Terror in Istanbul, once again

Terror in Istanbul, once again

Last Saturday night I was at a movie theater with my wife, watching a not-so-pleasant film. In the middle of it, things got a bit more unpleasant, as people around us began looking at their cell phones and talking to each other with signs of panic. Soon, we also realized what was going on: A terror attack had hit our city, once again, and took many lives.

We were not sure whether we should head home immediately or wait until things calmed down. But would they calm down? What if this was the first of a series of attacks to come, as in Paris? You could only guess. 
This, unfortunately, is what living in Istanbul lately has become. People avoid the most crowded places and try to guess where the next target could be. This is why the Istiklal Avenue, once the busiest part of town, has declined and others are shrinking too.  

Who is doing this to Turkey? There are two main culprits, with totally opposite worldviews but a similar lust for blood: ISIL, the army of zealots in Iraq and Syria that dare to call themselves “Islamic,” and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the army of similarly fanatic Kurdish separatists. The PKK, of course, is “secular” and even “progressive” in the eyes of some sympathizers. Why “progressive”? Well, because it supposedly “empowers” Kurdish women. But who cares whether the suicide bomber who is ready to kill you is an “empowered” Kurdish woman, an emboldened Arab man, or anything else. 

Saturday’s attack was the work of the PKK, as I guessed from the first moment. (It was in fact claimed by “TAK,” or the “Kurdistan Freedom Falcons,” but it is no secret that TAK is simply a branch of the PKK that claims the dirtier business of inner-city terrorism.) Their target was the riot police at Beşiktaş football club’s Vodafone Arena stadium, but also uninvolved bystanders that “TAK” terrorists never mind massacring. 

In fact, the terrorists probably had planned a bigger massacre, for the plan was two-layered: After the initial car bomb that exploded near the police officers, there was a suicide bomber in a nearby park apparently aiming to explode himself amid people who had come to the area for help. Luckily, police officers in the park stopped this second attacker, who exploded himself prematurely. 

Nobody should doubt that this is pure terrorism, in all its ruthlessness. The PKK typically calls its militants “guerillas,” and there is indeed a difference between guerilla warfare and terrorism, in the sense of whether the targets are combatants or non-combatants. But riot police at a stadium do not constitute a military target, let alone the innocent civilians whose murder was apparently part of the plan.

All this means that the PKK, under whatever name it appears, is a lethal terrorist threat against which Turkey has the right to defend itself. This threat cannot be overlooked, let alone justified. 

I can hear people who would disagree. Yes, Turkey’s Kurdish citizens have been oppressed for decades, as their language was banned and their culture was ridiculed; but those days are long gone, and today it is possible to get a Kurdish class in Turkish public schools or listen to state TV in Kurdish. Yes, the conflict with the PKK can only be ended politically; but the current government tried that and the PKK let them down. Yes, the anti-terrorism campaign of the past year-and-a-half is too hawkish and excessive; but this is a reaction to terrorism, not a justification of it. And yes, you can aspire for a “free Kurdistan,” but you cannot kill people for it.

There is only one way out: The PKK must declare a definitive end to its armed struggle inside Turkey. Then a political process may begin. Otherwise, the government will fight the PKK relentlessly, as probably any government would do.