK was supposed to announce the ceasefire before the election and they did despite what happened in Ankara and they said they did it to honor the memory of those murdered in Ankara. So the strategy of tension or of terror has totally failed for the time being.

Is media freedom in Turkey more at risk after Ankara blasts?

Of course it is, I mean there is no more media freedom in Turkey, there are three or four daily newspapers which can still publish. The Turkish media sector is under heavy pressure including the television. Only the media outlets which are very close to Erdogan can publish or can broadcast. They are putting pressure and obtaning results by forbidding opposition channels from being broacasted by general broadcaster like Digiturk and this happened recently. They are slowing down Internet, they are some time blocking Twitter, Facebook and YouTube: this is a disaster in terms of media freedom. After the Ankara mass murder, the high authority for radio and television has not only imposed news blackout two days after, the government has also ordered a blackout on information regarding the investigation. And the readers of Gariwo should know that this is not an elected government, since it was supposed to prepare the election and carry out the general affairs. Despite this they are working entirely as they had been elected.

This is a very dark picture of Turkey

It is indeed. I’d like take the opportunity to say that the European Union is completely minimizing what is happening here. They have just announced that Angela Merkel is coming to Ankara wishing to solve the refugee crisis by talking with Turkey. This is not possible, because Ankara does not control the refugee issue at all and Turkey doesn’t have a refugee policy.
On 21 October the European Union is preparing to release its annual progress report on Turkey’s EU accession; the report would announce all the shortcomings but would fall short of saying that Turkey doesn’t comply anymore with the Copenhagen political criteria, which is a “sine qua non” to negotiate for membership. The EU is completely in another planet when it looks at Turkey; not to mention Italy. The son of President Erdogan is in Italy now, in Bologna, and the Turkish public opinion is shocked with this. They do not understand why he has gone there; everybody is free to go anywhere, but there are many question marks around this fact…

Cengiz Aktar is Senior Scholar at Istanbul Policy Center, expert in minorities issues and supporter of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, former director at the United Nations for 22 years, writer and columnist at Al-Jazeera network, Today’s Zaman and Taraf dailies, Hrant Dink Foundation's Board member.

by Viviana Vestrucci

14 October 2015

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