A Jan. 12 suicide blast in Istanbul's historic Sultan Ahmet district killed 10, at least eight of them German tourists. Turkish authorities have detained 68 supposed ISIS operatives in the attack. In news sure to warm the hearts of Europe's xenophobes, Turkish authorities are saying the actual perpetrator had recently registered as a Syrian refugee. (BBC News, Today's Zaman, Reuters) Given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not tried pin the blame on the Kurdish guerillas of the PKK, the evidence that ISIS was behind the blast must be pretty darn incontrovertible. However, Erdogan couldn't keep from exploiting the timing of the attack to take some bogus shots at the PKK and their foreign left-wing sympathizers…
First among these is Noam Chomsky, who had recently signed a statement calling on the Turkish government to lift curfews and halt its counter-insurgency war in the country's east. Erdogan facetiously invited Chomsky to visit the ditches dug by PKK militants. "Our citizens' rights are being violated because of terror organizations," Erdogan said. "Terrorist organizations do this. It is terrorist organizations that poison the lives of our citizens by digging ditches, burning down schools, mosques, and libraries." Nice little weasel routine. He uses the sweeping phrase "terrorist organizations" rather than actually naming the PKK, inviting readers to make assumptions—despite the fact that the PKK is assuredly not "burning down schools, mosques, and libraries." The "ditches" are part of the rudimentary defensive networks the guerillas and their sympathizers use to keep government troops at bay in areas where they have declared "autonomy." Not exactly "terrorist"—but we have already noted the dangerously eslastic nature of this word.
But it gets much worse. Erdogan continues: "Despite such realities, a group calling themselves academics signs a declaration. This is called colonial mentality. Turkey dealt with this 100 years ago." (Daily Sabah) OK, it is bad enough to accuse critics of Turkey's internal colonialism that oppresses the Kurds of "colonialism." But (in case you missed it) the line about what Turkey "dealt with 100 years ago" is a clear reference to the Armenian genocide of 1915. And Turkish dissident intellectuals are already warning that the current counterinsurgency and propaganda drive against the Kurds is disturbingly redolent of the atmosphere in the prelude to the 1915 genocide.
Alas, Erdogan's divide-and-rule strategy to pit Syria's Arab rebels against the Kurds seems to be working—at least among some reactionary factions. After the Istanbul blast, a coalition of Turkish-backed factions issued a statement condemning it—including the following text:
We remind the entire world that the terrorism pummeling the region (and the world) has a single source and origin: the Assad regime. The regime, in its various terroristic branches and forms, has become a source of danger for humanity as a whole through its establishment of—and support for—terrorist organizations that undermine regional and global stability. These include the Da'esh terrorist organization, the PKK organization, and the terrorist PYD.
Da'esh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. The PYD is the Democratic Union Party, the PKK-aligned Kurdish political organization that is fighting ISIS in northern Syria. Conflating ISIS and militantly secular and democratic PYD in the same "terrorist" category is another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit.
Making it more Orwellian still is the evident reality that Erodgan has been conniving with ISIS against their mutual enemies in the PYD and PKK. The Istanbul attack is evidence that Ankara has finally cut ISIS loose—probably due to quiet White House pressure.
This was the third apparent ISIS attack in Turkey. The previous two—on an Ankara rally against the counter-insurgency campaign in October and on a youth activist gathering in support of the PYD at the border town of Suruc in July—both targeted revolutionary Kurds and their left-wing supporters. In other words, people Erdogan also considered political enemies. German tourists, in contrast, are people he wants to feel safe in his country.
The last significant terror attack in Istanbul was the deadly blast in Taksim Square in October 2010, which was apparently carried out by Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan (TAK), a hardline breakaway faction of the PKK. But the PKK is today not waging a campaign of terrorism, but guerilla warfare. It is an important distinction: terrorism targets civilians, and is aimed at creating a climate of terror. The PKK guerillas have attacked security forces, following the breakdown of a ceasefire last year. This isn't to say civilians are not impacted. On the day after the Istanbul attack, Turkish media (e.g. Daily Sabah) reported that "PKK terrorists" attacked a police station in Diyarbakır province "with a bomb-laden vehicle, rocket launchers and long-barreled rifles," killing four people, "including three children." The more objective BBC News, in contrast, says "a woman and a baby are reported among the dead." It also notes that no group has taken responsibility for the attack.
The state terror of Erdogan's counter-insurgency does not make international headlines. On Jan. 13, the independent Kurdish ARA News cited military documents as revealing that 23 soldiers, including 12 "specialist sergeants," have resigned from the Turkish army in protest of attacks on civilians in the eastern provinces. On Jan. 6, ARA News reported that three Kurdish women activist were assassinated by military forces in Şırnak province under cover of operations against the PKK. The three—named as Sêvê Demir, member of the Democratic Regions Party (BDP, formerly the Peace and Democracy Party); Pakize Nayir, co-leader of the People's Council in Silopi town; and Fatma Uyar, member of the Free Woman Union—were found dead subsequent to a security raid in Silopi. The BDP and People's Democratic Party (HDP) issued a joint statement, charging: "This crime confirms the brutality of the authorities against the Kurdish people and the peaceful activists. Those women have been struggling for the legitimate civil rights of their people."
The Kurdish-led left-opposition HDP is protesting Erdogan's counter-insurgency while also calling on the PKK to refrain from armed attacks as a good-faith gesture. Let's hope that such courageous and principled voices can prevail. But between Erdogan's cynicism and ISIS fanaticism, it is getting more difficult every day.