Ankara bombing aftermath poses risks for Turkey’s election

Ankara bombing aftermath poses risks for Turkey’s election

What started as a peaceful protest ended up as one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in Turkish history. With around 100 people dead and more injured, this terrorist attack comes at a time of great political division that has the potential to tear Turkey apart.

The bombing that occurred on October 10th is the most significant terrorist attack in the Turkey’s history. Not only did it occur in the nation’s capital and at the central railway station — a defining symbol of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey — but the explosions also took the lives of around 100 innocent activists and injured around 240 more.

These are dark days for Turkey, with what was supposed to be a peaceful rally on Saturday ending in bloodshed.

With the election in three weeks’ time and the nation already deeply divided, the question being asked is who would commit such an atrocity?

Government response incites protests

The rally had been organized by the trade union movement in collaboration with pro-Kurdish activists to protest about the current AKP-dominated interim government’s escalation of the conflict against the PKK in the country’s southeast. Also involved in the rally were members of the HDP – the pro-Kurdish party that had acquired above the 10% threshold in the June election, denying the ruling AKP government its required majority.

Witnesses have said that the two explosions occurred seconds apart after 10 a.m., as civil society groups, HDP activists, leftists, and labour unions gathered to commence the planned march.

After the chaos of the bombings subsided, it was reported that police at the scene stopped ambulances from reaching the victims of the bombings and used tear gas to prevent mourners from gathering at the site later in the evening.

This turned into anger and clashes between police and citizens occurred in both Ankara and Istanbul. The government has also been accused of shutting down social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, after the bombings.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but there are suspected signs that two suicide bombers were responsible.

Erdogan blames opposition, PKK for attack

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has stated that the attacks could have come from a number of militant organisations, including Islamic State, the PKK, and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party (DHKP/C).

There is growing concern amongst the opposition that this could have come from the government itself, with the pro-Kurdish HDP blaming the state and President Ergodan’s government. This is possibly a reference to the shady mix of nationalist forces either supporting or colluding with the government, as seen with the attack on the Hurriyet media outlet on September 7th.

Thousands of Turkish citizens gathered in Ankara and Istanbul on Sunday to protest and place the blame on the government for a lack of security measures at the protest and sowing the seeds of fear before the election. Some have argued that the increased violence has been used as a means for the government to try to secure its majority and push ahead with its controversial reforms for a stronger executive government.

The interior minister and justice minister have turned down calls to resign over the bombings. President Erdogan has pointed the blame for the Ankara bombings squarely at the opposition particularly the HDP for being in ‘tandem with the PKK’.

He has stated, “Those who practice double standards against terrorist attacks and organizations are giving the biggest support to terrorism”.

On the other side, the PKK’s chief commander has called a unilateral ceasefire on attacks inside Turkey until the election on November 1st. However, Turkish forces continue to bomb PKK targets inside Turkey and northern Iraq, so whether this will last is yet to be seen.

An ISIS attack?

The attack comes at a time when there is growing internal and external problems facing Turkey, including Russian involvement in neighbouring Syria.

It now appears that there is growing evidence that the attack may be the work of Islamic State, due to its similarity to a suicide bombing of a HDP rally in June.

However, there is growing discontent with the interim government over the failure of intelligence services in stopping this tragedy and its increased lack of coherent strategy in its regional and foreign policy. We can only wait until more evidence unfolds, but even as the uncertainty of who committed this tragedy continues, the Ankara bombings have the potential to cause significant distress to an already fractured society.

With growing media censorship and a perceived shift towards authoritarianism, the fragile social balance of Turkey is slowly being torn apart. Officials have stated that the election on November 1st will still go ahead despite security threats.

As Turkey combats threats inside and out, and the region falls into chaos around it, the Ankara bombings have shown that the results of the election have not only become about creating a new stable government but also that the stability of Turkey and its future hang in the balance.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Iain MacGillivray

Iain MacGillivray is a GRI Commissioning Editor and an Independent Political Risk Analyst who focuses on Australian, European, and Middle Eastern Politics. He has worked as a Senior Academic Tutor in Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Melbourne and has been a freelance journalist for many years. Iain currently holds a Masters of International Relations from the Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne and is currently undertaking a Masters of Middle East Studies at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara, Turkey.