Turkey’s security deficit invites further harm and instability
The figures explain how Turkey turned into a killing field of terrorism. In a seemingly unstoppable series of attacks targeting civilians and security forces since July 2015, the death toll from attacks has shown a continuous increase, with nearly 600 civilians losing their lives.
In the 18 months since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and later abandoned the policy of supporting the armed Syrian opposition, more than 800 members of the security forces have been killed. Many were the intended victims in the 25 acts of terror.
The bloodbath in one of Istanbul’s upscale nightclubs only an hour after 2017 started marks how the killing spree has turned into a pattern. It also signifies a turning point. Jihadist-related terror in Turkish cities had until then targeted Kurds, Alevis, leftist activists and foreign tourists.
This time, as pointed out by Cevat Ones, a retired top member of the Turkish Intelligence Service: “The scenario was aimed at the very lifestyle of people.”
In other words, it was Turkey’s rather vulnerable secular segments’ turn to feel the horror.
To them, it seemed the massacre was somehow the result of a fierce escalation against the free choice of lifestyle. The ground to a hate crime was ripened by a systematic campaign of hanging banners in the cities calling on people not to celebrate the New Year’s Eve.
With some young thugs dressed in traditional outfits symbolically beating Santa Claus out of shopping malls, Turkey’s powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs, which employs more than 85,000 imams, broke its tradition and issued a khutbah condemning the “waste” during the New Year’s celebrations.
This, to many urban seculars, was the last straw, with the state intervening so openly into their choices on how to live while members of the army, seemingly encouraged by the khutbah, engaged in a hate speech spree on social media.
This does not fully explain why and how a lone gunman, despite the presence of nearly 20,000 police officers deployed in Istanbul, could so easily enter a nightclub, empty six magazines of his AK-47, killing 39 people and then escape. The club is only 200 metres from a police station.
As with earlier attacks, the nightclub killings bring to the surface how paralysed the intelligence of the Turkish security apparatus has become.
What went wrong? Outside experts and foreign diplomats agree that the institutional reshuffling that had begun a long time before the coup attempt last July targeting those Erdogan sees as the enemies within — namely Gulenists — left the intelligence apparatus in chaos, weak and inefficient.
There had been bleak warnings that the replacements in key posts in the police force during the purge were picked based on party loyalty than real merit, adding to concerns about incompetence. The assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov December 19th by a Turkish police officer added to the fears of infiltration of jihadism into the security apparatus.
Aleppo was a turning point, followed by Turkish soldiers fighting against al-Qaeda off-shoots in al-Bab, incurring more hatred of jihadists for Turkey. The seemingly imminent battle for Idlib, the jihadist stronghold near Turkish border, promises to raise the rage level. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), has called Turkey “the collaborator of the crusaders.”
As mistrust grows, the apparent insensitivity of the government is striking. Despite the rising death toll in terror attacks over the past 18 months, no minister or government bureaucrat has resigned because of them. After each act of terror, the only consolation seemed to be found in pep-talk phrases such as “We shall remain united.”
Nothing helps conceal the real monster behind the wave of horror. Erdogan’s hasty U-turn in his Syrian policy, which, after the rapprochement with Russia, meant leaving the entire opposition in Syria out in the cold.
In many ways, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey reaps what it sowed. It is clear it should have never backed regime change in Syria. Now, the only option seems to be better preparations for preventing an export of jihadism onto its soil. No matter what, the unstoppable terror continues to tear apart the fragile social fabric of the country.