Today in Terrorism: December 10, 2016 – Istanbul bombing

On this day in 2016, two explosions caused by a car bombing and suicide bombing in Istanbul killed 48 people and injured 166 others.

Despite unhelpful Turkish rhetoric about the Kurds over the decades there are Kurdish terrorist groups: their actions must be condemned.

Turkey has long had a difficult relationship with a significant minority in its territory: the Kurds. The Kurdish community represents approximately 20% of the total population and lives in the eastern third of the country. They speak an Indo-European language that has nothing to do with Turkish, which belongs to the Altaic family. Turkey’s Kurds take up almost half of the world’s population of all Kurds, often referred to as the largest more or less homogenous ethnic group without a nation.

The desire for nationhood has been frustrated for a very long time. At the end of WWI, the Kurds could be excused for believing that the 1920 Treaty of Sevres would finally right that historical wrong. Ala,s it was not to be and as a result the Kurds in Turkey, as well as Iraq, Syria and Iran, have had to muddle along with at most a degree of semi-autonomy.

Turkey has long had a difficult relationship with a significant minority in its territory: the Kurds.

Turkey in particular has been dismissive of Kurdish difference. Governments long described its Kurdish population as ‘mountain Turks’: in response to uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names and costumes were banned, and the use of the Kurdish language was restricted So much for the ‘autonomy’ granted under Sevres.

PKK – Kurdistan Workers’ Party

In the face of this cultural repression is it any wonder militant and even terrorist groups arose among the Kurds (NB I am NOT supporting the creation of terrorist groups, merely trying to understand the phenomenon)? Many such organisations began to appear and not all get along with each other. The best known perhaps is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK in Kurdish, founded by Abdallah Ocalan in 1978. Many countries including my own list the PKK as a terrorist entity.

YPG – People’s Protection Units

Since the most recent war in Iraq another Kurdish entity has entered the scene: the YPG (People’s Protection Units),  a mainly-Kurdish group in Syria and the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces. To the Turks, however, the YPG is seen as an arm of the PKK and is hence also a terrorist group. The fact that the YPG among others helped to ‘defeat’ Islamic State (ISIS) is complicating matters.

But getting back to Turkey it is clear that Kurdish terrorists and not just PKK elements have carried out many attacks across the country. In response the Turkish military has been at war with these terrorists for decades. Turkish media regularly puts out news of arrests and the ‘neutralisation’ of these terrorists.

December 2016 Istanbul bombings

One terrorist who was not ‘neutralised’ in time carried out a massive attack in downtown Istanbul on this day in 2016. A large car bomb was followed by a suicide attacker: in all at least 44 people were killed and more than 150 wounded. A group known as TAK and which is believed to be an offshoot of the PKK claimed responsibility. In a statement the group said a ‘revenge squad’ carried out the attack.

TAK was also behind three other attacks in 2016: two in Ankara on February 17 that left 28 dead and another on March 13 that killed 34, as well as a car bombing in Istanbul on June 7 in which 11 people died.

Terrorism is terrorism regardless of who carries it out. The Kurds may indeed be very frustrated at their inability to gain international recognition (US President Trump’s cowardly abandonment of them a few weeks ago must really rankle them) but it does not excuse the deliberate targeting of innocents.

At the same time Turkish policies are counterproductive and likely to continue to be so under President Erdogan. The Turks really need to change tactics towards the vast majority of peaceful Kurds to bring an end to this campaign of violence. I wish I could say that is a real possibility.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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