On Saturday October 10, a twin bombing in the heart of the capital Ankara claimed the lives of 102 people and injured over 400, in the deadliest attack in the history of Turkey. The explosions occurred during the “Labor, Peace and Democracy” rally, organized by multiple workers’ syndicates. Many of the protestors were reported to be affiliated with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing pro-Kurdish opposition party. It was also reported that several MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) were expected to join the rally at a later stage. As fate would have it, the bombs exploded within seconds of one another while the rally participants were commemorating the Bloody Sunday attacks of 1969 by singing an anthem containing the lyrics “This square, this bloody square.”
Is there a background to the attack?
Turkey’s recent past is full of tension. The mystery behind a deadly bomb attack in 2013 in the border town of Reyhanli has still not been solved, with the possible culprits being the Syrian government, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the al-Nusra front and the Syrian Resistance. Right before the parliamentary elections in June 2015, a twin bombing during a HDP rally claimed the lives of 4 participants. A similar attack took place last July in the Suruc district of Sanliurfa, targeted at young students who were gathered to give a press statement on their upcoming trip to reconstruct the Syrian border town of Kobani – which had recently been under the siege of ISIS – killing 34 people in the deadliest attack in history before the Ankara bombings. No group has claimed responsibility for any of these attacks.
At the same time, the bombings occurred in the midst of a renewed conflict between the Turkish State and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist militant organization listed under the terrorism blacklist of the EU and NATO.
What is currently going on in Turkey?
The timing and the political aspects of the attack are similar to those of the June bombings. The snap elections of November are fast approaching after the failure of the parties to form a coalition government, following the June elections in which HDP passed the 10% threshold to become the 4th party in Parliament, effectively shuffling the seat allocation within the traditionally tripartite assembly. The success of HDP has been celebrated by the opponents of the long-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as it has weakened the position of President Erdogan who hopes to install a presidential system.
Who is to blame?
Given the lack of statement from any known groups claiming responsibility, there has been wide speculations as to the culprit; however, most fingers seem to be pointed at ISIS. The initial suspects for the attack are affiliated with the Dokumacilar group, a Turkish terror-cell based in the city of Adiyaman with strong ties to ISIS. Interestingly, one of the suspects is known to be the younger brother of the perpetrator of the Suruc bombings.
A possible negligence on the part of the State is a growing concern, given the Turkish State’s failure to catch the perpetrators who were reportedly on the intelligence agency’s watch list. The co-leader of HDP, Selahattin Demirtas has accused the ruling AKP government of being “murderers with blood on their hands”, to which the government officials have replied by insinuating that the attacks could have been part of a plot to boost the electoral campaign of HDP. There have been widespread suspicions that AKP is intent on rekindling ethno-sectarian tensions ahead of the forthcoming snap elections.
(This article was written before the AKP victory to the Turkish general elections of November)