Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Turkey Troubles: A Question of Democracy (c)

On Sunday, two sequential bombs rocked a crowded neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey, killing 17 and injuring more than 150 innocent people.

No group has claimed responsibility for the double bombing, and reports say the violence, the worse in five years, took Turkish political leaders by surprise. Kurdish Islamic separatists are suspected, however, according to news reports.

(Photo: Jen Benepe, Turkish police at a peaceful demonstration in May, 2008)

This snip from the New York Times:
There was no obvious reason the Istanbul neighborhood that was bombed, which is almost completely residential, had been the object of a terrorism plot.

The first blast, which the police and witnesses said was relatively minor, attracted scores of onlookers curious about the commotion, with at least some of them thinking it was caused by a gas leak explosion. Many of the onlookers were then hit by flying shrapnel and debris in the second, more powerful blast about 10 minutes after the first and about 20 yards away, the governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, said in a news briefing broadcast by Turkish television
The double bombing appeared to be the most serious terrorist attack in Turkey since truck bombings at two Istanbul synagogues which killed 23 people and wounded more than 300 on Nov. 15, 2003. Those bombings were allegedly by a group linked to Al Qaeda.

There was also speculation that the bombings were caused by the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an insurgent group that has been fighting the Turkish Army for autonomy in the southeast area of the country adjoining Iraq.

But perhaps the finger should be pointed at warring factions in the government.

(Photo: Jen Benepe, Turkish tourist in Sultanamet, Istanbul, wearing head scarf, May 2008)

In Turkey, it is no secret that the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has Islamist roots, has been trying to change Turkish law that forbids Turkish women who wear head scarves to attend school and enter certain institutions. This is commendable: why should people be barred from entering a building because of their religious dress?

The ruling party has also successfully passed a law banning smoking in restaurants in Istanbul, (though whether Istanbullers have actually stopped smoking indoors is questionable). Smoking in Turkey is so prevalent, prior to the law, it was practically impossible to eat in a public place without enduring heavy smoke throughout the meal.

Nevertheless, conservative Turks who embrace the teachings of the founding father of the Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who brought Turkey out of religious secularism and into the 20th Century in 1923, are now becoming the conservative change guards of the 21st Century and are doing the country a real disservice.

If there are any players that are likely to plant bombs, I would point my finger at either of the two sides in this heated and explosive debate.

Start with any of the 86 people including former top military officials, all part of an ultranationalist and secular network known as Ergenekon who have been accused of trying to overthrow the current government and are now being tried for planning a coup against the AKP.

Many secular Turks fear that their Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a secret agenda to impose Islamic law on Turkey. They point at the fact that Erdogan's wife wears a scarf, a sure sign of their secret thinking.

Then you could move on to the members of the governing party who are being attacked by the ultranationalist and secular movement. The bombs went off just hours before Turkey's Constitutional Court was to meet to consider if the governing AK Party should be banned for alleged anti-secular activities.

(Photo, Jen Benepe: Turkish travel group wearing head scarves, Sultanamet, Istanbul, 5/08)

"The stakes are high," said the BBC's Pam O'Toole, "with the AKP fighting for its political survival and the secularists viewing the case as their last opportunity to block what they allege are attempts to turn Turkey into an Islamic state."

More than 70 AKP members, including President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan, could be banned from political activities for five years, said the BBC report.

Earlier Sunday, the Turkish military announced that its fighter jets had attacked 12 Kurdish separatist targets in Iraq’s Qandil region and that it had inflicted “terrorist casualties.”

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