It is distressing to be forced, once again, to discuss slaughter.
But last Saturday morning (10 October), at 10.04am, two explosions killed at least 99 people – though unofficial figures, which may in fact be more reliable, suggest the number of dead could be as high as 128 – in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city.
More than 400 more were injured in the blast.
They had been part of a group who had gathered to march for peace, to call for an end to the renewed fighting between Kurds and the Turkish government.
I have written in previous threads about the causes of the recommencement of hostilities between Turkey and its Kurdish population, as well as Kurds in North Syria and Northern Iraq.
Though the foundations of the conflict are based in the formation of the modern ‘fertile crescent’ states (Turkey, and Syria in particular, as well as Iraq), a three-year ceasefire had held in Turkey between the Turkish government and the Kurdish minority, largely based in Turkey’s south and east, which, led by the PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party), had been campaigning – often with violence – for independence.
This ceasefire effectively ended on 20th July this year, when an IS member, Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, blew himself up at a gathering in Suruc, south Turkey, of people who were preparing to help rebuild the IS-ruined Kurdish town of Kobane (known to Syrians as Ayn al-Arab) in North Syria.
Alagoz’ suicide bombing killed 33 people.
But over the next few days, the PKK killed several Turkish police officers, saying it was in response to the Suruc attack, even though this had been carried out by IS.
Sadly, the Turkish government’s response was as wildly over-the-top as it was predictable. Within Turkey, police staged mass arrests of Kurdish and left-wing groups, engaging in violence against them in many cities.
Even more shocking was its international response – the Turkish air force was sent to attack not the Assad regime (which Turkey opposes, and is guilty of mass murder on a grand scale over the four years, seven months of the Syrian Civil War) or IS (also opposed by Turkey, on record as wishing to ‘wipe Turkey from the map’, and the perpetrator of an act of terror on Turkish soil which killed 33 people), but Kurdish positions in Syria and Northern Iraq.
I noted then that the only thing which outweighed the bitter irony of an attack by IS inspiring conflict between two of IS’ most committed opponents was the tragedy of the same situation.
Saturday’s slaughter – a massacre of Turkish and Kurdish people who had joined together to promote peace – is another example of sickening irony, overshadowed by horror.
Almost a week on, many of the details of the attack are still not clear. The Turkish government was swift to blame IS, and it is certainly a struggle to imagine any more likely culprit, but it should be noted that IS itself had not, at the time of writing, (Friday 16 October) made any announcement of its involvement.
Equally, though the government has named two suspects, they may still be regarded only as prime suspects.
The man it suspects led the attack is Yunus Emre Alagoz, the older brother of the Suruc bomber Seyh Abdarrahman. He and Seyh had owned and operated the Islam Tea House, a suspected IS meeting point in the South Eastern Turkish city of Adiyaman.
As noted, this is by no means a certainty, though it would fit both with the Turkish government’s IS theory, and with the killer’s choice of target and methods – a suicide bombing on a public gathering of people working for peaceful means.
Whoever is responsible, there are really only two things to say, and to remember.
The first is that the murder of 128 peace campaigners is an unacceptable act, whoever is responsible. Those people should be remembered, and their aims – of the end of conflict between opposing forces – should be the aims of all thinking, feeling, human beings.
The second is connected. In the wake of the bombing, the PKK announced a ceasefire in its battle against the Turkish government.
Though this is at present scheduled to last only until the Turkish general election, on 10 November, is complete, it can – and must – be more than that.
It is an opportunity for all sides to consider their position, and to re-evaluate their reasons for it. It is time for the PKK and the government to begin negotiations again.
An IS attack reopened this conflict, and we must hope that a second can be the inspiration to end it for good.
There could be no better way to honour the memory of the 128 Turkish and Kurdish people killed on Saturday 10 October.
Rory O’Keeffe is the author of The Toss of a coin: voices from a modern crisis, available now.