Inviting civil war

KAVITHA RAO | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 27, 2015

Erdogan uses ISIL attacks to pursue own agenda

It’s Mad Max time in Turkey, and sadly Max is not around to save the day. The country is now in the unenviable position of simultaneously waging war against ISIL, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (commonly referred to by its Kurdish acronym PKK) and a patchwork of separatist groups.

August 10, Black Monday as it is now being called, summed up Turkey’s messy politics. On that day, a police station was bombed, the US consulate in Istanbul attacked, and nine policemen killed in south-eastern Turkey. The PKK and the Marxist- Leninist DKPHC separatists took responsibility. Meanwhile, ISIL declared jihad against Turkey, and called for the ‘conquest’ of Istanbul.

Tinder box

Turkey has been a tinder keg since July 20, when an ISIL suicide bomber killed 33 people in the border town of Suruç.

The government rashly used this as an excuse to indiscriminately bomb both ISIL and PKK strongholds. The delicate two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the state collapsed. The PKK retaliated with force, as did Turkey’s other separatist groups.

In the last month, over 56 policemen have been killed by the PKK. Last week, two gunmen attacked the Dolmabahce palace and several government offices. Meanwhile, Istanbul police warned commuters on the metro and buses to watch out for bombs.

Istanbul is jittery. Many of my local friends are avoiding crowded places, public transport and malls. Some expatriates are sending their children and wives back home. The lira has plummeted, and tourism has plunged.

In a sense, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reaping what he sowed. For years, he, and the ruling AKP party, have used religion to lure conservative voters. Erdoðan has tried to restrict women’s freedoms in everything, he has continuously attacked the secularism of Ataturk, and given rabblerousing speeches, blaming a wide range of people for threatening Turkey’s Muslim identity. In the process, he has encouraged the growth of an ugly Islamist underbelly.

Erdoðan has also steadfastly refused to take action against ISIL’s advance. Turkey’s border with Syria is so porous that British schoolgirls routinely stroll across to join ISIL, along with recruits from all over the world. The PKK is the only militia that have actually had some success against ISIL, holding them back in Kobane and across Syria, but Turkey continues to target them, instead of using them as a bulwark against ISIL. After an initial, perfunctory attack on ISIL, Turkey has focused on attacking the Kurds. In the last month, nearly 771 PKK soldiers were killed in raids by the army.

Plain pandering

With all this pandering to Islamists, Erdoðan is still not Islamist enough for ISIL. Now, Erdoðan appears to be using fears of ISIL to pursue his own political vendetta against the Kurds. Nearly a thousand people were detained in the last month. Over 800 of them were not from ISIL, or even the PKK, but from the HDP, the Kurdish party that surprised Erdoðan by grabbing 13 per cent of the vote in elections earlier this year, and stopping the AKP from winning a majority.

This week, Erdogan called snap elections, likely to be held in November. Erdogan’s critics say he is using a war against the Kurds to further his own ambitions against the HDP, and win back his majority. With a scared public, he is likely to win. Who cares about ISIL anyway?

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Bengaluru and Istanbul

Published on August 27, 2015
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