Under Duress: Turkey Faces its First Terrorist Attack of 2017
by The Milton Measure on Friday, January 13th, 2017
Over the past year, the world has witnessed nearly 2,000 terrorist attacks in places such as Paris, Beirut, and Orlando. One of the places hardest hit this year was Turkey. On New Year’s Eve, a lone gunman shot down thirty nine people at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul and left at least seventy wounded. The nightclub, located on the Bosphorus Strait, a body of water between Europe and Asia, is a hotspot for Turkey’s elite and was seen as the place to be to celebrate the new year. Partygoers from all over the world cheered as the clock struck midnight. However, their joy quickly turned into terror when the gunman entered the club.
Yunis Turk, a man at the club on the night of the attack, told CNN that “At first [they] thought it was a fight, then there was gunfire.” Many people, including Turk, sought shelter “under the sofas” for the nearly 20-minute attack. According to a CNN article written on January 1st, security cameras showed people jumping into the Bosphorus Strait in an effort to escape the shooting, despite the waters being at freezing temperatures. Victims, including a security guard that survived a bombing at the Vodafone Arena in Istanbul on December 10th and an eighteen year-old woman from Israel, came from 14 countries around the world. While this attack is most fresh in our minds, it is not nearly the first that Turkey has faced in past months.
On December 19th, just about two weeks before the New Year’s attack, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was assassinated at an art gallery opening in Ankara, Turkey. The shooter, a Turkish police officer named Mevlut Mert Altintas, yelled “Allahu Akbar (God is greatest). Do not forget Aleppo!” as he shot Karlov, an indication that the attack was a response to Russia’s involvement in the bombing of Aleppo. In recent months, Russia and Turkey have begun to improve their relationship, primarily to work together to fight ISIS. However, there are concerns that this shooting could weaken this newfound peace. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to those worries saying, “The Russian government and the Turkish republic have the will to not fall into that provocation.”
When asked about what he thinks the motive of the December shooting was, Mr. Emmott responded, saying that, “As a society, Turkey is in real danger of coming apart at the seams.” He believes that “the alliance with Russia, the war in Syria, the war with the Kurds…the growing dictatorial nature of Erdogan’s rule… All these things are pulling Turkish society apart in ways which are dangerous. Shooting the Ambassador is one manifestation of these tensions.” His words suggest that while the relationship between Turkey and Russia was part of the motivation for the attack, the instability of Turkey’s own government is the real cause of turmoil.
In 2016 alone, Turkey experienced nearly fifteen major terrorist attacks. Mateen Tabatabaei (I) suggests that the slew of attacks may be due to the fact that “Turkey is one of the countries leading the fight against ISIS, and they are a big part of those efforts, so it makes them a very easy target.” Despite the fact that Turkey experiences frequent, major terrorist attacks, the media often neglects to report them on as large a scale as they do attacks in other places. For example, the attacks on Berlin received much more airtime. This practice puts Turkey at a disadvantage because if the general public is not informed about what the people of Turkey are experiencing, it is much harder for people to rally behind and advocate for them.
One concerning piece of information on the attacks in Turkey was the United States’ support of the People’s Protection Unit, sometimes called YPG, a rebel group in Turkey and Syria. YPG is connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, a group classified by Turkey and the United States as a terrorist threat. While Turkey shares the common enemy of ISIS with YPG, Turkey still claims that the PKK has created an insurgence against the Turkish government and the United States continues to support them.
On that topic, Mr. Emmott noted that “if you want to fight ISIS without putting United States troops on the ground… you then have to find people that are willing to fight for you… that means you have to ally with people you would never really want to publicly ally with.” In 2017, the lines have become blurred as to who can be an ally in the fight against ISIS, and the question of how much more tension the Turkish government can withstand if attacks continue remains.
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