Deadly Ankara Attack Not Enough to Unify a Polarized Turkey

13Turkey2-web-facebookJumbo ISTANBUL — After the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkish history, world leaders including the pope, President Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and others offered condolences to a grieving nation. Turkey’s president, though, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, usually a dominating presence in public life, issued only a short statement and did not make a speech. Just days before, Turkey had something to celebrate: Aziz Sancar, a Turkish-American scientist, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Rather than rejoice, a debate erupted on social media about whether he was truly Turkish, given that he was a distant relative of a Kurdish lawmaker and had been born in the Kurdish-dominated southeast. In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Sancar said, “I do not speak Kurdish, I am Turkish, that’s it.” Nothing seems to be enough to bring Turks together these days, even for a shared moment of grief or triumph. And the recent reactions reflect a deepening feeling that the country has become dangerously polarized. “This is the most fatal terror attack on Turkey in its history and the fact that we cannot come together as a country at the moment and mourn for the loss of our citizens is deeply saddening,” said Ziya Meral, a Turkish academic who lives in London. Within hours of the attack outside the train station in Ankara, the Turkish capital, where two suicide bombers killed nearly 100 people on Saturday, political leaders engaged in more bickering than consolation, and angry citizens began protesting against the government. After the attack, which struck a peace rally organized by Kurdish and leftist groups, the Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas squarely blamed the government for the violence, in comments later criticized even by those who view the government unfavorably. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, at a nationally televised news conference, appealed to national unity but bashed his political opponents, and was criticized for showing little empathy. Steven A. Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime analyst of Turkish politics, wrote on Twitter about Mr. Davutoglu’s lashing out: “a little bit of dignity wld likely go a long way.” Analysts explain the lack of unity in Turkey, even in the face of such a tragedy, as a result of the increasingly divisive leadership of Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., which has ruled for 13 years. Turkey has long been divided by a number of fault lines — secular and religious, rich and poor, Turks and Kurds — and at one time Mr. Erdogan seemed capable of resolving these tensions. He sought peace with the Kurds, empowered the formerly oppressed religious masses and presided, for a time, over a robust economy. In recent years, though, that has all been reversed, as Mr. Erdogan has alienated many of his former supporters. His government has jailed journalists, chased businessmen with politically motivated tax investigations and cracked down on peaceful protesters. Analysts say the political environment now, before snap parliamentary elections scheduled for Nov. 1, is the most combustible they have seen. In recent weeks, the government has cracked down on the Kurdish political movement, which did well in elections in June, and has increased pressure on journalists. “Turkey is so deeply polarized after 13 years of A.K.P. rule,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Once so optimistic about Turkey’s future that he wrote a book, published last year, called, “The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power,” he now fears the country is “about to come apart at the seams.” After more than a decade as prime minister, last year Mr. Erdogan rose to the presidency, once a largely ceremonial position that he has used to remain the country’s pre-eminent political figure. If anything, the job of the president is to be above the political fray. But analysts said he has become too divisive a figure to try to comfort a country in the immediate aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack. “Right now it would be the job of the president to rise to be a statesman and console the nation,” Mr. Cagaptay said. “President Erdogan is nowhere to be seen.” Turkey faces a number of substantive security threats — from the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that controls areas of Syria and Iraq; the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has waged an insurgency within Turkey for decades; and Marxist militants who were active during the Cold War and still are today. But as the reaction from all segments of society in the aftermath of the Ankara bombing demonstrated, Turkey is also largely at war with itself. Ahmet Hakan, a prominent columnist with the Turkish daily Hurriyet who has been critical of the government, was beaten up outside his home recently by a group of men, three of which were determined to be members of the governing party. Mr. Hakan, who suffered a broken nose and broken ribs, wrote in a column published Monday that the government’s polarizing and demonizing language, “has made this country a country of those who hate each other.” Mr. Davutoglu, in an interview on Monday with NTV, a private television channel, said that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was the “prime suspect” in the bombing. Even if that is determined to be the case, it is unlikely to result in a sense of shared purpose in the fight against terrorism, given that the Kurds — the primary victims of Saturday’s attack — have long blamed the Turkish government for enabling the rise of ISIS by supporting rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government. On political issues, one of the sharpest divides in Turkey is on foreign policy and the government’s involvement in Syria. Many saw the terrorist attack as evidence of spillover from the conflict in Syria. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an opposition politician who leads Turkey’s main secular party, placed blame for the violence on the government’s “involvement in Middle Eastern affairs.” As if to underscore the depth of Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war, a prominent Islamist rebel group in Syria that has close ties to Turkey, Jaysh al-Islam, issued a statement on Sunday offering condolences in the wake of the attacks. The group said it was in “complete solidarity with the Turkish government and is sending sincere condolences to the families of the victims.” Mr. Meral, the Turkish academic, said Turkey suffered not only from the actions of one leader, but also a deeply ingrained zero-sum political culture that he defined as “whatever group you associate yourself with is always right and whoever points out your failures is categorically wrong.” He continued, “The environment is such that we can’t talk about anything constructive on either the Kurdish concerns, or the failures of foreign policy, or Syrians and the serious threat of ISIS to Turkey.” Source