May 23, 2007

Turkey: A Bombing, a Scapegoat and Election Season

Source: Stratfor
May 23, 2007 18 59 GMT



Summary

Turkish authorities said May 23 they believe a Kurdish suicide bomber carried out the May 22 bombing in Ankara. Blaming a Kurd, along with the blast's timing, will allow the Turkish military and ultra-secularist political forces to undermine the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, accusing it of being soft on the Kurdish issue. The bombing thus will intensify the struggle between the AK and its opponents ahead of July parliamentary polls.

Analysis

Investigators believe the May 22 bombing in Ankara, Turkey, was the work of a suicide bomber, Ankara Gov. Kemal Onal said May 23. He added that the explosives and equipment used resemble those used by Kurdish militants. For his part, though Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not directly accuse the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) of involvement in the bombing, he suggested the PKK -- Turkey's largest Kurdish separatist organization -- was a key suspect. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul convened an emergency meeting to discuss new security measures.

The bomber probably was not directly linked to the core PKK, though the perpetrator could have been linked to a smaller group. The PKK has not claimed responsibility for the attack, and has not carried out a suicide bombing in eight years. Moreover, when the PKK has staged suicide attacks, the targets were different, such as security forces, police and the Turkish government, not civilians.

The military and secularists have good reason to accuse the Kurds rather than Islamist militants, for whom suicide bombings are a calling card. Turkey, and especially its secular military, prides itself on being able to contain militant Islamist elements in the country, and fears the impact of Islamist militant activity on foreign investment. More important, the perception of a resurgent Kurdish militancy can provide great leverage for promoting opposition to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party. Kemalist Turks are already up in arms as much as possible on the issue of Islamism.

Though it is odd that Gul and not the interior minister presided over a meeting relating to domestic security, it is not completely surprising. Gul, who in late April and early May narrowly failed to win a presidential vote, is worried about the bombing's implications for the AK in parliamentary elections set for July 22. Even before the presidential election fiasco, Gul and Erdogan had a war of words with military chief Gen. Yasar Buyukanit over the Kurdish rebel issue.

The country's Kemalist military establishment and anti-Islamist political parties, especially the main opposition Republican People's Party, have been using Kurdish separatism -- an issue about which the Turks are highly sensitive, to put it mildly -- to attack the AK government. Accusing the Erdogan administration of a weak stance against the PKK and other Kurdish rebel groups, the military went so far as to create tensions between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

While the government also maintained a tough attitude toward the KRG's allowing Turkish Kurdish rebels to operate from northern Iraq, it stuck to diplomacy to try to get Iraqi Kurdish authorities to stop PKK activity in its territory. The army, on the other hand, issued statements threatening cross-border military strikes if the KRG did not rein in the PKK. The issue was less about the PKK than about using the rebel group to weaken the AK ahead of the presidential contest.

Now with parliamentary elections coming, it can be expected that this suicide bombing will be an even bigger stick with which the military and its political allies can beat the AK. Already there have been a number of massive rallies nationwide in recent weeks against the alleged bid by the AK to de-secularize the Turkish republic; they will prove mild-mannered family picnics compared to the rage the Kurdish issue can stoke.

Though this could weaken the AK's parliamentary strength, the ruling party is still likely to re-emerge from the new elections as the single largest party in the legislature -- an outcome AK's opponents can live with for now. Ultimately, the AK's opponents would like to send the party back into opposition -- or perhaps even have it banned. But for now they would like to block it from taking the presidency. In essence, the AK remains the power to beat in the coming elections, though issues like this have brought about the downfall of more than one Turkish power group.

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