In a world where the most absurd and harmful conspiracy theories are increasingly embraced by ever bigger masses and by people in power, it is hard to explain what’s really happening in Turkey and what Erdoğan’s pre-election escalation politics look like. I tried to explain it this week to somebody who doesn’t really follow Turkey but had heard of the bombing in Istiklal Street. As I tried to sum up dynamics at play in a pre-election year and listened to myself via his ears, I knew how far-fetched it sounded. He said: “Ah, so that’s the conspiracy?”
My thoughts wandered back to summer 2015. Before the general elections of June that year, the deeply flawed peace process between the state and the PKK had started to unravel, basically because Erdoğan didn’t see the benefits for himself and the AKP anymore. Then the HDP did so well in the elections, that the AKP lost its majority in parliament. No way Erdoğan was going to accept that.
All summer long, he frustrated negotiations to form a coalition. The authorities responsible for security were so negligent that ISIS managed to bomb more than 30 people to death in Suruç (the town bordering Kobani where Kurdish forces had defeated ISIS earlier that year, much to Erdoğan’s anger) in July and more than a hundred in Ankara in October. Erdoğan brought Turkey’s military into position to bomb and shell the hell out of people in municipalities in the Kurdish southeast who had the nerve to declare their autonomy – after all, autonomy was one of the main Kurdish objectives of the peace process and if the state stalled it, the people would take it. New elections were held and Erdoğan won.
The Kurds in the autonomous municipalities didn’t give up their rights though, and in an orgy of violence, both citizens and armed youth groups were bombed and shelled to smithereens. Whole neighbourhoods were flattened, also historical areas that had just been placed on the UNESCO world heritage list. Basements where people were hiding from the violence were set alight by the army, resulting in many deaths – those who were injured couldn’t be brought to hospital because the army didn’t give ambulances permission to pass. Dead bodies were left on the streets for days.
That’s how Erdoğan re-enforced the power he was about to lose: he cooperated with ISIS to incite a spiral of violence, mainly against Kurds because Kurds and their political demands and well-organized and undestroyable opposition are the nightmare of every Turkish nationalist. If anybody would have predicted that in the summer of 2015 to somebody not following Turkey closely, they possibly would have reacted with: “Ah, so that’s the conspiracy?” But it happened. Same now. Erdoğan is cooperating with ISIS again, to incite violence, mainly against Kurds.
Immediately after Sunday’s bombing, it was clear to me that the PKK didn’t do it, and also not TAK, as some people suggested. Here’s part of a chapter from my book about the PKK in which I explain that. Who is responsible? Well, responsible are the security forces, who didn’t manage to prevent this from happening. Or weren’t they supposed to prevent it from happening? The government’s narrative surely makes no sense at all: the amount of questions it raises (and that can’t be asked inside Turkey) and the countless contradictions are almost hilarious.
In established media outside Turkey, only the bombing itself received attention right after it happened, and Erdoğan’s statement that it smelled like ‘terrorism’, and the link with PKK was made. Then the bombing disappeared from the news. That the PKK and YPG denied any involvement in the attack, that nobody claimed it (so was it a false flag?), that the government’s framing is flawed in every possible way: it doesn’t get attention. What I have read basically everywhere though, is the sentence that there is a fear of a return to 2015/2016, when a series of bombings ‘plunged Turkey into fear’.
Turkey wasn’t ‘plunged into fear’, it was deliberately put in danger by its delusional dictator. We don’t know what is precisely going to happen next, but Erdoğan has squeezed mainly Afrin (under his occupation but his proxies are infighting) and Kobani into his talking points, so they will somehow face repercussions. It will be so violent that people who don’t follow Turkey and Kurdistan, will think you are exaggerating when you tell them about it. Linking it to Sunday’s bombing, will lead to pitying glances. Isn’t that a conspiracy theory?, they will want to know. Wasn’t that a PKK bomb?, they will ask. Aren’t you too much an activist instead of a journalist?, they will think.
I have some counter questions. Why don’t you see the blood on Erdoğan’s hands? Why do you let conspiracy theories obscure your obligation to see the truth?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan