From Sept 11 to the Ankara Bombing
I narrowly escaped al-Qaeda’s bombing of the London Underground on July 7, 2005, while I was doing my postgraduate in London. The same bombs had hit Istanbul just two years before, leaving 57 people dead, making Turkey also a victim of global terror. Four years had passed since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.
Against this background in 2005, I was writing my thesis about this global subject. My argument was as follows:
“Turkey sits at the juncture of the most troubled nations of the contemporary world, which makes its geo-strategic location critical to the West. It has been also offered as a role model for the Islamic world, being the only Muslim country with a secular system of governance and a member of many Western institutions.
“These features position Turkey uniquely in the global war on terror and serve to emphasize that Islam and modern values are compatible and the war against terrorism is not a Muslim-Christian confrontation.”
This argument is exactly what the recent bombing in Ankara aims to refute. It aims to destroy Turkey’s unique characteristics and in this way to turn it from being a critical partner in the global fight against terrorism to a victim of terror and one of the chronically turbulent countries in the Middle East.
What’s worse is that the current context, which is quite different to the one in 2003 when al-Qaeda hit Istanbul, paves the way for this aim.
First of all, the last 12 years since 2003 have been the most critical and transformative years in Turkey’s history. For the first time, the Turkish people have witnessed such a long period of economic and political stability. In addition, Turkey covered a long distance toward a solution of the Kurdish question.
Yet all of a sudden the picture changed dramatically. First the attack in Reyhanlı (a town on the Syrian border) on May 11, 2013, killing at least 51 people; then the bombing in Suruç (a Syrian border town) killing 33 people in 2015; the rising terrorist attacks since last summer; and finally the Ankara bombing, the deadliest attack in Turkey’s history, killing more than 100 people... This picture sharply contrasts with the 10-year long stability that Turkey left behind. What makes this worse is that the country has got to this point after all those achievements.
Moreover, the recent chain of terrorist attacks draws the portrait of an unstable country, which was not the case in 2003 as that was a single incident. Taken together with the current regional context, apparently the recent attacks aim to put Turkey in the same equation as the more turbulent countries in the Middle East.
It is worth adding that for the last 10 years there has been no large-scale terrorist attack in the West, apart from the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on Jan. 7. This sharply distinguishes today’s Turkey from the Western countries with which it used to share the same destiny in the early 2000s.
Another difference is the regional context. Back in 2003 the situation in the region was not so out of control and the fire had not hit our borders yet. The main reason behind the Ankara bombing is the fact that this fire has crossed our borders and spread inside. The second reason is, of course, the fragility inside Turkey. The bombing took place at a time when the peace process was frozen and terrorism was rising in Turkey. What is even more remarkable is that the attack happened on the very same day as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had declared a temporary ceasefire. This indicates the intention of maximizing instability in the country.
The first reason is out of Turkey’s control. But this is not the case with the second reason.
If Turkey does not want to lose its unique characteristics, it must urgently provide domestic stability. To this end, political leaders need to stand not only behind their own parties and voters, but behind the whole of Turkey. They should approach Turkey’s existential issues such as terrorism and the peace process from a bipartisan and post-nationalist perspective. All political leaders need to put their heads together to jointly come up with solutions.
Moreover, Turkey can’t afford not to resume the peace process anymore. All political parties have to embrace the process and take on responsibility.
In addition, the country needs to hold onto the EU membership process, which used to serve as the anchor of Turkey’s democracy, more tightly than ever before. President Erdoğan’s recent statement after his trip to Brussels that “he witnessed a positive approach in the EU and the situation is changing” is encouraging in this sense.
Last but not least, it is a must for the country’s foreign policy to pay attention to all balances, as much as possible, and to stay out of the internal dynamics of the region.
Yet the biggest responsibility falls to the people. The polarization in the country has peaked so much that “nothing seems to be enough to bring Turks together these days, even for a shared moment of grief,” as Tim Arango wrote in the New York Times on Oct. 12.
All of us must leave the language of polarization aside and unite - at least for this inexpressible grief.