Turkey in deep trouble

Turkey in deep trouble

Yesterday, we woke up to breaking news: Three Turkish F-16 fighter jets had bombed two ISIL headquarters in northern Syria, right near the Turkish border. Meanwhile, Turkish police detained some 290 people all across the country, not all but many suspected to be Islamic State of Iraq and the Levent (ISIL) members. One the detainees was the notorious Halis Bayancuk, also called “Abu Hanzala,” who has been an unabashedly pro-ISIL propagandist inside Turkey.

All these pointed to the fact that Ankara (finally) decided to see ISIL as a main national security threat, in the wake of the horrible suicide bombing in Suruç on July 20. This was further confirmed by the government’s decision to allow U.S. forces to use its base in İncirlik, southern Turkey, to launch air strikes against ISIL.

But how was the scene before that? Was Ankara in love with ISIL? Not really. But it did not get how serious of a threat it is. In fact, in its list of problems in Syria, the Assad regime came first, Syrian Kurds came second, and ISIL came as only third. In the pro-government media, you got a powerful sense that ISIL is exaggerated. Bayancuk, the gentleman arrested yesterday, was even favorably interviewed about a year ago as a “victim” of the “parallel state” — the threat that the AKP itself apparently exaggerated to some extent.

It is good to see that this self-delusion is slowly changing. But it is a belated change. ISIL may have penetrated Turkish society in a level that the government does not want to acknowledge. Moreover, the ISIL threat in Syria provokes another long-term threat in Turkey: the PKK. Since the bombing in Suruç, the PKK assassinated two policemen in Urfa, supposedly to “take revenge.” It seems that the PKK sees the AKP complicit in the ISIL threat against Kurds, and thus trumping up its own terrorism as retaliation. But this can neither be allowed nor tolerated. I understand and support, therefore, that yesterday’s detainees by the police included suspected PKK militants as well. 

Western governments and media should understand the PKK problem of Turkey. They are, understandably, focused on ISIL right now, and seeing all “Kurds,” perhaps including the PKK, as a bulwark against ISIL. That would have been nice, indeed, if the PKK followed Selahattin Demirtaş’s recent call “to say farewell to arms inside Turkey,” and mobilize itself only to defend the Kurdish zone in northern Syria. However, since the beginning of the “peace process” with the Turkish government in 2012, the PKK has a hawkish faction that wants to keep its weapons, who seem emboldened after the bombing in Suruç. Turkey, therefore, has the right to be worried about both ISIL and the PKK.

What is also worrying is the very political psychology of Turkey itself. Terrorism is a major threat to modern society, and can be overcome it only by uniting on the fundamentals of peace, security, and the sanctity of human life. Turkish society, however, is so torn politically that every terror incident makes political camps more bitter against each other. People cry for the victims only if they are one of their own, rather than seeing them as fellow beings. As a part of the same political polarization, Turkey cannot form a coalition government and our political destiny is still uncertain, almost two months after June 7 elections. 

In short, we Turks are in deep trouble. And the biggest part of it is that we don’t have much common sense left to see what the trouble is about.