Implications of the Istiklal Bombings in Istanbul


Photo source: CNN

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The Istanbul bombings in November 2022 are a stark reminder of the bombings in Turkish cities between 2015 and 2017 that foretold and renewed a new phase of insurgency of outlawed Kurdish groups.

After the incident, the Turkish government apprehended a Syrian woman accused of planting the device after crossing illegally from Syria. She had confessed to attacking on behalf of Kurdish militants.

Some observers have suggested that the Istanbul bombing could derail President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s economic reconciliation efforts, shifting his focus only to security-oriented policies. According to Reuters, analysts say Erdogan is also pursuing unsustainable monetary easing to lower borrowing costs to stoke exports, investment, and employment.

However, the YPG also put out a statement rejecting Turkey’s accusations. They accused Turkey of spinning a fictional and unrealistic scenario to prove their false claim and deny any link to Ahlam al Bashir. Above all, they think Erdogan is behind the bombing to find an excuse to get international approval for a new incursion into Kurdish-led areas of Syria.

The Turkish government, for a while, has clamped down on pro-Kurdish politics in Turkey, jailing Kurdish lawmakers, including the former leaders of the second-largest opposition party in parliament. 

Turkey has also held up Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids for their perceived leniency towards the Kurdish groups. After Erdogan accused the two Nordic countries of turning a blind eye to terrorism, the three countries signed a joint memorandum in June 2022 where Sweden and Finland promised ‘to not provide support’ to the YPG.

For Ankara, the main threat is not posed by the policies of regional governments but by non-state actors, such as PKK and the YPG.

When it comes to the AK Party, it has not only found takers due to its nationalism but also due to its policy towards extremism by positioning itself as the party best equipped to combat threats. Contrarily, there are even conspiracy theories about the party’s role in facilitating attacks in 2015, though such notions have been broadly debunked. 

In the context of its operations along the Syrian and Iraqi borders, Turkey has not needed to seek permission to target the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and affiliated groups, relying on its own network of military bases in both countries.

When it comes to the YPG, it is espousing the same ideology as the PKK and has established control over swathes of northern Syria since the war began there in 2011.

But while Turkey views the YPG as a national security threat, the United States has partnered with the group while fighting the Islamic State in Syria, a major cause of tension between the NATO allies.

In the aftermath of a deadly bombing in central Istanbul, the Turkish government demonstrated its newly enhanced power to cut off flows of information and assert state control over the public debate. 

When the bomb attacks started in 2015, Erdogan’s party had lost its majority in a parliamentary election. Still, after failing to form a coalition government, his party won another election, campaigning for a strong government to crack down on militant groups. His fate mostly changed due to his Syria operations through nationalist overtures.

SDF top military official Mazloum Abdi deplores Erdogan’s electoral strategy, preferring war and tension over a peace agreement with his forces.

As a reaction, Turkish forces conducted air strikes against Kurdish militant bases in northern Iraq and Syria, where Turkey’s artillery intensively bombed the city of Kobane and other hideouts of Kurdish groups. The US State Department believes Turkey’s current war could distract the ongoing campaign against ISIS.

Operation Claw has been an implication of the Istanbul blast. It was the third operation by Turkey, which was soon joined by Iran as it began its military offensive in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a shelter for Iranian Kurdish rebels for long. A semi-official news agency of Iran, Tasneem, stated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard began targeting the Kurdish region with missiles and drones and called it a ‘separatist region’.

Iran has already accused the Iranian Kurdish group of seeking refuge in Iraq and fueling protests in Iran.


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