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October 12, 2015

Bombings in Byzantium

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More than 100 people died in a horrific bombing on Saturday, October 10, in Ankara, Turkey. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blamed the Islamic State. The Western media and governments have mostly gone along with his assignment of responsibility. But there is as yet no clear evidence identifying the perpetrators.

The victims of the bombings were Kurds. The Kurds are deeply suspicious of Erdogan and his party, the AKP, who are maneuvering to reverse the setback they suffered in elections in June when the Islamist party lost its majority. Erdogan has called for November 1 elections. Suspicions intensified when in the wake of the terrorist attack Turkey immediately launched air strikes against the PKK, a militant Kurdish group based in Iraq and Syria with which Turkey has been at war for several decades. The PKK has recently expressed willingness to abide by a cease-fire with Turkey.

Meanwhile, on the Turkish side, some have even suggested that the terrorist bombing was the work of the PKK in order to stir unrest within Turkey.

The bombings on Saturday targeted a peace rally of Turkish Kurds, who are in opposition to Erdogan's government. A Kurdish party gained parliamentary representation for the first time in the June elections helping to undermine Erdogan's parliamentary majority.

Historical context here is helpful. Recent history has not been kind to the Kurds. After the collapse of Ottoman rule, the Kurds were the odd-man-out in the region as the Arabs, Turks, British and French carved up the former provinces of the Turkish empire. More than 40 million Kurds are spread out over Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Despite the fact that Kurds can trace their identity as a distinct people back many centuries, they have been denied autonomy and have been victimized by the regimes that rule over them. Comprising more than 20 percent of Turkey's population, Kurdish aspirations are viewed as a particularly serious threat by the Turkish majority.

The carnage on October 10 is the most recent and worst of a series of bombings targeting Kurdish peace activists this year alone. The bombings occurred within the context of heightened conflict between the Turkish government and Kurds, both in Turkey and in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Turkey is unyielding in its opposition to the creation of a Kurdish state on its borders. The Kurds accuse the Erdogan government of using the war against ISIS as a pretext to intensify attacks on Kurdish enclaves in Iraq and Syria.

Erdogan has been portrayed as scheming to restore the Ottoman empire, with himself at the helm. However, the inscrutable nature of contemporary Turkish politics, characterized by accusations, counter-accusations and suspected subterfuge, is a reminder that before the Ottomans arrived, this was the heartland of the Byzantine empire, seated in Constantinople, where political duplicity got its name.

Posted by SS at October 12, 2015 11:18 AM

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