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The Ankara Massacre and its aftermath

Tell me now, my beautiful-eyed and big-hearted child, how will I explain to your friends the meaning of the word ‘peace?’ … If I mention peace, won’t your friends ask, ‘Teacher, are peace and death the same?’”

So says teacher Sabahat Yıldırım in his elegy for his pupil, Veysel Atılgan. The boy, just 9, was the youngest of over 100 people to perish when two bombs tore through a gathering in Ankara at 10.04 a.m. on 10 October, just as tens of thousands of workers and activists were preparing to march for peace in the heart of the Turkish capital.


As has become the norm in a country that shoots first and asks questions later, the police – who had been conspicuous by their absence in the immediate prelude to the bombings – appeared moments after the blasts. As if by instinct, they enveloped the crime scene in a cloud of tear gas, providing an all-too-predictable send-off to those who were not fortunate enough to perish in the instant of the explosion. After all, Turkish authorities are famous for sending water cannon to disaster sites before ambulances, so it was no surprise that paramedics were not permitted to access the dead and dying until after the blast site had been disinfected with tear gas.

Two suicide bombers, Yunus Emre Alagöz and Ömer Deniz Dündar, were identified as the culprits of the attacks, which came just seconds apart at the Labour, Peace and Democracy rally organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the Confederation of Public Trade Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) to demand an end to months of armed conflicts.

The rally drew representatives from unions, professional associations, political parties and other groups from the four corners of Turkey.

Previous warning signs

Both men were on a list of potential suicide bombers for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and had – ostensibly – been sought by police for the past four months. Indeed, Dündar’s father, M.D., even went to the police due to his son’s frequent trips to Syria, presumably to ISIL-controlled areas.

“I complained to the police about my son. I told the police, ‘put him in jail,’” he told journalist İdris Emen.

This being Turkey, they released him.

Alagöz, too, had become the subject of much speculation, especially after his brother, Şeyh Abdurrahman Alagöz, detonated himself on 20 July in the garden of a municipal centre in Suruç, which sits just across the Syrian border from the flashpoint city of Kobane, killing 33 socialist activists who were bringing toys and other aid to the children of the symbolic Kurdish city.

Having long witnessed the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) acquiescence to, if not active support for, ISIL in terms of allowing jihadists to cross from Turkey into Syria, its refusal to permit Turkey’s Kurds to aid in the defence of Kobane and its half-hearted attempts to crack down on the group, protesters in Ankara were permitted to feel they had seen this film before.

“Murderer State,” “Murderer Erdoğan” and “Murderer ISIL, collaborator AKP,” the people, red with fury and sorrow at the scene they had just witnessed, shouted as they streamed away from the square, looking for a spot of respite.

The government’s actions since the massacre have done little to dispel suggestions that it does not take the jihadist group seriously – or worse, continues to aid and abet the group as a tool to use against the radical left.

Government invites incredulity

Indeed, some saw it as a Freudian slip rather than a demonstration of suspect geometry skills when the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, declared to the nation that the difference between ISIL and the AKP’s understanding of Islam “wasn’t just 180 degrees, but 360 degrees.”

Only slightly less embarrassingly, Davutoğlu and pro-government publications – which can lay claim to the privilege of being “newspapers” only in the most approximate of senses – quickly discovered a monstrously evil plot that happened to bring together all of the AKP’s worst enemies, even if those foes were sworn enemies of each other. Approached the realms of surrealism, Davutoğlu informed the nation that ISIL, the PKK and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad had reached a secret deal in May to cooperate against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and – ipso facto (somehow) – Turkey. Quite how ISIL and the PKK, two mortal enemies battling each other in three countries, had suddenly decided to come together to bomb a peace rally in Ankara has yet to be explained by the prime minister.

The Turkish state, however, is desperate to pin some of the blame on the PKK as a means of reducing support for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which was one of the prime targets of the Ankara attack. In Turkey’s recent 7 June elections, the HDP’s success in overcoming the country’s 10% threshold altered the legislative arithmetic enough to ensure that the AKP could not secure a parliamentary majority to change the country’s administrative system and provide the nation’s real leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with near-unencumbered powers. Stung by its pyrrhic victory on 7 June, the AKP called snap elections for 1 November and has been playing every dirty trick in the book since in an effort to make certain that the HDP will not stand in the way of ambitions once more.

Upholding another tradition of Turkish statecraft, the government immediately placed a gag order on reporting on the events, echoing prohibitions following previous massacres. And surprising no one again, political authorities resolutely refused to resign over the massacre, solemnly murmuring that there had been “no security shortcomings” surrounding the explosions.

Likewise, Davutoğlu invited further derision by acknowledging the existence of a list of potential suicide bombers, but cautioned that the state, which is under the rule of law, “could do nothing to detain them until they commit a crime.” With the state abandoning its duty to provide safety, one Twitter user astutely instructed followers that, should they encounter a suicide bomber, they should call police and inform them that the would-be perpetrator had just insulted the president. “They’ll come immediately and arrest him.”

Gallows humour aside, serious questions are being raised about the intelligence and police services of a country that can find and charge Twitter users for insulting the president, but tracks and yet fails to stop suicide bombers intent on creating carnage.

And with a state seemingly intent on sacrificing its own citizens to ensure and increase its hold on power, there appears to be no light ahead in the Turkish tunnel.

Stefan Martens, journalist and a member of DİSK/Basın-İş (Progressive Union of Media Workers & Journalists)