Xenophobia alive and kicking in Turkey

Friday 23/10/2015

Istanbul - As Turkey hunts for the people behind twin sui­cide attacks in Ankara that killed more than 100 people, some are convinced that no Turk could be responsible for the deadliest act of terrorism in the country’s his­tory. Intelligence agencies of for­eign countries are being accused of sending the killers to the Turkish capital.
Investigators said they found evi­dence that the Ankara bombers in the October 10th attacks were Turk­ish citizens connected to the Islam­ic State (ISIS) in Syria. A suspected Turkish ISIS member, a brother of one of the alleged Ankara bombers, used a similar method to kill more than 30 people in an attack in Suruç near the Syrian border in July.
These leads, however, have not stopped some politicians and me­dia from championing the view that the Ankara attack was the result of a conspiracy by foreign powers.
“These kind of operations are not the work of three to five people bent on adventure,” said Turkish Minister of Education Nabi Avci. “These operations are the work of those activated by foreign intelli­gence services.”
Nihat Ergun, a former technology minister, told Al Jazeera one of the questions was whether ISIS had act­ed on its own or had been “used as a subcontractor”, as he put it. “For­eign intelligence services might have played a part,” he said.
Ismail Hakki Pekin, a former head of the intelligence department for Turkey’s general staff, said the aim of powers behind the Ankara at­tack was to force the Turkish gov­ernment to restart peace talks with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) re­bels. “This points to foreign intel­ligence services,” he said, adding that Western countries had been shocked by Turkey’s decision to be­gin fresh air strikes against PKK po­sitions after the Suruç attack.
Some reports pointed to German, British and US intelligence agen­cies. The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported one of the sui­cide bombers of Ankara might have been a foreign ISIS member.
Distrust against foreign powers in Turkey goes back to the end of World War I, when Britain, Greece, France and others decided to carve up Anatolia after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The Turks pushed foreigners out in a war led by Musta­fa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the Turkish republic in 1923.
The Kemalist state kept xeno­phobia alive by treating minorities, such as Greeks, Armenians and oth­ers, as potential traitors. The Turk­ish left is also violently xenophobic and sees Americans behind many negative trends in the world. “The Turk has no friend but the Turk,” runs a popular saying.
That world view is very much alive. In a poll by the Pew Research Center conducted in April and May and published October 15th, Turks expressed negative opinions re­garding every major world power they were asked about.
The European Union, which Tur­key ostensibly wants to join, is re­garded negatively by 49% of Turkish respondents, with 33% expressing a positive opinion. The United States, Turkey’s most important single in­ternational partner, did even worse, with 58% of those polled saying they had an unfavourable view of the country and 29% expressing a favourable opinion. Negative opin­ions of NATO, China, Iran and Rus­sia added to what Pew said were “dismal views of foreign powers” stated by Turks.
These general views of foreign­ers, coupled with suspicions arising after the Ankara attacks, could in­fluence Turkey’s snap parliamenta­ry elections on November 1st. Up to 40% of Turks automatically blame foreign powers if something bad happens, according to Murat Gezici, a respected pollster. “People see the Ankara attack as an attack against the Turkish republic,” Gezici told The Arab Weekly. “Many believe foreign powers were involved.”
That perception could benefit the ruling Justice and Develop­ment Party (AKP) of President Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan, Gezici said. While the opposition and some media point to the failure of the se­curity apparatus to stop the bomb­ers, although they were known to police, the government is able to deflect some criticism by claiming the mantle of patriotism and paint a picture of Turkey being under at­tack from dark forces.
“The AKP and Erdogan will try and use this feeling by saying: ‘Foreigners are attacking us,’” Ge­zici said. “That will strengthen the AKP.”
He estimated that the governing party could gain about 1 percent­age point by employing this tactic, winning nationalist and conserva­tive voters. But he doubted that the effect would be enough to push the AKP to an absolute majority of seats in parliament.
The question of whether the AKP can regain control of parliament is at the centre of the election. After more than 12 years of governing alone, the party lost its majority in parliamentary elections in June. When efforts to put together a coa­lition between the AKP and other parties failed, Erdogan ordered the new election.
Most polls give the religiously conservative AKP just more than 40%, far ahead of the strongest opposition group, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), which stands at about 26%. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) are also expected to enter parlia­ment, with 16% and 15% of the vote, respectively.