ISIS bombing a turning point for Turkey
LONDON - “If I cannot get revenge, let them not bury me next to you Alper,” wrote the girlfriend of 19-year-old Alper Sapan, one of 32 young activists killed in a suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruç on the Syrian border. “It is my vow to never give up,” the young woman said on social media.
Pictures showed left-wing activists smiling on the bus to Suruç. Their plan was to travel to Kobane, just across the border in Syria where Kurdish forces, aided by US air strikes, inflicted a major defeat on the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014.
“We decided to go to Kobane to put smiles on the faces of the children,” Turkish media quoted one of the survivors of the July 20th attack as saying. They planned to deliver toys, plant trees and build a playground.
Video showed the activists holding up a banner in the garden of the cultural centre. “We are marching to victory,” they chanted as the bomb suddenly tore through the crowd.
“When the bomb exploded, I found myself on the floor,” said the survivor identified by Turkish media only as T.T. “There was a woman’s body on top of me. I called my grandmother. After saying I was all right, I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t turn on the television’.”
More than 100 were wounded in the bombing. Though it follows a string of smaller ISIS attacks, the scale of the Suruç bombing may force Ankara to reverse what many observers see as its ambivalence towards the extremists.
Turkey has said its priority in Syria is the overthrow of President Bashar Assad but has been accused of turning a blind eye to ISIS and allowing thousands of foreign jihadists to cross the border, charges Ankara denies.
Turkey appears more wary of the Kurdish enclave carved out in northern Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), fearing it could reignite the armed separatist campaign by Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is closely aligned to Syrian Kurdish forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June accused the West of helping Kurds capture Tal Abyad, another Syrian border town, saying its seizure from ISIS “means paving the way for a structure which could threaten our border”.
“The PYD is much more dangerous than ISIS,” said a staunchly pro-government newspaper summing up the government view.
In recent weeks, though, Turkish leaders loudly condemned ISIS and Turkish police rounded up dozens of ISIS suspects. But anger boiled over in cities across Turkey after the Suruç attack with protesters chanting: “Murderer Islamic State, collaborator Erdogan and AKP.”
While the PKK stopped short of formally ending its ceasefire, senior PKK leader Cemil Bayik blamed the government. “The AKP nourished ISIS and turned it into a herd of murderers. The massacre of young people who were our people’s conscience and future was a joint attack by the AKP and ISIS,” he said.