Turkey’s trilogy of terror

Turkey’s trilogy of terror

These days we wake up in Turkey almost every day to news about some new act of political violence. Police officers get shot, soldiers get killed. Most of these happen in the ever-tense southeast, but major cities in the west can be hit as well. Just the other day, a police station in Istanbul was hit by a car bomb. In the very same morning, the United States Consulate General in Istanbul was targeted by two female gunmen, who were captured injured before being able to kill anyone. 

Why this sudden burst violence? What has happened to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s claim to have brought “peace” to Turkey after decades of unrest? Who is responsible for the re-escalation of political violence?

Since Turkey is a heaven of conspiracy theories, both the government and its adversaries have their conspiratorial answers to these questions. According to the government (which includes President Tayyip Erdoğan and his giant propaganda machine), all this violence is a carefully crafted plot against their glorious “New Turkey.” Some “hidden hand” is orchestrating various terrorists groups, and even the legitimate opposition and critical media, to put the AKP and its world-saving projects in trouble.

The government’s adversaries find this conspiracy theory ridiculous. But they, too, see a “hidden hand” in what is happening. But this time, the conspirator is the government itself --- or, more precisely, President Erdoğan and his colossal palace. They believe that Turkey was drawn into a vicious cycle of violence soon after the general elections on June 7 precisely because of the results of these elections. The AKP lost the parliament majority it took as granted and is now pumping up the violence merely to increase its votes at a time when the country seems to be destined to go to the ballots again soon. 

Both of these conspiracy theories have major flaws, which become apparent when you ask the right questions. If there is a Western “hidden hand,” for example, why is it targeting Turkey at a time when Turkey moved closer to the West regarding the latter’s main problem, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? Or, if there is a government conspiracy to create and instrumentalize violence for political gain, why is the PKK helping this immensely?

In my view, there is in fact no “hidden hand” around, but a chaos created by the interaction of independent actors, who all have their own specific zeals and ambitions. Three of these actors deserve to be called “terrorist,” and they are: the jihadist ISIL, the ethno-nationalist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). The first one sees Turkey as an “apostate regime;” the second one sees it as a “colonial invader;” the third one sees it as a “bourgeois tyranny.” The Turkish government controls none of these groups and actually has a hard time understanding how they see the world. 

The most significant actor in this trilogy, so far, has been the PKK. It wants, ultimately, a PKK-dominated autonomous Turkish Kurdistan. (Not any Turkish Kurdistan but a PKK-dominated one.)   

Its comrades in Syria, under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), might be doing a good job against ISIL and that is fine. But the PKK’s violent attacks in Turkey cannot be tolerated, let alone glorified.  

As for the government, and especially “the palace,” there is no conspiracy, but admittedly some instrumentalization of PKK terrorism for a political purpose: the demonization of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). But the best way to counter this tide is not to whine about it, but to make the PKK stop its attacks and declare cease fire again.