Xenophobia alive and kicking in Turkey
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.