6 August 2015, NYT: Turkey's Push Into War Is Seen as Erdogan's Political Strategy
OCT. 10, 2015
Explosions During Peace Rally in Ankara, Turkey's Capital, Kill Scores
By CEYLAN YEGINSU and TIM ARANGO
ISTANBUL -- Two devastating explosions struck Saturday morning in the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, killing at least 95 people who had gathered for a peace rally and heightening tensions just three weeks before snap parliamentary elections.
The blasts, which officials called the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkey's history, occurred near Ankara's main train station just as Kurds and leftists planned to march to protest the recent resumption of armed conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants.
It is a conflict that has been waged for nearly three decades, but in recent times the two sides had seemed to be on the path to peace. The prime minister's office said late Saturday that 246 people were wounded in addition to those who had been killed.
"We were expecting an attack in Ankara before the elections, but nothing to this extent," said Sedat Kartal, an Ankara resident reached by phone, who rushed to the scene after hearing the first explosion. "There's so much hate and polarization, nothing is surprising anymore."
Turkey is facing a number of destabilizing forces: violence related to conflicts with Kurdish rebels  and the Islamic State; political instability;  economic uncertainty; and a growing flow of refugees  from the civil war in Syria.
All together, the currents buffeting Turkey have evoked memories of the 1990s, when it was also gripped by violence and political uncertainty, shattering Turks' image of their country as a haven of stability and prosperity next to a Middle East upended by wars and chaos.
The current instability has become increasingly intertwined with the broader unrest in the Middle East, an area whose fortunes Turkey has sought to shape in recent years by holding itself out as an example of a healthy democracy in the heart of the Muslim world.
One consequence of the wars convulsing the Middle East is that the Kurds, an ethnic group spread across four countries -- Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey -- have used the chaos to secure more rights and autonomy.
In Iraq, the fight against the Islamic State has given the Kurds more leverage over the government in Baghdad, and perhaps a road to independence. In Syria, Kurds have carved out an autonomous enclave, and in Turkey, they have gained more political influence by appealing to liberals and other minorities disenchanted with the government. But Saturday's attack highlighted the difficult road ahead as the Kurds try to preserve their gains.
On Saturday, images on social media showed the bloodshed in Ankara, bodies covered in the yellow, purple and green banners of the Kurdish political group, the Peoples' Democratic Party, or H.D.P. A video shared on social media and by the Turkish news media showed a group of demonstrators holding hands and chanting just before the first blast goes off in the background, sending the crowd running toward the train station.
A witness, Oya Barlas, a Kurdish activist, said: "After the first explosion, I just ran. When I went back to help there were bodies on the floor and blood spattered everywhere."
Turkish authorities were investigating claims that the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. A similar bombing  in July at a cultural center in Suruc, in southeastern Turkey, killed 32 Kurdish activists. No group claimed responsibility for that attack, but the authorities blamed the Islamic State, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq.
Kurdish leaders, though, directed their anger at the Turkish state, accusing the government of backing the Islamic State in its attack last year on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a statement posted online, said, "I strongly condemn this heinous attack on our unity and our country's peace."
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose office issued a ban on news coverage of the attack that was widely ignored, declared three days of national mourning. In a televised news conference, he said that "the attack in Ankara targets our unity, democracy, peace" and called it "the most painful incident in the history of the Turkish republic."
President Obama expressed his condolences to Mr. Erdogan in a telephone call and "affirmed that the American people stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey in the fight against terrorism and shared security challenges in the region," a statement from the White House said.
Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the H.D.P., which faced several attacks during the election campaign ahead of the elections in June, spoke to reporters on Saturday in Istanbul, making comments that seemed to allude to political rallies in support of Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P. "Gang leaders can hold safe rallies in this country, but those who want peace are murdered," Mr. Demirtas said.
He also lashed out at the Turkish state, saying: "We are faced with a murderous mob state. How is it possible that a state with such a strong intelligence network did not have prior information on the attack?"
While Turkey faces legitimate threats from the Islamic State, which has threatened the country as it has increased its cooperation with an American-led coalition fighting the terrorist group, much of the violence is related to an old war: the conflict between the state and the militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or P.K.K., which since the 1980s has claimed nearly 40,000 lives.
The two sides had been working through a peace process in recent years, but those talks collapsed this year as the P.K.K. stepped up attacks, and the military began bombing the group's hide-outs in the mountains of northern Iraq and in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast.
Amid the carnage on Saturday there was one hopeful sign for peace: The P.K.K. announced, as expected, a cease-fire ahead of the elections, saying it would halt offensive operations and act only in self-defense, according to the Firat News Agency, an outlet close to the group. Whether that will lead to a drop in violence is uncertain; the government seems intent on continuing its military operations.
The renewed hostilities came just after a historic electoral performance by the Kurdish movement when the H.D.P., for the first time, met a 10 percent threshold in June's election to earn seats in Parliament.
The Kurdish electoral gains came at the expense of Mr. Erdogan's party, which for the first time since rising to power in 2002 lost its majority in Parliament. The A.K.P. still controls the most seats, but after weeks of fruitless coalition talks, Mr. Erdogan called for snap elections, which are scheduled for Nov. 1.
The period before the elections has coincided with the renewed violence in the Kurdish southeast. While the P.K.K. has seemed eager to return to violence, critics of Mr. Erdogan have accused him of using war as a political strategy  to attract nationalist voters opposed to the peace process to win back a parliamentary majority.
Turkey's war with Kurdish militants has been linked to its decision over the summer to join the American-led coalition against the Islamic State, after months of lobbying by the United States. But just after agreeing to open up its air bases to coalition warplanes, Turkey increased its attacks against the P.K.K., a group whose Syrian offshoot had become an important American ally against the Islamic State in Syria.
The attacks on the P.K.K. have coincided with a crackdown on Kurdish activists, through arrests, and an effort by government officials to tar the H.D.P. with the taint of terrorism by linking it to P.K.K. violence.
Emek Karakilic, an adviser to the H.D.P. who was at the march on Saturday, echoed the sentiments of many Kurds when he blamed the state for the attack.
"As Mr. Demirtas said in his statement, I think it's obvious who was behind this," he said.
Mr. Karakilic said he was lucky to be alive. He was in front of an H.D.P. van when the first blast struck. "We fell to the floor and there was blood and flesh splattered everywhere," he said. "I stood up and started running. There was about one second between each explosion. When I turned around I saw a lake of blood and bodies. I couldn't tell who was dead or alive."