On 13 November, a bomb exploded on Istiklal Avenue, the busiest street in Istanbul. The bombing directly targeted civilians, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
The media broadcast images from the scene minutes after the explosion, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement shortly after, saying the incident “smells of terrorism”. He did not name any individual or organisation though.
One video stood out among all coverage. It was CCTV footage that showed a woman who left at ground zero a bag that had the bomb inside. A few hours later, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu personally announced that the woman, a Syrian national named Ahlam Albashir, had been arrested at her residence. At this time, Soylu directly blamed the Syrian majority-Kurdish group People’s Protection Units (YPG), Kurds in general, and the Syrian town of Kobane in particular.
It needs to be pointed out that neither Erdoğan nor his spokesmen have actually said that Kurdish organisations carried out this attack. While not refraining from threats targeting Kurds, they have only called the matter a general “terrorism” incident. This is significant, as clearly there is a divide among state bodies. We will look deeper into this later in the article.
Going back to Soylu’s statement for now: The minister said the bomber was from Syria’s Idlib province, and that she had entered Turkey via Afrin four months ago. This was proven to be a lie shortly after. The woman’s neighbours said she had been living in the same apartment for a year.
But let’s assume Soylu was right.
Idlib has been under control of al-Qaeda-offshoot jihadist groups for years. There are dozens of Turkish military bases around the province, and 700 Turkish soldiers are stationed in them. Immediately north of Idlib, the city of Afrin has been under occupation by Turkey and the armed groups it backs since 18 March 2018. The city was turned over to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on 13 October 2022, when HTS and Turkey came to an agreement. So, if this bomber did in fact cross over from Idlib or Afrin, she must have done so under the supervision of Turkish security forces. There is no other way.
It also needs to be said that to date, nobody in Syria has come forward and said they know her. No family, no friends, no acquaintances. Where this woman is from remains a mystery to date.
There is another person in custody, a man who is referred to as the real organiser of the attack. It is clear what kind of a man Ammar Jarkas is, looking at his social media presence. Jarkas is an openly jihadist man, and has been seen attending events by MÜSİAD, the association for Turkey’s conservative and pro- government businessmen.
As these developments came to pass, Kurdish organisations put in the crosshairs by Minister Soylu and other Turkish officials issued several responses. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) condemned the attack in no uncertain terms, and clearly stated that the Kurdish movement was not in the practice of targeting civilians, and it would not ever.
Political and military organisations in northern Syria also made similar statements, refuting in clear terms that the attack had anything to do with them.
But even without the statements, Turkey’s accusations do not sound that plausible.
For one, why would the PKK directly target civilians at the heart of Istanbul? Coming up with a logical answer to that question has nothing to do with being Kurdish or Turkish, supporting the PKK or not. PKK is spending much effort to rid itself of the “terrorist” label in Turkey and in the international arena. Kurds strive to convince the world that their fight is righteous. As such, why would they go and murder civilians? That would be shooting themselves in the foot.
On the other hand, Turkish state or various sects within it do have reasons for such an act. The first three that come to mind are as follows:
1. Turkey has been trying to suppress the Kurdish struggle via force and violence. It has not achieved results with the military operations against Kurds. The operations in Iraqi Kurdistan that have continued for the last seven months have been unfruitful. There are losses on both sides, but Turkey has not achieved its goals in the military field. All the while Kurdish politics grow stronger in the legal arena. There are 10,000 Kurdish political prisoners, but despite all the attacks, the Kurdish political movement remains at a key position for Turkey’s 2023 elections. So much so that Kurds will determine Erdoğan’s fate. The Turkish state could take up actions terrorising the Kurds to get out of this political and military rut it finds itself in. This has been done in the past, and it could very well be that the Istanbul attack is a new version of it.
2. In connection with the first point, the Turkish state may have implemented this plot to terrorise the Kurdish struggle and to lay the groundwork for new attacks. They have been preparing for a long time to attack Kobane, and announcing within a few hours that the attack order came from the Syrian Kurdish town could be part of such a scenario. Kobane is globally renowned as the symbol of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkey wants to set forth a scenario that an attack came from Kobane. It is highly probable that they will attack the vicinity of the town soon. It is almost certain where they will attack, even, but perhaps that should be analysed in another article.
3. And lastly, connected to both points, Erdoğan’s calculations for the upcoming elections: Under normal circumstances, Erdoğan cannot win the 2023 elections. That is why he wants to take on the election period under bloodshed and violence, as it was in 2015. At the time, back to back ISIS bombings in the east and west created an unstable environment after Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary supermajority in the 7 June elections. Between the peace process collapsing and the bombings, Erdoğan managed to push for another vote in November and took back the majority. Now, he also wants to take opposition support behind him via his attacks on Kurds. In this sense, the Istanbul attack could mark a beginning: Unfortunately we are entering a field of landmines.
Based on these three points, it is possible to say that the Istanbul attack could have been organised by the state. All statements from Kurdish organisations also point to this possibility.
However, it can also be seen that the state is not unified in its reflexes. Obviously in the face of it, the AKP is in power. However, the racist far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is the foundation for this government. Minister Soylu stands as the representative of this movement inside the government.
At the time of the explosion, Soylu was at an opening ceremony in Idlib, which is under al Qaeda control. Immediately after, he returned to Istanbul and blamed the Kurds and the United States for the attack. As the minister blamed Washington, Erdoğan himself was in Indonesia trying to get an audience with US President Joe Biden.
There are two possibilities: Either Soylu wanted to put Erdoğan in a difficult situation, or the Turkish state delegated roles for the pair. Soylu and MHP want Erdoğan to remain in power more than he does. Right now, they can put all their ideas into practice via this regime. On the other hand, Ankara has a problem that it must convince the United States to attack Kobane. We do not know whether Erdoğan discussed the matter with Biden. So it is possible that Soylu could have wanted to pull Washington into the matter while Erdoğan was pushing for diplomacy.
All in all, Turkey continues to go further down in the dark tunnels it is in, and wants to sacrifice Kurds in the meantime. All kinds of dirty scenarios are put in motion to suppress the Kurds’ legitimate demand for rights, and international powers are sucked in to it. Those powers are not so innocent in any case, the fundamental rights that have been granted to the rest of the world half a century ago are suddenly ignored when it comes to Kurds.
The Kurdish people as a nation demand their fundamental rights and freedoms, and Turkey responds to them with violence. That in turn breeds more violence. And the international powers that should intervene in favour of a political solution instead slap the label of “terrorism” on the Kurds’ struggle and lay the groundwork for the war to continue and for more innocent blood to be shed.
The United States, the European Union, Russia, and all others are in fact responsible for this war and for the deaths of both Kurds and Turks. When they see their own responsibility in this, that is when the issue will be resolved, the war will end, and no more innocent people will be targeted by vile bombs like in Istanbul.
Amed Dicle was born and raised in Diyarbakır, Turkey. He has worked for Kurdish-language media outlets in Europe including Roj TV, Sterk TV and currently ANF. His career has taken him to Rojava, Syria, Iraq and many countries across Europe. Follow him on Twitter.