Erdogan and the Ankara Bombing

Turkish President Erdogan is playing some dangerous games, aiding Sunni extremists in their war to topple the Syrian government and stirring up old hatreds against the Kurds. So, was last week’s murderous bombing in Ankara an outgrowth of those schemes or something worse, asks ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

“Hüngür Hüngür AÄŸlıyorum” is a refrain from a old Turkish folksong, “Bitterly I weep.” It commemorates a bloody turning point at Sakarya against Greek invaders back in 1921. But the words couldn’t more readily apply now to the unprecedented and outrageous bombing attacks in Ankara last week against marchers in a demonstration for peace that has cost the lives of some 100 people. Will that tragedy bring the country to its senses?

That event is the most horrific outcome yet of the escalating violence and mayhem that is emerging from the current Turkish electoral campaign ,one capriciously demanded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan. He was dissatisfied with the electoral setbacks of last June’s elections that thwarted his amassing greater powers; hence he mandated new elections so voters could “right their mistake.”

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

He is operating under the increasingly unrealistic supposition that the new elections on Nov. 1 will somehow reverse his decline and grant him new authority in his arrogant push to create a new super-presidency. The frightening thing is that his electoral gambits have grown increasingly reckless; it now appears as if the president acknowledges almost no limits to the means used to manipulate the electorate into voting for him.

Elections in Turkey are generally a rough contact sport, even though they are open and democratic; vote-rigging is rare. This time however ErdoÄŸan is pulling out all the stops in an ever-rising campaign of the intimidation and silencing of political rivals, including detention of large numbers of journalists and attacks on media that dare to criticize the president.

Worse, ErdoÄŸan is particularly hostile towards the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), a relatively new Kurdish-oriented party which has actually gained a considerable following among non-Kurds in Turkey, particularly liberals and youth, who value its broad outreach as a secular socialist party. It was this strong showing by the HDP in the June elections that robbed ErdoÄŸan of his expected majority.

He has had blood in his eye ever since and has chosen to exploit ugly nationalist impulses in the country to discredit, perhaps even find grounds to ban, this party that has been gaining some popularity in Turkey as a fresh new political force. Pro-ErdoÄŸan mobs have visited violence upon the party’s headquarters and members in recent months.

It was HDP elements and other liberal forces who dominated the march for peace last week and were the chief victims of the savage bombings. The HDP party leader has directly accused the president of complicity in the bombing of the marchers. There is, of course, no direct evidence of this as such. Indeed it might be too far a stretch to blame ErdoÄŸan as directly responsible for engineering the events, such an act would of course be criminal in the highest degree.

So far Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu has suggested that the “Islamic State” or ISIS is behind the slaughter. No reliable facts have been made public so far, and we may never get a clear answer. What is clearer, however, is that, although proving nothing, ErdoÄŸan probably stood to benefit from this event more than other actors.

After inaugurating a bold, admirable and unprecedented initiative in earlier years to open dialog with the main Kurdish rebel group, he now seems to find greater political benefit in discrediting the HDP, perhaps even hoping to unleash unrest among Turkey’s Kurds with the aim of even banning the HDP, thereby removing a major obstacle to a clear-cut victory in the November elections. But to move to mass bombing would be quite another thing.

ErdoÄŸan may also be banking on the hope that much of the Turkish electorate may now be so unnerved by the increased violence and recent attacks from the rebel PKK group that they just might decide to vote for the president’s party as a bulwark against the forces of Kurdish nationalism and chaos. But such a calculation represents a huge gamble that could produce a severe backlash: the electorate may well, and justifiably, fear that the president himself has become such a deeply polarizing, arrogant, erratic and destabilizing figure that he is even willing to put at risk the future stability of the country, and therefore will call for  his defeat.

There are other forces that could also be theoretical beneficiaries of the bombing. Extremists within the right-wing nationalist party MHP are one possibility. And ISIS itself, of course, could well be behind the act, as the government claims. ISIS seeks to drive a wedge between Kurds and Turks and also to “punish” ErdoÄŸan for backing away from his earlier, more tolerant view of ISIS in the struggle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And to attack his new willingness to support U.S. attacks against ISIS. Yet ISIS usually claims credit for its terrorist actions; in this case it has not so far done so, for what that’s worth.

Other theories run more heavily to the conspiratorial, that the PKK Kurdish rebels sought to thwart its moderate Kurdish rivals; but the PKK has in fact declared an overall cease-fire, at least until the elections are over. Extreme leftists too (not a serious political force in the country) might seek to sow mayhem to weaken ErdoÄŸan.

But even if ErdoÄŸan’s intimate circle had nothing directly to do with this bombing, there is little doubt that the president has worked to create an atmosphere of xenophobia, fear, instability and anti-Kurdish sentiment that has created an ugly and violent political atmosphere not seen in decades. I worry that he might now even be tempted to create armed confrontation with Russia over Syria as a further distraction, an exceptionally dangerous move.

The major question now is how the Turkish electorate will react to events that seem to be dragging Turkey towards the brink. Will it reject ErdoÄŸan and vote against the AKP in enough numbers to severely curtail his powers and vaulting ambitions in the next parliament? Or will it buy into ErdoÄŸan’s increasingly hollow claims to be the “indispensable leader” who can keep the country on an even keel?

Turkey has before marched up the to political brink in previous years, only to find the electorate ultimately voting wisely to ensure the stability and progress of the country. Here’s hoping their common sense will prevail this time as well. Stakes are high for everybody involved in the region.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle)


10 comments for “Erdogan and the Ankara Bombing

  1. Bill
    October 16, 2015 at 20:03

    I believe that like every other government who needs to instil fear and permanent crisis into their citizens to better manipulate them, Erdogan and its clique are the main beneficiaries of this bomb attack.

    It will allow him to increase his power and military operations against the Kurds, while presenting his government as the only obstacle against the current chaos.

  2. Abe
    October 16, 2015 at 17:40

    So Vladimir Putin’s airstrike greatly damages the ISIS positions in Syria. Obviously therefore if the US had really been bombing ISIS it would have destroyed it long ago. But rather than welcome this significant victory in its “war on terrorism” the US tells us that the Russians will have casualties and shouldn’t be there doing what the US has always said it wants the rest of the world to help it do.

    Then, most conveniently, terrorist bombs go off in Ankara. Of course they do. Everyone knows Turkey is Muslim, everyone knows it has had problems with Kurdish terrorism, so ISIS, the vehicle for achieving a State of Greater Kurdistan, must be alive and well and beyond the ability of Russia or anyone else to stop it. Assuming the bombs were really planted by terrorists, without external sponsorship, and they just happened to go off at a time the US is still trying to convince us that ISIS is unbeatable.

    We don’t know the full facts about any of this. But what is obvious is that a longstanding US ally, Turkey, is being caught in the middle. Turkey was only ever a US ally for geographical reasons, as its politics and practices are everything the US says it opposes. Now it in the unenviable position of being told it is an ally, to prevent it making other friends, but treated as the enemy within.

    Maybe this was bound to happen to the secular Muslim state one day. But the US hasn’t even had the decency to let it down gently. It has plunged it into a fight for its very survival which it would never have had to face had it not been such a staunch US ally, attracting to itself all the opprobrium that status carries with it in this region. Once again we are seeing exactly why we have a unipolar world, rather than one with two warring ideologies: with the Guardian of Democracy as your friend, you don’t need enemies.


    At present, Turkey could package the bomb attack as a threat to its national security on a massive scale and try to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter. This would oblige all NATO members to genuinely fight ISIS under the doctrine of collective defence. The US is determined to prevent this. So a little thing like destroying an ally is a small price to pay, so it thinks, for continuing to pursue policies which aren’t even working.

    Turkey can’t hope to stop the US doing what it wants with so much at stake. So whatever the outcome in Syria, the Russian airstrike may have dealt a fatal blow to Turkey rather than ISIS: not because of anything the Russians have done, but because the US has to get its retaliation in first.

    Bombs in Turkey: Who is Trying to Kill Who?
    By Seth Ferris

  3. Tsigantes
    October 16, 2015 at 04:16

    Turkey (along with KSA) is in a strange position right now. Current NATO/US/ISR policy in the Middle East is the 2006 New Middle East plan which has not been cancelled and is still underway. This includes the formation of a large new client state, Kurdistan, assembled out of chunks of neighboring countries ie half of Syria, the northern third of Iraq, northwest Iran (about 20% of Iranian territory) and eastern Turkey, comprising one third of its territory. For reference see the Maj. Ralph Peters bloodlines map. The new Kurdistan not only includes the Iraqi and Syrian oil fields but offers a new ‘Russian underbelly’ location for US/NATO bases.

    The first presentation of this NME plan was to NATO military (SHAPE) in Rome, April 2006. The Turks had not been warned and during the presentation the Turkish military representatives rose from their seats and left the conference. Whatever happened within NATO to keep this issue covered up we cannot know, but generally it can account for the Turkish government’s mysteriously worsening relationship with the Kurds (given Erdogan’s past), its somewhat incomprehensible foreign policy, its schizophrenic behaviour vis a vis NATO over bases. Worse, Turkey’s increased aggression to its two NATO neighbors Cyprus and Greece, with US State Department tolerance, suggests that Turkey has been offered a compensation.

  4. October 14, 2015 at 15:09
  5. ecosutra
    October 14, 2015 at 15:06

    take a look at Beyer Fellow & Director of the Turkish Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Author of The Rise of Turkey I cant stand watching America siding with evil for the petro dollar war.

  6. Abe
    October 14, 2015 at 13:55

    Clearly instead of actually fighting ISIS which would most effectively be done by simply cutting their supply lines in Turkey running right out of NATO territory, the US plan involves directly confronting the Russian-backed offensive aimed north – which itself seeks to cut ISIS’ supply lines. In order to do so, the US will require a significant commitment from Turkey who itself has proposed and advocated the US policy of establishing “safe havens” also sometimes referred to as “buffer zones” or “free zones” within seized territory in northern Syria. However, Turkey has lacked the justification and internal political support to do so.

    The bombing may have possibly been a means of justifying direct Turkish involvement in Syria under the guise of retaliating against ISIS, all while establishing the long-planned “safe haven” to preserve ISIS’ primary supply corridor, check Russian military operations, and from there, expand toward the division, destruction, and eventual overthrow of Syria as a nation-state.

    It should be noted that those targeted by the explosion are in fact linked to Kurdish groups the Turkish government is currently also waging war on, in addition to its proxy war with Syria.

    The true culprits behind the bombing in Ankara may never be revealed – because the use of violence is so widespread among many of Turkey’s prominent political factions. However, how the terrorist attack is leveraged, and for whom it ends up benefiting the most will surely reveal the primary suspects. If “ISIS” claims responsibility or is blamed, suspicion will be raised regarding the current government’s direct involvement in the blasts.

    Blast Shakes Ankara Just in Time to Justify NATO Incursion into Syria
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • MarkU
      October 14, 2015 at 15:12

      The best comment that I have read for a long time.

      • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
        October 16, 2015 at 17:08

        I am disappointed that the words of a conspiracy theorist are “The best comment that I have read for a long time”.

    • Peter Loeb
      October 16, 2015 at 06:10


      The points made by “Abe” above are pertinent.

      They mention but leave unexplored in depth
      the role of the US (including the US via NATO,
      the US as spokesman for the “world community”,
      the US as sponsor of the coalition etc. etc.)

      After nearly bribing other coalition members
      to fight in Syria (against Assad, against Kurds),
      the coalition participant is left to pay the price.

      At this point, the US is far, far away.

      Had the US and all “moderates” followed
      the pleas of the unanimous UN Security Council
      in February 2014 to JOIN Assad in battling
      “foreigners”, affiliates of Al-Queda (S/Res.2139(2014))
      point 14 (page 4 of the document), the situation
      would have been different indeed.

      So far, only Russia has followeds the unanimous

      Others have followed US covert so-called
      “moderate” groups (read CIA?) which have
      failed to fight the invading terrorists (Council
      language, not mine).

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      October 16, 2015 at 17:06

      The idea that Turkey wishes to end Syria’s existence as a nation-state, implying that Turkey wishes to reconquer it, is a conspiracy theory. I have never heard this theory before, incidentally. Also, just because the Turkish government benefits from the attacks does not mean that it was responsible.

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