Turkey’s worries about ‘Kurds’ proved to be true

The way out of this bloody quagmire would be to try to restore the peace talks between Turkey and the PKK.

Men hold Turkish flags over the coffin of a car bombing victim
Men hold Turkish flags over the coffin of a car bombing victim during a commemoration ceremony in a mosque in Ankara, Turkey, March 14, 2016. [Reuters]

What is the lesson from the March 13 terror attack in downtown Ankara, which killed 37 innocent souls, including a seven-month-old unborn baby?

For journalist David Lepeska, the lesson is that Turkey is now a “failing state”. For the Turkish government has proved unable to “stop terrorists from attacking the heart of … the centre of its capital” – three times in the past five months, and for some other reasons that are scrutinised in these pages.

But by that measure, wouldn’t some of the developing or developed countries be almost failed states as well, for they could not stop terrorists from carrying out separate waves of massacres in their major cities or had to deal with similar incidents on different levels over the past few years?

Refugees, terrorist cells, decimating cities are not uncommon instances in some of them.

The question is not to whitewash Ankara from the various mistakes and shortcomings in its security measures and foreign policy – especially with regard to Syria.

We Turks have to discuss these failures openly, and those in power should be able to listen to us honestly, without branding its critics as “traitors” to the nation.

Religious vs nationalist zealotry

Yet, one should also see that modern-day terrorism, with its sophisticated weaponry, decentralised decision-making, and vast number of active terrorists and sleeping cells, is very hard to defuse for any government.

Especially if that country has its longest border with Syria – home of the world bloodiest civil war – and a few million of its own citizens sympathise with the terror group that it is fighting with, the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which seems to be behind last Sunday’s bloody attack.

The Syrian branch of the PKK may have emerged as an ally of both the United States and Russia against ISIL, but Turkey has to worry about its own peace and long-term stability, for which the PKK is nothing but an imminent threat.


One should also see that, in the face of terror, citizens should indeed “question authority” for failing to prevent it, as Lepeska duly noted. But, alas, all of us should also question, and condemn, terror itself.

Of course, everybody has condemned the deadly car bomb in Ankara. But not everybody has admitted the political meaning of it: This incident, along with the previous car bombing in Ankara in February which killed 30 people, proves that Turkey’s concerns about “the Kurds” are not unfounded.

I used the term “the Kurds” in quotation marks, for that is how the armed forces of the PYD, or the Democratic Union Party in Syria, and its mothership, the PKK, Turkey’s biggest terrorist foe since the early 1980s, have often been referred to in Western media.

Numerous articles have been written lately on how these “Kurds” are the finest boots on the ground against ISIL, how progressive they are with their brave women in uniform, and questioning why in the world Turkey, a NATO ally, sees them as terrorists to fight rather than freedom fighters to support.

Well, the latest attack in Ankara gives a sad answer to that question: One of those supposedly modern, secular, progressive Kurdish women in arms was Seher Cagla Demir, the 24-year-old suicide bomber, who blew herself up in a bomb-laden car to kill dozens of innocent bystanders.

She was motivated not by the religious zealotry of ISIL, but the ethno-nationalist zealotry of the PKK – proving to us that the latter ideology is not always less lethal than the former.

Legitimate concerns

Turkey really cannot be blamed for being concerned with this ethno-nationalist threat, which is escalating from mere “guerrilla warfare” with security forces to wanton terror in Turkey’s major cities.

The Syrian branch of the PKK may have emerged as an ally of both the United States and Russia against ISIL, but Turkey has to worry about its own peace and long-term stability, for which the PKK is nothing but an imminent threat – perhaps a threat bigger than ISIL, whose supporters inside Turkey are only minuscule compared with the supporters of the PKK.

OPINION: Ankara bombing and the failing Turkish state

The issue here, by the way, is not “the Kurds”.

The PKK does not represent all Kurds, but only a fraction of them.

It is also true that while the Turkish Republic has been unforgivably authoritarian on its Kurdish citizens for decades – with senseless bans on their language and culture – many reforms have taken place in the past decade that gave Kurds all the cultural freedoms they deserve.

Moreover, Turkey has developed good relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, whose leader, Massoud Barzani, has recently blamed the “arrogant PKK” for the failure of peace talks with the Turkish government.

OPINION: Turkey is not in bed with ISIL

Of course, had those peace talks worked, everything would be much better for all of us. Turkey would have secured its peace, the PKK could have given all its energy to fighting ISIL within Syria (and even Iraq), and Western capitals would not be pressed to choose between their longtime NATO ally and their new-found friends in Syria.


Therefore, the way out of this bloody quagmire is to try to restore those peace talks – and first a ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK.

Western governments, in particular the US, would be only wise to work for that end, by using their apparent leverage on the PYD to force the PKK to abandon its violent campaign inside Turkey.

And this work can only begin when it is understood that Ankara’s concern with “the Kurds” is not a baseless obsession.

Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist, regular opinion writer for Al-Monitor, and author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.