Atilla Sandıklı, president of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), has said the recent bombings in İstanbul may have had global, as well as domestic, links. Referring to the attack at the US Consulate General in İstanbul on July 9 that killed three policemen, Sandıklı said the attack may have been linked to both the PKK and al-Qaeda.
“There will be days when we won’t be able to differentiate among terrorist organizations because of the globalization of these organizations. So as one organization plans a terror act, another may execute it and yet another may be the instigator,” he said. Sandıklı even argued that there was a link between an attack in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that killed 23 people last Monday and the bombings in İstanbul the night before. “If there are people who would like to create a chaotic environment in Turkey, why wouldn’t they want to be in touch with other groups who want the same thing?” he asked, adding: “In Turkey, they were not able to incite a Turkish-Kurdish conflict; but they did it in Kirkuk.” Two bombs exploded within minutes of each other on July 27 in a crowded pedestrian area in İstanbul, killing 17 people and wounding more than 150, in the deadliest terror attack seen in Turkey in over five years.
No one has yet claimed responsibility, but the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been the focus of initial suspicions because the twin bombings came just hours after Turkish fighter jets struck suspected PKK targets across the border in northern Iraq.
Tension in Turkey was already high before the bomb attack, as it came just hours before the Constitutional Court began deliberations over whether to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and a couple of days after a court accepted a highly debated indictment against 86 alleged members, including former military officers, of Ergenekon, a criminal network accused of planning to overthrow the government.
For Monday Talk, Sandıklı explained how all of these separate incidents may have been related to each other.
Do you see a relation between the two separate court cases and the bombings?
There has been tension in the country related to the closure case and the case related to the Ergenekon indictment. The murky atmosphere created by this tension influences the expectations of Turkey’s supporters in a negative way. The act of terrorism aims at deepening adverse feelings toward Turkey. Their goal was not to influence the Ergenekon case or the closure case, but to deepen the negative effects of these cases in Turkey. Unfavorable conditions feed hostilities, panic and feelings of insecurity in public. That’s why the timing of the bombings is important.
Which terrorist organization would benefit from such a chaotic environment in Turkey?
There are three effective terror organizations in Turkey. One is the PKK, the second is al-Qaeda and the third is Hizbullah. There are also extreme leftist organizations. There are groups that have been uneasy about some changes in Turkey. And, in this global environment, a terrorist act can be executed through the collaboration of many organizations. One may provide explosives while another provides the plan and yet another executes it. Some people who have been uncomfortable with the changes in society in Turkey may be leading the efforts to create chaos. We can talk about the globalization of terrorism as we talk about global corporate mergers.
When you talk about changes in the society, what does this mean, more specifically? And what forces do you think would benefit from chaos in Turkey?
Firstly, with the AK Party’s ascension to power many changes began happening in Turkey. When we look at it from an economic point of view, we see that capital has been changing hands. Secondly, there have been changes in the bureaucracy, which has been moving closer to the government, rather than to the state. And the Turkish bourgeoisie have been changing, too. So the structures close to the statist approach have been uneasy about all those changes. Also, there are terror organizations that would benefit from a weakened, tense and instable Turkey. One of the most important such organizations is the PKK. Thirdly, Turkey has been pursuing a foreign policy course on good terms with the West and, at the same time, with the Middle East and Central Asia. Some domestic and international terror organizations have been disturbed by this fact and try to resist it -- for example, al-Qaeda.
Could you give an example of a country which would be disturbed by Turkish influence in the region?
Russia may be worried about Turkey’s influence in the Caucasus because it has been trying to increase its weight in the same region. The idea of Eurasianism was the brainchild of Russian political activist Aleksandr Dugin. [Dugin’s ideas, particularly those on “a Turkic-Slavic alliance in the Eurasian sphere” have recently become popular among certain nationalist circles in Turkey.] In addition, there are other groups, such as some Armenian groups outside Turkey, disturbed by Turkey’s development. And there is another factor: Turkey has been forming an alliance with the West against the terrorism of the PKK. Since March of this year, the United States, for example, has been actively supporting Turkey’s fight against terrorism and sharing intelligence with Turkey.
So do you think the PKK may have reacted to this and said “I’m still around”?
The PKK has been disturbed by Turkey’s policies, which have gained backing from the West, Iraq and the northern Iraqi administration. The PKK’s activities have usually been focused around the mountainous border regions of Iraq, Iran and Turkey, near the Turkish provinces of Mardin, Şırnak and Hakkari. So the PKK, which feels entrapped, is sending a message to its supporters that it is alive.
But the PKK denies any involvement in the incident. And the organization has been trying to gain a legitimate political ground. How can it commit such a crime at this time?
The PKK has previously denied involvement in such acts. When the German mountain climbers were abducted recently by members of the PKK, the organization said it did not approve of such acts, which had been carried out by certain branches without central control. The PKK has avoided claiming responsibility for such acts because terrorism is no longer accepted in the world, regardless of its reasons. When it comes to the PKK trying to obtain legitimacy, the AK Party garnered in last year’s election a big chunk of the Kurdish votes in the areas where the PKK’s influence has usually been great. So its power in the region has been decreasing. Indeed, the PKK has been aggravated and initiated terrorist acts since the prime minister set a goal of increasing the numbers of AK Party mayors in the Southeast. The PKK has been aiming at bringing the Kurdish and Turkish populations into conflict with each other so the public’s confidence in the government would decrease.
Do you think the technical aspects of the bombings bore the marks of the PKK?
Al-Qaeda executes similar attacks and terrorist organizations develop their techniques and adopt new tactics. The latest terrorist attack was not so sophisticated.
Are you implying a link between the PKK and al-Qaeda?
Gunmen who opened fire on the police guarding the US Consulate General in İstanbul killing three officers are believed to have been inspired by al-Qaeda. The attackers were linked to the PKK, but the act was thought to belong to al-Qaeda. There will be days when we won’t be able to differentiate among terrorist organizations because of the globalization of these organizations. So as one organization plans a terror act, another may execute it and yet another may be the instigator.
So the thesis is that the PKK would not claim responsibility for terrorist acts because of its politicization process, but how about al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda does not have any such concerns. Still, I argue that there are probably other groups involved in planning and executing these terror acts.
Some observers see a link between the suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that killed 23 people and the twin bombings in İstanbul. Are you convinced that there may be a link?
If there are people who would like to create a chaotic environment in Turkey, why wouldn’t they want to be in touch with other groups who want to do the same thing? In Turkey, they were not able to incite a Turkish-Kurdish conflict, but they did it in Kirkuk.
Should we expect more acts of terrorism?
As the tension surrounding the closure case against the ruling party dissipates, terror organizations are likely to be disappointed. If the court had decided to close the party, a murky atmosphere would have been likely. I always say that Turkey will live with terrorism as many other countries do. But the trend of terrorism will decrease in Turkey beginning in November.
Firstly, Turkey will start to enjoy the fruits of its fight against terrorism. In addition, winter conditions start in November in the Southeast [making PKK attacks less likely]. Secondly, the government’s efforts to reach out to the people of the East and the Southeast will have removed the need of the region’s people to rely on the PKK. We have local elections coming up in March, and we can expect more southeastern provinces to vote for AK Party mayors, rather than the party that supports the PKK.
What do you expect out of this year’s Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting?
According to established practices, the most senior commander is promoted to the position of chief of general staff at YAŞ meetings. Of course, this needs to be approved by the Cabinet and the president. It is unlikely that this year’s meeting will see anything outside the existing traditions of the military in appointments and dismissals.