ISTANBUL BLOG: Suicide attack in Turkey awakens ghosts that promise violence ahead of elections

ISTANBUL BLOG: Suicide attack in Turkey awakens ghosts that promise violence ahead of elections
Mourners gathered after the Reina nightclub mass shooting terrorist attack in Istanbul in January, 2017. / bne IntelliNews
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade October 3, 2022

The People’s Defence Forces (HPG), a unit of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in Turkey’s Mediterranean city of Mersin. The claim was outlined in a statement released by HPG on September 29.

The attack, carried out on September 26, involved two women initially targeting police officers in front of Tece Police House, an accommodation facility for police officers, with rifles. The women died after they detonated explosives in their backpacks. One police officer was killed, another was wounded.

In April, Turkey launched an offensive against the PKK in northern Iraq. Since then, the “cemetery” in the press release section of the Turkish defence ministry website has been expanding.

In the spring, when the snow melts in the mountainous Iraqi region where the PKK is based, the Turkish state and the PKK traditionally launch a season of bloody attacks. They have been fighting for more than four decades.

Also in April, the PKK appeared to carry out two small bomb attacks in Bursa and Istanbul. One casualty was reported in Bursa.

Since August, Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria has escalated. Observers of the conflict concluded that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who by law must step aside or set a date for a re-election bid to take place within the next nine months—got a greenlight for limited attacks in the region at a meeting with Vladimir Putin, who also has troops in Syria.

As the attacks in Turkey are yet to cause much human carnage in the cities, the Mersin incident has not made much impact with Turks. However, concerns over a June-November 2015 scenario are developing, as the attack reminded analysts of the Ceylanpinar incident.

In March 2015, Erdogan said during an election rally in Gaziantep province: “My brothers and sisters, give me 400 seats in parliament and let this job be resolved in peace.”

Also in March 2015, Erdogan threw a wrench in the Turkish government’s peace talks with the PKK. After Erdogan was in 2014 elected as president, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) was steering the government.

The rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey is a problem for both Erdogan and the PKK. The PKK would have no reason to exist if the HDP was properly accepted into the Turkish political system. The HDP, meanwhile, steals the AKP’s Kurdish votes when there is no war. It seems that whenever Erdogan’s prospects would be improved by some violence that raises tensions in society, the PKK does what it takes.

Erdogan repeated his demand for 400 seats during that election campaign of seven years ago as a two-thirds majority in the 550-seat parliament would provide him with the power to rewrite the constitutional law without the blessing of a referendum ‘yes’ vote.

In June 2015, however, the Turks did not provide the 400 seats at the polls and the “job” was not resolved in peace. Erdogan also lost his parliamentary majority.

Terror season begins

Two days before the election, the terror season began with a bomb attack that targeted an HDP rally in Diyarbakir city. At that point, it was clear the Turks were not about to provide the 400 seats.

In July 2015, the HPG claimed responsibility for the execution of two policemen in Ceylanpinar town of Urfa province. Later on, some PKK figures changed their mind, claiming that they were not the perpetrators. Ascribing responsibility in this shadow war is never easy.

During the summer and spring of 2015, the bloosbath grew worse. The PKK attacked Turkish cities. What’s more, Islamic State carried out the biggest ever terrorist attacks seen in Turkey, targeting the HDP. And, it continued. See “how states make use of terrorists” here.

In September 2015, Erdogan said in a televised interview that if a party had secured 400 seats in the June election and had reached the required number in parliament to change the constitution, the situation would be different now.

In November 2015, a new election was held after the AKP used up the legal period to form a government, fooling the Republican People’s Party (CHP) via preliminary coalition talks.

Participation in the new poll fell. Kurdish votes returned to the AKP to avoid more bloodshed. Erdogan regained his parliamentary majority, but fell short of the 400 threshold.

The issue would only be resolved in 2017 after the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Right now, Erdogan has already lost the next parliamentary and presidential elections that are to be held in June 2023 at the latest. He is testing all his options while keeping “nuclear” options on the cards.

It is Erdogan’s style to keep all alternatives alive. If at any moment he saw a chance to win, for instance, he could call a snap poll.

But such is the multi-faceted mire that Turkey finds itself in, none of Erdogan’s current efforts can alter the fact that he has already lost the next elections. In the period ahead, he will come to accept this fact and push buttons to initiate “nuclear” options.

As Turkey’s murky legislation stands, a war would be a lawful reason to delay the elections. Another scenario, would see the eruption of violence across the country and the claiming of a victory by Erdogan that opponents would decry as fake. In such a case, maintaining stability in Turkey would be a hopeless task. A Syria or Iraq scenario would be likely.

A third possibility would see Erdogan fleeing abroad to avoid imprisonment.

In the period ahead, Turkey watchers will assess when and where violence could flare up. But the tensions with Greece, note, are simply for fooling the fools.

Currently, almost the entirety of Turkey’s southern border area is a battlefield. In addition to the Kurds, there are some jihadist groups backed by Erdogan and there are some al-Qaeda offshoots that could at any time turn on Turkey.

They all have the networks and ability required to strike within Turkey.

Also important is the growing anti-migrant tension in Turkey that periodically boils over. It is another source of potential violence for the period ahead.

Political assassinations, terror attacks, some other bloody occurrences (as seen in the June-November 2015 period), the closure of the HDP (the HDP has reserve parties, this move would not make sense), the seizure of the Istanbul Municipality and the jailing/banning from politics of Istanbul’s popular CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu are also among options for the period ahead that can in no way be ruled out.