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 more exclusively to security-oriented policies. As per Reuters, analysts say that Erdogan is also pursuing unsustainable monetary easing in an effort 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 that Erdogan is behind the bombing to find an excuse in order to obtain international approval for 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 rather by non state actors, such as PKK and the YPG.

When it comes to 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. There are even conspiracy theories over the party’s role in facilitating such 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 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 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 to 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 but after failing to form a coalition government, his party won another election, campaigning on the need for a strong government to crack down on militant groups. But, it all changed due to his Syria operations due to 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 that the Turkey’s current war could distract the ongoing campaign against ISIS.

Operation Claw has been an implication of the Istanbul blast. The Operation Claw, the third operation by Turkey, was soon joined by Iran as it began its military offensive in Kurdistan region of Iraq, a shelter for Iranian Kurdish rebels for long. A semi-official news agency of Iran, Tasneem, stated that Iranian Revolutionary Guard began to target with missiles and drones in Kurdistan region of Iraq, occupied by what Iran call a ‘separatist terrorist’. It is worth recalling here that the Iranian government is already confronting two-month long public protest triggered by the alleged killing of a Kurdish woman. The Operation Claw might have prompted Iran to resort to air strikes against the bases of Iranian Kurdish forces, generally known as Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in the region. Iran has already accused the Iranian Kurdish group of seeking refuge in Iraq and fueling the protest in Iran.


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