The Ankara bombing fits the pattern of state attacks on unions, left wing groups and Kurds.

Walton Pantland Turkey, Kurdistan
A murdered trade unionist lies shrouded in the banner of the teachers' union Eğitim-Sen

A murdered trade unionist lies shrouded in the banner of the teachers’ union Eğitim-Sen

On Saturday, two bombs tore through a peace rally in the Turkish city of Ankara, killing more than a hundred people.

The rally had been organised by trade unions, left wing activists and Kurdish groups to call for peace ahead of November’s bitterly contested general election.

Turkish unions called a two day general strike this week to protest the attack, and unions around the world were quick to express their horror at the attack, with ITF general secretary Steve Cotton saying:

“A nation’s heart is breaking today. These attacks targeted what is best about Turkey, and some of its most idealistic and motivated people. We in the international union movement share that grief.

“Among the main organisers of this peaceful demonstration were trade unions affiliated to the ITF. Among the dead are good friends of ours such as Ali Kitapci of the Birlesik Tasimacilik Çalisanlari Sendikasi union. I can personally attest to the fact that for years Ali upheld workers’ rights in Turkey and the duty of unions to protect them. It is typical that he should have been attending an event designed to defend peace and democracy. The loss of such a man, and the loss of all those killed on Saturday, is immeasurable.”

ankaraBut who is behind the attacks?

Turkey – a nation divided

Turkey is an increasingly polarised country, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s right wing AKP party lost its majority in a surprise result in June elections. The AKP’s electoral defeat was largely due to the unexpected success of the Kurdish-led but nationally constituted Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). As Kamran Matin writes,

The HDP offered a pluralist and inclusive election manifesto in which Kurdish demands for cultural and political rights were incorporated into a wider programme for radical democracy and the empowerment of women and marginalised social groups. This gave the HDP a nationwide appeal beyond its Kurdish heartland, attracting many left and left-liberal Turkish voters.

The rise of the HDP and other left wing forces is a serious threat to Erdoğan’s hold on power, and he has responded by stoking tensions with Kurdish and leftist groups, ending the ceasefire with the PKK and attacking unions. The country is  drifting towards civil war, and some commentators argue that the Turkish Republic is being split apart by centrifugal forces and will not survive.

There has been a spate of recent attacks by security forces on trade union offices and Kurdish targets, including an attack on Cizre that left 30 people dead. Even before the Ankara bombing, unions in Turkey have claimed they are facing state terrorism.

In addition to attacks by security forces, there have been bombings by ISIS and other groups such as the attack at Suruç that left many young left wing activists dead. Many people in Turkey believe the Suruç attack was facilitated by the security forces.

The Ankara bombing has to be seen in this context. Erdoğan has called a new election for November, and many people believe he is trying to terrify people into supporting the AKP. Also important is that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the response of the police was to attack the victims with tear gas and water cannon.

Stefan Martins, an activist with the media union DISK/Basın-İş was on the scene of the attack:

Keeping up appearances, Turkey’s “heroic” thin blue line arrived on the scene of the carnage within three minutes – in the form of a full riot squad and a TOMA water cannon, beating the first ambulance by about seven minutes. For good measure as well, those fleeing and those dying were treated to the force’s finest, tear gas.

Cui bono

It’s worth asking who benefits from the bombing.

Right wing groups have already claimed that the HDP bombed themselves to increase public sympathy, which seems unlikely. The Turkish state blamed the PKK and “leftist militants” before settling on Islamic State as the culprits, shedding crocodile tears and asking for world support to tackle this menace.

This response is deeply cynical at best: the Turkish state has a complicated relationship with Islamic State. In the Syrian civil war, Turkey opposes Assad and supports “moderate” Islamist groups like the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. But there are plenty of credible reports of Turkish security forces collusion with ISIS.

It seems that the Turkish state is more than willing to facilitate attacks by ISIS on what it perceives as its enemies. ISIS doesn’t stand to benefit much from an attack deep within Turkey, and it risks alienating an ally. Erdoğan, on the other hand, has everything to gain: he can terrify his opponents and stoke nationalist fervour.

So is the “deep state” behind the bombing?

What is the Deep State?

A sniper watches a trade union rally in Manchester, UK. Deep state?

A sniper watches a trade union rally in Manchester, UK. Deep state?

The “deep state” is a state within a state that exists beneath the democratic veneer of modern Turkey. It is an anti-democratic coalition composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary, and mafia.

Similar structures exist in other countries, notably Egypt, and the tactic of using a “third force” to destabilise an insurgent opposition is not new: the apartheid government used it in South Africa, it was a common tactic by right wing forces in Latin America, and Britain used Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

Many people believe that even Western democracies such as the US and UK have an underlying anti-democratic structure that preserves elite power and undermines any threats. But the Turkish deep state is widely acknowledged by political commentators – including the Prime Minister – to exist. It apparently dates back to Ottoman times, and seems to exist on a far more comprehensive level than comparable structures in other countries.

So who is responsible?

The Unite union in the UK lays the blame at the feet of Erdoğan for creating the environment that enabled the attack, saying in a statement today that

“The demonstration was organised by brave trade unionists, NGOs and political activists, all of whom are desperate for peace and demand an end to the violence that Erdogan’s government is perpetrating against the Kurdish population, trade unionists and human rights activists in general….

“The recent actions of the Turkish government are deplorable and have been undertaken with its own political self interest in mind. The language and actions used by the government are aimed at creating a climate of fear and intimidation ahead of the pending election and serve precisely to create the atmosphere in which such atrocities take place. “

But the response from activists within Turkey is even stronger: they are in no doubt that Erdoğan is directly responsible for this attack. Without proof, it is possible to dismiss this as a conspiracy theory created by the febrile atmosphere and polarisation. But there are some very good reasons for believing that they are correct. The Turkish state has committed acts of terror against Kurdish targets before.

Without an independent investigation, it is impossible to know for sure whether Erdoğan is directly responsible, or whether he was bitten by the snakes he has been keeping in his back garden.

But ultimately, the responsibility lies at the feet of the Turkish state.

Our thoughts and solidarity go out to our comrades in Turkey today.

See also:

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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