Is Erdogan responsible for the massacre in Ankara?

Is Erdogan responsible for the massacre in Ankara?
6 min read
15 Oct, 2015
Comment: On the eve of the elections, Turkey's capital was ravaged with a twin bomb attacks on Saturday. The government's negligence should be pointed out and questioned, writes Yvo Fitzherbert.
The attacks are used by political parties to advance their agendas prior to elections [Getty]

On Saturday morning in Ankara, two bombs were detonated, killing 97 people and wounding hundreds more, according to government officials. This is the deadliest bomb attack in the Turkey's contemporary history.

In response, the government announced three days of mourning, with Turkish flags being flown at half-mast, and Erdogan stating, "like other acts of terror, the attack at the Ankara Train Station is taking aim at our unity, brotherhood and future."

However, the government has faced a barrage of criticism for failing to protect its citizens, with many accusing the security forces of negligence for failing to prevent such attacks in the country's capital during a mass rally.

The same criticism was levelled against the government in the immediate aftermath of the Diyarbakir bombing, which took place at an election rally in June and killed 4 people, and the Suruc bombing, killing 33 pro-Kurdish activists who were planning to help rebuild Kobane in July.

Clearly, on the back-foot after such a tragedy, Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, attempted to silence critics on their failure to investigate the Suruc suicide bombing by bizarrely claiming that they had arrested and detained the suicide bomber of the Suruc attack.

The implausibility of arresting a suicide bomber after he has blown himself to pieces was not missed by the opposition, with many suggesting that such outright lies show that the government cannot be trusted to ensure the protection of its citizens.

Failing to contain and target the large presence of Islamic State (IS) cells within Turkey has been continuously asserted against Erdogan and his AKP government. The next day after the Ankara attacks, thousands of people gathered in the same spot, chanting anti-government slogans, and roundly condemning Erdogan for the catastrophe.

Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, blamed the government for the attack: "Who are you to keep threatening us? We will not allow you to kill us like this, day after day. We are the ones who are dying," he said. "That is why we are not the ones who should be held responsible, but you are."

Is the Islamic State behind the attack?

Government sources have already announced that two suicide bombers connected to IS are the prime suspects. The government also blamed IS for the two previous bomb attacks on Turkish soil in Diyarbakir and Suruc earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, IS-affiliated news sites celebrated the news from Ankara, describing the attacks as an "explosion at an atheist gathering". Some commentators have suggested that this gives credence to the idea that IS were behind the bombing, even though they have not formally claimed responsibility.

This fits a pattern: although both the Diyarbakir and Suruc bombings were carried out by Turkish citizens who had fought with IS in Syria, while the Islamic State never claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Both bombers came from the south-eastern city of Adiyaman and were thought to be of Kurdish origin. Reports suggest as many as 2000 citizens of Adiyaman have joined IS in Syria.

However, even after it became clear that Abdurrahman Alagöz - the Suruc suicide bomber - was from Adiyaman, not a single IS-related arrest has taken place in Adiyaman.  

Early police reports suggested that the older brother of the Suruc bomber may have been behind the Ankara explosions. These reports are unconfirmed, but can the failure to conduct a single IS arrest in a city which has now produced three bombers, killing over 160 citizens in total, simply be considered a security lapse? Or are there more cynical forces at play?

Such intelligence "mistakes" have reinforced Kurdish suspicion of the security forces over the last few months. "They can throw people in prison for a single sentence," Demirtas said after the explosion, in reference to the crackdown on HDP members since July, "but when we loose 150 in attacks there are no perpetrators to be found."

HDP, along with other voices critical of the government, see the injustice in one rule for them and another rule for pro-government voices. The failure, or even, the intentional refusal of the government to crackdown on IS cells within Turkey's borders who have directly targeted Kurdish activists is exactly why Kurds have lost faith in the ruling AKP.

“Is it possible that any good can come from someone who lies like this when addressing the nation? Has there been one massacre that you found the criminals who perpetrated them?", Demirtas said on Saturday.

"Did you find out who bombed our Diyarbakir rally? Is the Suruc massacre resolved? This massacre will not be brought to justice either," Demirtas added.

A complicit state?

Many have claimed that police did not arrive on the scene until fifteen minutes after the bombing. When they did, the protesters' horror turned to outrage: the police, attempting to clear the area, fired dozens of round of tear gas into the crowd.

Turkey's health organisations have also criticised the medical response. Ambulances taking casualties to the hospital were prevented from passing through police cordons.

Across Ankara, hospitals struggled to deal with the sheer number of casualties and made a desperate call for blood donations, which flooded social media. This was followed by a TV announcement from the Health Ministry, declaring that blood donations were not needed.

With this in mind, it has become increasingly clear that Erdogan and his ruling AK Party are responsible, in some way or another, for Turkey's bloodiest suicide attack in history.

The sheer hypocrisy in decrying the attack as "an attack on Turkish unity" while attacking the very people attempting to save the protesters who were in critical condition as a result of the bomb attacks is a chilling example of why many are infuriated by the government's response.

In its aftermath, parliamentarians from all the opposition parties rightly condemned the attacks. An MP from the ultra-nationalist MHP declared: "If the attack in Suruc had been properly brought to light, it wouldn't have been possible for IS to launch another attack."

Likewise, the CHP MP for Hatay province, Mevlüt Dudu, stated, "Whoever was the murderer in Suruc, is the murderer in Ankara." The comparisons between the Suruc and Ankara massacres are too hard to avoid, and with the government claiming that IS are responsible for both bombs, the most pertinent question is: why have they refused to investigate the attacks?

Until the state makes a serious effort to target IS cells that have allgedly inflicted terror over the last few months, Erdogan remains complicit and must be held responsible for the security shortcomings and the consequent tragedies that are unfolding.

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Turkey. He has written on Kurdish politics, the Syrian war and the refugee crisis for a variety of Turkish and English publications. Follow him on Twitter: @yvofitz.

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.