Turkey is looking more like its troubled neighbors

At a qualifying match this month for next yearand’s Euro 2016 soccer championship in the central Anatolian city of Konya, the teams of Turkey and Iceland stood, heads bowed, for a minute of silence commemorating the 102 victims of suicide bombings in Ankara three days earlier.
But sectors of the crowd erupted in jeers and booing, shouting right-wing slogans and and”Allahu Akbarand” (God is Great). Instead of displaying unity, the moment spotlighted Turkeyand’s raw divisions.
The bombings, carried out by Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) followers from inside Turkey, targeted the pro-Kurdish coalition the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP), left-wing activists and trade unionists as they gathered for a rally against fighting in southeast Turkey between security forces and militants of the terrorist Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK).
It was the deadliest terror attack in Turkeyand’s history but, far from uniting the country, it increased the polarization. Turkeyand’s qualifying victory over Iceland was eclipsed by the rancor on show in Konyaand’s stadium.
andquotDonand’t we have a heart that beats for them (the Ankara victims) and lips to keep silent? What does it take to respect a person who passed away? Are we so unfamiliar with these feelings?andquot wrote former national team manager Mustafa Denizli in Hurriyet newspaper.
Turkey, a NATO ally and candidate for EU membership, risks sliding into the sort of ethnic and sectarian strife that has torn Iraq and Syria to its south. In the view of some alarmed analysts, Turkey is starting to resemble its neighbors.
andquotWe are becoming more and more andlsquoSyrianizedand’ and we are turning into more of a Middle Eastern country than a European country,andquot said veteran analyst Cengiz andcandar.
h2 Splits emergeh2 Turkish officials dismiss such parallels. Turkey is a stable democracy, they say, and is not alone in feeling the flames of Syriaand’s war the European Union is suffering too.
Until 2013, Turkey was seen as a pillar of stability. A decade with a moderate Islamist government had cemented strong links with the West and influence in the Middle East.
But all that started to change in June 2013 when the secular cities of west and coastal Turkey erupted in protest at what they perceived to be a growing authoritarianism in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s rule.
Erdogan put down the protests and clamped down on the media.
He began seizing judicial and security powers after prosecutors opened investigations into alleged corruption among his ministers and family. Erdogan denounced an alleged foreign-directed plot to topple him.
Elected president in 2014, Erdogan overstepped the powers of a constitutionally non-partisan office by campaigning to get the Islamist party he founded, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a sufficient parliamentary majority to change Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
Turkish voters rejected the prospect of one-man rule, and at a general election in June this year the AKP lost its majority for the first time since 2002.
After perfunctory coalition talks, Erdogan called a new election, for Nov. 1.
Turkeyand’s always polarized politics have since turned toxic.
h2 Unrest eruptsh2 Even before the June election, there had been dozens of attacks on offices and campaign rallies of the HDP party that had successfully united Turkeyand’s Kurdish minority and won support among secular, liberal and leftist Turks.
The HDP comfortably vaulted the 10 per cent threshold for entry into parliament. Its 80 seats, from an area that had previously leaned towards the AKP, left the ruling party with 258 MPs, 18 short of even a simple majority in the 550-member national assembly. Erdogan was further than ever from achieving an executive presidency.
The situation deteriorated sharply in July when an ISIL suicide bombing killed 34 Kurdish and socialist activists at Suruandc, just over the border from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. The attack inflamed southeast Turkey and imperiled a two-year ceasefire with the PKK.
Not just Kurdish militants but Kurds in general and many Turkish opponents of Erdogan accused the government of complicity – a charge the government denied.
When the PKK responded by killing two policemen, Ankara launched an air campaign across its southern borders, targeting the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.
There is widespread suspicion, within Turkey and among its Western allies, that by resuming the war against the PKK, Erdogan is looking to poach Turkish nationalist votes and push the HDP back below the 10 per cent barrier. A big AKP majority would enable Erdogan to proceed with his plans for a French-style executive presidency, with minimal checks and balances.
Erdogan has rejected opposition claims that he is deliberately stoking unrest. The government says it launched air strikes against the PKK in July in response to rising attacks on the security forces.
h2 Consequencesh2 Some analysts say the Suruandc bombing was an inevitable consequence of the governmentand’s Syria policy. The practice of allowing jihadi volunteers to cross the border to fight in Syria has seeded Turkey with ISIL sympathizers.
Yet, even when Turkish press reports identified cells in towns such as Adiyaman, little action was taken. The Turkish government denies it supports ISIL sympathizers, tacitly or otherwise, or that attacks were not properly investigated.
andquotToo many of the attacks against the HDP are not investigated,andquot said Hakan Altinay, from Washingtonand’s Brookings Institute. andquotThe social contract has been brokenandhellip(and this is) key to the (Kurdish) sense of alienation. If you carry on that way the social fabric unravels.andquot
Sinan andulgen, a former diplomat who heads the liberal Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) think-tank in Istanbul and is a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Foundation in Brussels, said the governmentand’s response to the bombings has been inadequate.
andquotThe government so far has been unable to come up with any convincing explanation as to why they failed to investigate correctly and accept responsibility for our freedom and security.andquot
andquotTurkey is in turmoil (and) the flames are engulfing everyone,andquot said andulgen, referring to the fallout from Syria.
Altinay said Turkey was beginning to resemble its neighbors, adding, andquotOnce you let that genie out of the bottle, itand’s difficult to get it back in.andquot