Terror in Ankara

Published October 13, 2015

SATURDAY’S deadly blast that killed at least 128 people and injured over 200 in Ankara couldn’t have come at a worse time for Turkey.

Tensions across the nation are high. Last June’s general election stripped Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party of its majority in parliament, and no party was willing to share power with him, forcing the president to go for another election.

While the fanatic hordes of the self-styled Islamic State occupy large chunks of territory near the Turkish border, the nation’s decades-old Kurdish issue has resurfaced with greater intensity.

Take a look: At least 86 dead in attack on Ankara peace rally

One major upset in the June election was the stunning political success of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which crossed the 10pc vote barrier and entered parliament. More unfortunately for the country, the truce with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down, thus renewing a 30-year-old conflict which has claimed over 40,000 lives.

This has aroused intense nationalist feelings across Turkey, though his opponents accuse Mr Erdogan of deliberately escalating the war on the PKK to cash in on anti-PKK sentiments and deny the HDP another electoral triumph.

To make matter worse, a large number of Kurds from Turkey have joined Syrian Kurds and managed to occupy some territory on the Turkish border. This adds new dimensions to a complex situation, for it is Syrian and Turkish Kurds who have offered the most determined resistance to the IS.

Yet, for Mr Erdogan it is the Kurdish insurgency rather that the IS that is the problem.

Who bombed the Ankara rally is not yet clear. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suspects four parties, including the IS, but the IS has yet to claim responsibility.

The opposition’s charge that the government caused the blasts shows Mr Erdogan’s growing unpopularity with a wide cross section of the people — hard-line Turkish nationalists, liberal elements unhappy with his authoritarian methods and the followers of the Gulen movement among them.

All this is happening at a time when Moscow’s role in Syria has assumed greater proportions, with Russian planes violating Turkish airspace. The bitter polarisation centring on Mr Erdogan’s personality and the worsening regional situation call for a calmer Turkey.

We can only hope that Mr Erdogan will learn to be more realistic, that the Nov 1 election will give a clearer parliamentary picture and that this will lead to a cohesive coalition government, which is able to give Turkey stability, consolidate the country’s economic gains and wage a determined war on terrorism.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2015

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