Turkish authorities said on Monday they suspected Islamic State sympathizers were responsible for two suicide bombings in Ankara on Saturday that killed more than one hundred pro-Kurdish demonstrators.
Coming only three weeks before parliamentary elections that could make or break Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitions to turn Turkey into a presidential republic, the terrorist attacks heightened a sense of crisis and polarization in the NATO member state.
Saturday’s protest against the resumption of violence between the Turkish state and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was itself a demonstration of a deep split in Turkish society.
Critics accuse Erdoğan’s government of abandoning the Kurdish peace process for the purpose of depressing popular support for the left-wing and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) which crossed the 10 percent election threshold for the first time in June. As a result, the president’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority — depriving Erdoğan of the chance to move to an executive presidency.
Coalition talks with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) — the two other parties in parliament — failed, triggering early elections for next month.
Pro-Kurdish activists and HDP offices have been harassed and attacked in the wake of June’s election, including a massacre of young socialists in Suruç, a mainly Kurdish town on the Syrian border, in July. Although the attack was carried out by a supporter of the self-declared Islamic State, the PKK blamed the Turkish government because it refused to defend Kurdish rebels in Syria against the caliphate.
Turkey does support the rebellion against Syria’s Bashar Assad but largely stood by as the fanatical Islamic State organization battered the Syrian Kurds on the Turkish frontier.
After the suicide attack in Suruç, Turkey launched airstrikes against both Islamic State and Kurdish militants in Syria. The assaults coincided with arrests of hundreds of Turks suspected of involvement in radical Islamist, Kurdish separatist and far-left terrorist organizations.
Erdoğan’s quiet support for less fanatical Islamist rebel groups in Syria has arguably damaged Turkish security while his AKP’s stewardship of the economy is now called into question. Growth has slowed in recent years and unemployment is climbing up.
When Erdoğan first came to power in 2003, he promised to break with the unruly and corrupt coalition politics of the 1990s. Now his own party is battered by graft accusations and leashing out at its opponents. Hundreds of police officers, prosecutors and judges who were involved in corruption probes have been purged. Anti-AKP demonstrations in 2013 were violently broken up. The party’s inability to defend its majority in June was widely seen as a repudiation of the president’s combative policy.