The Suruç attack and its consequences

The bomb attack on 20th July inside the Amara cultural centre in  Suruç, a Turkish town only 30 kilometres from Kobane (the Kurdish enclave in Syria), seems to have triggered something more complex with an uncertain outcome than just a mere reaction to the threat of the Islamic State. The suicide bomber, a kamikaze who blew himself up in the garden of the Amara cultural centre where a rally of approximately 300 militants Socialist Youth Associations Federation (SGDF) was being held, seems to be connected    this is the version of the Turkish authorities – to a Turkish cell of the Islamic State and to be connected in some way to the boy held responsible for the explosion which took place on the eve of the elections of 7th June  in Diyarbakir. The toll of the attack, the toughest and bloodiest for at least the last two years and the first connected to the Islamic State on Turkish soil,  is 32 dead and 104 injured. The choice of the objective of the attack is significant; a rally of young Kurds from Suruç who were organising a collection of humanitarian aid in order to go and help to rebuild Kobane, the town which is considered the symbol of Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State.

TURKEY-EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST Despite the unanimous and immediate condemnation by the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who condemned the attack regardless of its origin – and the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – who expressed the hope for cohesion between political parties an the entire nation – from the early hours harsh attitudes have been registered on the part of the PKK which declared that it did not distinguish between the Turkish Intelligence Service and ISIS and defined the bombing as an attack against the Kurds by AKP. Several newspapers like “Cumhuriyet” had published a video, also broadcast by the Iranian State Television Press TV , which showed some National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) agents supplying arms to Al Baghdadi’s militia. This news provoked a strong reaction of indignation from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and its leader Selahattin Demirtas  who asked Ankara to stop supporting the Islamic State. The columns of “Cumhuriyet”, critical of the AKP party, also made harsh accusations against Ankara’s ambiguous policy towards the Islamic State. An attitude which, according to the critics of President Erdogan, would encourage the expansion of ISIS in Turkey, the raising of cash and the recruitment of troops. The executive has always denied any involvement and over the last few weeks Ankara has arrested hundreds of Islamists who were crossing over the almost thousand kilometre long border between Turkey and Syria; in fact, 500 were stopped on 18th July. In addition to this there have been  several round-ups which have led to the arrest of thirty or so people accused of organising passages to Iraq and Syria for foreign fighters and also the closure of some internet sites traceable to ISIS. Therefore it is no surprise that, from the first hours following the attack, the theory that the suicide bombing in Suruç was the reply of the Islamic State to the change in Turkey’s policy towards the latter on the Syrian border has taken hold. 

Many people accuse the Turkish government of not having done enough over recent years  to quash the threat of ISIS, considering the regime of Assad the true regional antagonist, and Turkey’s decision not to take part in raids carried out by the anti-ISIS coalition  in Syria and Iraq has helped to increase these suspicions. In this climate of diffidence and accusation, two days after the massacre in Suruç,  the military wing of the PKK claimed they were responsible for the killing of two policemen in Sanliurfa who were accused of collaborating with ISIS. On Thursday other deadly attacks inflamed Turkey after the death of a policeman in Diyarbakir and the killing and wounding of another two soldiers, hit by bullets coming  from Syria. There was a lot of tension, clashes and arrests occurred between police and Kurdish demonstrators , Alawites and Turks who descended into the squares of Ankara, Istanbul and other towns to commemorate the victims in Suruç and protest against the government  for not having done enough to prevent similar bombings. For a few hours the Judiciary blocked Twitter and the diffusion of photos and images of the bombing and the Turkish authorities warned the PKK who were ready to exploit the Suruç  bomb attack in a violent way and use it to carry out acts of terrorism.

The Turkish authorities have also pointed out that, within a few hours of the bombing, a campaign,

DIYARBAKIR DA NEVRUZ KUTLAMASI.(FOTO: UMIT KOZAN /DHA)

DIYARBAKIR DA NEVRUZ KUTLAMASI.(FOTO: UMIT KOZAN /DHA)

defined as instrumental, was  set up to delegitimize the law enforcement policy carried out by Ankara against ISIS and Al – Nusra in the principal European capital cities. So, in just a few hours, Turkey found itself up against the threat of ISIS on its own territory and the  resumption of tension with the Kurdish population and in general the Kurdish problem. In fact  it is evident that the military successes which the Kurds are achieving in Syria after the resistance of Kobane and the conquest of Tal Abyad, are creating the conditions for the consolidation of the Kurdish presence in Northern Syria, in Rojava  (better known as Syrian Kurdistan), an anticipator of an autonomous state. The military reaction to the attack in Suruç was not long in coming; on 24th July 4 F-16 fighter jets with tank support opened fire on the ISIS positions in Havar. At the same time as this military action, and coinciding with the concession by the coalition of the use of the NATO base in Incirlik, Ankara undertook a huge anti-terrorist operation in Istanbul and in another 12 regions, and detained about 300 persons suspected of having links to the Jihadists, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and the  DhKP-C, an extreme left-wing group . However it was the front opened up by the raid by the Turkish air-force against the PKK bases in the north of Iraq which, in a matter of 24 hours, drastically changed the position of Turkey in the regional scenario.  As the President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, declared, the military operations, announced by the prime minister Ahmed Davutoglu scuppered the treaty signed in 2013 between Ankara and the PKK. Erdogan’s turnaround in opening up a war front with the Islamic State and the PKK at the same time may be motivated by the need to face up to a number of emergencies with different levels of priority contemporarily.

Facing up to ISIS, reappraising the Kurdish expectations in Rojava and dealing a blow to Assad. This would explain the Ankara’s repeated requests to create a safety zone along the border in order to admit refugees and to impose a no-fly zone, an area where Assad’s troops and the extremist militia cannot intervene or control the territory. If, as Erdogan has declared, military action will last for several months, considering the stalemate situation of Turkish politics, it is difficult to imagine a strategic priority in what today appears to be a war on three fronts, difficult to sustain contemporarily. Facing this scenario, Turkey has convened an extraordinary NATO summit, invoking article 4 of the Treaty, in order to inform the allies about the measures taken against terrorism. On the eve of the summit it transpires from American administration sources that there is an agreement between the USA and Turkey regarding the creation of a “liberated zone”  in the North of Syria under the control of Syrian rebels and it would be able to take in Syrian and Iraqi refugees (at present there are approximately 2 million in Turkey). Turkey has repeatedly confirmed that it will set up a no-fly zone, 90 kilometres long and 50kilometres wide, This is an operation which, if it is realised without a UN resolution, represents a violation of international law. 

images (4) Angela Merkel’s vice-spokesman, Georg Streiter made some declarations before the summit in which  he expressed the German Chancellor’s opposition to the entry of NATO into the conflict between Turkey and ISIS. Ms Merkel herself, while recognising the right to oppose the PKK, invited her counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, to  pursue a peace process with the Kurds, despite all the difficulties. The Secretary General of the NATO himself, Jens Stoltenberg, has pointed out that there will be no military aid for Turkey which must exercise its own proportioned self-defence to avoid nullifying the peace talks with the PKK. The declaration which emerged at the end of the NATO summit basically confirmed the solidarity of the members of the Alliance towards Turkey in the fight against the Islamic State, upholding  the orientation of the various countries regarding the need not to interrupt the peace process with the Kurds. It is likely that the recent agreement reached in Vienna on 14th July between Iran and the P5+1 together with the Kurdish advance into Northern Syria  have in fact forced Ankara to take the plunge and  pander to requests of the USA regarding their presence in the coalition against the Islamic State and, together with the Saudis and Jordan, consolidate a common Sunnite front against the influence of Shiite Iran in the area. In view of the difficulties declared by Assad himself regarding the resistance of his armed forces, it may be thought that the testing ground where the clash between the Sunnites, Iraq and the Hezbollah takes place could find its stumbling block in Syria and determine the fragmentation of the Syrian State into various entities and a continuation of a conflict with no certain outcome. However, it cannot be  excluded that Erdogan’s decision to attack all his enemies (Islamic State, Kurds and the Syrian regime)could constitute a ploy to modify the political framework which emerged after the elections on 7th June which showed a dramatic decline for AKP and a significant affirmation for  Selahattin Demirtas’s People’s Democratic Party (HDP) .

This article was received from the author and published. You can also find the shorter version here: http://www.ndc-foundation.org/