Coming to terms with the Ankara massacre

With three bomb attacks this year including two massacres, many ask if the dark days of the Turkish deep state have come back to torment Turkey.

Yvo Fitzherbert
17 October 2015
Trade union and civil society groups protest teh massacre in Ankara, October 13.

Trade union and civil society groups protest teh massacre in Ankara, October 13. Demotix/ Recep Yilmaz.All rights reserved.Three days after the bomb attack in Ankara, which killed at least 99 people when 2 suicide bombers detonated themselves early on Saturday, October 10 at a peace rally, a large portion of Turkey's football fans booed the minute's silence that was dedicated to the lives lost in the attack. Deciding to express their disregard to the Kurdish and leftist victims, a sizeable minority chanted nationalist and religious slogans.

What was meant to be a moving tribute of national unity in the face of such a tragedy, instead highlighted the very real divisions that constitute a stark polarisation of Turkish society. AKP and government officials have been noticeably absent at all the funeral ceremonies held, possibly out of fear of angry crowds. Erdogan himself, whose speeches usually dominate Turkish media, has yet to make a public appearance since the Ankara bombing. A sole statement released from his Presidential Palace stated, “Like other acts of terror, the attack at the Ankara Train Station is taking aim at our unity, brotherhood and future.”

The attack took place as people were gathering before a peace rally under the slogan “Savaşa Inat, Barış Hemen Şimdi” (Stand Up Against War, Demand Peace Now) that was organised by various leftists groups and Unions alongside the pro-Kurdish HDP party. The bomb attacks targeted leftists and Kurds who were demanding that the government end its campaign against the PKK in the south-east of the country, which has killed hundreds since the peace process broke down, back in July.

The twin bomb blasts went off at exactly 10.02am on Saturday morning, two hours before the rally was due to begin. A video shows the exact moment the blast went off, whilst the protesters were dancing the “halay”, a traditional dance across Turkey for Turks and Kurds alike. One friend on facebook posted this description of the dance following the explosion:

“The halay. A simple dance. It is equality. It is equality because anyone can participate — young and old, Turkish and American, Kurdish and Armenian. It’s equality because it is a circle: no one dominates. It is equality because it can be danced to any music. It is free. You can come and go as you please, and no one is excluded. It’s equality because everyone links their pinky fingers together joining for a moment in harmony."

What's more, the song they were singing at the very moment of the explosion was a famous resistance song by Ruhi Su, a renowned political folk singer in Turkey. The group dancing halay were singing, “Bu meydan kanlı meydan”, which translates as “This square is a square full of blood” and comes from the song Ellerinde pankarklar (“Placards in their hands”), a reference to the bloody mayday of 1977 in Taksim.

The symbolism of the dancing protesters singing such a song could not be more suggestive – creating as it does an implicit link between the Ankara massacre and the long, dark history of the Turkish state’s involvement in attacking its own citizens.

Turkey's long history of unresolved massacres

In 1977, 36 people were killed during a May Day rally called by various unions, most notably DISK, who were also involved in the peace rally in Ankara last weekend. Shots were fired from a hotel above Taksim Square onto the packed rally, which created chaos in the packed square. In the ensuing chaos, eyewitnesses described how most exits were blocked, which led to many people being trampled to death.

Despite the clear evidence of shots being fired by snipers, none of the perpetrators were caught or brought to justice. The snipers were supposedly ‘arrested’, but such arrests didn't appear on the police records. After many years, the court case was shelved due to the statute of limitations expiring, leaving many inconclusive answers to a massacre which undoubtedly had some form of state involvement.

Taksim’s was not the only massacre where justice has not been delivered. In fact, the history of the Turkish republic is one of horrendous massacres taking place without justice ever being found. In 1955, Turkish nationalists attacked the Greek population of Istanbul, burning their property after it was wrongly circulated that the house where Atatürk was born in Thessaloniki had been bombed.

Once again, police were noticeably absent from the pogrom, and it is widely believed to have been orchestrated by some elements within the Turkish state as a means to further ‘turkify’ Istanbul.

Another example is the Maraş massacre in 1978, when Turkish nationalists targeted mostly Alevis, but some leftist Kurds too. In 1993, a group of Alevi writers and scholars met at a conference in a hotel in Sivas. An Islamist mob set upon the hotel where they proceeded to attack and eventually subject it to arson for over 8 hours, without any police interference. In total, 33 notable Alevi intellectuals were killed, and although some of the perpetrators were caught, no prosecutions were ever made against the police force who failed to intervene.

In all these examples, the exact perpetrators of the massacres were never fully brought to justice. So the Ankara massacre should be seen as another massacre in a long list of massacres whose ambiguous nature leaves little doubt in people's mind over the state's complicity. In Jadaliyya, Simen Adar explains this paradox: “the past ill-doings of the state only imply that the main responsibility for the deadly blast in Ankara falls primarily on the state actors and institutions unless otherwise proven” whilst also explaining the paradox of Turkish politics, that “it is almost never possible to find the perpetrator by resorting to hard evidence because loyalty to the state far exceeds the sense of justice.”

What is the evidence of state involvement in the Ankara massacre?

Many have claimed that police did not arrive on the scene until fifteen minutes after the bombing. When they did, the protesters' horror turned to outrage: the police, attempting to clear the area, fired dozens of rounds of tear gas into the crowd.

Turkey's health organisations have criticised the medical response to the tragedy. Ambulances taking casualties to the hospital were prevented from passing through police cordons. Across Ankara, hospitals struggled to deal with the sheer number of casualties and made a desperate call for blood donations, which flooded social media. This was followed by a TV announcement from the Health Ministry, declaring that blood donations were not needed.

Furthermore, the government announced a blanket gag order on reporting and investigating the suspects of the Ankara bombing until all suspects were arrested by the state. State-run media continues to report that the PKK may still be behind the bombing, in a co-ordinated attack with ISIS. Although dozens of HDP activists were amongst the dead in Ankara, AKP politicians, along with pro-government media outlets, quickly accused HDP of being guilty. However, the brutal reaction of the state to the massacre through the action of the police, along with the blanket ban on reporting, points in many people’s minds in a different direction. The question remains, though, why would such a massacre benefit Erdogan and the Turkish state? And what, if any, is their relationship with the perpetrators, ISIS jihadists of Turkish origin?

ISIS, the state and the Dokumacılar Adıyaman cell

The AKP government, after first suggesting it could have been the work of the PKK or other leftist groups, have recently announced that they have found the two suicide bombers, one of whom is Yunus Emre Alagöz, the brother of the Suruç suicide bomber, Seyh Abdurrahman Alagöz. These two brothers were also known friends with Orhan Gönder, the bomber of the pro-Kurdish election rally in Diyarbakır in June, which killed 4 and left dozens wounded.

Together, these three friends have now killed over 130 people between them, and are part of a group known as the Dokumacilar group, or Adiyaman cell. In Adiyaman, the Alagöz brothers ran a tea shop, known as the “Islam Tea House”. It quickly became notorious as a place where radical Islam was preached, and was only closed down after families repeatedly complained to the police.

Shortly after, the Alagöz brothers left for Syria. Orhan Gönder is also thought to have left at a similar time. The Dokumacılar group is estimated have around 60 members, all Turkish citizens who fought with ISIS in Syria. Hailing from Adiyaman, a conservative city in Turkey's south-east, reports have suggested that this group has a relationship with Turkey's border officials, allowing them to cross between Turkey and Syria easily.

However, the truth regarding this group remains shrouded in mystery. Orhan Gönder, who is currently in jail awaiting trial, was arrested by Turkish police just 2 days before he detonated two simultaneous bombs at the Diyarbakır rally in June. Although there had been an arrest warrant for Gönder since 2014, after his family had informed the police that he had joined ISIS, the police simply released him in Diyarbakir after searching his hotel room and questioning him over his failure to do his military service.

As in the case of Gönder, Turkey's security services must have known about the Alagöz brothers. “I went to the police many times to try and get my son back from Syria,” the father of the second Ankara bomber is reportedly quoted as saying by the Turkish Radikal newspaper, “I told the police: 'please take him and throw him in jail.' They took his statement and then let him go.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Suruc massacre, journalist Ezgi Basaran wrote about Yunus Emre Alagöz in a column entitled, “Another bombing attack is closer than we think”. The column served as a warning to the public on the likelihood that Alagöz would follow in his brothers’ footsteps, a prediction that has sadly been proven right. The Turkish authorities were clearly aware of this brother, but simply failed to act. The question remains: can such an oversight on the part of Turkey's security forces in failing to tackle this cell simply be explained as negligeance on their part? Or, is it instead a cynical decision on the part of the state as a means of targeting opposition groups?

Davutoğlu, who has been subjected to a barrage of criticism over the last week regarding the Ankara massacre, has responded in a bizarre manner. First, he claimed that they had arrested Abdurrahman Alagöz after the Suruç bomb, clearly forgetting that he had in fact blown himself up. This was followed by a statement regarding the difficulty of arresting potential suicide bombers, “We have the list of potential suicide bombers, but we can't arrest them until they go into action.”

Such a statement was heavily criticised, especially considering the increased security powers the government has which are regularly used against Kurdish activists connected to the pro-Kurdish HDP. Demirtaş steadfastly underlined the hypocrisy of the government: “They can throw people in prison for a single sentence,” he said after the explosion, in reference to the crackdown on HDP members since July, “but when we loose 150 in attacks there are no perpetrators to be found.”

To most people, Erdogan seems to have deliberately allowed the presence and mobility of ISIS cells in Turkey to exist as a means to foment fear and chaos across the nation. For many, the fact that journalists, politicians and lawyers have demanded further investigation into ISIS's presence, and that the government has refused to advance any investigations, shows the true face of Erdogan and his AKP government.

Within the state, there are clearly dark forces present. Ever since the war resumed between the PKK and the Turkish government in July, a crackdown has been under-way by Turkish police eager to suppress the restless Kurdish population in the south-east. Led by the YDG-H, the youth wing of the PKK, Kurds have been busy defending their neighbourhoods, often leading to armed clashes against Turkey's security forces.

What's more, accounts have been emerging about the political infiltration of ISIS cells within the Turkish police. In Silvan, which was the scene of a violent siege and crackdown in August after locals declared autonomy from the state, there were eyewitnesses who described police entering the neighbourhoods and declaring “Allah Akbar”. Such religious cries are something which we associate with ISIS, not Turkey's police force. Such suspicions increased this week, when special forces entered the volatile old city of Diyarbakir and scribbled on the wall an ominous warning: “Allah says enough to everything! You will see the power of Turks”.

Below such graffiti was the name “Esedullah Tim”, thought to be an ISIS cell within the police force. Recently, the HDP parliamentarian Çağlar Demirel asked, “What is Esadullah's link to the state and the temporary AKP government? Has the State produced a counter force under the name of Esadullah?”

These are chilling times. If such groups, with clear links to ISIS, are now within Turkey's police force, it shows the length the state may go to to instil fear and suppress its own people. The long list of previous massacres committed show how far the Turkish government has gone in the past to maintain power, and set their agenda. It appears, with three bomb attacks this year, two of which amount to massacres, that the dark days of the Turkish deep state have come back to torment Turkey.

A haunted nation

Turkey's long history of massacres, and their failure to resolve the questions surrounding them, make them guilty until otherwise proven. In this, the failure to heed the advice of concerned citizens aware of the real dangers of ISIS cells that breed jihadism among many of Turkey's youths, whilst simultaneously cracking down so brutally on the Turkish left and Kurdish political movement, will ultimately be sighted as a major cause of the Ankara massacre.

Looking at the historical framework of Turkey's past investigations into the many massacres that have taken place, it appears to many a foregone conclusion that the Ankara massacre will remain unresolved. Unless Erdogan and his interim AKP government break from this historical continuity by seriously tackling ISIS cells, as well as any cancerous relationship with such cells, justice will never be served for the Ankara massacre. Otherwise Ruhi Su's words that This square is a square full of blood will forever ring true, leaving a haunted nation struggling to come to terms with its massacres.

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