ISTANBUL–After the third major bomb explosion in Ankara in under five months killed 37 people in the heart of the city on Sunday, citizens of the Turkish capital have been warned that they should get used to living with terrorism permanently. “It is painful but we need to learn (to live) with terror for a while,” İsmail Rüştü Cirit, President of Turkey’s Supreme Court told journalists.
ISIL and TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons), one Islamist and the other Kurdish nationalist, have claimed 169 lives between them in three major suicide bombings since Oct. 10, transforming a once secure urban hub into yet another Middle Eastern city in which the population lives in fear of bombers.
TAK, a special unit of the PKK, the militant Kurdish movement fighting a virtual civil war against the Turkish government in southeastern Anatolia was blamed by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s prime minister for Sunday’s attack. In it a female Kurdish terrorist detonated a bomb near crowds waiting for buses and the metro while driving in a stolen car through the city’s main square.
The blast is the first by the PKK targeting innocent civilians as opposed to the military and appears to be a reprisal for a series of fierce crackdowns by the Turkish authorities against the movement in southeast Anatolia. The operations, marked by curfews, have lasted weeks, have often involved the use of tanks and rockets, and left districts of several towns in ruins. Turkey has promised to rebuild the damaged areas over the next two years.
Three new punitive operations were launched hours ahead of the bombing on Sunday in the towns of Nusaybin, Sirnak, and Yuksekova with the proclamation of indefinite curfews banning residents from going onto the streets.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded defiantly to news of the bombing, promising to step up anti-terrorism measures and bring terrorism to heel. “Terror attacks do not diminish our will to fight against terror, but further boost it,” the president said.
In the Turkish capital, however, many citizens questioned the reasons for the government’s apparent inability to prevent a second bomb attack by the PKK in less than four weeks. Opposition MPs pointed out that the city’s police chief, removed after the October bombing, has not yet been replaced.
There was also anger at news that Turkish authorities had not issued warnings even though it emerged that they had warned the US Embassy in Ankara last week that a terrorist attack might be imminent in the city. American diplomats warned travellers from the US to take precautions. Challenged about why it had done so, embassy officials revealed that they had acted on information from Turkish government sources.
More soft targets?
Meanwhile, the country has to ponder how it will manage if its Kurdish nationalists begin striking regularly at soft targets in western Turkey, something they have been indicating that they may do ever since Dec. 26 when mortar bombs were fired, again by TAK militants, at parked airplanes at Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul — a warning which the government ignored, pressing ahead with its operations against towns in southeastern Turkey.
Till now the PKK has generally refrained from attacks in metropolitan and western Turkey apparently fearing the consequences in areas where groups of ethnic Turks and Kurds exist side by side. However, groups of Kurdish militants are periodically caught and detained by police in Turkey’s big cities where it is estimated that their numbers run to several millions, though many of these reject the PKK.
Opinion in many provincial Turkish communities is bitterly polarized between angry Turkish nationalists strongly supporting the tough policies of the Erdoğan government in the belief that Kurdish militants should be taught a stern lesson and ethnic Kurds who see themselves as the victims of state intolerance.
The HDP, Peoples Democratic Party, a group of moderate Kurds who wanted to work with Turkish liberals to create dialogue, called for compromise but its support has been steadily eroded by the rise in violence since the summer and repeated accusations by government ministers that it is involved in terrorism itself — charges which the party strongly rejects. On Sunday it condemned the Ankara bombing and its perpetrators in very strong language.
Nonetheless, the HDP now seems to be a spent force with its three most prominent parliamentarians, including its two chairpersons, waiting for the government to strip them of their parliamentary immunity and launch criminal proceedings against them. A similar prosecution of an earlier Kurdish party in 1994 in Turkey led to a group of Kurdish politicians spending a decade in jail. Few expect events to play out differently this time.