Denial is ammunition of choice in Turkey's faceless war

Denial is ammunition of choice in Turkey's faceless war
6 min read
14 Oct, 2015
Comment: Turkey fumbles in the dark for the culprits of Saturday's bombing while the state is expanding its power under a growing culture of anonymous terrorism, writes Farhad Mirza.
As elections approach, political parties are exploiting violent events for political ends [Getty]

At least 95 people were killed, and more than 250 injured when two bombs ripped through a peace rally in Ankara on Saturday.

The rally was organised by NGOs and supported by the pro-Kurdish HDP party, along with several leftist organisations and labour unions. The attack has left the future of peace movements and the looming parliamentary re-elections in a precarious position.

As the inevitable political blame-game ensues and the Turkish people fumble in the dark to find the culprits of Saturday's bombing, the state is expanding its power under a growing culture of anonymous terrorism.

The rally was organised to call for an end to the escalating violence between Turkish security forces and the banned militant group, the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK). According to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the militant group is as big a threat to Turkey as the Islamic State group.

However, Kurds and their allied activists suspect that Turkey is using its expanded role in the offensive against IS to crush Kurdish peace activists and HDP politicians.

Thus it is no surprise to the opposition that this attack occurred three weeks before the snap elections, and the bombs went off right next to the HDP cavalcade. No one has yet taken responsibility for the attack, but the mystery around the question of culprits has set off a three-way political shoot-out, with Davutoğlu suspecting "the PKK or IS".

The opposition has not hesitated to blame the government.

However, the question of potential culprits and motives is further complicated, due to the muddled distinctions between Turkey's allies and its enemies.

Turkey is in a whirlwind of armed confusion, both domestically and internationally. It is fighting what it calls "a synchronised war on terror" against IS and the PKK, who also happen to be at war with each other.

     Turkey is in a whirlwind of armed confusion, both domestically and internationally

This confusion about who Turkey's real enemies are is difficult to resolve, because the state applies a rather loose and problematic definition of terrorism for its own political opportunism.

Its expanded role in the offensive against IS has been paralleled by policies of collective punishment and unjustified levels of repression against the Kurdish population in the east, blurring the boundaries between activists and terrorists.

However, the question of who is behind this attack is perhaps irrelevant at this point. There is little hope that the state will take any meaningful steps towards apprehending the culprits.

The attack on the demonstrators in Suruc and the explosion at the HDP rally in Diyarbakir are still yet to be resolved. The likely probability is that the government will use this latest atrocity as a political tool to distract the public ahead of the elections.

Thus, the important thing is to highlight the state's responsibility, not only in terms of how it has failed to clamp down on the threat posed by IS, but also how it grooms nationalist groups such Osmanlı Ocakları as paramilitary forces.

Linked to several acts of political intimidation, Osmanlı Ocakları has often been entertained by senior AK Party officials, including Binali Yıldırım, the former transportation minister and chief adviser to Erdoğan.

"There is an abundance of para-military groups in Turkey," said Ekin, an activist and member of the Egitim-Sen labour union. And these groups provide the government with "the new ammunition of war: Deniability".

"You can use your Talibans, use your IS, use your mafia... and still deny that you ever did anything," said Ekin. "This is the most important tool in a competitive authoritarian regime like Turkey's."

Under the state narrative, the threat comes from everywhere. So much so, that Ankara does not try very hard to refute accusations of its association with informal "deep-state" actors, perhaps to maintain a beneficial atmosphere of morbid mystique in the country.

In order to win votes, the AKP relies heavily on the appearance of economic gentrification and a nationalistic fervour among the public.

With embarrassing setbacks at the polls, and predictions of an impending economic crash, the AKP has no other option but to micro-target voters on a security-first platform, and it seems determined to consolidate its power on the basis of this omni-present, multi-dimensional threat to their increasingly exclusive "nation".

In the aftermath of Saturday's attack, President Erdogan emphasised the importance of all Turks rallying behind his leadership in the fight against terrorism, whether the victims were civilians or the police or army.

"They all amount to terrorism," he said, appearing to posit the need for a wider security crackdown ahead of the polls. Despite using loaded labels such as "Turk" and stressing the need for "national solidarity", Erdogan's speech exposes the authoritarian heart of nationalism. He always argues for the state, and never for the people.

Moreover, the government has also resorted to employing a double-bluff defence - where any action that raises suspicion against them is presented as the obvious motive of an opponent. There is a popular opinion among AKP supporters that this bomb attack was orchestrated by the PKK to implicate the government and make them lose face.

     As mystery, grief and anger converge, the survivors of the peace rally face a difficult challenge

As mystery, grief and anger converge, the survivors of the peace rally face a difficult challenge. Without knowing the identity of their assailants, the activists are fighting in the dark as the mosaic of perils faced by the country drowns out the political will of peace activists.

This bomb, and the intrigue and tragedy around it, exploded in the heart of the capital.

In symbolic terms, it has become the formal declaration of an existential conflict that has grabbed the core of Turkey's political future. As AKP intensifies its curfews and uses its allies in the media to launch smear campaigns against the opposition, Turkey's paranoia about the enemy at the doorstep, and "the enemy within" will lead to an even stronger police state, unless the political will of the people steers the country in a different direction.

Even worse is the possibility that this bomb could further deepen the culture of clandestine politics, in which things like motives and culpability function as the currency of an underground trade between the state and paramilitary groups.

One way or the other, in the approaching days and weeks, Turkey will have to reflect on this atrocity and decide whether its democracy is an illusion or whether it is a promise worth dying for.

Farhad Mirza is a writer, journalist and educator. He is a regular contributor to various publications in Pakistan, Europe, the US and the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter: @FarhadMirza01

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.