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Joris Leverink

Turkey beats drums of war after Ankara bomb

The Kurdish Freedom Falcons, a PKK-splinter group, claimed responsibility for the Ankara attack [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 25 February, 2016

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Comment: Immediately after the attack in Ankara, Turkish authorities blamed Syrian Kurds, but the speed with which the suspect was identified has raised suspicions, argues Joris Leverink.

The aftermath of the deadly suicide car bomb attack in Ankara on February 17 followed a familiar pattern: a blanket media ban was imposed, social media were temporarily blocked, the attacker was identified in a matter of hours, no mention was made of any security flaws and the Kurds were held responsible.

The attack occurred on an ordinary Wednesday, when explosives crammed into a car were detonated in the heart of Turkey's capital, next to two buses filled with military personnel. In the attack 28 people lost their lives, including 20 soldiers, and several dozen injured people were transported to nearby hospitals, some in critical condition.

After the attack, little time was wasted on questioning how a bomb-laden vehicle could penetrate the highly securitised administrative heart of the state, home to parliament, military headquarters, the Ministries of Interior and National Defence as well as the Air Force and Navy command.

For a country that claims to be at the top of the hit list of a number of regional armed groups and "terrorist organisations", one would expect the most important question to be "how could this happen?", rather than "who can we blame for this?"

Read more: Turkeuy blames Syrian Kurds for Ankara bombing

Aggressor's camouflage

This attitude - looking for someone to blame, call for revenge and ignore one's own failures - is typical of undemocratic regimes that require a narrative of victimisation to justify their rule. Looking at recent events in Turkey over the past few years alone, one finds examples aplenty.

Millions of people took part in the Gezi Park protests, and the response was: "The international lobby is trying to undermine Turkey!"

When government officials were exposed for corruption it was framed as an attempt by the "parallel state" to seize power.

Drawing a cartoon of the president is considered to be a personal attack and a criminal offence. And, when NATO's second-largest army is unable to defeat a few hundred youngsters armed with AK-47s, suddenly the whole country is "under attack from terrorist groups".

Placing oneself in the role of the victim is the classic camouflage of the aggressor.

So it comes as no surprise that Turkish authorities were quick to point the finger at the the YPG and the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish armed militia and the political party associated with it. Less than a day after the attack, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu named the perpetrator of the attack as Salih Nejjar, a Syrian Kurd from Amude with "links to the YPG" and who received "assistance from the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party]".

Davutoğlu's accusations were echoed by President Erdoğan who dismissed claims by both the YPG and the PYD that they had nothing to do with the attack.

"Even though those who head the PYD and PKK say this has no connection with them, based on the information obtained by our interior minister and our intelligence agencies, it is identified that this was done by them," said Erdogan.

When on Friday evening the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK), a PKK splinter group, claimed responsibility for the attack, this announcement was met with dead silence. Few pro-government media even bothered to pay attention to TAK's claim, and if they did it was with headlines such as "TAK claims responsibility for PYD attack".

Syrian spillover

Turkey's eagerness to blame the Ankara attack on the PYD and the YPG has everything to do with the situation in northern Syria.

For a long time, Turkey has aspired to establish a so-called safe zone inside Syria, where Syrian IDPs could be hosted in refugee camps and which would be tactically placed in between two Kurdish-controlled regions, preventing them from linking up. So far, however, this plan has been met with little enthusiasm by the US and its Western allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.

A recent offensive by Syrian regime forces supported from the air by a Russian bombing campaign has dealt a severe blow to Turkey-backed rebel forces north of Aleppo.

Syrian Kurds fighting alongside their allies under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have themselves benefited from the confusion to push towards the town of Azaz, a key hub on the route from the Turkish border to Aleppo.

Read more: 500 rebels re-enter Syria to block Kurdish advance on Azaz


For atr least a week, the Turkish army has been firing artillery and missiles into Kurdish-occupied Syrian territory, and possibly as many as 2,000 Syrian opposition fighters have been allowed to pass through Turkey to reinforce the defence of Azaz.

In this context, an attack by the YPG and PYD in the heart of Ankara would provide Ankara with an incontestable excuse to retaliate. From a Turkish perspective, it would serve multiple goals: it would give them the liberty to attack the Kurds in Syria, it would provide much-needed support to the opposition forces under attack, and it might attract the necessary support to finally establish the security zone.

Suspicious claims

The blanket media ban that prohibits all independent investigations into the events allows for the authorities to shape public opinion, to present their analysis as the sole truth and to have the legal facility to prosecute anyone that dares to challenge the official story.

The fact that mere hours after the alleged suicide bomber blew himself to pieces his identity, political affiliations, and date of entry into Turkey were all known should raise suspicions.

Either Turkish intelligence was already aware of this person's whereabouts and failed to take action, or the story was shaped to fit Turkey's agenda. The fact that Kurdish authorities in Syria have claimed that no-one with the name of Salih Nejjar was ever registered in Amude - his alleged birthplace - and TAK's claims of responsibility suggest the latter.

Read more: Ankara bomber revealed as Turkish Kurd, not Syrian refugee

The attack in Ankara was both an effect of the increasing instability in the region that seems to have crossed the border from Syria into Turkey, and a cause of an inevitable escalation of violence.

The drums of war are beaten with rekindled spirit, and Turkey - simultaneously playing the roles of regional strongman and helpless victim - is dancing to the beat with a poorly concealed pleasure.


Joris Leverink is a political analyst and freelance writer based in Istanbul, Turkey. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine and a columnist for TeleSUR English. He has an academic background in cultural anthropology and political economy. Follow him on Twitter: @Le_Frique

Opinions contained within this article do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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