HDP MPs in parliament
The bomb attack in Diyarbakir (Amed), the Kurdish capital in Turkey’s southeast on 5 November 2016 targeted Kurdish and pro-Kurdish rights politicians.
Turkish officials and media were quick to blame the incident on the PKK and framed the it as a ‘revenge-attack’ against the arrest of HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yuksekdag and 7 other MPs.
Islamic State (IS/ISIS) claimed responsibility for the aggression through its news agency Amaq several hours later and said it had targeted a police station. The press release read, "Fighters from IS detonated a car bomb parked in front of the Turkish police station in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey."
However, it seems that the target of the bomb was not arbitrary. The Baglar police station, situated in Diyarbakir central, is where almost all of the detained HDP deputies were being held. Many Democratic Regions Party (DBP) officials detained in the past month are still being held there.
In fact DBP Çüngüş district co-chair Recai Altay died in the attack, alongside 7 others. Now the HDP and opposition media are asking who gave IS the information that Kurdish politicians were being held at the station.
HDP Diyarbakir deputy Ziya Pir, who was also in custody at the Baglar station and was released moments before the explosion, tweeted:
"ISIS carried out the attack on HDP officials being held illegally at that police station. [DBP] Çüngüş district chair died. F Yuksekdag and SS Onder escaped by a hairbreadth."
"S Demirtas, N Aydogan, G Yildirim and I had been taken out just before the attack. Tens of HDP and DBP officials have been detained there for 26 days."
Another HDP MP, Sirri Sureyya Onder, released from the same police station after being detained and flown in from Ankara, corroborated Pir’s claim.
This was the first attack IS has claimed responsibility for within Turkey’s borders. Previous attacks attributed to the group were never acknowledged.
The explosion at a HDP rally just before the general elections in June 2015, which killed 5 people and injured more than 400, the Suruç suicide bomb, which killed 32 leftist activists and the Ankara suicide bombings in October 2015 at a peace rally, which claimed the lives of 105 and injured more than 500 people, were never acknowledged by the group.
IS also carried out several bombings on touristic locations in the past two years, killing dozens of people, mostly foreign nationals on holiday. None of IS’ aggressions have targeted government or state buildings, actors or supporters.
So why is IS almost exclusively targeting Kurdish or pro-Kurdish rights targets?
This was attributed to the fact that the Kurdish forces in Rojava-Northern Syria were fighting and defeating IS there. That battle continues and has reached its final stages with an offensive being prepared by the Kurdish-Arab dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on IS’ last bastion and capital in Syria, Raqqa.
Following IS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s latest audio statement (2 Nov), in which he calls for attacks within Turkey and Northern Syria, there is no doubt the militant jihadi group wants to replenish the chaos in the area. This is reminiscent of how jihadist forces hijacked the Syrian revolution in the early days of the uprising; causing chaos by massacring civilians, which were then blamed either on the Assad regime or groups against him.
But IS’ strategy in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan has been different; it is sided with a Turkish regime that has supported, facilitated and at best turned a blind eye to its activities both within the country and in Rojava-Syria. The only opposition to this support has come from the left-wing pro-autonomy HDP, DBP and other progressive, leftist groups. These groups have worked to get Ankara to support and form a coalition with progressive Kurdish and Arab movements in Syria and the region, rather than the Islamist groups the AKP government has opted for.
Kurdish and Turkish politicians within the HDP have been a bulwark against the destructive and reactionary policies of the Erdogan regime both within Turkey and across the Middle East. These policies have now largely failed; Turkey has been left out of the anti-IS coalition’s operations on Mosul and Raqqa, its image tarnished internationally and its economy slowly waning.
However what Ankara has lost in the region, it is trying to regain at home by intensifying the crackdown on dissent and opposition. The seizure of Kurdish DBP municipalities and imprisonment of mayors, the closure of media outlets and jailing of journalists, the purge of public sector workers and now the jailing of MPs elected by millions of people is proof of Turkey’s slide into an authoritarian regime bordering on fascism. This of course, is the only way Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan can push through an executive presidential system and escape any repercussions or punishment for his criminal policies.
Although IS' attacks within Turkey's borders put some pressure on the Erdogan regime, they also work in his government's favour. Erdogan can now use this attack, as he has with others to legitimise his "fight on terror," which has exclusively targeted Kurdish politics and the armed Kurdish struggle. This was the case following the coup attempt in July and Turkey's incursion into Syria in August.
One could say that with Turkish soldiers' physical entrance into Rojava-Northern Syria, the IS' group has also 'officially' stepped into Turkey by claiming responsibility for this latest attack. The ideological bonds between IS and the Erdogan regime mean that although they may clash at times, more often than not they will form an uneasy alliance against Kurds in the country's southeast. Just as Rojava-Northern Syria was an area IS tried to besiege and invade in 2014, the Kurdish region in Turkey's southeast may also be in the group's list of desired places to build a state. Whether this state will be separate from the Turkish state itself is another matter.
According to many local sources the state apparatus in the Turkey's Kurdish region is mostly defunct and state presence can only be measured by the presence of military and security personnel. Facebook, Twitter, Watsapp, Youtube and VPN are all out of use as the government tries to prevent backlash against HDP MPs arrests. Using decree laws made possible by the state of emergency, the Erdogan regime is effectively imposing colonialist law on the Kurds.
The Kurdish and pro-Kurdish rights politicians and activists in IS' crosshairs have been the only forces in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan defending and trying to build a country where secular democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and women's liberation are at the heart of society. This is a political as well as ideological struggle which has been damaged by the latest spat of arrests. While the Erdogan regime is trying to silence and suffocate these people by imprisoning them, the IS is trying to kill them.
We have unfortunately entered a period that could be darker, dirtier and more brutal than the 1990s, when more than 17,000 people were killed in extrajudicial murders by the Kurdish-Turkish Hezbollah, a counter-guerrilla group created and supported by the Turkish state's intelligence services against rising Kurdish aspirations at the time.
Turkey is heading towards deadlier waters, and no one seems to able to stop it now.
- Memed Aksoy
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