Bombings in Ankara

Peace rallies turn savage as the Turkish government stands on thinner ice

Chaos erupted on October 10 at a peace rally in Turkey’s symbolic capital city. At the rally organized by Turkey’s public workers’ union and other pro-Kurdish groups, protesters gathered together to advocate for increased democracy and for the halting of violence between Turkish security forces and Kurdish rebel populations.

Dancing and chanting were interrupted by the first of two explosions, later determined to be suicide bombings, which killed 95 people and injured some 248 more. The attack has since been called the deadliest of its kind in the modern history of Turkey. Those civilians who were uninjured participated in a triage of the victims, administering CPR and first aid to those downed in the blasts and covering the bodies of those killed with flags and banners that had been used in the protest.

The location of the peace rally and the tragic bombing, the city of Ankara holds special significance to the people of Turkey. Located in Central Anatolia, it is the capital of Turkey and the location of the headquarters for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who founded the Republic of Turkey a little over 90 years ago. Ataturk’s reforms are the foundation upon which the modern day Turkish state has been established and the reason that it has been able to remain autonomous.

Born simply Mustafa, he was given the name “Kemal,” which means perfection, by a mathematics teacher for his academic achievement. He took on the surname Ataturk, meaning “Father of the Turks,” in the 1930s when surnames were first introduced in Turkey. The Turkish parliament forbid the use of the surname by any other person. Ataturk’s efforts to modernize and secularize the new Turkish nation included the abolition of the caliphate and the establishment of a constitution separating government and religion. Though effective in advancing his country into the modern world, his reforms concerned some groups who were afraid that they compromised their cultural traditions.

Located in Central Anatolia, it is the capital of Turkey and the location of the headquarters for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who founded the Republic of Turkey a little over 90 years ago.

Despite controversies, Ataturk remains to this day a symbol of the resilience of the Turkish people, and Ankara the symbolic center of their proud tradition. The attack on the peace rally in Ankara takes on added significance in the hearts and minds of Turkish citizens fighting for the stabilization of conflict and continued progress toward democracy and reform in the Ataturk tradition.

The timing is also significant. This attack happened just a month before the national elections were to take place. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, there had been speculation as to whether the bombers were associated with ISIS or Kurdish rebels. Ahmet Davutoglu, Prime Minister of Turkey, insinuated evidence for the latter in his statements to the public.

Despite controversies, Ataturk remains to this day a symbol of the resilience of the Turkish people, and Ankara the symbolic center of their proud tradition.

“For some time, we have been receiving intelligence information based from some [Kurdish rebel] and Daesh statements that certain suicide attackers would be sent to Turkey,” Davutoglu told reporters. “The [Kurdish rebels] or Daesh could emerge [as culprits] of today’s terror event.”

It later came to light that the brother of one of the bombers had participated in a suicide attack last July against a pro-Kurdish population on Turkey’s Syrian border. The identity of the perpetrators suggested that ISIS ties were very likely. Many Turkish citizens have criticized the government in Turkey, and President Erdogan in particular, for inciting violence with the Kurds in order to weaken their pro-Kurd opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Members of this party were present at the peaceful rally, calling in particular for an end to underhand violence for political gain. The attack has only intensified the division between the two sides.

The government’s response to the attack seemed to disregard this sentiment. From the moments after the bombing, police forces clashed with citizens in an effort to maintain control, even using tear gas in crowds and blocking ambulance access to victims. Since the attack, there has been increased police presence in the major Turkish cities, as well as accusations of the government for shutting down social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The question remains how this attack, and the anger that it has incited, will affect the election to come and the future of the Turkish government. The emotional implications of the bombing for the members of the labor unions and the HDP has caused further polarization against the establishment. The people of Turkey must look to their past as an example of the great resilience of which they are capable as they mourn the losses of this devastating attack and prepare for an unexpected future.