Turkey edges closer to civil war

12 October 2015 6:03 pm

On Saturday morning, thousands of pro-peace demonstrators gathered in Ankara, Turkey's capital. They had come together to call for an end to the violence that has left the country convulsing since late July. The demonstrators were disembarking in front of the city's main train station when two explosions tore through the crowd. By mid-afternoon the toll of casualties stood at 95 killed and 246 injured.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The streets of Ankara subsequently filled with mourners and anti-government and pro-Kurdish protesters accusing the government of responsibility for the blast but the Turkish government is pointing the finger at groups including Islamic State jihadists, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

At the same time, there has been ethnic violence between Turks and Kurds. Hundreds of people have been arrested. Turkish government officials have begun describing the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing party linked to the PKK, as a terrorist organisation.

The divisions in Turkish society are being exacerbated by the very personal nature of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His conservative right wing AKP party has delivered economic growth but it’s come at a price. He has brutalised the opposition, jailed critics and sent the police in to crack down on anti-government rallies. The country is facing snap elections on November 1 but the poll will do little to break the political deadlock and Saturday’s carnage will draw the parties even further apart.

What makes all this even more troubling is that Turkey is facing security challenges right next door, namely from Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal regime which Ankara has been trying to depose for years. With Russia boosting Al-Assad’s regime, Turkey has plenty to fear. But it’s also worried about Islamic State.

Some commentators have compared Saturday’s bombing to 9/11 but there is a difference. 9/11 drew Americans closer together, in Turkey we are seeing the opposite.

In the end, Turkey might secure victories against the PKK, or against Al-Assad or against Islamic State. But it can't have a victory against itself. The country is sliding towards a civil war.