You still risk your life for peacefully expressing your opinion. That is a gruesome lesson of yesterday’s awful massacre of peace demonstrators in Ankara.
The scope and the brutality of the attack is shocking. But sadly it is not a standalone event. The attack came just as PKK was about to announce an expected unilateral cease fire.
The killings are a clear continuation of recent months’ inflammatory rhetoric of the governing AKP party, which has gone hand in hand with attacks on the media, Kurdish people and especially the progressive pro-Kurdish HDP party. In June’s general elections HDP surpassed for the first time Turkey’s 10% threshold, by presenting it as a broad progressive party appealing to not only the Kurdish minority. AKP lost its majority and president Erdogan’s dream of increased presidential powers were ditched for the time. The hung, and polarized, parliament could not find coalitions for a new government, and new elections are set to be held on 1 November. As we regularly see throughout the world, warmongering and stirring up of nationalist sentiments can help a weakened leader appear as strongman and fare well in elections.
AKP and Erdogan see HDP as threat to their power and have long tried to demonize them. HDP offices have been attacked and burnt down throughout Turkey as AKP has drummed up nationalist support ahead of the elections. In June, just before the last election, several bombings took place, including one against a HDP election rally in the Kurdish dominated city of Diyarbakir killing four people. Yesterday’s attack seems very similar – but much more devastating with death toll standing above 100.
Looking at power relations and dynamics in Turkey, it is hard to imagine any other culprit for yesterday’s crime than the Turkish state, or elements of it.
It is laughable, and a sign of his desire to distract public attention, when Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu suggests that PKK or one of the country’s armed left wing groups could be behind the attacks in Ankara. And it is truly worrisome to see the state’s immediate reaction: censoring of news coverage of the blast and alleged social media blackouts.
Several indicators from the scene point to the state’s involvement in, or at best disregard for, the bombings. Where police usually is very heavily present during demonstrations in Turkey, eyewitnesses were surprised by their total absence at the moment the bombs went off. After the blast, riot police arrived and used tear gas against survivors, before ambulances could reach the wounded. Heart-breaking video footage shows riot police blocking ambulances until successfully pushed away by angry protesters.
After the attack Davutoglu reached out to the leaders of two of the three other parties represented in parliament: the social democratic Kemalist CHP and the ultra-nationalist, semi-fascist MHP. But Davutoglu ruled out any contact with the fourth party: HDP, the target of the attack.
HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas sums it up in blunt terms: “We are facing a state mind-set that has become a mafia, murderer and serial killer.”
In the light of this, it is nauseating to hear Obama and other world leaders expressing their condolences to Erdogan. It is the people of Turkey and Kurdistan, not the murderous regime, who deserve all our sympathy and solidarity.