Fury in Turkey as bombs rip up hopes of peace

Civil war? ‘We lost many beautiful people,’ said one mourner at the wake. © PA

Yesterday thousands gathered in Ankara to pay respect to those killed in weekend bombings. Turkey is a vital bridge between East and West. Is it also the key to a global crisis?

Brightly coloured banners waved in support of peace, democracy and unity at a rally in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Saturday. But just a short while later, those same banners were being used to cover bodies.

Two bombs had exploded in the midst of the protest. The official death toll this morning is 98 though rally organisers claim at least 128 are dead. More than 200 were wounded.

It is the deadliest attack on Turkish soil in the country’s recent history.

Who were the killers? Nobody knows or agrees. The marchers were mainly Kurds and their supporters. They blame the ‘deep state’ — in other words, a shady mix of nationalist forces either colluding with or supporting the government. Witnesses say the police harassed rescuers and ‘attacked’ people carrying the injured away.

The government blames ‘terrorists’, probably Islamic State suicide bombers.

Whatever the truth, Turkey is seething with bitterness and rage, accusation and counter-accusation. The bombings spotlight divisions between supporters of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), and supporters of the opposition movements that gained ground in recent parliamentary elections.

Erdogan is widely believed to have escalated the war against the Kurds in order to inflame nationalist feelings and drive down their share of the vote.

‘Thief and murderer, Erdogan,’ chanted thousands of demonstrators gathered in Sihhiye Square in central Ankara yesterday. ‘Death to fascism.’

Many are wondering: What next? If such an attack could take place in the middle of the capital city, how will security be maintained for the new general elections in three weeks’ time?

The descent into the maelstrom has been quick and surprising. Until last year Turkey, despite the strains of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, was stable and peaceful, and seemed to be on its way to resolving its long-running Kurdish conflict.

Though about one in five voters in Turkey are Kurds, they have been treated harshly. Kurdish names and costumes have been banned, the use of the Kurdish language has been restricted and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity has been denied.

East-West bridge

To many Westerners Turkey is an exotic, far-off land where women wear the hijab, the sun shines and the food is delicious and cheap. Life muddles along from crisis to crisis.

But others are deeply worried. This is the West’s vital ally in the Middle East they point out. It is now facing a perfect storm: deep political polarisation, the bubble of economic success on the brink of bursting, a resumption of violence with the Kurds, the threat from IS, and two million Syrian refugees and counting.

You Decide

  1. Which is the most important country in Europe right now?
  2. What should President Erdogan do next to help relieve tensions in his country?

Activities

  1. Label a map of Turkey, showing the key cities, rivers and borders.
  2. Write a letter to President Erdogan. What would you like to say or ask about his country?

Some People Say...

“The world is far more fragile than we realise.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This is all getting frightening.
The world can feel like a scary place, but don’t let it worry you too much. You are very safe in the UK, and you cannot let world politics affect your daily life. But even though it can sometimes be upsetting, it’s still important to stay informed about world affairs. Knowledge breeds tolerance, compassion, and understanding — and those are all valuable assets for the future.
What will happen next in Turkey?
It’s impossible to say, of course, especially while it’s still unclear who is responsible for Ankara’s attacks. But the general election on 1 November will determine whether President Erdogan’s party can form a new majority government. Meanwhile, the Turkish Air Force continues to carry out attacks against the PKK and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Word Watch

Kurds
The Kurds are an ethnic minority found in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Some wish for their own independent state of Kurdistan.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkey’s prime minister from 2003 to 2014 when he was elected president. He is a divisive figure: while his reforms were good for the economy, some fear that he is becoming increasingly dictatorial.
Maelstrom
A powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river often used to mean (as here) a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil

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