Monday, October 12, 2015

Turkey in Shock After Bomb Blasts in Capital Kill Nearly 100 Peace Marchers

by Nomad

After twin bomb blasts rocked the Turkish capital on Saturday morning, many Turks are shell-shocked. and wonder how much worse will things get. 

Although the entire Turkish nation is in deep shock and mourning, for some of us this horrendous attack in Ankara yesterday didn't really come as a surprise.
The viciousness and the scale were however hard to comprehend.

 Violence, Tragedy and Insecurity
The double bombing at a little after ten on Saturday morning was the deadliest terrorist attack that Turkey has seen, Nearly 100 lives were lost and with hundreds more injured. There are, reports now say, something around 160 presently undergoing treatment at hospitals. The death toll is expected to rise since 65 of the injured are in intensive care. 
There were no claims of responsibility for the attack.   

All in all, Saturday was a historically tragic day in the history of the Turkish Republic. An already-polarized nation is destined, many analysts say, to become even more agitated and divided.

Putting aside the conspiracy theories of a false flag operation, Turks have more than enough suspects to go around. The officials in the government are still investigating who might be responsible. The top suspect at the moment is ISIS which has clearly infiltrated the nation through the same open border that allowed 2.5 million Syrian refugees to enter. Some have suggest a failure in security.
One Turkish newspaper claimed that the local police "did not have checkpoints or search people as they entered the premises of the rally, signaling a security lapse."
When asked whether security forces were negligent, the Interior Minister Selami Altınok dismissed the suggestion out of hand. Even before an investigation had even begun.

Opposition parties are calling for his resignation. If, the leaders of the opposing parties ask, the security in the  heart of the capital cannot be maintained, then is any city anywhere in the country actually safe?

The Perfect Storm Ala Turka
Foreign journalists are now calling the rapidly-dissolving situation in Turkey "a perfect storm." They point to the sinking economy, the foreign policy in shambles, or the domestic unrest. Of course, that term has been used for several years now when describing the problems faced by President Recep Erdogan's administration. 

These days all of those diverse mismanagement woes are coming together in ways that even the most glum prognosticators could have imagined. 

The reason why the conspiracy theories have taken such a hold on the imaginations of the average Turks is due to the political crisis in the country. 

In that regard, the nation has been floundering for well over a year now. After twelve years in power, the Islamist AK party barely managed to cling to power after a June elections that saw them lose control of their treasured hold of the parliamentary majority. 

No coalition could be formed, due in part because all of the opposing political parties demanded   an impossible condition: that Erdogan, his ministers and his family be investigated (and, if necessary, prosecuted) for abuse of power, fraud, misuse of state funding, cronyism and a host of other alleged crimes

The AK party simply couldn't accept that demand.
Even an interim government to run things until fresh elections could not be formed. While the nation stood and watched in disgust and confusion, the Turkish political system ground to a standstill.

The Scandals that Disappeared
Back when a series of scandals emerged in 2013, it looked as if the end of AK Party and its formidable leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was at hand. Secretly-recorded tapes were produced from unknown sources apparently providing clear evidence of shady business at the highest levels of government. Police raided the homes of ministers and found shoe boxes stuffed full of dollars.
Here was the smoking gun, if ever there was one. It had to spell the end of the ruling party and Erdogan, right? 
That's not how it turned out... at all.

President  Erdogan immediately blamed a so-called "parallel state" or a vast conspiracy to destroy him. Quite literally nearly everybody not a member of his own party seemed to be conspirator against him. 
In his own defense, Erdogan claimed the corruption was a lie and he pointed to the economic miracle of the last decade.
“The national income increased from $230 billion to $800 billion. Exports rose from $36 billion to $152 billion. Can a corrupt country or a government achieve this? We are here because there are no such things. We are here because we fought corruption, poverty, and prohibitions.”
His many critics have asked "At what cost? Who has actually benefited?"
Those who ask such difficult questions knew that they had better not speak too loudly. Government prosecutors have not hesitated in having any journalist (or citizen) arrested under the vague charge of "insulting the president" or on terrorist charges.

His reaction to these serious allegations was to quash the investigation full stop. He threw most of his accusers in jail, reshuffled and replaced the police investigators and turned the tables on the judges looking into the allegations. Suddenly, the judges were being judged and prosecuted.
Like magic courtesy of pro-government media corporations, the scandal seemed to vanish. Or perhaps, as some hoped. was it merely a case of postponed justice?

For this reason, following the elections when the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu ( searched for partners with whom to share power, none of the other political parties, both left and right, wish to be associated with that kind of taint. And on the other side, any talk of prosecution was an automatic deal breaker to any coalition government.
And nobody was willing to budge from that position.

A Dangerous Political Game
For the country, there's been a knock-on effect, again a predictable outcome to instability. In reaction to this political uncertainty, there's been a sharp decline in investor confidence. The Turkish economy has taken a hit. Added to that, with the Turkish lira losing a third of its value since the year began, its foreign debt has skyrocketed. 
The economic miracle that Erdogan pointed to as a sign that corruption allegations were false, has slowly but surely melted away. 
The Finance Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, stated with unusual bluntness:
“If we fail to ensure political stability and make reforms, Turkey will not be able to maintain its existing achievements, let alone reach its goals for 2023.”
Outside economists have been saying since spring that the situation is far worse than even that grim assessment. Economists (who tend to disagree about everything) seem in this case to be surprisingly aligned in their opinion on the Turkish economy. 
The Turkish government is playing "a dangerous political game" and it risks financial chaos. 

Another Throw of the Dice
Therefore finding some kind of political stability has become paramount.
In search of a democratic solution to this political stalemate, the ruling party sought newer new elections which the president openly called "re-runs."
It's really the only option remaining to the AK party.

Clearly Erdogan and the party leaders now hope- against the odds- that another toss of the dice will allow them to regain the lost majority and return to a one party rule.
Under free and fair elections, that's going to be a long shot.

The rise of the HDP a pro-Kurdish party, had already thrown a monkey wrench into that plan. In the June elections, Selahattin Demirtaş, the young and charismatic leader of the HDP managed to expand his support beyond the Kurdish minority, which makes up around 18% of the population. In doing so,  the HDP managed to snatch away just enough seats in the parliament from the AK party. 
The HDP, which successfully crossed the 10 percent threshold by securing 13.2 percent of the total vote in the June general election, ended 13 years of AK Party rule.
For Erdogan and his party, it was seen as a "stunning rebuke" of his autocratic tendencies and his policies in general. Few Turks believed that President Erdogan was finished or that he would gracefully withdraw from his dream of an all-powerful leader (unchallenged and free of oversight) in a one-party state.
They were correct too.  

In reaction to the poor showing in the elections, Erdogan- who as president was constitutionally supposed to refrain from all partisan politics- implied that  the HDP was a "terrorist organization."  

Immediately before the elections, the government had announced that it would abandon the peace talks with the Kurdish terrorist group, the PKK. Surprising too because the peace talks had once been the AK party's crowning glory. 
Erdogan himself demanded that "that politicians with links to 'terrorist groups' should be stripped of their immunity from prosecution." It wasn't hard to understand whom he was referring.

Some saw it as a cynical attempt by the ruling party to win nationalist votes. (If true, polls suggest it hasn't been successful.) 
All this rhetoric too has fueled suspicions and fears of even greater social strife between Kurds and extreme Turkish nationalists.

According to the BBC, the Kurdish population in Turkey have felt under threat.  The bombing has only exacerbated those fears.
The pro-Kurdish party was among those attending [Saturday's march in Ankara], and it said in a statement that it believes its members were the main target of the bombings.
There's good reason for this suspicion. 

The HDP was also the assumed target in two other bombings, one at a HDP rally just prior to the June election, in the city of Diyarbakir, and another in the town of Suruc. That bombing, similar to yesterday's attack, aimed at young pro-Kurdish peace activists and killed 33. 

The Ultimate Miscalculation?
If the goal of the bombers was to divide the nation, as pro-government newspapers claim, then the attempt has met with very mixed results.

If, as the conspiracists say, the bombings were an attempt to show how absolutely necessary one-party rule under the guiding hand of a strong leader is the only solution, then it would seem to have been a catastrophic miscalculation. 

According to sources, on Sunday, thousands of angry Turks took to the streets in various cities, many chanting anti-government slogans such as calling the president, his party and the police "murderers." 

Despite the confusion about who was responsible, the one thing that all of the demonstrators are demanding - even before justice- is peace at home and peace abroad. 
That is exactly not what they got. 
The authorities applied the standard reaction to any protest. In Ankara, the riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

For a NATO nation that at least pretends to be democratic, the events have caused a lot of grimaced faces in the US and Europe. But not from disappointment but mainly because Erdogan's Turkey is playing a critical role for both of them.

The US needs the use of its air bases in Turkey and the EU needs Turkey's cooperation to resolve the Syrian refugee problem. Clearly the US and the EU would much prefer to ignore the problem as long as possible.  

For Western nations looking for a stable and helpful ally in the region, the ability to ignore Turkey's problems may soon be coming to an end. Turkey appears to be coming apart at the seams and the last thing anybody wants to see is a new Syria on Europe's back doorstep.