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Terrorist attack in Istanbul: foreign and domestic policy background and implications

photo: tagesschau.de
16 November 2022
Amur GadzhiyevAmur Gadzhiyev

Amur Gadzhiyev

Candidate of historical sciences, CISS expert

On 13 November 2022, on Sunday afternoon, massive explosion thundered in one of the most walkable places of Istanbul Istiklal pedestrian avenue. It killed 6 people, and more than 80 (including three citizens of the RF) received wounds of varying severity, two of the injured remain in critical condition.

The Turkish authorities called that a terrorist attack. The explosion was caused by a self-made explosive device left by Ahlam Al Bashir, a 23-year Syrian citizen. According to the Turkish law enforcement agencies, she was trained by military instructors in the Kurdistan Working Party (KWP) intelligence school in Syria and sent on a secret mission to Istanbul using the underground routes via the city of Afrin. The Turkish police seized her hot in the trail. In total, over 50 people were detained  under this case, searches were performed at 21 venues, and 2.1 CCTV cameras data were studied.

In the past, Turkish cities were subjects of terrorist attacks many times, and KWP assumed the responsibility for them as part of its struggle for the Kurdish autonomy in the territory of Turkey and Syria. In 2015-2017, Turkey was shaken by a series of terrorist attacks resulting in hundreds of deaths. During that period, KWP assumed the responsibility for two attacks, one of them in December 2016, when 38 people were killed and 155 were injured, including 20 police servants. That explosion was made by the central stadium in Istanbul. Istiklal Avenue also was the venue of the attack, but that time the Islamic State group (acknowledged as terrorist organization, prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation) assumed the responsibility. There are strong concerns in Turkey that the Sunday explosion in Istiklal will give a start to a series of new terrorist attacks.

Who is the client of the terrorist attack in Istanbul?

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, the instructions to commit a terrorist attack came from the Syrian border town Ayn Al-Arab (also known as Kobani), located in the district, which is not controlled by the Syrian government. This town is one of the bases of the pro-Kurdish peoples self-defense squads. Interesting that not far from this city, 43 km to the South-East, the USA military base Kharab Eshek is situated. In 2019, in the context of Ankaras military campaign in this region (Operation Peace Spring) the USA withdrew its military forces. Moreover, after such withdrawal of troops the Americans decided to demolish the military base.

However, in May 2022, against the background of the Turkish authorities intent to carry out another cross-border military operation in Syria with the purpose of complete mopping up of the border zone from the antagonistic Kurdish squads, the US military forces started to reinstate their physical presence in Kobani. Information appeared about arrival of a sizeable American reinforcement comprising 100 trucks in North-Eastern Syria, as well as about Pentagons intent to re-array the troops of the opposition loyal to Americans at the at-Tanf base in the proximity of the border with Iraq and Jordan and to build-up forces of the local garrison.

The USA became more active in the diplomatic sphere as well. Thus, in early November the inter-ministerial delegation of the Jo Bidens administration held negotiations with representatives of the pro-Kurdish self-defense squads discussing their needs in the security sphere.

It could be that it was exactly such active military, financial and diplomatic support of the Kurdish militant groups in Syria that was the reason for Ankara to reject the condolences of the US Embassy. Thus, Suleyman Soylu, the Turkish Minister of Internal Affairs, criticized the reaction of the USA diplomatic mission and said «it could be evaluated as if the killer was one of the first to come to the venue of the terrorist attack». He blamed Washington and other NATO partners of Turkey for supporting KWP. «Some of our so-called allies evidently are insincere. They are either hiding terrorists, or allow their groups to be based in the territories they occupy, or officially send them money from their senates», Soylu said and added: «Our response to this message will be very straightforward. It will appear in the near future, God willing».

In fact, the Turkish Internal Affairs Minister voiced a blunt ultimatum to the United States calling them to refuse from supporting KWP and other squads affiliated with this organization.

On top of all that, the Istanbul explosion, from all appearances, will impact the discussion about Sweden and Finland accessing NATO. Turkey is unhappy with these Scandinavian countries providing shelter to its adversaries including KWP supporters. Respectively, Turkey refuses to ratify the accession treaty for these two countries until they demonstrate specific activities to counteract KWP. Naturally, Ankara now will be adhering to a more stringent approach and demand extradition of everyone associated with KWP in the opinion of the Turkish authorities. Otherwise, the process of Sweden and Finland accessing NATO will be put on hold.

Why did the USA apply the extreme approaches?

In the opinion of a number of experts, this is associated with the recent diplomatic success of Turkey and the USA dramatically losing their tools of exercising pressure on it. For example, previously the ultimatum demand of Washington was enough to adjust the activities of Turkey in Syria. It is enough to remember the statements by the ex-President Trump, when he threatened «wipe off the map» the Turkish economy in case it continues combat action in Syria, after which the Turkish military operation was actually stopped. It should be noted that earlier on the issue of the Turkish combat action in Syria, especially in the context of Operation Peace Spring, the major players of the Arab world also expressed their solidarity with the United States.

Nowadays, the situation has changed drastically. Ankara was able to make the issue of NATO expanding to the East contingent on its own national interests, as well as to normalize the relations with Riyadh and Abu-Dhabi, which in the past displayed certain interest to supporting the Kurdish militant squads in Syria. And the most important factor is that the well-weighted policy of Turkey with respect to the Russian Federation in the period of the «hot» (armed) phase of the Ukrainian conflict and its refusal to join the anti-Russian sanctions started bringing noticeable political and economic fruits. Today, with the assistance of Russia Turkey is implementing its long-nurtured dream is strengthening its international role as a regional super-hub for international energy supplies, as well as supplies of food, other feedstock and industrial commodities.

As long ago as early August there were talks already about the idea of a gas corridor to overcome the energy crisis in Europe caused by restricted supplies of Russian natural gas. Vladimir Putin was more specific, when he voiced that proposal on 12 October 2022 (a day before his meeting with Erdogan in Astana) in the course of the Russian Energy Week in Moscow.

Hence, we may suppose that in the context of strengthening the international position of Turkey it will be more demanding towards the USA. It is obvious that in such environment Washington will simply have to meet halfway. For example, on the issue of the US technical assistance in renewal and upgrading the Turkish aviation fleet of F-16 fighters, Erdogan was already successful in securing Bidens concessions. The Turkish experts emphasize that the USA are unhappy with such situation and are making attempts to change it using extreme measures in some cases.  

Istanbul terrorist attack as the «new generation» terror

After the terrorist attack in Istanbul, the Turkish media again focused on the level of threat hanging over the country in connection with its policy towards Syria. Thus, Ertugrul Ozkyok, a journalist, in his article published at BİZİM TV website wrote that there not 5 mln, but 10 mln refugees in Turkey. According to him, currently there are about 5 mln Syrians in Turkey, and about the same number is on the other side of the Turkish-Syrian border in the territories controlled by Turkey. The journalist claims that they are given the opportunity of .

Moreover, Ozkyok is convinced that Turkey today is facing not only a new threat, but a «new generation» terrorism. In particular, previously the explosions on behalf of KWP were committed, as rule, by the ultra-leftists Kurds, but today, as it happened in Istanbul, the executor of a terrorist attack may be «well-groomed young woman of Arab descent». It means that now terrorist is not just a special tool of struggle used by a specific radical religious/ethnic/ideological group, but an instrument for various actors of international relations to interfere into domestic policy of a certain state.

These circumstance require radical changes from Ankara, including in its foreign policy. Ozkyok believes, that the «new generation foreign policy» should be a response to the «new generation terrorism». This is important from the economic standpoint as well, because «every kurus spent on the Syrians is in fact withdrawn from the expenditure targeted at well-being, healthcare, education, security and quality of life improvement of the Turkish citizens». According to the conclusions made by the journalist, Ankara today should refuse from the «Rabia» mark and sit down at the negotiations table with Bashar Assad. It is this particular approach, as Ozkyok is convinced, that will allow Turkey to restore the security in the country and to find mutually acceptable solution for the acute problems. Other prominent Turkish journalists agree with this position, including Güneri Cvaoğlu, the opinion writer from Milliyet newspaper.

Terrorist attack implications from the internal policy standpoint

In early November 2022, the members of two parliamentary factions the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) held negotiations. The representatives of Erdogans party presented draft Constitutional amendments to legally protect the right of women to wear hijab. However, the public perceived these negotiations as the beginning of bargaining between the two parties. The belief was that the subject of such political bargaining is the ruling party receiving the support from PDP to organize the referendum on fixing the womens right to wear hijab in the national Constitution instead of resuming negotiations with the pro-Kurdish political organizations. The situation is complicated by the fact that the dominating majority of the Turkish society perceives PDP extremely negatively viewing it as a political wing of KWP. After the terrorist attack, the attempts by JDP to improve relations with PDP came across the practically unsurmountable barrier of radical growth of negative attitude towards revival of the process of peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem. Thus, we may assume that the enforcement methods of resolving the issue with the Kurds will continue to dominate in future. 

It is obvious that the Istanbul terrorist attack played directly into the hands of those who are against the open Syrian-Turkish border. Some Turkish political parties have already published their demands for the authorities to identify and refoul illegal immigrants and to immediately stop the «open doors» policy with respect to Syrian refugees, first of all.

Many experts write about the link of the terrorist threat and the migration issues in Turkey. In fact, the terrorist attack in Istanbul re-vitalized the discussions about poor efficiency of Ankaras migration policy. It is interesting that the opposition parties use this discourse to criticize the authorities. In 2015, after the terrorist attack in Suruç, the society consolidated around Erdogan and supported his party (JDP) during the elections, but today the main opposition parties do not rush to express their solidarity with the ruling party. It means the de-politicization effect of 2015 did not work this time. Many analysts explain this phenomenon by the growing USA interference into the internal affairs of Turkey, paying attention to regular meetings between the American diplomats with the leaders of Turkish opposition in the context of the already started presidential race. The next Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey are scheduled for 18 June 2023. President Biden before he won his race expressed his support of the opposition leaders and the strive for Erdogans deposition. However, so far, all his efforts were in vain.

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Terrorist attack in Istanbul: foreign and domestic policy background and implications

photo: tagesschau.de
16 2022
Amur Gadzhiyev

Amur Gadzhiyev

Candidate of historical sciences, CISS expert

On 13 November 2022, on Sunday afternoon, massive explosion thundered in one of the most walkable places of Istanbul Istiklal pedestrian avenue. It killed 6 people, and more than 80 (including three citizens of the RF) received wounds of varying severity, two of the injured remain in critical condition.

The Turkish authorities called that a terrorist attack. The explosion was caused by a self-made explosive device left by Ahlam Al Bashir, a 23-year Syrian citizen. According to the Turkish law enforcement agencies, she was trained by military instructors in the Kurdistan Working Party (KWP) intelligence school in Syria and sent on a secret mission to Istanbul using the underground routes via the city of Afrin. The Turkish police seized her hot in the trail. In total, over 50 people were detained  under this case, searches were performed at 21 venues, and 2.1 CCTV cameras data were studied.

In the past, Turkish cities were subjects of terrorist attacks many times, and KWP assumed the responsibility for them as part of its struggle for the Kurdish autonomy in the territory of Turkey and Syria. In 2015-2017, Turkey was shaken by a series of terrorist attacks resulting in hundreds of deaths. During that period, KWP assumed the responsibility for two attacks, one of them in December 2016, when 38 people were killed and 155 were injured, including 20 police servants. That explosion was made by the central stadium in Istanbul. Istiklal Avenue also was the venue of the attack, but that time the Islamic State group (acknowledged as terrorist organization, prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation) assumed the responsibility. There are strong concerns in Turkey that the Sunday explosion in Istiklal will give a start to a series of new terrorist attacks.

Who is the client of the terrorist attack in Istanbul?

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, the instructions to commit a terrorist attack came from the Syrian border town Ayn Al-Arab (also known as Kobani), located in the district, which is not controlled by the Syrian government. This town is one of the bases of the pro-Kurdish peoples self-defense squads. Interesting that not far from this city, 43 km to the South-East, the USA military base Kharab Eshek is situated. In 2019, in the context of Ankaras military campaign in this region (Operation Peace Spring) the USA withdrew its military forces. Moreover, after such withdrawal of troops the Americans decided to demolish the military base.

However, in May 2022, against the background of the Turkish authorities intent to carry out another cross-border military operation in Syria with the purpose of complete mopping up of the border zone from the antagonistic Kurdish squads, the US military forces started to reinstate their physical presence in Kobani. Information appeared about arrival of a sizeable American reinforcement comprising 100 trucks in North-Eastern Syria, as well as about Pentagons intent to re-array the troops of the opposition loyal to Americans at the at-Tanf base in the proximity of the border with Iraq and Jordan and to build-up forces of the local garrison.

The USA became more active in the diplomatic sphere as well. Thus, in early November the inter-ministerial delegation of the Jo Bidens administration held negotiations with representatives of the pro-Kurdish self-defense squads discussing their needs in the security sphere.

It could be that it was exactly such active military, financial and diplomatic support of the Kurdish militant groups in Syria that was the reason for Ankara to reject the condolences of the US Embassy. Thus, Suleyman Soylu, the Turkish Minister of Internal Affairs, criticized the reaction of the USA diplomatic mission and said «it could be evaluated as if the killer was one of the first to come to the venue of the terrorist attack». He blamed Washington and other NATO partners of Turkey for supporting KWP. «Some of our so-called allies evidently are insincere. They are either hiding terrorists, or allow their groups to be based in the territories they occupy, or officially send them money from their senates», Soylu said and added: «Our response to this message will be very straightforward. It will appear in the near future, God willing».

In fact, the Turkish Internal Affairs Minister voiced a blunt ultimatum to the United States calling them to refuse from supporting KWP and other squads affiliated with this organization.

On top of all that, the Istanbul explosion, from all appearances, will impact the discussion about Sweden and Finland accessing NATO. Turkey is unhappy with these Scandinavian countries providing shelter to its adversaries including KWP supporters. Respectively, Turkey refuses to ratify the accession treaty for these two countries until they demonstrate specific activities to counteract KWP. Naturally, Ankara now will be adhering to a more stringent approach and demand extradition of everyone associated with KWP in the opinion of the Turkish authorities. Otherwise, the process of Sweden and Finland accessing NATO will be put on hold.

Why did the USA apply the extreme approaches?

In the opinion of a number of experts, this is associated with the recent diplomatic success of Turkey and the USA dramatically losing their tools of exercising pressure on it. For example, previously the ultimatum demand of Washington was enough to adjust the activities of Turkey in Syria. It is enough to remember the statements by the ex-President Trump, when he threatened «wipe off the map» the Turkish economy in case it continues combat action in Syria, after which the Turkish military operation was actually stopped. It should be noted that earlier on the issue of the Turkish combat action in Syria, especially in the context of Operation Peace Spring, the major players of the Arab world also expressed their solidarity with the United States.

Nowadays, the situation has changed drastically. Ankara was able to make the issue of NATO expanding to the East contingent on its own national interests, as well as to normalize the relations with Riyadh and Abu-Dhabi, which in the past displayed certain interest to supporting the Kurdish militant squads in Syria. And the most important factor is that the well-weighted policy of Turkey with respect to the Russian Federation in the period of the «hot» (armed) phase of the Ukrainian conflict and its refusal to join the anti-Russian sanctions started bringing noticeable political and economic fruits. Today, with the assistance of Russia Turkey is implementing its long-nurtured dream is strengthening its international role as a regional super-hub for international energy supplies, as well as supplies of food, other feedstock and industrial commodities.

As long ago as early August there were talks already about the idea of a gas corridor to overcome the energy crisis in Europe caused by restricted supplies of Russian natural gas. Vladimir Putin was more specific, when he voiced that proposal on 12 October 2022 (a day before his meeting with Erdogan in Astana) in the course of the Russian Energy Week in Moscow.

Hence, we may suppose that in the context of strengthening the international position of Turkey it will be more demanding towards the USA. It is obvious that in such environment Washington will simply have to meet halfway. For example, on the issue of the US technical assistance in renewal and upgrading the Turkish aviation fleet of F-16 fighters, Erdogan was already successful in securing Bidens concessions. The Turkish experts emphasize that the USA are unhappy with such situation and are making attempts to change it using extreme measures in some cases.  

Istanbul terrorist attack as the «new generation» terror

After the terrorist attack in Istanbul, the Turkish media again focused on the level of threat hanging over the country in connection with its policy towards Syria. Thus, Ertugrul Ozkyok, a journalist, in his article published at BİZİM TV website wrote that there not 5 mln, but 10 mln refugees in Turkey. According to him, currently there are about 5 mln Syrians in Turkey, and about the same number is on the other side of the Turkish-Syrian border in the territories controlled by Turkey. The journalist claims that they are given the opportunity of .

Moreover, Ozkyok is convinced that Turkey today is facing not only a new threat, but a «new generation» terrorism. In particular, previously the explosions on behalf of KWP were committed, as rule, by the ultra-leftists Kurds, but today, as it happened in Istanbul, the executor of a terrorist attack may be «well-groomed young woman of Arab descent». It means that now terrorist is not just a special tool of struggle used by a specific radical religious/ethnic/ideological group, but an instrument for various actors of international relations to interfere into domestic policy of a certain state.

These circumstance require radical changes from Ankara, including in its foreign policy. Ozkyok believes, that the «new generation foreign policy» should be a response to the «new generation terrorism». This is important from the economic standpoint as well, because «every kurus spent on the Syrians is in fact withdrawn from the expenditure targeted at well-being, healthcare, education, security and quality of life improvement of the Turkish citizens». According to the conclusions made by the journalist, Ankara today should refuse from the «Rabia» mark and sit down at the negotiations table with Bashar Assad. It is this particular approach, as Ozkyok is convinced, that will allow Turkey to restore the security in the country and to find mutually acceptable solution for the acute problems. Other prominent Turkish journalists agree with this position, including Güneri Cvaoğlu, the opinion writer from Milliyet newspaper.

Terrorist attack implications from the internal policy standpoint

In early November 2022, the members of two parliamentary factions the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) held negotiations. The representatives of Erdogans party presented draft Constitutional amendments to legally protect the right of women to wear hijab. However, the public perceived these negotiations as the beginning of bargaining between the two parties. The belief was that the subject of such political bargaining is the ruling party receiving the support from PDP to organize the referendum on fixing the womens right to wear hijab in the national Constitution instead of resuming negotiations with the pro-Kurdish political organizations. The situation is complicated by the fact that the dominating majority of the Turkish society perceives PDP extremely negatively viewing it as a political wing of KWP. After the terrorist attack, the attempts by JDP to improve relations with PDP came across the practically unsurmountable barrier of radical growth of negative attitude towards revival of the process of peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem. Thus, we may assume that the enforcement methods of resolving the issue with the Kurds will continue to dominate in future. 

It is obvious that the Istanbul terrorist attack played directly into the hands of those who are against the open Syrian-Turkish border. Some Turkish political parties have already published their demands for the authorities to identify and refoul illegal immigrants and to immediately stop the «open doors» policy with respect to Syrian refugees, first of all.

Many experts write about the link of the terrorist threat and the migration issues in Turkey. In fact, the terrorist attack in Istanbul re-vitalized the discussions about poor efficiency of Ankaras migration policy. It is interesting that the opposition parties use this discourse to criticize the authorities. In 2015, after the terrorist attack in Suruç, the society consolidated around Erdogan and supported his party (JDP) during the elections, but today the main opposition parties do not rush to express their solidarity with the ruling party. It means the de-politicization effect of 2015 did not work this time. Many analysts explain this phenomenon by the growing USA interference into the internal affairs of Turkey, paying attention to regular meetings between the American diplomats with the leaders of Turkish opposition in the context of the already started presidential race. The next Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey are scheduled for 18 June 2023. President Biden before he won his race expressed his support of the opposition leaders and the strive for Erdogans deposition. However, so far, all his efforts were in vain.