Turkey seeks answers after blasts

After four bomb attacks within a week left 55 dead and more than 700 injured, most in Istanbul would agree that Turkey faces difficult times ahead.

The country is in shock after the recent attacks
The country is in shock after the recent attacks

Yet, there is far more disagreement here over why the country was targeted – and what should be done about it.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was clear enough about the reasons when speaking directly after the bombing of the British Consulate and HSBC bank headquarters on 20 November.

“We are trying to prove that a Muslim country can be a democracy, to prove that human rights can be strengthened and that we can be a modern country,” he said. “This disturbs some people.”

It is a point others have also taken up.


Turkey was targeted “because it is a secular, democratic country and because of this, has been attracting a lot of hatred,” said Rusen Cakir, an expert on Turkey’s Islamist groups.

Others, however, blame the attacks on Ankara’s ties to Israel and its alliance with the US and UK – the main occupying powers in Iraq.

“Turkey has to become far away from all this Iraq war. It’s not our war and we must stay away. Thank God we are not sending any troops there,” said Professor Baskin Oran of Ankara’s Bilkent University.

In October, the Turkish parliament voted to give the government power to send troops to Iraq in support of the US-led occupation, but restricted their presence to a “humanitarian” presence.

In November, however, Washington told Ankara it did not want Turkish troops in Iraq after all. The American position came after strong protests from Iraqi Kurdish groups and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Insufficient security

But this is only part of the story, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired military officer and counter terrorism expert.

Some observers say Ankara’s tieswith US, UK makes it a target

Some observers say Ankara’s ties
with US, UK makes it a target

“Turkey presents the opportunity… The groups that carried out these attacks and their supporters simply have the capacity to stage attacks in this country,” he said.

“If there was the opportunity to conduct similar actions in Uruguay or Argentina they would have staged these attacks in those countries,” said Ozcan.

Although having fought against the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) for 17 years, Ozcan said that Turkey has little experience of the sort of attacks unleashed in Istanbul earlier this month.

In addition, some blame the ruling, liberal Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) for making Turkey an easy target by not taking the threat of attacks seriously enough.

“The people I spoke to from the AKP didn’t really care about al-Qaida before all this,” said Cakir.

“It’s strange that on the one hand they were trying so hard to send troops to Iraq, while on the other, they were surprised by the bombings.

“Turkey should have taken precautions against the answers the other side would give to this,” he added.

By not doing so, it created the occasion for what many see as a largely opportunistic attack.

Overseas legacy

Others say the opportunity was also created by a soft government line on dealing with Turkish citizens who have fought overseas for Islamist causes.

Some Turkish volunteers fought against the Russians in Chechnya, while others have either fought or been trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran – as was the case with at least two of the attackers in the Istanbul blasts.

“Our struggle against terror has to be a civil, not military one…The US responds to terror with terror”

Rusen Cakir,
expert on Turkey’s Islamist groups

“They didn’t keep these people under control,” said Orhan Sayilan, a cab driver who frequently worked around the British consulate. “It was bound to end like this.”

On the streets of Istanbul, there is also much talk of conspiracies – echoed in some of the more nationalist and pro-Islamist press.

“We have seen with these wild acts just how far some outside powers are prepared to go,” wrote columnist Mehmet Ocaktan in Yeni Safak, suggesting that the bombings were aimed at keeping Turkey loyal to the US line on Iraq and elsewhere.

But when it comes to suggesting answers, many believe that the solution to such attacks lies not in more security, but in more democracy.

Institutional changes

“Our struggle against terror has to be a civil, not military one,” said Cakir. “The US responds to terror with terror. We need more human rights and must struggle against inequality.”

Meanwhile, all the police suspects so far connected to the bombings are Turkish citizens, raising concerns of possible discrimination against Turks in the West.

The decision by the European football authority UEFA to cancel matches scheduled to take place in Turkey and relocate them elsewhere has struck many Turks in precisely this way.

“It’s a political decision,” said Hulya Sezer, a doctor at one of the Istanbul hospitals, which treated many of the casualties from the bombings. “They don’t do this when there are bombs in London.”

The worry here is that Turks may end up not only the victims of attacks but also of Western vilification.

Source : Al Jazeera

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